The Q&A Archives: Cutting Back Orchids

Question: We have a variety of orchids and are wondering what is the best method for cutting back orchids?

Answer: You can cut down the spent flowering stems when the flower fades, but orchids are generally divided rather than cut back when they've become overgrown.

Orchids grow from pseudobulbs, which are actually thickened stem bases. They frequently grow multiple stems which can be separated (each with its own pseudobulb) and potted up as new plants. The best time to repot orchids is in the late winter and spring when the plants are in an active state of growth. Choose a clay pot the next size larger and soak it in water for about 30 minutes. Make sure you have the correct potting medium, i.e., cattleya and phalaenopsis prefer mostly bark chips, and paphiopedilum likes some peat moss or sandy loam added. Loosen the roots from the side of the pot by slipping a knife down around the inside of the pot. Remove the plant carefully and cut off all dead roots with scissors that have been sterilized in alcohol. Fill the pot about one-third full with loose material such as bark chips or perlite, then add some of the new potting mixture. Holding the orchid in the pot so the base of the leaves are at the same height as the edge of the pot, gently fill in the root area with more potting mixture. Take care not to damage roots. Your newly repotting orchids will need frequent misting during the day, but don't water for a couple of weeks. Keep the plant in the shade during this time. Most orchids only need to be repotted every 2-3 years.

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