The last orchid flower has dried up and fallen off. And now? Cut or not? We give tips on how to cut orchids, from the right time to the right approach.
Hobby gardeners keep asking themselves how and when to prune indoor orchids. Opinions range from “Never cut orchids!” until “Cutaway everything that does not bloom!”. In the first case, the result is bare orchids with countless “octopus arms” and in the second, plants with very long regenerative breaks. We, therefore, clarify and summarize the most important rules of thumb for cutting orchids.
Cutting orchids: the essentials in brief
- In the case of multi-shoot orchids (Phalaenopsis), the stem is not cut off at the base after blooming, but above the second or third eye.
- Dried stems can be removed without hesitation.
- The leaves of the orchids are not cut.
- When repotting, rotten, dried-out roots are removed.
Should you cut off the flower stems of orchids?
Orchids, if properly cared for, will bloom profusely and profusely. Over time, the flowers dry up and gradually fall off on their own. What remains is a little more attractive green stem. Whether or not you should cut this stem depends primarily on what type of orchid you are looking at. The so-called single-shoot orchids, such as representatives of the genus lady’s slipper (Paphiopedilum) or dendrobium orchids, always only form flowers on one new shoot. Since another flower is not to be expected on a withered stem, the shoot can be cut off directly at the beginning after the last flower has fallen off.
Multi-shoot orchids, to which the popular Phalaenopsis, but also some Oncidium species belong, are also known as “revolver bloomers”. With them, flowers may sprout again from a withered stem. Here it has proven useful not to separate the stem at the base, but rather above the second or third eye and wait. With a little luck and patience, the flower stem will sprout again from the upper eye. This so-called reassembly can succeed two to three times, after which the stem usually dies.
Cut off dry orchid stems
Regardless of the type of orchid, the following applies: If a stem turns brown on its own and dries up, it can be cut off at the base without hesitation. Sometimes just a branch dries up while the main shoot is still in the sap. In this case, only the withered piece is cut off, but the green stem is left standing or, if the main shoot is no longer in bloom, the whole stem is trimmed back to the third eye.
When the orchid is balding
Some neglected orchids (such as office plants) tend to keep forming a single flower or two at the end of the same stem. In terms of flowers, however, the orchid never seems to really get going. The sparse pile does not look good and at the same time prevents the plant from rejuvenating. In this case, the affected stem should be cut back courageously. A new shoot – possibly in connection with a little orchid fertilizer – also brings a more abundant flowering with it.
Can you cut off the leaves of orchids?
The leaves of orchids are generally not cut. In the course of normal plant aging, a leaf turns yellow again and again, becomes wrinkled, and dries up. Leave the leaf on the plant until it gives it up by itself, that is to say until it comes off by itself when pulled gently. Leaves that are fleshy, green, and in the sap should only be removed at the base in an extreme emergency (for example, in the event of illness). Never partially cut off an orchid leaf. The large cut surface then forms an entry gate for all kinds of harmful pathogens.
How to cut orchid roots
If an orchid is repotted, the orchid roots should also be cut and cleaned. Remove the orchid substrate and examine the roots of your orchid. Then use sharp scissors to cut back dry and rotten roots. Healthy, green orchid roots should not be removed, nor should the aerial roots of the orchids be cut off. Even if the long tentacles of the epiphytes are sometimes visually disturbing, cutting them off unnecessarily weakens the plant.
Exception: If you have an orchid that has already been heavily cared for or poorly cared for, a slight pruning of the roots can stimulate growth – in this case, you should give it a try.
Cutting orchids: use sharp and clean tools
If you use the scissors to tackle your orchid, make sure that it is clean and as sharp as possible beforehand. A good knife or scalpel is usually better than scissors for cutting orchids. Disinfect the cutting tool beforehand with denatured alcohol or boiling water. Also, when pruning, be careful not to damage any surrounding roots, leaves, or stems.
The natural rest of the orchids
The orchid was cut back and now it no longer shows any sign of life? Don’t worry, this is completely normal. Because after an extensive flowering, some orchid species and varieties take a break for regeneration, which can take a few weeks or months. During this “hibernation”, neither new shoots nor leaves form, the plant appears frozen. Unfortunately, many specimens end up unnecessarily on the compost during this time. In its regeneration phase, the orchid needs less water and no fertilizer. It can then also be placed a little cooler, for example in the bedroom. Only when a new flower stalk sprouts should the orchid be carefully fertilized again and watered more heavily.