General info & Care - Bromeliads
Here are some quick steps to guarantee your bromeliad care is top notch!
WHAT ARE BROMELIADS?
Bromeliads belong to the plant family Bromeliaceae. They may appear strange and exotic, but humans have been using bromeliads for thousands of years and one of our common fruits, the pineapple, is actually a bromeliad. Bromeliads are one of the most diversified plants with respect to the size, shape, texture, colour and markings that can exist among its fifty or so genera and over two thousand recognized species.
Many bromeliads are epiphyts, (which live on other plants without being parasites), but there is a bromeliad for every occasion and landscape. They’re great as pot plants as well as for landscaping, and vary in size from inch long midgets to giants over 10m. What’s more, they’re easy to care for, hardy plants with low water requirements. As more and more stunning varieties are being introduced to the already available mind-boggling range, bromeliads are now coming on their own as living gifts.
WHERE DO THEY ORIGINATE FROM?
Basically natives of South America, the largest number of primitive species are found in Mexico, the Antilles, Costa Rica, eastern and southern Brazil, the Andes of Columbia, Peru and Chile. They thrive in the lowlands of the tropical forests and even in some higher regions (up to 4000 m) of Sierra Madre and the Andes. They were introduced to the world in the 19th century when breeders from Belgium, France and the Netherlands started hybridizing plants for wholesale trade. They regained popularity after World War II which has only increased in recent years.
WHERE CAN THEY GROW?
Bromeliads are hardy plants and can be grown indoors as well as outdoors. They can be found braving the salt spray along seashores, and in the extreme heat and drought of deserts. Some thrive on the ground in the filtered, speckled light of the rain forest while others reach high in the tree tops as epiphytes, for plenty of light and air. They can grow at sea level and as high as 16,000 feet. Some are terrestrial and others are saxicolous (growing on rocks), but most of them grow in trees, epiphytically; they do not drain the host tree, but simply attach to the rough bark of the trunk or branches.
HOW CAN THEY BE CULTIVATED?
Bromeliads are very adaptable and most will respond very well to less than ideal conditions. But like most plants, bromeliads, too, need to adjust when moved to new surroundings. Extra care must be provided to a plant during this adjustment period to provide its critical environmental needs. In many cases this means extra water or misting of the plant. It could be a need for extra air movement or cooler temperatures.
WHAT IS THE BEST POTTING MIX FOR BROMELIADS?
Potting mix for bromeliads must have: enough substance to hold the plant firm and upright in the container, ability to retain moisture but enough drainage good aeration and to prevent root rotting.
Inorganic materials such as perlite, polystyrene or styrofoam pieces, coarse granite (turkey grit) or river gravel aid in maintaining the porosity of the mix as the organic materials decay.
Some of the organic materials used to provide good drainage include crushed pine bark, shredded tree fern, redwood wool, redwood bark, fine and/or medium fir bark, and cork. Coarse sand, potting soil, long fibre sphagnum moss and peat (Canadian or German) also have some water holding ability. Peat provides acidity to the soil mixture and bromeliads prefer a neutral to acid medium.
On average, there are as many mixes as there are growers. The mixtures used depend a lot on availability of the ingredients, their cost and the grower’s experience. We are currently using one part perlite to one part peat moss to form plugs when tissue culture plants are transplanted into seedling trays. Once the plugs are formed, we use one part 15mm pine bark and one part potting mix to plant the plugs into 100mm or 200mm pots so they grow into well developed plants. Complete care instructions for tissue culture plants will be provided with your shipment.
Water requirements for a plant depend a great deal on the type of potting mixture, humidity, light, temperature and air circulation of your growing environment. One also needs to consider the water requirements of the specific plant and whether it is being grown indoors or outdoors. A general rule of thumb is to ensure that you never allow the ‘cup’ in your bromeliad rosette to dry out. When the bromeliad cup is dry, it indicates that the plant has absorbed all the water, causing any salts or residual fertilizer to concentrate in the cup. This could damage the center of the plant and/or burn the leaf edges near the base of the plant. Rain water is certainly best when available. Bromeliads grown outdoors have reduced watering requirements as rainwater as moisture in the surrounding air provides the ideal humidity required for most bromeliads. If you use city water containing excessive salts, flushing of the plant periodically will reduce the chances of salt damage. If you are growing indoors you need to mist the plant twice a week in addition to your watering in order to prevent drying of the leaves due to low humidity.
Light is extremely important in for bromeliads to achieve their maximum potential with respect to appearance. We have learned a lot about the light requirements of various genera by studying their native habitats and from our own growing experiences. The beauty in most of the genera will be enhanced by providing them with more light than they would receive naturally. Most plants with brightly coloured foliage require some strong light to maintain their brilliance. Early morning and late afternoon sun is best, and the plants would do well with some filter (shadecloth, shading net) when the sun is at its peak.
It is recommended that plants with colourful foliage being grown indoors be rotated every two weeks so as to receive enough adequate sunlight.
Most bromeliads grew as epiphytes in their original habitat. They are naturally accustomed to good air movement and have commonly been referred to as air plants. While most will thrive for a while in a confined area indoors, their best potential will only be achieved with good air circulation.
Usually, a small amount of osmocote (slow release fertiliser) in the plants growing media is sufficient to produce a healthy appearance. Plants with beautiful inflorescences will usually benefit from regular feedings, with will be larger and more attractive inflorescence. Fertilizing will also stimulate better propagation of all bromeliads. Instructions are provided with your shipment.
PESTICIDES AND FUNGICIDES
Bromeliads are relatively pest free. They are subject to scale and a few other insects. The most common scales found are the ‘flyspeck’ and the ‘palm scale’. The ‘flyspeck’ scale appears as tiny hard black dots on the leaves and the ‘palm’ as a softer gray or beige dot. You will need to contact your local pesticide dealer for what’s available in your area and the one most suited for your plant. Systemic insecticide are preferable as they can be sprayed just enough to coat each side of the leaf in order to be absorbed into the system, killing all scale attached to the plant. This procedure takes a little longer to kill but is effective for a much longer time. Be sure and follow the safety precautions on the label when handling any sort of chemicals.
It is rare for a bromeliad to get disease-ridden, any disease will most likely be caused by sudden and/or extreme inconsistencies in their immediate micro climate. Sudden drops in temperature, extremely high or low light conditions, mechanical injury or insect damage could cause a fungal infection. This will show up as either black spots or a soft rotting spot, sometimes with a yellowing centre. In such a situation, cut all of the damaged area away with a sharp knife and treat the plant with a good fungicide following directions of the manufacturer. Be sure to flush out the cup well after treatment and to disinfect your knife with a strong bleach solution to prevent spreading the fungus. As most plants grow older it is normal for the outer leaves to turn yellow and die. These should be removed to improve the appearance of the plant. Trimming of leaf tips may also be needed in your grooming procedure, especially if the plant is being grown indoors where the humidity is low.