Soil and Potting Needs for Bromeliads

Author: Melanie Dearringer31 Comments

Care and Culture, Product Reviews

Soil is the anchor for many plants. It provides stability for roots. It holds water to be taken up by the roots and provides nutrients to plants. Bromeliads, because of their adaptations to their natural growing environment, have special needs when it comes to soil or lack there of as the case may be.

Bromeliad Potting Soil

It is true that you rarely want to use top soil or garden soil for a container plant. It is too dense and does not allow for proper drainage. Plants growing in this medium will rot quickly and not be successful. You can purchase a soil-less potting mix at garden stores and nurseries. But even this mix maybe too dense for air loving bromeliads.

Bromeliads have three growing habits: epiphytic, terrestrial and saxicolous. Meaning they grow non-parasitically on other plants (typically trees), in the ground, or on rocks respectively. Many bromeliads that grow on trees in their natural habitat can also grow terrestrially.  Even though they are planted in the ground they still need good air circulation and a chance to dry in between waterings. The special needs of bromeliads require special potting mixes that give them proper support and allow for fast drainage.

Potting Mix Suggestions

Special potting mixes for bromeliads can be purchased at nurseries and garden stores. Unfortunately these potting mixes can be expensive. It is possible to create your own bromeliad potting mix from purchased ingredients or even your own homemade ingredients. Here are three suggested mixes that you can try yourself:

  • Equal parts sphagnum peat moss, medium grade horticultural perlite, and fine fir bark.
  • 1/2 potting soil, 1/4 perlite, and 1/4 orchid bark.
  • Equal parts soil-less potting soil, perlite, and pine bark nuggets.

Other suggested materials include sand, tree fern and coconut shells.

About Potting Mix Ingredients

sphagnum

-Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum peat moss comes from decayed sphagnum. Sphagnum grows in bogs and is adapted to retain water within its structure. Sphagnum is useful in mixes for bromeliads because it helps retain water when the soil is dry and holds water within it when damp preventing the roots from staying too soggy. These natural properties will help the bromeliad get the water it needs while preventing root rot. It also provides stronger support for the top heavy plants. Sphagnum peat moss also adds some acidity to the soil, which bromeliads typically prefer. It can be purchased in garden supply stores.

Perlite is usually formed from obsidian, a volcanic rock. When it is heated it expands greatly and the finished product is incredibly light. Perlite prevents soil mixes from becoming too compacted. It helps water move easily through the mix. It does not retain water itself, therefore, it is an ideal addition to bromeliad mixes.

Fir bark also boosts to the acidity of the soil-less mix. It adds texture and encourages movement of water through the container. Fir bark can be found at garden suppliers. It is often sold as “Orchid Bark” as well.

The purpose of bromeliad potting mix is to allow for maximum air and water flow while still providing support, water, and nutrients to the plants. Feel free to try various mixes and substances to get a soil-less mix that your bromeliad thrives in. If you choose to use compost from your yard as part of the mix, be sure that it is first baked. This will remove any pests, viruses, bacteria or fungus that could harm your bromeliad or any other container plant.

Repotting Bromeliads

When you purchase a bromeliad from a florist or garden center they are typically in bloom and will not grow more. Bromeliads have very small root systems and these plants will not need to be repotted during their lifetime in your home. However, if you purchase a very small bromeliad that has not yet produced a bloom you will need to repot it. Once your small bromeliad has grown out of its pot, you will need to move it to a larger one. If your pot is not retaining any water you know it is time to repot.  A six inch container is most likely the largest size your bromeliad will need. Make sure that your container is clean. If it has been used in the past, wash it several times with mild soap and water being careful to rinse it well. You can also use a highly diluted solution of bleach to wash the container. Let the container dry completely before repotting your bromeliad. When your container is ready, fill it to just below the surface with your special bromeliad potting mix. Then place the bromeliad in the container and press more potting mix around it. Take care to ensure that all of the leaves are above the potting mix. Air circulation around these lower leaves is critical to the health of the plant.  If your plant is too top heavy you may have to stake it until its roots are well established.

If you notice the potting mix around your bromeliad consistently soggy, and you are not overwatering, you may need to try a different mix. Bromeliads that stay wet can be severely damaged by root rot.  Carefully remove the plant gently shaking as much of the old soil off as possible. Wash the old container well and replace the current medium with a potting mix that contains more perlite or sand increasing the drainage capabilities. As mentioned above, plant the bromeliad making sure that all of its leaves are above the soil.

