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

In Phalaenopsis
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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’m of the second half and I’ll explain why. Before I get into all the reasons you SHOULDN’T cut a spike, let’s talk about the case where you should.

When you SHOULD cut a Phalaenopsis spike (the exception)

If your plant is stressed, if it has few roots, leathery/wilted leaves, or is 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 roots and leaves rather than blooming. A plant will bloom itself to death and only when the balance of nutrient uptake and light is perfect will you get both spike and leaf or root growth at the same time. Normally you’ll only get one or the other…so if your plant is struggling, cut the spike. With that caveat out of the way…

These are 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 2-3 flushes of flowers in a given year from that one spike. Some claim that cutting the spike gives the plant an opportunity to “save up” until the next bloom, but that’s simply not true. Cutting the spike does mean you have to wait longer until you see flowers again, and it does mean you’re forcing the plant to invest a substantial amount of energy in a new spike.

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

  1. Strive to grow better. 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, photoperiod, 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 heavily taxing on a plant…if you leave a spike intact, your orchid will have surplus energy to put into flowers rather than investing in a whole new spike; and if your plant has the energy for a new spike…guess what? You’ll get two spikes – the old one…and a new one.

By following these principals I was able to double-to-quadruple my flower count comparing one year to the previous. One of my favorite phals produced 13 flowers last February—this winter it currently has 3 spikes (one that’s still intact from last year), with 8 tips (from branches), and currently over 45 buds…over 9 of which are from the old spike (that’s 20% of this year’s flower from the old spike)!

Flowering Tip: For more flowers, use a low-nitrogen fertilizer (such as one for African Violets) when the plant is actively growing spikes and buds.

Image of long-time bloomers

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.

Lots of phals…lots of spikes…lots of flowers (eventually)

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 it could inherit 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. 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 the spike doesn’t “cost energy” at all. It’s the #1 reason most people cut the spikes, but it actually contributes energy because the spike itself is a modified leaf—it’s photosythetic. So having a spike on a plant only adds more energy (if your watering practices and care are up to par) so it’s really in your plant’s best interest to keep old spikes as long as possible.

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 means more flowers 

Photo of me with my large and happy phal
The same phal a few months later with a new spike…and LOTS of flowers (32 buds/flowers total)

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
Image of phalaenopsis orchid varieties – DON’T CUT SPIKES!
(unless you absolutely have to)