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Propagating Orchids

There are six main techniques currently used to propagate orchids and these are: division, back bulbs, keiki, aerial cuttings, meristem or tissue culture, and seed . All of the techniques are discussed in detail below and all but two are commonly employed in the home or greenhouse. The two which aren't commonly employed at home are propagation by seed and meristem  tissue culture as these need laboratory conditions to maintain sterility.

Firstly we will take a look at division, the most commonly used method of propagating orchids.

Also see Re Potting Orchids


Division simply means splitting the plant in to two or more parts each with at least one new shoot and each will produce a fully grown mostly flowering size plant that is capable of flowering the following season

This is one of the simplest methods of producing more plants of the same variety or species. Many new to growing orchids are apprehensive about cutting their treasured plant in to two or more parts but there are reasons that this is not only useful in terms of increasing your stock but beneficial to the plant.
Splitting a plant will often encourage the plant to produce more shoots of a better quality and with much more vigor than would be the case if left to it's own devises. The reason for this new vigor is entirely natural and is the plants response to being placed under threat and of course the introduction of new fresh potting medium which the plant will take full advantage of.

Only divide plants where each division will have at least three back bulbs and each division should have at least one new growth. If your division has less than three back bulbs then it may not have enough strength to flower the following season and may take three or more years to come back to flowering size.

Division of plants is best undertaken in the early spring just as new growth starts, this will ensure that each division has a full growing season to establish itself so that it can flower the following season.

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Here we show you the step by step process of splitting a Beallara but the same process can be used on most of the orchids which have back bulbs such as Odontoglossum and types, Cymbidium, Coelogyne and Miltonia plus the clump forming varieties such as Dracula, Masdevallais and Paphiopedilums.

Full process in detail for 'Bulbed' orchids

Full process in detail for Paph type orchids


Back bulb propagation is a method of producing a new plant from old previously flowered or unflowered back pseudobulbs which are usually leafless, plants grown this way may take 2 to 3 years or more to reach flowering size.

Another simple method of propagation but this one may take many years to obtain a flowering size plant. Essentially the process involves the removal of older back bulbs - preferably at re potting time - and placing them under 'ideal' growing conditions to induce rooting.
If you can induce a back bulb to throw out roots then you are half way to obtaining a new plant. It is important to remember though when removing back bulbs that in order to keep the parent plant at flowering size that it, or any divisions should still have at least two good back bulbs and a growth.

Because the bulb is grown from the same plant what you will be left with is the same plant in two different pots, not strictly a clone but the idea is the same as both or all of the plants will be identical (they are actually all the same plant) and so this is an ideal way for the amateur to obtain many plants from their favourite Cymbidium for example.

Full process in detail


Keiki's are produced by Phalaenopsis orchids, a keiki is a small plant that grows on a node along the flower spike where under normal circumstances a new branch would develop. Full process in detail


Aerial cuttings are very common on many of the cane Dendrobiums such as Nobile. If placed under stressful growing conditions then some Dendrobiums will instead of developing flower buds will produce small plants in their place - fine for increasing your stock but not if you want flowers!

Aerial cuttings are very easy to take as the plant is almost fully grown before being removed from the parent plant. Since this type of propagation does not involve fertilization the new plant will be the same as it's parent.

Meristem culture is done under laboratory conditions as extreme cleanliness and sterility are required otherwise all attempts will fail. This is a highly skilful and scientific method of propagation where the very growing centre of a new growth bud is taken and grown on by agitating constantly in a special nutrient rich liquid until the cell mass is large enough to be split in to small sections these are then either grown on in to plants or the process is repeated to produce even more tissue for growing on. This method is often used to mass produce a specific hybrid for commercial purposes.

Meristem tissue culture is not really suitable for attempting at home as the sterility usually can't be achieved, you can of course buy flasks of the finished tissue cultures for growing on but this process will take between 3 and 5 years to get a flowering size plant. Full process in detail

Again this is a technique better suited to laboratory conditions as absolute sterility is needed for success. Orchid seed is almost like dust and unlike ordinary seed which has a starchy food within it to sustain the growing seedling, orchid seed has none and so special techniques are required to sustain it during the formative early stages of its development. Full process in detail


If you have your own home grown seedlings or you've just bought a flask here are some guidelines for getting the small orchids out of the glass jar in a process known as 'de flasking' Full process in detail

Here's a session De Flasking a jar of Cattleya jenmanii, a South American species

Here's some useful equipment you may need
Thermometers | Thermostats | Humidity Gauges

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