How to Prune Orchids the Right Way

Pruning to Keep Your Orchid in Tip Top Health

How to Prune Orchids

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

Orchids are the aristocrats of flowers, and often viewed as delicate, sensitive plants requiring the greatest care. This may be true for rarer types but many are actually fairly hardy and all varieties benefit from a little grooming. Pruning your orchid, at least annually, serves two main purposes. The first is to keep the plant in top health enabling it to rebloom once and, sometimes, even twice a year. Secondly, removing spent or dead plant parts reduces the potential for invading insects and disease.

Effective pruning is accomplished with different methods dependent on the growth type of the orchid. They grow in two ways defined as monopodial or sympodial. A monopodial orchid, such as the popular Phalaenopsis, grows taller from a single stem. Large, waxy leaves emerge opposite one another along the stem and flower spikes appear opposite a leaf or at the juncture of a leaf and the main stem. Sympodial orchids, like Oncidiums, grow from pseudobulbs. Stems with a thickened base arise from a rhizome located near the soil surface. The rhizome extends horizontally and sets roots below the soil surface. Eyes develop into pseudobulbs (above soil level) that produce flower spikes.

When to Prune Orchids

Orchids have a long bloom period, sometimes displaying their exotic flowers for several months. Afterward they enter into an extended rest period and may even go dormant. This is the best time to inspect your plant, prune out older, unproductive growth, and cut back spent roots.

It's important to note that orchids are on their own calendar depending on variety. Your plant may bloom anywhere from mid-winter to late summer. Enjoy the gorgeous flowers and wait until the plant shows no sign of sending up new spikes. Once all the flowers have faded or fallen, prepare to do your orchid housekeeping.

Tip

If you notice visible signs of rot affecting your orchid, do not wait to prune out the damaged part/s. Fungal diseases spread rapidly and it's unlikely an affected orchid will be able to produce flowers at all. Always cut back to where healthy tissue is visible and give the plant some time to recover. The steps below tell you how to prune whether you are removing damaged parts or completing post-bloom clean-up.

Before Getting Started

Remove the orchid from its pot. Shake off as much potting medium as possible and examine all parts of the plant thoroughly. Identify problem areas including limp or dried out roots and damaged or spent leaves and pseudobulbs. Assess flower spikes to determine where to make your pruning cuts.

Tip

Orchids are fussy when it comes to hygiene. Prepare and disinfect a clean surface for pruning and sterilize all tools with isopropyl alcohol. It's a good idea to give your cutting tool a quick spray with alcohol after each cut.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Pruning Orchids

  • Sharp cutting tool (small knife or razor blade)
  • Small hand pruners or snippers

Materials

Pruning Orchids

  • Pot preferably an orchid pot
  • Orchid potting medium
  • Fungicide
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • gloves/optional

Instructions

How to Prune Monopodial Orchids

  1. Water Thoroughly

    A day or two prior to pruning, water the orchid thoroughly letting excess drain off. This plumps up viable roots and helps you identify any that may need to be cut back or removed.

  2. Cut Back Spent Flower Spikes

    Look for the node below the lowest spent or faded flower. Make a clean, concise cut 1/2 inch above this node with your sterilized tool. This undeveloped node may still produce a flower.

    If the orchid is entering into dormancy or no new nodes are present remove the entire flower spike. Make a clean, concise cut leaving just one inch of spike attached to the stem.

    Apply fungicide to any cuts.

  3. Remove Wilted and Damaged Leaves

    In most instances with monopodial orchids, an old leaf wilts and falls off naturally once a new leaf matures to replace it. When a wilted leaf fails to drop, you can remove it with your pruners. Cut at the base where the leaf joins the stem and treat the area with fungicide.

    If a leaf shows advanced signs of disease, remove the entire leaf instead of attempting to remove just the damaged portions. You will need to isolate the plant, treat the disease and allow it to recover. The appearance of a new leaf or aerial root signals the orchid is mending.

