Growing Bromeliads in Containers

Many bromeliads, including some of the highly epiphytic ones, will adapt readily to containers. When potted, their roots which are normally holdfasts, grow long and fibrous and absorb nutrients as other plant roots do. Terrestrial bromeliads, of course, grow well in containers.

The container

Containers most often used are clay, plastic and styrofoam pots with drain holes in the bottom. Redwood orchid baskets and pumice rocks (lavistone) are excellent containers. Each kind has its advantages and disadvantages. Clay pots, orchid baskets and pumice rocks provide good aeration and porosity but dry out rapidly—conditions that are especially beneficial to the epiphytic brome­liads. Plastic and styrofoam pots lose water more slowly, restrict aeration, and tip over more easily—especially as the plant grows and becomes top-heavy.

English: This is a chlorophytum comosum or spi...

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Except for large plants, most bromeliads fit best in 3″, 4″, or 5″ pots. Clustering-type bromeliads (some billbergias and aechmeas) do best when the pot is filled with plants. Underpot slightly rather than overpot as bromeliads enjoy being somewhat rootbound. Repot them only if they get too top-heavy.

Avoid containers of porcelain and other nonporous substances which do not have drain holes, unless you carefully control your watering and repot with fresh potting media once a year to get rid of accumulated salts.

Stoloniferous bromeliads such as Cryptanthus ‘Cascade’ and those with trailing inflorescences like Aechmea filicaulis and Vriesea simplex parade their beauty best when grown in hanging containers or baskets. Also, those with strong recurving leaves such as Tillandsia utriculata and T. cyanea are also excellent candidates for hanging because their leaves will bend gracefully over and below the container.

Potting media

The secret of succussful potting of bromeliads is that the medium must be porous and neutral or slightly acid. Certainly there must be some moisture-holding capacity but it must never become soggy. Additionally, the medium should have sufficient substance to keep the plant erect.

There are numerous substances easily obtainable which can be used for potting media. Acidity can be provided by peat, osmunda fiber, leaf mold, spagnum, or tree bark. Porosity is supplied by substances like perlite, crushed granite, coarse sand, gravel, and broken pot crocks. Limestone or concrete stones should not be used because they are alkaline.

Bromeliads, because each requires different growing conditions, need dif­ferent potting media. Don’t be afraid to experiment by varying proportions of substances in your potting mixtures, especially if your plant appears to need more drainage or some other requirement. Here are some general potting media formulas that you can try for different kinds of bromeliads — modify them if you need to.

General formula #1

English: Flowerpot with potting soil

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This mixture is generally favorable for epiphytes that will easily pot-adapt such as aechmea, billbergia, neoregelia, nidularium, and allied species, and also cryptanthus and most terrestrials that like lightly moist soils. Combine and mix well:

One part Canadian or German peat

One part perlite Simply insert your plant in the pot and fill with the mixture. Press it down firmly to support the plant. Do not plant the crown too deep as moisture around the crown encourages rotting. Since this mixture has low density a rootless cutting or offshoot may need a wire support.

This mixture can be adjusted for even better drainage, if desired, by filling the lower one quarter of the pot with crocks, or by adding more perlite, sand, vermiculite, or crushed granite, to the medium. Variations of this mixture for epiphytes and terrestrials include adding various amounts of either chopped tree fern, redwood bark chips, shredded redwood bark, or leaf mold in one or more combinations.

General formula #2

This is useful mainly for extreme epiphytes such as the dry-growing tillandsias, some guzmanias, and any other bromeliads that require well-drained media. For this formula use:

  • One part broken crocks
  • Two parts chopped or chunk tree fern fiber (fill upper 20% of pot)
    Cryptanthus glaziovii Member of the Bromeliad ...

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Press the fiber tightly around the plant to support it. If it will not stand, use wire, string or monofilament plastic line. Wire must be coated as zinc or copper will injure the plant. Osmunda fiber is often used as a substitute for tree fern fiber. Osmunda, however, has a tendency to deteriorate in about a year and must be replaced when it breaks down and becomes sour and soggy. A top dressing of fir bark above the tree fern or osmunda helps support the plant and also helps stimulate root growth.

General formula #3 This mixture is best for xerophytic terrestrials such as dyckias that require good drainage and dry periods between waterings. Combine and mix well:

One part coarse gravel (or crushed granite)

Two parts coarse sharp sand (or perlite)

One part Canadian or German peat (or leaf mold) This rubble-like mixture maintains good drainage yet provides sufficient water holding capacity for the hot-and-dry loving plants.

Potting and repotting

Choose the appropriate sized container and potting medium for your plant. Use 3 or 4 inches (7.5-10 cm) pots for most offshoots and 4 or 5 inches (10-13cm) ones for most rooted plants. Highly root bound plants should be repotted in pots one size larger than their present container. If the pot has a drain hole, place one or more crocks in the bottom over the hole and fill the pot V$ to Yi full of potting medium. Slightly loosen the roots of the plant and position it in the middle of the pot. Then fill the pot almost to the top and tamp with your thumbs. Water thoroughly.

Offshoots, separated from their parents can be left for a few days to harden off or they can be potted immediately. A rooting powder, containing a rooting hormone and fungicide, can be applied to the cut surface if desired. Plant in appropriate potting medium and be sure to keep lightly moist for several weeks during the rooting period. Once established it can be treated like any rooted bromeliad.

Offshoots and even top heavy rooted plants may be unstable after potting or transplanting because of the lack of root system. A layer of pea gravel on top of the potting medium may help to stabilize. Sticks and wires can be used to support the plant if necessary.

If you are determined to pot your plant in a nonporous container without a drainhole, place one or two inches (2.5-5cm) of pebbles in the bottom covered with about % inch (.5cm) of activated charcoal. Then add a porous potting medium and plant the bromeliad. Water carefully and scantily as these containers lose their water from the surface of the potting medium and tend to stay moist for a long time.

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