5 Easy Steps to Propagate Orchids: A Guide for Beginners

Learn to propagate orchids in 5 easy steps: choose your method, prepare tools, take cuttings or division, plant, and care for your new orchids.

Why Propagate Orchids?

There are several benefits to propagate orchids. To propagate orchids means producing new orchid plants from an existing plant. The most obvious benefit is that you can multiply your orchid collection for free. Orchids can be expensive, so propagation allows you to expand your collection at little cost. You can also share propagated orchids with friends and family.

Propagation also allows you to preserve a plant that produces flowers you especially like. Orchids will eventually stop producing flowers, so making clones of a plant through propagation means you can continue to enjoy its blooms for years to come. You can also use propagation to produce new orchids with unique flower colors or shapes. Mutations that occur during propagation can lead to orchids with different characteristics than the original plant.

Some orchid species, like Cymbidium orchids, may produce offsets or “pups” that can be propagated. Other orchids, like Phalaenopsis orchids, can be propagated using stem cuttings. In nature, orchids often propagate through a process called vegetative reproduction, where plant fragments like roots produce new shoots. We can replicate this process through propagation to multiply orchid populations.

propagate orchids, orchid, white and pink moth orchids in bloom during daytime
Photo by Corina Rainer / Unsplash

Step 1: Choose Your Method

There are two main methods for propagating orchids: division and stem cutting. The method you choose depends on the type of orchid you want to propagate and your level of experience.

Division involves splitting an orchid into multiple whole plants. It is best for orchids that produce offsets or “pups”, such as Cymbidium orchids. To divide an orchid, you split these pups away from the main plant, ensuring that each new division has several pseudobulbs and healthy roots. Division is a straightforward method but can be difficult for large orchid clumps. It works best when the orchid is not currently flowering.

Stem cutting uses sections of an orchid stem, called nodes, to generate entirely new plants. It works for orchids like Phalaenopsis that don’t usually produce offsets. To take a stem cutting, you cut below an aerial root node on the flower spike of a mature orchid after blooming has finished. Remove lower leaves, leaving 2-3 leaves per node. Allow cutting to dry for 2-3 days, then plant in rooting medium. Mist to keep humidity high. New roots and shoots will form over weeks to months. Stem cutting requires more skill and vigilance than division.

For beginners, division is generally the easiest method to start with. It has a high success rate and requires few special skills or tools. As your experience grows, you can try stem cutting, especially to propagate orchids that do not offset readily. Whichever method you choose, be sure to do plenty of research on your specific orchid’s needs to give your propagation the best chance of success. With the right technique and diligent care, you’ll be enjoying your new orchid plants in no time!

propagate orchids, orchid, green and purple flower in close up photography
Photo by PhotographyCourse / Unsplash

Step 2: Prepare Your Tools and Materials

Before you propagate your orchid, gather all necessary tools and materials. Sterilized pots, stakes, and a suitable potting mix for your orchid type are essential for giving your new plants the best start. You will also need:

Pruning shears – Sharp, sterilized shears allow you to take cuttings and divide orchids with minimal damage. Wipe blades with alcohol between cuts to avoid infection.

Rooting hormone (optional) – For stem cutting propagation, a rooting hormone containing synthetic auxins can speed root formation. Dip cuttings in rooting hormone before planting.

Stakes (optional) – Bamboo or wooden stakes provide support for top-heavy orchids or large divisions as they establish. Secure orchids to stakes with twist ties.

Sterilized containers – Reused containers must be cleaned and sterilized before use. New containers avoid the risk of infection and work well for orchids. Clay pots with drainage holes are ideal.

labels – Clearly label each new orchid with the parent plant’s name and the propagation date. This helps you provide proper aftercare and track your success.

Alcohol – Wipe down shears, stakes, and containers with alcohol to sterilize before propagation. Re-wipe tools in between cuts to prevent infection.

Misting bottle (optional) – A mister helps you keep humidity high around cuttings and new divisions which lack roots to absorb water from the potting mix. Mist 1-2 times a week or as needed.

Rooting medium (for stem cuttings) – A loose, well-draining rooting medium such as perlite or sphagnum moss gives cuttings an ideal environment to form new roots. Keep medium damp but not soggy.

With the right tools and materials on hand and a sterile working environment, you’ll give your orchid propagation the best chance of success. Do research on your orchid’s specific needs to determine the best potting mix and other supplies before you begin. With time and practice, you’ll be setting up propagation stations in no time!

propagate orchids, orchid, pink moth orchid in bloom in close up photography
Photo by Fabien BELLANGER / Unsplash

Step 3: Take Cuttings or Division

Once you have gathered your tools and materials, it’s time to take cuttings from your orchid or divide it into separate plants. Be very careful to minimize stress and damage to the parent orchid during this process.

