How to Correctly Prune Your Orchid—Plus, When to Do It

The exotic flowering plants thrive with the right care.

Photo: Ellie Miller

It may seem intimidating to prune your orchid, but it's important to your plant's health. Pruning an orchid can not only help it last longer—as well as flower more—but it'll also ensure you're removing diseased leaves and help you get it ready for repotting, according to Bruce Rogers, orchid expert and author of The Orchid Whisperer, Expert Secrets for Growing Beautiful Orchids. So, grab your pruning shears: Here's when you need to prune your orchid, and how to prune it properly.

Sterilize Your Shears

No matter what method you use to prune your orchids—we'll discuss a few below—start with sterilized pruning shears or scissors. "Sterilization is required because orchids can get viruses and diseases from cuts with dirty blades," Rogers explains. To sterilize your shears, heat the blades over a gas stove or with a lighter for several seconds, says Rogers. Just be very careful with your fingers.

Prune Phalaenopsis, Oncidium, and Dendrobium Orchids

Phalaenopsis, Oncidium, and Dendrobium orchids are some of the most common varieties people own—and they should be pruned to extend their flowering periods, says Rogers. When you spot the last flower on these varieties ready to die, "count down three nodes—the bumps on the spike where the individual flowers emerge—and use sterilized scissors to cut the end of the flower spike completely off," Rogers instructs. "This will encourage new branches of flowers to emerge from the lower nodes of the spike," which should begin to flower within a few months. "Using this method, it is not uncommon for Phalaenopsis, Oncidium, and Dendrobium orchids to carry flowers for more than a year," Rogers says.

Prune to Remove Rotten or Diseased Leaves

Orchids that have developed black or brown rotten spots on their leaves should be pruned, says Rogers. "It is best to remove them, because these conditions can spread and eventually kill your orchid," he says. Using sterilized scissors, cut out any rotten and discolored spots you see. "If they are not removed, it is hard to remember how big and how many there are, and hard to determine if they are spreading."

Prune Your Orchid Before Repotting

When orchids are thriving, they will eventually outgrow their original pots and need to be repotted—and when they do, they'll need to be pruned. "After lifting the orchid from the pot, remove all moss or bark from its roots," Rogers says. Then, "examine the cleaned roots carefully: Roots that are dead will appear just that—with only a thread-like string with no root material around it." (Live roots, on the other hand, will be thick and green or white.) "Cut all the dead roots off clear to where they emerge from the plant," Rogers says. "And cut off all the dead leaves and bulbs and canes." Then you can repot it with clean bark or moss.

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