Propagating Orchids

It’s a tribute to romance and gardening! Unbeknownst to each other, my daughter and her boyfriend arrived for their Valentine’s Day date last week with gifts of orchid plants for each other. She called me for advice about purchasing a ‘grocery store’ orchid for him and I assured her that the moth orchid, Phalaenopsis, would be a wise choice. I love technology! One quick snapshot taken from her phone and I was able to see the characteristic rounded petals of moth orchid and its upright, roughly triangular flower shape. Fat leaves covered the top of the pot and 5 stems had buds, 2 fully in bloom. She wanted to repot it into a larger, nicer container, but I persuaded her to use it as a cache pot and wait until after the flowers take a break to repot. Both of them purchased healthy, full pots and soon enough they’ll need dividing, too.

Making divisions is one of several ways to propagate orchids and it is usually better done in spring than at other times of the year. Like many perennial garden plants, each orchid division must have at least one shoot and some roots as well as backbulbs if they exist. Those are the pseudobulbs that remain after a previous flower display has been cleaned up. Keep reading this blog for information about propagating with backbulbs. Gently slip the orchid to be divided out of its pot onto a bench or tray. If it is difficult to get the rootball out of its pot, break the pot rather than wrench the roots. Shake off any loose soil and inspect the plant for obvious places to make divisions that will yield strong shoots and plenty of roots for each one. It’s best to get a strong mess of roots, at least one new shoot and 2-3 backbulbs in each division.  Use a sharp, single-bladed knife to slice straight through the crown tissue and roots in one motion.

Like people, plants respond well to a little pressure and moderate amounts of stress can actually be quite motivating. Your quest is to minimize that stress and manage its effects for good results, from the way you choose and separate new divisions to how you treat the new plants as they root and begin to grow. Once the cuts are made, rinse the roots in plain water and soak the divisions for 15 minutes in Hormex Liquid Concentrate (2 T per gallon of water). Pot them up in a classic, bark-rich orchid mix and water weekly with a solution of Hormex (1 tsp. per gallon of water) at least until new growth begins.

The timid among us may find the act of cutting a beloved plant painful; trust me, it’s worth it. The stress of separation can produce stronger shoots and more flowers than the orchid plant left to grow for years in the same pot. Most will reward your efforts with flowers next season. If only the stresses of life were so predictably rewarding!

If you seek a way to propagate orchids that delivers a big investment on time, or want a more affordable way to acquire some varieties, use backbulbs. These are the stems with swollen bases left after flowering or that form without ever initiating bloom. Both root well and can be removed when the mother plant is repotted or divided. Roots are the first order of business in propagating backbulbs and Hormex Liquid Concentrate provides 2 growth hormones and vitamin B-1 to encourage rooting. Dip the base of an orchid backbulb into the concentrate for 5 minutes before planting it in orchid mix, or a combination of mix and finely ground bark. Water weekly for 6 weeks with a solution of HLC mixed 1 teaspoon per gallon of water. At that point, tug gently on the backbulb. If it resists your touch, rooting has begun. Continue using a Hormex solution monthly to insure good root development. It can take up to 4 years to bloom a backbulb but those who do say it’s well worth the time to expand their collections.

Orchids can also be propagated from keiki and aerial cuttings; I’ll blog about these fascinating plant parts and how to propagate them next week.


Nellie Neal is a passionate propagator and owner of GardenMama, Inc. She advocates for gardening 24/7 at her website, Ask questions and comment about this blog on the Contact Us page of

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