For division, you will be splitting an orchid that producesoffsets or “pups” into two or more whole plants. Grasp the orchid by the base of its pseudobulbs and tease the pups gently away from the main plant, taking roots attached to each pup. Pseudobulbs are the thickened stems where orchids storewater and nutrients. Divisions should have at least 3-5 healthy pseudobulbs and roots. Divide large clumps into multiple smaller divisions with similar pseudobulb counts.

For stem cutting, you will removeaerial root nodes from a flower spike to propagate. Once the orchid has finished flowering, use sterilized pruning shears to cut below a node with two to three healthy leaves. Repeat with 2-3 nodes to increase your chance of success. Cuttings should be 4 to 6 inches long. Remove the lowest leaves, leaving just two or three at the top. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone (optional) and set aside to dry for 2 to 3 days before planting in potting mix. This allows cut wounds to heal and helps prevent infection.

Whether taking cuttings or dividing, use a sterile technique and sharp, wiped down shears to minimize damage and prevent disease. Treat any cut surfaces with cinnamon, rooting hormone, or an antifungal agent according to orchid type. For cuttings, plant in a loose, damp rooting medium such as perlite, keeping humidity high. For divisions, plant directly in pots with drainage holes using a suitable potting mix. Label and stake all new orchids to provide support while new roots develop.

With care and patience through the propagation process, you’ll set your new orchid plants up for success. Monitor them closely and provide any needed humidity, misting, or aftercare to help them flourish! Once stable, they can join your orchid collection.

Step 4: Plant Your Cuttings or Divisions

Now that you have taken cuttings or divided your orchid, it’s time to plant them. For the best results, plant your cuttings or divisions promptly after taking them. Have your pots, stakes, potting mix, and other supplies on hand before you begin propagation.

For cuttings, place 2-3 inches of damp perlite or sphagnum moss in the bottom of a pot with drainage holes. Make holes in the rooting medium for your cuttings. Remove lower leaves that would be below the medium surface. Place cuttings in holes and backfill medium around the bases.

For divisions, choose a pot one size larger than the root ball. Add an orchid potting mix to the pot and make a hole for the division. For large divisions, you may need to provide further support with stakes at either side of the main pseudobulb or rhizome. Secure stakes to the edge of the pot to keep the division centered and anchored.

Whether planting cuttings or divisions:

•Keep the plant at the same level it was growing originally. Do not bury leaves or stems.

•Firm the potting mix gently around the roots after backfilling the hole. Water thoroughly once planted.

•Label each new orchid and keep labels visible. Record the propagation date and parent plant’s name.

•Place the pot in a warm area sheltered from direct sunlight. Maintain high humidity around cuttings.

•Provide support for top-heavy orchids or large divisions. Secure orchids to stakes with twist ties, taking care not to bind too tightly.

•Keep the potting mix slightly damp but not waterlogged. Allow the top few inches of mix to dry out between waterings.

•Fertilize once new roots and shoots emerge in 4 to 8 weeks. Dilute fertilizer to 1/2 the recommended strength.

With the right conditions and care, your new orchid plants will thrive! Monitor them closely as new roots and shoots develop, especially for the first few months after propagation. Once the plants seem stable, you can start to acclimate them to conditions suitable for mature specimens of their type.

Step 5: Care for Your New Orchids

Once your new orchid cuttings or divisions are planted, diligent aftercare is required to help them establish. Place pots in a warm area with indirect light, such as beneath a tree canopy. Aim for temperatures of 65 to 85 F depending on orchid type.

Water new orchids when the top few inches of potting mix are dry. For cuttings, keep humidity high around the pot using a humidity tray or misting bottle as needed. Allow divisions to establish for a few weeks before misting.

Fertilize at 1/2 the recommended strength once new roots and shoots emerge, in 4 to 8 weeks. Use a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer with equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (such as 10-10-10). Increase to normal strength as orchids mature.

Repot your new orchid plants after 2 to 3 years if needed. Look for roots protruding from the drainage holes or if water runs right through the pot. Move up one pot size and refresh potting mix. Add or replace stakes at the time of repotting.

Prune old flower spikes once blooming has finished and the spikes turn brown. Use a sterilized pruning shear to cut spikes at the base. Removing old spikes will redirect the orchid’s energy into new vegetative growth.

With the proper conditions, your new orchid plants will establish within 6 months to a year after propagation. Continue providing warm temperatures, humidity, indirect light, and fertilizer. Water when the top few inches of potting mix are dry.

Once mature, treat your new orchids the same as their parent plants. With care and patience, your propagated orchids should bloom and thrive for years to come! Enjoy your handiwork and expanded collection.

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