AOS Book Review: The Orchid Whisperer

Book Review:
The Orchid Whisperer

By Bruce Rogers. 2012. Chronicle Books, San Francisco. Softcover. 143 pages. 75 color photographs.

The Orchid Whisperer is an eminently intelligent and attractive book for beginning orchid growers. While not actually advocating muttering at plants (at least not as an active growing tool), it presents plenty of easy-to-understand advice to get novice growers on the road to success. At the same time, author Bruce Rogers, a longtime commercial orchid man, makes it all so readable. Unlike some other “beginner”advice books, Rogers’ language is engaging and humorous, and strikes the right balance between being easy to read and needing a science degree to understand.

Rogers departs from the frequent novice- formula of analyzing conditions and buying plants to match those conditions. Instead, he suggests new growers buy what they like and then look for places inside their homes hospitable to the plants. His topics include practical advice on buying and selecting plants, mixes and repotting, light and temperature, watering and pests. In addition to the usual recommendations about beginning with phalaenopsis and cattleyas, he provides details on other genera such as miltoniopsis and reed-stem epidendrums. Rogers is unabashedly organic, offering green solutions to common pests like mealybugs, aphids and spider mites. He is also unabashedly optimistic, assuring his readers that their orchids can be kept blooming “no matter your experience level, budget, or locations.”

Then there’s Rogers’ humor:
“My advice is to learn how to repot cymbidiums, then find a job that pays well enough that you can hire someone to repot your cymbidiums.”

Graphically, the color photographs by Greg Allikas are excellent and the occasional checklist of tips practical and well organized. Rogers even adds a chapter on decorating with orchids, which is interesting enough to challenge even experienced growers to new levels of creativity. One more chart summarizing the light, water and temperature requirements of the included species might have been beneficial, but that’s available from other sources. The Orchid Whisperer is one to put on the holiday list for novice orchidists, or for those who may cuss while repotting.

— Sue Volek has been growing orchids as a hobby for more than 15 years, in San Diego, Washington, DC, and now Portland. She is on the board of the Oregon Orchid Society, an AOS affiliate, and has been an AOS member for more than 15 years.


Window Orchid Display Table Example

Everyone loves to display their blooming orchids in their homes.   Putting them all around the house adds a nice decorators touch to each room, but you can also put them all on one table for a more dramatic display.    Your friends and family will love to see what you have blooming, and the display is constantly changing throughout the year, so it never looks the same.

Here is a sample window display you can set up in your home to show off your blooming orchids.  Remember to put it in an East or North facing window.  No direct sunlight as it can burn the tender leaves of some orchids, such as Phalaenopsis.   Also the humidity inside homes is usually quite low, especially in the winter and the hot part of the summer when the air conditioner is running.  You can provide more humidity by using a humidity tray under the orchids.

To set up a homemade humidity tray,  place a shallow pan filled with gravel, decorative pebbles or lava rock on your table and fill with a small amount of water.  Set the orchid pots on top of the rocks, but never let them sit in standing water.  The pots should be above the water level at all times.

Keep your inside orchids clean by hosing off the entire plant in the bathtub or outside about once a month.  Do this in the morning so the plant will have time to dry off completely during the day.  Also never let water accumulate at the growing point on Phalaenopis (the point where the leaves connect at the center).   Water left in the crown can lead to crown rot, so dump out, and blow out any remaining water on the plant before putting back on the table.

Lastly a small fan for air circulation would be very helpful.  Put it on a timer and have it run for a few hours, on and off during the day.   Orchids love moving air.

Best of luck on your home display.

AOS Monthly Checklist for July and August

Here are some helpful hints to care for your orchids in the hot summer months, courtesy of the AOS.


Cattleyas this month require careful attention to their watering and fertilizing needs owing to characteristically high temperatures. Evaporative cooling is a must in areas of the country where it is effective. Where it is not (the more humid regions), care needs to be paid to proper venting to keep temperatures within reason. Bottom vents in conjunction with top vents provide enough rising air-flow to help keep plants cool. Increased air flow lessens humidity and dries plants out more quickly, necessitating more frequent damping down and watering, in areas where high humidity is not a problem. Higher light and heat indicate more fertilizer. The growths your plants are making now are the source of this autumn, winter and spring’s blooms, so applying adequate fertilizer this month is the best way to ensure future blooms. Higher temperatures and humidity may also lead to fungal or bacterial rot problems, so it is important to closely observe your plants for any early indication of problems. Pests are also at a high point this month for the same reason


Cooling and air circulation are especially critical in these two months to prevent stress and avoid dis-ease problems. Watering needs to be closely monitored to ensure that plants do not dry out. Warmer-growing hybrids will be at the peak of their blooming, with attention needing to be paid to staking of spikes. Look for water lodging in growths, which can rot emerging spikes and lead to the loss of the entire growth.


Most, if not all, potting should be complete by now. This month and next are when these plants achieve their maximum growth. This growth will be that from which they set their spikes for the coming season. The more leaves the plants grow, the better potential for spiking will be realized. Growers in cooler areas such as the Pacific coast have the advantage this month, should they choose, of cooling for early season spikes. Lots of heat and light call for liberal applications of water and fertilizer.


Summer can be the most rewarding season for cymbidiums. Growths should be coming strong now. The leaves of the new growths are best when they are broad and fairly stiff. The color should be a light green to nearly yellow. Early flowering varieties should be showing flower spikes, so move the plants into a cooler area with lower light. For mid-season varieties, lower the dosage of nitrogen to assist in spike initiation.
High-elevation Plants
For cooler-growing plants, such as masdevallias, other pleurothallids and the like, the next few months will be a challenge. During the hottest times, keep your plants more shaded and be sure to keep the humidity level much higher. Do not let plants dry out. Delay any potting until the weather cools.

Oncidium intergenerics :

Many of the intergeneric crosses between odontoglossums and oncidiums, such as Odontocidium, Wilsonara and Colmanara, will be blooming now. Take special care to train the spikes for best floral display. Keep plants under fairly shady conditions. Watch for snails and slugs.


Plants will be growing quickly now and really enjoying the hot humid days so similar to their native habitat. Watch for pests though, as many of these also enjoy the same con-ditions as the plants. Check flower spikes so that they can extend unimpeded for the best flower presentation later

The AOS thanks Ned Nash and James Rose for this essay