Tuesday, February 28, 2012

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The Orchid Whisperer

Hermann Pigors

Hermann Pigors is an orchid whisperer.

He doesn’t actually call himself that, but he could. With 50 years of experience working with orchids, he knows a great deal about these magnificent blooming plants and how to help them grow and thrive indoors.
After listening to his recent talk at Chalet Nursery, I think there may actually be some hope for me. (I’ve killed all three of the orchids I’ve owned.)

Here are 10 basic tips from his presentation.
n  Good light is critical. Orchids generally like bright light, but not too much direct light or they will scorch. From February through October, Pigors puts his orchids at home in south windows with sheer curtains. He also recommends 55-65% shade cloth or the north side of a building during that time.

n  Some types of orchids require more sun that others. Paphiopedilum, more commonly known as lady’s slipper, needs less light than a cattleya type, for instance.

n  Orchids like humidity. Create it by grouping plants, closing heat registers at night near them, lowering the heat at night, using humidity trays or misting.

Miltonia or Pansy orchids like intermediate to cool temperatures,
shade, plastic pots and less fertilizer

n  Fall- and winter-blooming orchids need short days and cool nights to set their buds.  Orchids classified as “warm” need minimum temperatures of 65 degrees. “Intermediate” is 58 degrees and “cool” is 55 to 60 degrees. This is cooler than what most people have in their homes.

n   “Watering is our most difficult job,” Pigors said. It is best done with rainwater or water with a low mineral content.  If you live on the North Shore of Chicago and your city uses lake water, don’t worry. If you live farther inland and your water comes from a well, you may need to add calcium and magnesium to the water.

n  Plants need more water during the growing season. Allow them to dry out more during the dormant winter months.  If you use a pot with cut out sides, be sure to use a plastic liner. He said such pots work well in Florida, where it rains all the time and the humidity is high. Here in the Chicago area, though, plants potted this way tend to dry out too fast.

Paphiopedilum orchids like warm or cool temperatures,  lower light,
plastic pots and light feeding

n  Fertilizing is essential for orchids growing in fir-bark mixes. From February through October, he recommends using a 20-20-20 or an 8-8-8 fertilizer every one to three weeks at the rate of ½ teaspoon per gallon. From November through February, use 12-36-14, 10-30-20 or 10-50-10 blossom booster or African violet food every three to four weeks according to directions. Plants in greenhouses or sunrooms need fertilizers with higher nitrogen numbers from February through October.

n  Be sure to use the right size pot. If the pot is too large, the roots may stay wet for too long.  “When in doubt, use a smaller pot and then repot next year,” he said. Some types of orchids prefer plastic pots while others prefer clay pots.

Cymbidum orchids like cool temperatures, bright light, plastic pots and lots of fertilizer

n  It’s easier to get some types of orchids to bloom than others. For example, he said cymbidium is “the easiest to grow and the toughest to bloom.” It is a heavy feeder that requires cool nights and bright light.  Phalaenopsis, another heavy feeder, will do well with “warm” nights and medium light.

n  Are your plants are stubborn and refusing to bloom? He recommends more light, cool nights, low nitrogen food or no food, keeping them drier in the winter months, more space and dividing crowded bushy plants.
Pigors is the owner of Oak Hills Gardens in Dundee, Illinois, where he raises many different types of orchids from seed.

by Karen Geisler

Oncidium orchids like intermediate to warm temperatures, medium to bright light,
and either clay or plastic pots.
Cattleya orchids prefer intermediate temperatures, bright light, plastic pots and
outdoor growing from May 15 to September 15 in the Chicago area.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I recently posted my love for orchids, especially as I get closer to a move to a warmer climate -- but I am orchidly challenged. I will use these tips in my future orchid wall.

  2. You're welcome. I too have been orchidly challenged, but I hope to try again after hearing his talk. An orchid wall? I'm extremely jealous. It would never happen in Chicago. Best of luck!!!