Learning how to prune an orchid is a process not unlike the orchid itself: orchid pruning is subtle, strategic, and sublime when done right.
Knowledgable, careful pruning can make the difference between prize blooms and bloom-less stalks year after year.
It can even encourage your orchid plant to re-bloom!
Why Do Orchids Need Pruning?
Even though orchids are different from all other plants in some crucial ways, they need pruning for the same fundamental reasons as all other plants.
Pruning keeps your orchid healthy. It also gives you a great chance to give your orchid a once-over to spot any unfolding issues while they are still minor and fixable.
Another significant benefit of orchid pruning is to remove any diseased or dead matter. This tissue may be harboring pests or fungi, or could simply be stressing the plant out.
One of the most exciting benefits of pruning is to get your orchid to bud and re-bloom.
When Should I Prune My Orchid?
The optimal time to prune an orchid is after the blooms have faded and dropped.
In general, orchids do not need to be pruned frequently. Most orchids bloom once per year, although some species bloom more frequently than this.
Typically, you will only need to prune as often as your orchid blooms.
What Is an Orchid Spike?
In orchids, the word “spike” denotes the stem that attaches a bloom (flower) to the plant stalk. This small bit of green is so much more important than its humble appearance might suggest.
Right beneath the base of the spike (where it’s attached to the stem) is where the nodes are located. Nodes are the sites of potential new blooms.
New orchid growers often get spikes and roots mixed up. The truth is, they can look quite similar. The two will always look just a bit different, although the nature of the difference varies depending on the orchid species.
When you hear the terms “single spike” and “double spike,” this refers to the bloom pattern of the orchid species.
Some orchid species will produce only a single spike, which will then produce buds that bloom. Others will produce double spikes that then bud and bloom.
What is most interesting here is that orchids can vary the number of spikes and quantity of blooms from year to year.
For example, the popular and readily available Phalaenopsis orchid usually blooms from a single spike. But some Phalaenopsis will produce double spikes. Genetics and care can both impact the number of spikes and variance in the bloom patterns.
How to Prune an Orchid
Pruning your orchid will not represent the bulk of your care responsibilities. But correct pruning will help minimize problems and encourage re-blooming.
You will need scissors, a pot, and orchid potting media. These must all be sterilized first using a sterilizing solution.
Here are some good pruning shears we recommend:
You also have options for how and how much to prune your orchid. It is important to always spray on some sterilizing treatment at the point of any cuts to protect your orchid from pests and disease.
Examine your entire orchid thoroughly. Identify any areas (roots, spikes, leaves) that need pruning.
If the spike looks green and healthy, wait until the blooms have faded and fallen. Cut back the spike to within one inch of the stalk if you think the orchid will re-bud a second time before the dormant period in fall/winter.
If the spike is healthy but it is close to the dormant season and you do not think the orchid will re-bud again, trim off the whole stalk to just one inch above the base of the plant itself, being careful to trim above any nodes that are present.
If the spike is not healthy, trim off the entire spike just above the node (see next section here for more details about how to do this).
For orchid leaves that are diseased or wilting, you can choose to cut away just the portion of the leaf that is affected or, if the majority of the leaf is affected, trim away the entire leaf just above the base of the plant.
Only prune an orchid’s roots when you are getting ready to repot the plant.
Traditionally, re-potting is done no more than once annually after the orchid has re-bloomed for the final time before the dormant period.
Trim away any dead or rotted roots before repotting in the sterilized potting media. Refrain from watering your orchid for at least a couple of days to allow the cuts to heal. You can increase ambient air humidity in the meantime if your orchid is dry.
What to Do With Brown, Yellow or Dead Stems
As long as the stems on your orchid remain vibrant, plump and green, it is fine to leave them alone. Healthy orchids often re-bud from these stems.
But if you see that the stems are beginning to turn yellow or brown or to wither up and die off, it is time to prune them to reduce stress to the plant. Plus, compromised orchid spikes typically will not re-bud so they need to be removed for the overall health of the plant.
Always use a sterile scissors for pruning and apply some sterilizing solution to the prune site to protect your orchid from pests and microbes.