How to Cut a Phalaenopsis Orchid Spike

Phals at NYBG Orchid Show 2012

So you have a beautiful Phalaenopsis orchid, but its blooms are starting to wilt and fall off. What do you do now?! First of all, don’t freak out and throw your plant in the garbage; fading flowers are totally normal and they do NOT mean that your orchid is dying! Orchids can live for years and years and years with the proper care. Part of this proper care is knowing when and where to cut the flower spike. This is one of the most common questions I get in the comments section of my blog posts, so I thought it would be helpful to write about how to proceed once your Phal (the most widely available type of orchid) has finished blooming.

I recommend doing one of two things once your orchid’s blooms have all fallen off:

  1. Cut the spike at the base of the plant. Doing this will help the plant put its energy toward growing new roots and leaves, which should help give it a longer life. Cut within an inch or two of where the spike sprouted.
  2. Cut the spike just under the point from where the first bloom sprouted. Doing this *sometimes* encourages the orchid to produce a side shoot off of the next node down and then rebloom. Yes, cutting the spike at this spot can bring on gorgeous new flowers, but it also saps energy from the rest of the plant’s growth. Orchids have to work hard to bloom for you, so sometimes you want to give them a little rest! Besides, everyone’s all about energy saving these days, and why not extend that idea to your plants? If you do decide to go for a rebloom (at which, I’m not gonna lie, I have definitely been successful!), where exactly is this magical spot that needs to be cut? I created an uber-professional image* that shows where to snip:

Ignore the spike on the left. Click image to see a bigger version.

Of course, you could also just leave the spike alone and just see what happens. The choice is all yours, really, unless the spike has begun to turn yellow or brown. If that’s the case, the orchid has made the choice for you and at that point you should cut the spike at the base, otherwise it will just dry out and possibly rot. And that wouldn’t good for the plant.

One important thing to know before your plant goes under the knife is that you must use a STERILE cutting instrument. Gardening shears are best, but if you have a fresh razor blade or a very sharp knife those are okay too. You can sterilize the instrument with rubbing alcohol or by heating the blade with a match.

After the surgery has been completed, you’ll want to apply an antifungal remedy to the cut surface. Before you run out to the gardening supply store, just take a look at your spice rack. Cinnamon naturally has antifungal properties, so all you need to do is dab a bit of the powdered stuff directly onto the spot where you made the slice! Just make sure you don’t dump a bunch of cinnamon all over the plant (especially the roots), because it is also a dessicant (ever noticed how it dries out your mouth?) and will suck all the moisture out. As a side note, don’t attempt the Cinnamon Challenge like the kids are doing these days, because that’s just dumb.

Cutting an orchid’s spike for the very first time may seem scary, but once you’ve done it you’ll realize it’s not so bad…plus, it’s for the good of the plant. Happy snipping, and may the blooms be ever in your favor!

*Total side note: this photo was taken when I first brought this orchid home over a year ago. At that point, many of the buds had begun to blast. They shriveled and fell off, never bloomed. But I’m happy to report that this orchid is still alive and doing quite well—it spiked and bloomed for me recently!

P.S. To get really helpful orchid growing tips delivered to your inbox daily, I recommend signing up for the Orchids Made Easy newsletter. It won’t cost you a dime and will provide you with loads of good advice from Ryan “The Orchid Guy.”

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