Bromeliad pups can also be removed from the mother plant and potted in a similar fashion. Start with a small pot and you may have to repot increasing the size once during the bromeliad’s lifetime. It will take about two years for the new bromeliad to produce a bloom. Learn more about bromeliad pups with our free Beginner’s Guide to Bromeliad Pups.

Displaying in a Large Pot

Cararo

-Self watering plant container

If you would like to use a larger pot to display the bromeliad there are several options. If the container is very large, place an empty pot upside down in the container then place the bromeliad pot on top of it. Fill some of the space with packing peanuts or even pieces of cardboard and then place sphagnum moss around the top making the bromeliad appear as though it is planted in the large container. However you arrange your plant within a container, make sure that the drainage holes are not blocked and that watering will not damage your set up. If watering will be a problem, simply remove the bromeliad from the decorative container, water it, let it dry a bit and replace it.

Individual Needs

Different species of bromeliads may have different needs. The climate in your area including humidity and amount of sunlight will also affect your potting mix needs. Check with your local growers to see if they have a preferred potting mix for your variety. In general, most bromeliads need good drainage, air circulation, and support to thrive in their container environment.

Sources
Bromeliads Make Great Housplants” LSU AgCenter, Dan Gill, <http://text.lsuagcenter.com/en/communications/news/get_it_growing/read_more/Bromeliads-make-great-houseplants.htm>
“Tips for Caring for Your Bromeliad” Treasure Coast Bromeliad Society <http://www.tcbromeliadsociety.org/tips.htm>
“Perlite” Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perlite>
“Sphagnum” Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sphagnum>
Bromeliad Society International <http://www.bsi.org/brom_info/FAQ.html#potting>
Sphagnum photo credit: Vilseskogen via http://www.flickr.com/photos/vilseskogen/5101332898/

Featured image photo credit: Travis via http://www.flickr.com/photos/baggis/8171436093/

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31 Responses to “Soil and Potting Needs for Bromeliads”

  1. Jan Creedon-McVean says:

    OK This is all very informative; BUT, you have not detailed how to “remove” a pup so that there is no harm (cut/wound) to either the mother or the pup. THANK YOU for your help,
    Jan

    1. joe says:

      simply lift carefully the whole clump from the pot… remove some potting medium to expose the area where the mum and the pup attached..gently snip the point where they met and it would be fine…

  2. donna says:

    my bromeliad is in full bloom right now, what do i do with it after bloom? do i remove the stalk or let it go on its own? also,if i remove all the soil, would it grow roots and then grow in crystal water beads?

    1. Kathryn says:

      When we bought our Bromeliad, we were told that when the flower dies off, too snip it off and in the next flowering season it should grow back !!, but he didnt seem to certain !! sorry i cant help more, this is the first time i have had them !!!!!

      1. Eric in Alameda says:

        I have been keeping Bromeliads for a long time and I have never seen one bloom more than once. Luckily they produce pups after blooming and the pups will flower when they mature!

        1. sue says:

          Bromiliads usually only flower once and then they still grow but don’t flower. The pups will also do the same. A bromiliad only flowers once

          1. Kathleen says:

            i hate to refute anyone, my bromelaid flowers each year (6 years now) and for the first time it is flowering 2 months after again!!! I have two large pups beside it, so I have not separated them. What happens if you have 3 in one pot and there is enough soil for everyone. ? Kathleen

          2. Melanie Dearringer says:

            Kathleen,

            There are some bromeliads that do bloom more than once in their lifetime. There are some species in the genus Deuterocohnia that will continue to bloom on an existing inflorescence for up to six years. However, these bromeliads are not commonly grown. As the more common center blooming bromeliads grow, they produces more leaves which are also grown from the center of the plant. The inflorescence will eventually block new leaf growth and the plants will then focus their energy on producing pups. As for the pups, they can be left with the mother to grow in a clump without causing issues.

    2. Paula says:

      So, do you cut the dead stalk? If so, how far down?

  3. Cookie says:

    Last year I planted two bromeliads into my garden soil. I knew nothing about them when I planted. Is it likely they will recover if I remove them and dry them out?

    Is it possible to plant any bromeliad on a tree using glue or a tie?

  4. C. Champion says:

    i have had several once they bloom they do not bloom again. They produce pups sometimes three or four. Snip them leaving part of the root of the mother plant, and re pot. I have found they do not bloom the first year. the less care they get the better they like it, very little water and water in the middle of the plant. Let them dry completely. To force bloom
    put them in a plastic bag with an apple for a couple of weeks. Usually this works. Good Luck!

