Orchid flowers bloom, and like all flowers, eventually die. But what should you do with dead orchid flowers? Does deadheading them make an orchid grow more flowers, or can you leave them?
Should you cut orchid flowers off when they die? You can, for aesthetic reasons. But deadheading most common orchid species won’t help them grow more flowers. Most orchids create all of their buds and bloom them in fairly quick succession, and trimming some away if they wilt doesn’t make it grow more. However, orchid pruning is helpful in that you can cut the flower spike between two nodes, and it will grow a new spike from the lower node in the next growing season (6-9 months from wilting).
The guide below explains everything you need to know about cutting dead orchid flower spikes, what to do if you notice your orchid flowers wilting (watering vs. cutting them off), and what happens if you don’t trim them away.
Do Orchid Flowers Die?
Orchid flowers are supposed to die. They bloom, they live, they hopefully get fertilized, and then they wither away. So if your orchid’s flowers are wilting, and they’ve already been around for a couple of months, then it’s probably just their time.
The question, then, is what you should do with these wilting flowers: leave them, pull them off, trim them off, or something else?
Why Do Orchid Flowers Die?
Orchid flowers die for many different reasons, but they can die of plain old age.
The most common reason why flowers wilt is if the plant isn’t getting enough water. Orchids lose water over time, and that water needs to be replaced. If it isn’t, then the flower loses mass and becomes wrinkly. If it’s replaced, it should perk up again, but if not, it will continue to wilt and shrivel. Flowers can also die because of stress, which can be caused by many different issues (like root rot, crown rot or infestations).
So… Whether in the face of one of these issues or not, do you need to trim an orchid’s flowers?
Should I Deadhead My Orchid?
There is typically no need to deadhead an orchid’s flowers, at least in the sense that you do with a rose bush (for example). That’s because orchid flowers don’t grow like those of a rose bush. An orchid won’t produce more flowers if you trim away old, dead or dying ones.
Do You Need to Remove Dead Orchid Flowers?
Pruning orchids after flowering isn’t strictly necessary. One reason for this is that your orchid’s flowers almost certainly won’t have been pollinated. Part of the point of deadheading is that it stops the plant from sending energy to a dying flower in order for it to continue making seeds. The energy that would otherwise go into the seeds can then be transferred somewhere else, like a pretty new flower. Since most orchids are kept as indoor plants, this probably isn’t a problem. Besides, orchid seeds aren’t like those of other plants: they store hardly any energy, so this isn’t as much of a problem.
There’s also a question of effort. If you have lots and lots of orchids, it may be a lot of effort to trim away each and every flower. If you leave your plant to its own devices, you’ll soon notice your orchid flowers falling off of their own accord.
Orchids are also generally slow to create new buds. Phalaenopsis orchids, which are the most common kind kept as houseplants, will create all the buds they need and bloom them in fairly quick succession. If you care for your plant properly, there’s more than enough time for all the flowers to bloom at once without needing to trim any away. Other species though, like Paphiopedilum, may benefit from deadheading.
If you have a phalaenopsis orchid, though, there’s no need to remove its dying flowers other than attractiveness. If you want your orchid to look its best, then you can trim its wilted flowers away.
How to Remove Dead Orchid Flowers
There are two to remove your orchid’s dead or dying flowers. You can, obviously, trim them away with scissors or some other sharp tool. You can also pull them off, so long as the flower is dead and dried enough for you to do so. If possible, we recommend pulling the dried flowers away, as the orchid will already have created a sealed section of scar tissue that will prevent infections from occurring.
Where Do You Cut The Orchid After the Blooms Fall Off?
There are two places you can cut to trim away orchid flowers. The first is the stem of the flower itself. This isn’t the thick, long stem that all the flowers are connected to (which is called the flower spike). You can cut this in many places along its length, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. The second place you might want to cut is the individual flower’s stem, which is what connects the flower to the flower spike.
Trimming vs. Pulling Off Dead Orchid Flowers (Dying Naturally vs. Cutting Off)
If your orchid’s flowers have completely dried out, then you may find that you can manually pull them away from the flower spike.
This is as simple to do as it sounds. All you need to do is take the flower between your thumb and forefinger and tug at it with gentle, consistent force. The flower will sometimes break off from the spike, leaving a closed wound behind; this means the orchid had already sealed the flower off, preparing for it to fall away on its own.
You can only do this when the flower is dead, or almost dead. If it has only just started to wilt, the flower will still be well attached to the flower spike. Trying to pull it off may damage the flower spike and prevent it from growing more flowers in the future. If the flower isn’t dead, but you still want to remove it, you should therefore consider trimming it away.
How to Trim a Dead Orchid Flower
Trimming an orchid flower is easier than trimming a flower spike, a leaf, or a root. That’s because it’s thin, and even if you get it wrong, you can’t cause significant injury to your orchid. All you can damage are any orchid flowers that are still alive.
