How to Propagate Orchids

A large Cymbidium OrchidA large Cymbidium suitable for dividing into 3 plants

Orchids are notoriously difficult to propagate, but with a little patience rewarding results can be achieved.

On seeing a beautiful Orchid specimen in full flower people may sometimes think about taking a cutting. Unfortunately Orchids are not quite like Geraniums or border perennials, where cuttings or divisions are relatively easy. If you were to pull off a new leaf growth from an Orchid and put it in a pot, it would most likely die. Similarly, germination via a seed from the pod of a hybridized plant is highly specialised and is not likely to succeed for the majority of people.

Growing from Seeds

If you have the patience and skill, you could buy a flask of seedlings (£12 - £50) and pot them up. First, plant them in groups in a ‘community pot’, then a year later, individually into smaller pots and successively into larger pots. Using this method it may take as long as 5 years to get a flowering sized plant.


Similarly if you bought a ‘seedling' you would still have to wait, as the seedlings may only be 2 to 3 years old. These are cheaper than flowering-sized plants, but will still take a year or two to flower, and you may lose it, as they are not always robust.

If you are feeling enthusiastic and want to take this hobby seriously, then the best places to get plants, and unusual varieties, are the orchid nurseries. You can use a search engine to find your nearest nursery.

Propagation by Division

The kinds of orchids that lend themselves to multiplication are those which, instead of growing just one new leaf growth in the Spring, throw up more than one, effectively becoming two plants. However, a plant will only survive if it has at least two old bulbs (preferably both with leaves on) attached to the new growth.

Suitable Orchids

The popular Cymbidiums lend themselves to this propagation method, as they often produce multiple new growths, although any orchid which does this is suitable to dividing into more than one plant.

Sometimes the Miltonia (Pansy orchids) and ‘Cambria’ types throw up 2 new leaf growths, which means they too can be divided into 2 plants in 2 or 3 years time. Many people, however like to keep a larger ‘clump’ until it becomes very large, when it is known as a ‘specimen plant’.

Dividing Plants

Such Orchids can be propagated using similar methods to perennials, except that the Orchid bulbs are all linked to each other by a hard woody link called a rhizome. When you have seen which new growths have at least two good bulbs attached, cut this ‘clump’ from the rest of the plant by severing the rhizome.

Potting and Root Care

Remove any dead or rotten roots leaving the ‘live’ roots, which are silvery with pale green tips. Trim back the ‘live’ roots so they will fit into the pot without being bent as this may seriously damage them. Use the smallest size pot you can, as they tend to prefer this. Label each pot and add the date you re-potted it.


Remove dead or badly marked leaves and the dried brown remnants of old leaves near the bulb. It is also a good idea to wipe the leaves on both sides, with a soft cloth at this time.

Alternative Propagation Method

The Phalaenopsis (moth) orchids rarely produce more than one new growth, but may be multiplied if they produce a ‘keiki’. This is the formation of a new plant at the top end of a flower spike, where the baby plant develops its own leaves and roots. It is an independent plant, and may gently be cut off or pulled away from the stem provided its leaves are 5-8 cm long and there are some aerial roots. It can then potted and labelled. Spring is the best time for this, as with all re-potting. Its flowers will be identical with those on the parent plant.

This article was written by Dr Derek Copley, Chairman of the Bournemouth Orchid Society.


Filed under House Plants.

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