How to Propagate Orchids Four Different Ways

how to propagate orchids

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins - 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0

Growing and propagating orchids is not as difficult as we are sometimes led to believe. These monocots, known for their exotic blooms and interesting growth habits, can be divided and grown from back bulbs similar to other plants with rhizomes. They can also be grown from babies (keikis), and aerial roots. Orchids can also be propagated from seed or with tissue culture, but seed can take up to a decade or more to develop a viable plant and tissue culture is most successful in a laboratory setting.

At home, you'll have the best success with one of these four methods of orchid propagation: plant division, back bulbs, root division and keikis.

Propagation Methods for the Types of Orchids

The best way to increase your collection through propagation starts with knowing which of two growth types identifies your orchid.

Sympodial growth, which is the more common type, is similar to that of iris and other flowering plants that start out as bulbs and rhizomes. Sympodial orchids, such as cattleyas and oncidiums, produce rhizomes that form pseudobulbs, which are thickened areas of stem that store food and water. Bloom spikes are generated from the tips, sides, or base of the most recent growth (the newest pseudobulbs). These orchids can be propagated by division and back bulbs.

Monopodial orchids like phalaenopsis and vanda grow taller each year from one central stem. Leaves alternate in two rows on opposite sides of the stem with flower spikes and aerial roots appearing either at the junction of leaf to stem or opposite a leaf. To propagate this plant, you can divide the aerial roots or remove and pot any keikis.

When to Propagate Orchids

No matter which method you decide to try, propagation should take place after the orchid has completed it's bloom cycle but before you repot or refresh the planting medium. The exception to this rule is if a keiki (baby) emerges on a flowering stem. In this case, the new growth can be removed and planted in its own pot.

A sign that your sympodial orchid is ready for division is when the plant outgrows its pot, especially when young pseudobulbs begin producing roots.

Before Getting Started

Orchids have distinct parts and growing habits different from many other flowering plants. Learning about the plant's structure can be very useful when attempting to propagate your orchid.

Orchids require a clean environment, which is important when you are working hands-on with the plant as you would when propagating, re-potting, or pruning. Clean and sterilize a flat surface to work on and do the same for all your tools.

Decide where you will keep your developing orchid. Different methods of propagation call for different settings for after-care. Make sure you can provide adequate conditions for the new orchid to grow.


Most orchids are tropical plants that thrive in warm temperatures and high humidity. Creating a moisture rich environment will increase your chances of success. Be patient, a newly propagated orchid can take time to reach maturity and flower.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Tools Needed For All Propagation Methods

  • Small knife or razor blade
  • Spray bottle


Sympodial Orchid Division or Aerial Root Division

  • Pots
  • Orchid potting medium
  • Fungicide (optional)

Back Bulb Propagation

  • 2 1/2 to 3 inch pots
  • Orchid potting medium
  • Fungicide (optional)

Propagate With Keikis

  • Small pots
  • Fine grade orchid potting mix
  • Fungicide (optional)


How to Divide a Sympodial Orchid

For the home gardener, dividing the plant is a method that can be accomplished fairly easily with sympodial orchids, such as cattleyas and oncidiums. Plant division can result in a viable orchid that may bloom as early as the following year.


For monopodial orchids like phalaenopsis, the best options for at-home propagation are dividing the aerial roots or removing and repotting keikis. You can find instructions for both of those processes below.

  1. Remove the Sympodial Orchid From Its Pot

    Turn the pot on its side and grasp the base of the plant. Ease it from the pot by pulling gently, taking care to avoid damaging pseudobulbs and roots.

    Or you can run a small spade or knife around the inside circumference of the pot to loosen the potting medium. Then carefully lift the orchid from the pot and lay it on a clean surface.

  2. Examine the Pseudobulbs and Roots

    A large plant may look like a big tangle of rhizomes and roots once removed from it's pot. Locate the primary rhizome at the base of the main stem. You may find one or more leads attached. These "leads" are rhizomes showing active growth and will have stems with developing leaves and pseudobulbs.

  3. Remove Young Pseudobulbs

    Leave three or four rhizomes attached to the main rhizome. Then moving down the leads, use a sharp, sterile cutting tool to remove groups of three or four that that are actively growing. If roots are present, don't worry if you lose a few but try to preserve as many as you can.

    When you arrive at a rhizome without roots or any sign of new growth, you are getting into the back bulbs. These are usually found near the outside of the pot, furthest from the main stem, with a sheath that appears papery and dry. Set these aside if you want to try propagating your orchid with these older rhizomes. You can also leave them attached to your division. As long as the pseudobulbs are green, they will continue to take up nutrients to support the division.

  4. Sterilize Cut Surfaces (Optional)

    Some growers recommend treating cut surfaces with hydrogen peroxide, cinnamon, or fungicides. While this step is optional, keep in mind that sterile surfaces can boost your chances of successful propagation.