  5. Jim Johnston says:

    I have be unsuccessful in locating spagnum moss (not peat) used to mount a bromeliad. Do you know a source?

    1. If you are having a hard time finding any locally, you could order some off Amazon or another online source: http://www.amazon.com/Luster-Leaf-Long-Fiber-Sphagnum/dp/B0015HZI90

    2. linda says:

      lowe’s home improvement center has it

  6. justmissjamey says:

    Hello, I have a plant that has a pink flower, but I think it needs to be replanted. Some of the smaller roots are showing on top of the soil. So I bought some starter seed mix soil. It says its a light weight soil with sphagnum peat moss, professional grade growers grade vermiculite, horticultural grade perlite and other ingredients designed to retain essential moisture while providing aeration and room for tender roots to grow…..do you think this mix would be good to repot it in, and do I need to add anyother type soil??

    1. Melanie Dearringer says:

      I would try the mix you purchased. Sphagnum peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite should provide a light, slightly acidic mix that your bromeliad will thrive in. However, different types of bromeliads have different needs. Be sure to keep an eye on your plant and make adjustments if necessary.

  7. Sally white says:

    I have had good success mounting bromeliads to driftwood, i used a mixture of orchid , pete, perilite & wrapped it in sphagnum moss. Then attatched them with strips of panty hose shoved through holes that I drilled in the driftwood.

  8. Martha Lindblom says:

    Thanks! Needed some soil solutions. Got it! 😉 will send pic if I can figure out how!!!

  9. Shmuel says:

    I love this website!!! Thanks so much.

  10. Mary Kelker says:

    Question: What does it mean when tiny gnats gather around my bromeliad?

    1. Celeste Booth says:

      This could be due to overwatering, as fungus gnats like to breed in very moist soil. For a non-chemical solution, you can use yellow sticky cards to trap the gnats. You can find some here on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Yellow-Sticky-Aphid-Whitefly-Trap/dp/B000I6K3JY

  11. Mary says:

    I think you need to sterilize the scissors you use to cut the bloom , that is the info I have.

  12. SCOTT says:

    I have a Neoregalia that hasnt flowered yet but is throwing out 2 pups. I have it in a tank with a misting system mounted to a small piece of tree fern but I want to take it out and pot it. Its going to take up to much room. What potting mix would be best for it? I have it in with deflasked baby orchids at this time.

  13. Mimi says:

    This is all great info and I’m sure I’ll get negative feedback for my comment, BUT I started out with 3 plants given to me by a coworker and I now have about 30. I guess you could say I almost neglect them. I have them in a greenhouse and water them by putting the water on the plant and not the soil. Also, I plant mine in potting mix or top soil or garden mix, whatever I have on hand. I had one plant in a large coffee cup planter and just had to separate it for fear the planter would break open from the pressure of the root ball. I didn’t count but I know I had 20 plants out of that one planter. I have some outside and most inside. I think you can overthink plant care sometimes. Just relax and enjoy the ride!

    1. kenneth wiser says:

      I due the same thing. did not know that you needed a certin mix.

  14. Gwenda says:

    Well said Mimi!

  15. shirley b. says:

    this was GREAT. i give the pups as gifts. once i was in rio -they have those lava rick moutains were brom’s grow. the pups fall just below and start their life. point -they all bloom at same time making entire mountain orange or pink or…it is spectacular. think jungle mountain-up high, regular humidity/misting, prompt thorough drainage, walk away. i pull at the dead flower and when ready it comes free from the base. if i pull a pup, i make sure theres a little root attached. these guys continue to fascinate me since the first big pink one i got in the 8o’s. confused? think cactus care. light, mist, easy run off, ignore. new plants like a year to flower.

  16. stanley dowling says:

    Bought 3 tillandsia in single pot
    All were bright pink when purchased and 2 were producing constant crop of blue flowers
    Now only 1 plant producing blue flowers
    2 plants lost pink color and have turned green and generally do not look well
    Third plant is still pink but green is appearing and still producing blue flowers
    Why so different when all in same pot and environment
    How do I get all 3 plants healthy

    1. cherie says:

      I was told that when you see a colored tillandsia is has been sprayed to show us the color of the blooms and as the plant grows the green or gray appears in the middle and the color spray is on the tips. The one plant that is blooming is probably the pup and the other two are mother and older sibling. I would say just separate and only the strong survive..

  17. rich says:

    How critical is air circulation for bromeliads?

    1. Celeste Booth says:

      It will mostly depend on your temperature/humidity levels — the more humid the air, the more important the air circulation is so as to avoid root rot and other fungus issues.

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