To trim an orchid flower, use any kind of tool that’s easy for you to use, and which minimizes the chance that you can cut yourself. A pair of scissors will do fine, as long as they’re still sharp. Cut the flower where its stem meets the flower spike. You can cut this small stem anywhere you like, really, but if you trim it away close to the flower spike then the final result will look better.
Alternatives to Removing Wilted Orchid Flowers
Orchid flowers wilt much more quickly if you don’t water your orchid. The obvious reason for that is that flowers are mostly made of water, so as your orchid loses water through respiration, the flowers lose mass. This leaves them wilted and wrinkly.
You may find that if you give your orchid a healthy dose of water, its flowers will perk up again. They may not look just as they did when they first bloomed, but I find they look pretty good anyway—’good enough’. To give your orchid plenty of water, we recommend bathing rather than misting. Here’s how you bathe an orchid:
- Fill a jug with water. Ideally you should use rainwater, or failing that, soft tap water. Hard tap water is fine, but can give orchid too much of certain minerals that it doesn’t need.
- Allow the water to raise to room temperature. This is the temperature that’s most comfortable for an orchid. While I’ve never experienced an issue with it, apparently orchids can dislike cold tap water.
- Pour the jug of water into your orchid’s pot. If you keep your orchids like we do, they should be in a clear inner pot and a ceramic outer pot. Fill them to the top.
- Allow the orchid to ‘bathe’ for 10-15 minutes. This is enough time for the roots to absorb as much water as they need. Orchid roots absorb water particularly fast, because many don’t live in medium in the wild, but on the sides of trees.
- Take the inner pot from the outer pot, and place it somewhere that it can drain for five minutes. Pour the water from the outer pot away.
- Put the orchid back in its outer pot and place it back where it lives.
Over the course of the evening, you should notice the orchid’s flowers perk up. Some may be almost like new, others not; you can trim away the ones that look bad, if you like, and your orchid will look normal again.
How to Trim a Dead Orchid Stem
If all of the flowers are dead, and the flower spike they’re attached to is dead too, then you can remove the whole thing. If you want to trim an entire flower spike, you need to be a little more careful than if you were trimming a flower. That’s because if you trim the flower spike while it’s still alive, and close to the point where it emerges from the stem (the body of the orchid), you could cause a serious infection.
As such, you have to be a little more careful both in how you cut and what you cut with. So:
- Use a sharp tool that will cut through the spike without you having to use pressure. Putting pressure on the area you’re cutting can lead to the blade slipping, and cutting either you or the orchid’s body. Using a sharp tool will prevent this.
- Use a sterilized tool. A sterilized tool is one that doesn’t have any bacteria, viruses or fungi on it whatsoever. It’s difficult to achieve true sterilization, so you could consider using a single-use razor blade. These are manufactured in a sterile environment for just such uses. Alternatively, you can sterilize a tool on your own by holding it over a flame until it turns red.
Try to do this in a stress-free environment. You want to have full concentration if you’re using a very sharp tool. You can use scissors if you like, but yours may be too blunt to cut easily through a thick flower spike.
If you’re going to use a sharper tool like a razor blade, try to cut away from the orchid’s body if possible. This will minimize the risk that you accidentally cut anything important like your orchid’s stem. This may not be easy to do depending on the angle at which the flwoer spike grows, so if you can’t do that, just be extra careful.
Where to Cut an Orchid Flower Spike
There are two different approaches you can take to cutting your orchid’s flower spike.
The first is to trim it away entirely. This is something you should consider doing if the flower spike is completely dead. You can tell that it’s dead because it changes color from deep green to brown. This color change starts at the tip and travels towards the base. You will also notice that it shrivels up, becoming thin and dry. When a flower spike looks like this, it can’t then revive itself and start growing more flowers, so serves no purpose.
If you want to trim away one of these dead flower spikes, cut it close to the base. Half an inch away from the base should be fine. If you can’t cut that close to the base without damaging your orchid, trim it further away; this isn’t a problem, it’s just aesthetically not as nice to look at.
But if the flower spike won’t die, you don’t have to cut it away at all. The orchid is keeping it alive so that it can flower again. This isn’t in an instant sense, in that your orchid will develop tiny new buds over the coming weeks. Rather, it means flowering again in the next flowering season. For most orchids, this is next spring, although exceptionally healthy orchids will bloom twice per year. You can encourage the flower spike to bloom again by cutting it in a certain place.
If you look at your orchid’s flower spike, you’ll see that it has lots of notches or lumps along its side. These are called ‘nodes’. At the top of the flower spike, you’ll see that each node grew a stem for a flower. Well, if you cut between two nodes, then there’s a chance that the lower node will sprout a new flower spike off at an angle. This saves your orchid significant amounts of energy over growing a new flower spike from scratch. But this new spike won’t grow new flowers now; only in the next flowering season, which could be 6-9 months from now.