  5. Pot Up Your Division

    Plant your division in orchid medium in a new pot just large enough to accommodate its size. Place the pot in indirect light and lightly spray the potting mix and stems daily but do not add water. Hold back on watering until you see a new leaf and withhold fertilizer until new roots appear. Then move the orchid to its permanent location and start a regular maintenance schedule for your orchid variety.

How to Propagate Sympodial Orchids From Back Bulbs

Propagation with back bulbs can take a long time and new growth may not appear for several years. As long as the back bulb (pseudobulb) remains green there is still a chance the dormant eyes may bud out to produce new leaves.

  1. Locate and Identify Viable Back Bulbs

    Back bulbs on a sympodial orchid are usually located toward the outside edges of the pot and do not have active leads (i.e., new growth). You won't see leaves and the sheath will appear dry and papery. To be viable, though, the pseudobulb should remain green and have one or two eyes. The eyes are dormant buds which can be encouraged to "wake up" and produce new pseudobulbs.

  2. Cut a Notch In the Back Bulb Rhizome

    Using a small, sterilized knife, or razor blade, cut a v-shaped notch in the rhizome that supports the back bulb, and leave the entire plant undisturbed in its pot until the eye (dormant bud) breaks and produces new leaves.

  3. Remove the Sprouted Back Bulb

    As soon as new growth appears on the back bulb, use a sterile cutting tool to separate it from the mother plant by severing the rhizome at the notch.

  4. Pot the New Plant and Keep It Moist

    Place the developing orchid in a small pot, just large enough to accommodate the rhizome. Spray the medium and any new leaves daily but withhold watering and fertilizer until roots form. Once this occurs, a regular maintenance schedule can be started.


You can also try propagating with inactive back bulbs from the mother plant. Using a sharp sterile cutting tool, separate the rhizome with its back bulb from the mother plant. Cut between the inactive rhizome and the one next to it. Position the back bulb on a layer of sphagnum moss at the bottom of a pot. Place the pot in a warm, humid location with indirect light and spray to keep the bulb and moss moist. As soon as an eye begins to develop, pot up the pseudobulb in its own small pot. Withhold water and fertilizer until new roots appear. Then place the new orchid in its permanent location and start a regular care routine for an established orchid.

How to Propagate Orchid Keikis

While keikis are more often found on monopodial orchids, particularly vandas, they can also develop on some sympodial types, such as dendrobiums. Propagation with keikis is the same no matter the orchid type and can take from one to three years for the new plant to produce a bloom.

  1. Look For New Growth on the Main Stem

    Keikis are baby orchids that develop along the main stem of the plant above the planting medium. They often appear as a new flower spike that, instead of developing a bloom, will eventually (in 6 to 8 months) produce a new series of leaves and roots.


    If a keiki develops along with a flowering spike from the same bud at the same time, this could be a sign the orchid is in distress. If this occurs, review growing conditions including watering and fertilizing schedules. Changing potting mixes can also distress your orchid.

  2. Remove the Keiki

    Once you see that new roots have developed, use a sharp, sterile cutting tool to remove the keiki. Cut the main stem above the junction of the keiki and below the longest root on the keiki. It's best to wait until the keiki has 3 to 4 roots, as removing a keiki too soon can result in failure of the baby plant to develop.

  3. Treat Cut Surfaces (Optional)

    Treating each cut surface is optional but highly recommended as this can prevent fungal disease and insect problems. Use a fungicide and apply it to both cut ends of the keiki and the cut on the mother plant where the keiki was removed.

  4. Pot the Keiki

    Place the keiki in a small pot with a fine orchid growing medium. Keep the medium moist but avoid overwatering. Warm temperatures, high humidity and indirect light will help the baby orchid develop. Locating the pot on a tray of moist pebbles in a southeast facing window is a good spot for your new orchid.

How to Propagate With Aerial Root Division

Aerial root division offers a good chance at success but also can take several years to produce an orchid mature enough to flower.

  1. Remove the Orchid From Its Pot

    Taking care not to damage the aerial roots, remove the orchid from its pot. You can gently grasp the plant at its base and turn the pot upside down shaking out loose potting medium. This will free up the roots and allow you to lift the orchid from the pot.

  2. Locate Root Groups

    The newest roots will appear highest up on the stem. Look for older roots that have clumped or formed a corm-like ball.

  3. Remove and Trim the Older Root Ball

    Using a sharp, sterile cutting tool, remove the root ball from the main stem. Brush away any remaining potting mix. Then trim any small roots from the top of the corm-like structure.

  4. Pot the Separated Root Section

    Place the root section in a pot with the long roots directed down into the pot and fill in around them with orchid mix. Leave the top, cut surface of the root ball above the planting medium.


    Some growers recommend soaking the roots in tepid water prior to potting. Or you can water thoroughly after planting, draining away any excess water.

  5. Provide Light and Humidity

    Place the pot on a tray of damp pebbles and position it to receive plenty of bright indirect light. Watch for new growth and keep the pot moist but avoid overwatering. Once the orchid is actively growing you can switch to a regularly scheduled care routine.

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