  4. Trim Spent and Damaged Aerial Roots

    Look for roots that are no longer turgid and appear brown or very pale and mushy. Trim them back to the plump, healthy, silvery green portion. If the entire root has collapsed, remove it completely. Use your sterile tool to cut where it emerges from the orchid stem. Treat the cut with fungicide.

  5. Repot the Orchid

    Once pruning is accomplished, now is the time to repot the orchid with fresh medium. If needed, you can choose a pot just a bit larger, or place the orchid back into its original pot with new material.

    Tip

    Most orchids prefer to be slightly potbound. It's perfectly okay to return it to it's original pot. Inspect the pot for signs of mold or deposits and give it a good rinse. Repot the orchid with new planting medium.

  6. Withhold Water

    Allow your orchid several days to recover before giving it a thorough watering. Watering too soon can wash away your preventive fungicide and promote transplant shock.

  7. Start a Rest Period Maintenance Schedule

    Once it has recovered, you can begin a regular schedule of watering and fertilization according to your orchid variety. Both are usually applied less frequently during the orchid's rest cycle.

How to Prune Sympodial Orchids

  1. Cut Back Long and Trailing Roots

    Sympodial orchids can produce masses of clinging roots that make pruning difficult. Look for extra long roots that extend beyond the main clump and cut these back to a manageable length.

  2. Remove Flower Spikes

    Cut back spent flower spikes to just above the first set of leaves on the pseudobulb. Flower spikes on sympodial orchids do not have leaves, so if you cut below the leaves, you are cutting into the pseudobulb. The same pseudobulb is going to set the next bloom so you want to avoid damaging the structure. Treat the cut with fungicide.

    Tip

    Sometimes orchid terminology can be confusing. You may see flower spikes referred to as "stems," and pseudobulbs referred to as "canes."

  3. Remove or Propagate Spent or Damaged Bulbs

    Starting at the main rhizome, which will be located at or near the center of the plant, follow its horizontal growth outward, checking each pseudobulb for active "eyes." These are buds at the base of the pseudobulb that produce new growth. Older pseudobulbs without an active eye are called backbulbs. When you reach one, you have two choices. You can remove it or you can take steps to encourage it to produce new growth and flowers.

    To prune for more flowers, use your cutting tool (a razor blade works best here) to cut halfway through the rhizome between the spent backbulb and the active one next to it. Be patient. It may take several months for a new node to appear. When you do see new growth, you have the option of leaving it on the original plant to produce more flowers, or you can complete the cut, remove the bulb and start a new plant in its own pot.

    Tip

    Backbulbs that remain green but no longer produce leaves and flowers still have purpose. They direct nutrients and energy into active bulbs. Damaged or inactive backbulbs that have no green parts with few or absent roots are not likely to revive. Cut the bulb out at the point where it emerges from the rhizome and treat the cut with fungicide.

  4. Remove Spent and Damaged Leaves

    The orchid will benefit from a little clean-up. Examine leaves for damage or disease and entirely remove any that are affected. This is a good time to also remove dried up sheaths which encircle the base of each pseudobulb. Practice care and refrain from cutting viable green parts of the plant.

  5. Remove Damaged or Discolored Roots

    You've already cut back long, gangly roots and this makes a close examination much easier. Viable roots will be white, greenish-white or silvery and turgid. Look for brown or black roots that appear dry or those that feel squishy. Cut these out at the rhizome being careful not to damage the rhizome, itself. Treat with fungicide.

    Tip

    Yellow roots on sympodial orchids are not uncommon. They are often found in the center of large clumps of roots. Lack of oxygen and poor air circulation causes color loss. Some growers recommend removing them while others caution to leave them alone. You can spray the roots with hydrogen peroxide and repot with a looser medium.

  6. Repot the Orchid

    Place the orchid back in its pot or one slightly larger and fill in to cover the rhizome and roots, keeping pseudobulbs with active eyes above the surface. Water gently but thoroughly allowing excess water to drain. Now you can start a rest period maintenance schedule for your orchid variety.

Article Sources
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  1. https://www.aos.org/orchids/seasonal-orchid-care.aspx