When you first start growing orchids, the most important thing is figuring out how to keep these plants alive, and it can be an attention-stealing task.
Just like repotting an orchid, propagating an orchid probably isn’t the first thing on your mind when it comes to caring for these stunning plants.
You might not even know that propagating an orchid is possible!
Once you’ve got to grips with the basics of orchid care, including how to water orchids properly, and your orchids have been thriving for a while, it’s time to figure out how to propagate them.
Interested in getting more orchid plants for free, but you’re not sure where to start? Here’s everything you need to know.
Myth Busting Orchid Propagation
As with any plant that can be tricky to grow, there are always rumors flying around that are inaccurate, and for some inexplicable reason, they go viral!
So before we get started, here are some myths you should know about orchid propagation.
Can You Propagate Orchids Through Flower Stem Cuttings?
It’s impossible to propagate orchids through flower stem cuttings, unfortunately. The purpose of the flower stem is, well, to produce flowers, and it can’t do anything else.
Now, this is a different story if there is a keiki (orchid offset) present, but we’ll get to that later.
Can You Use Leaf Cuttings To Propagate Orchids?
While leaf propagation can be done for the likes of Pothos plants and quite a few other species we grow as houseplants, it doesn’t work for orchids.
You can, however, use this method for jewel orchids. Jewel orchids can produce new plants through single leaves or stem cuttings, but they are pretty special in their own right.
Can You Propagate Orchids Through Aerial Roots?
No. it would be nice if you could propagate orchids through their aerial roots, as most orchids produce a lot of them, but the cells in aerial roots don’t have the right ‘building blocks’ to create new plants.
The function of aerial roots is to help the plant cling to a surface (in epiphytes, this is other plants), and to extract moisture and nutrients from the air.
So let’s take a look at how you can propagate orchids.
Can You Grow Orchids From Seed?
You can grow orchids from seed, but there is a reason why the seeds aren’t sold in DIY stores and plant nurseries everywhere.
It’s not for the impatient. It’s very slow, and it can be quite difficult. Propagating orchids through seeds is not for the faint-hearted, and you’ll either need to get your plant to produce seed pods or find seed pods online through a reputable orchid seller.
Orchid seeds need to be raised in flasks in specific nutrient mixes, and even when they germinate you need to be very careful in handling the seedlings.
What You Need To Propagate Orchids
Propagating orchids through other methods is not hard, and you don’t need anything fancy or special to get started, but you will need a few things:
Grab some sphagnum moss, some secateurs (which have been disinfected, either with rubbing alcohol or a flame), some orchid pots, and an orchid that is healthy and not about to flower or in flower.
How To Propagate An Orchid Through Keikis (Offsets)
If your plant is thriving, at some point it is likely to grow a keiki, otherwise known as a plantlet or offset.
Keikis are new orchids that are genetically the same as the mother plant, and you’ll be able to spot one instantly, as it looks like a tiny version of your orchid.
They will either form on the stems of your orchid or at the base of the plant.
This is by far the easiest method, especially when it comes to propagating Moth orchids (or Phalaenopsis orchids), as these plants can be fussy when it comes to stem propagation.
If your orchid plant has formed a keiki, let it be to start with. You’ll want to keep giving the orchid its normal care routine, and this will help the keiki form its own aerial roots and some leaves.
Wait until your baby orchid has got two leaves and a good root system before you separate it from the main plant, otherwise, it’s unlikely to survive on its own.
Use sharp scissors, or secateurs to separate the keiki from the main orchid, and pot it up immediately in damp sphagnum moss or orchid bark.
If you’re using orchid bark, pre-soak it overnight first, and this will help keep it hydrated.
How To Propagate Orchids Through Stem Cuttings
Most orchids can be propagated through stem cuttings (not the flower stem), but exactly how you should treat these cuttings depends on the type of orchid you’re growing.
Monopodial Orchid Propagation
Monopodial orchids are those which have a single stem, such as Vanda orchids or Phalaenopsis orchids. Again, these are not flower stems.
If you take a look at the leaves, you’ll notice that they form a stack (on mature orchids), and once they have lots of leaves, you have a good portion of the stem to propagate from.
You might wince, but what you need to do is to get a sharp knife or some secateurs and cut the plant in half.
This is what’s known as topping the plant. Leave the bottom half in the container and care for it as you normally would.
For the top half, put it in some damp sphagnum moss, preferably in a tray with a clear lid, on top of a heat mat, somewhere bright but indirect. This will ensure the best chance of cutting growing roots.
Sympodial Orchid Propagation
For sympodial orchids (those that grow a few canes or even bulbs), you’ll need to be careful of what species you use, as cuttings don’t work for most sympodial orchids.
Dendrobium nobile is one of the few species that will grow reliably from cuttings.
Use sharp secateurs to chop the canes into segments, each with at least one node attached, and put them straight into a tray of damp sphagnum moss, under a heat propagation mat, and a clear lid on the top of the tray.
Vining Orchid And Jewel Orchid Propagation
Not as widely grown as Moth orchids, but vining orchids are still beautiful, and you’ll be pleased to know that you can propagate these through stem cuttings.
These are the easiest type of orchid to take cuttings from, as you don’t need to chop up half the orchid to do it or slice pieces of the stem from the stacked leaves.
Take some sharp scissors, and simply cut the vine to get a cutting, making sure that you have a node attached.
You can either propagate these cuttings in water (changing it regularly) or in damp sphagnum moss, whichever you prefer. Just remember to put the cuttings somewhere bright and warm, but away from direct sunlight.
How To Divide Sympodial Orchids
Sympodial orchids – those with multiple stems – can be divided through the rhizomes. This includes species such as Cattleya and Dendrobium orchids.
This won’t work for orchids with single stems such as Moth orchids, as you might guess.
Again, you’ll need to make sure that your orchid is not in flower or bud. If it is, wait until the flowering season has finished, otherwise, you can disrupt the blooming window.
Only propagate your orchid when it is healthy and mature. Don’t attempt to divide an orchid that is sickly or too young, as you may lose the orchid altogether.
Grab a tray and your orchid. Remove it from its planter over the tray, and remove as much potting media from the roots as possible, so you can see them.
Take a look at the rhizome clump, and decide where to divide it. Try to make sure that each division has 3 or 4 bulbs, so more than likely you’ll be dividing the plant into two.
Put the original plant back in its pot with its mix, and pot up the new plant in fresh potting media, watering it if it needs it.
Propagating Orchids Through Pseudobulbs (Back Bulb Propagation)
Sympodial orchids have pseudobulbs, which act as storage for the essential nutrients and water these orchids need.
A back bulb is a pseudobulb that hasn’t grown for a while, but it still acts as a supply of nutrients for the orchid.
While they may not do much in terms of growth on your orchid right now, you can coax them into becoming a new plant with the right care, as long as they are still healthy and have some nodes.
Most back bulbs do have nodes, but new growth doesn’t tend to occur until these pseudobulbs are potted up as separate plants.
Take the orchid out of the pot, and identify the back bulb. Separate it from the rhizome, and put it straight into some damp sphagnum moss in a propagation box (a plastic container with a clear lid).
Put it somewhere bright and indirect, preferably with a heat mat underneath, and this will help the back bulb to form roots.
It’s worth noting that this is a very slow propagation method, so don’t give up on a back bulb that doesn’t seem to be doing anything.
Once you’ve got to grips with the basics of orchid care, it’s worth propagating your orchid so that you can have more orchids, as well as a few backup plants in case something happens to the original.
Just make sure you propagate during the active growth season, and you don’t propagate your plant while it is in bloom, or just before. Wait until the plant has finished flowering.