6 Reasons you shouldn’t cut old spikes on a Phalaenopsis (unless it's already yellow/brown)

In Orchid Tips & Care
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This topic comes up every now and then an I wanted to nip it in the bud *har har*. Some people cut a flower spikes after the blooms fall, others don’t. I don’t and this article will explain why; but first, let’s talk about the one case where you probably should cut the spikes on your phal.

When you SHOULD cut a Phalaenopsis spike (the exception)

If your plant is stressed, if it has few roots, leathery/wilted leaves, or if it’s just generally not doing well, AND it is actively GROWING a new spike or flower buds, then you should cut the spike so the plant starts focusing energy on root and leaf growth rather than blooming. A plant can bloom itself to death if conditions are not ideal and it’s only when the balance of nutrient uptake and light is ideal that you’ll get both spike and leaf or root growth at the same time. Typically though, you’ll only get flower/spike development or vegetative growth…so if your plant is struggling, cut the spike. With that caveat out of the way…

The 6 reasons you SHOULD NOT cut a Phal spike:

1. If you don’t cut Phalaenopsis spikes you’ll get more flowers overall

By keeping old spikes on the plant you’ll potentially get 2-4 flushes of flowers in a given year from that one spike. Most common phals will branch from a spike after the blooms fade and continue blooming if conditions are right.

Some claim that cutting the spike after the first set of flowers, gives the plant an opportunity to “save up” until the next bloom. This might partially be true, you may get more flowers in a single flush next year, but it’s not really the whole story. If you didn’t cut the spike you could get 2-4 flushes of flowers over the whole year which in total give you both more flowers and a more rewarding plant. Cutting the spike means you have to wait longer until you see flowers again and also means you’re forcing the plant to invest a substantial amount of energy into growing a brand new spike.

Photo of my largest phal with 33 flowers; over 10 are on the old spikes
That same phal 5 months earlier with its old spikes

If you want more flowers, don’t cut old spikes. Instead, do these 4 things:

  1. Strive to be a better grower. Rely on good fertilizer, proper pH, bright light (even phals technically do better at intermediate light), and grow a big and healthy plant.
  2. Understand, seasonal triggers cause bud formation (temperatures, photoperiods, and wet/dry cycles); this is the most-important piece of advice for getting more flowers on most common store-bought phals. If you want more details on warm and cool growing phals and their care, check out this other post I wrote on the topic
  3. LIGHT BABY! Light matters…and unless you’re growing near a window, in a greenhouse, or under artificial lights, there’s a really good chance your plant needs more light.
  4. Leave old spikes on the plant. The effort spent growing a spike is taxing on your plant…if you leave a spike intact, your orchid will have surplus energy to put into flowers rather than investing energy in a whole new spike; and if your plant has surplus energy for a new spike…guess what? You’ll get two spikes – the old one…and a new one. Some really happy phals will produce 2 or even 3 new spikes at once!

By following these 4 principals I was able to double-to-quadruple my flower count in 2019 compared to 2018

Flowering Tip: For more flowers, after vegetative growth (leaves/roots) have finished, start use a low-nitrogen fertilizer (such as one for African Violets) while the plant is actively growing spikes and buds.

2. It might make for an uglier orchid but I still don’t cut spikes

Yeah, having a bunch of branches may look less tidy, but if you have a particularly “spiky” plant, then odds are it has the potential to have LOTS of blooms on all of those spikes. You can cut them for aesthetics of the plant…but I grow my plants for the show factor…more flowers is my goal.

The only time I’ll cut spikes is if they’re getting so unruly that it’s causing me issues moving the plant around.

Some particularly “spiky” phals
That same spiky plant – later this summer w/ 20 flowers/buds

3. More than half the phal species are “ever blooming”, odds are your hybrid is too

If your phal is a hybrid and it has species from the subgenus “Polychilos”, then there’s a VERY good chance that has the ever-blooming quality of those species. Even if you know for sure yours isn’t from the subgenus Polychilos, it may be from the subgenus Parishinae (which includes the small and highly crossed Phal equestris) which have the ability to be seasonally ever blooming producing continuous flowers for over half the year. It also means that rather than 50%, nearly 75% of phal species keep their spikes year-round.

Photo of species phalaenopsis with ever-blooming spikes

4. Once a spike has been made it doesn’t “cost energy” to keep

Mentioned in point 1, growing a spike takes a lot out of a plant…but keeping an existing spike doesn’t “cost energy” at all. It’s the #1 reason most people cut the spikes, they believe it costs the plant energy, but a spike actually contributes energy—it’s a modified leaf—it’s photosythetic. So having a spike on a plant technically adds energy to the plant—it’s how a whole new plant can be grown from a spike in tissue culture (the spike chlorophyll feeds the baby plant even after the spike has been severed from the main plant). All of this does assume your watering practices, fertilizing routine, and care are up to par, but it really is in your plant’s best interest to keep old spikes for as long as possible.

Photo of a few phals with SO MANY FLOWERS (on old spikes and new)

If old spikes “took up energy”, then how did I get more flowers this year than any year prior…when I didn’t cut a single green spike?

5. More Biomass (means more overall energy for the plant)

The more overall biomass your plant has, the better it is for the totality of flower production and sustainment of the plant. What the hell does that even mean? The more green and the more roots your plant has, the better equipped it is to make flowers. Think of your plant’s leaves (and spikes) like solar chargers for a battery. Let’s assume you want to charge that battery so you can power a flashlight (or create flowers). If you have more intake of energy for the battery, you’ll be able to power that flashlight longer and repower the battery quicker. The more roots you have, the more nutrients your plant can take up, and the more green leaves you have, the more energy can be absorbed. More biomass = more flowers 

6. Should you cut phalaenopsis spikes? Not if you want keikis

Some phalaenopsis have a unique ability to make baby orchids on their spikes – these babies are called keikis. It generally requires warmer temperatures to encourage this (25-29C), but if you want a chance at making babies of your orchid…you’ve got to keep those spikes around. Don’t cut them off.

Photo of phalaenopsis keiki babies

That pretty much sums up my perspectives on cutting phalaenopsis spikes. It always comes down to personal preference and if you really feel strongly about cutting spikes, obviously go for it! I’ll leave you with one last consideration though…

Lastly, Beware: Every cut is a chance to spread viruses

Tools used for cutting live tissue can transmit viruses between plants. Phals in particular have been found to have high infection rates (up to 40% in some collections). The only way you can sterilize scissors is with flame; soap, water & bleach may not effective enough as all it takes is a single viral cell to infect a new plant from infected sheers. And if you by chance have one infected phal…and you don’t properly flame your scissors…then you potentially can transmit that virus to every one of your other phals. It’s not worth it in my opinion.

In conclusion DON’T CUT SPIKES! (unless you absolutely have to)
Here are some more photos for inspiration 🙂