Bromeliads: Growing Medium and Mounting Materials
Author: Celeste Booth7 Comments
Growing bromeliads indoors is a great way to add an exotic, tropical feel to your interior designs. In order to care for them, you must have a good understanding of how they grow, what medium they prefer, and what kind of care they require. Before we discuss potting medium, it is helpful to understand how bromeliads collect water and nutrients to grow.
Types of Bromeliads
Bromeliads can be epiphytic, saxicolous, or terrestrial. You are probably most familiar with the latter.Terrestrial plants live in the ground. Their roots are anchored in the soil to provide stability and absorb nutrients and water. Epiphytic bromeliads grow attached to other plants, usually trees. They non parasitic using their roots to anchor themselves to the host plant. Epiphytes gather water and nutrients from the air with small hairs called trichomes. Saxicolous bromeliads grow on rocks and gather water and nutrients in the same manner as epiphytes. Many bromeliads have the ability to live as either epiphytes or terrestrials.
Terrestrial bromeliads require special potting medium. They cannot grow in regular soil as it is too heavy for for these air loving plants. Mixes can vary greatly and it may take some trial and error to find the mix that is perfect for the type of bromeliad you are growing. In general, bromeliads prefer an acidic mix. The medium must also be coarse so that water quickly drains away from the roots. Bromeliads like to be damp but not soggy. If the roots stay too wet for a prolonged period of time, they will experience rot. The potting mix must be light and airy as well. Bromeliads roots do not respond well if they are tightly packed. The safest option is to purchase potting mixes that are formulated specially for bromeliads. Some orchid medium can work as well. If you choose to make your own potting mixture, use ingredients such as humus, orchid bark, coarse perlite, pumice, sphagnum moss, and tree fern fibers. This will create a coarse potting mixture will provide plenty of movement and drainage for your bromeliad.
Choosing a Container
When choosing a container, consider your location and watering habits. If you have a tendency to over-water or you are keeping your bromeliad in a humid environment, you may want to use a clay pot. This will allow the soil to dry out faster and prevent the roots from becoming too soggy. If you are in a dry climate or are keeping your plants indoors where there is a lot of air flow, such as heat or air conditioning, you may want to use a plastic or ceramic container. These containers will keep the roots moist and prevent them from drying out.
The size of a bromeliad is not an indication of how large your pot should be. Roots for bromeliads are relatively small and prefer a smaller pot. Using too large of a pot will often times lead to root rot because the medium will not drain as quickly and cause the bromeliad’s root system to sit in water. Most bromeliad species will do well in containers that are 4 to 6 inches in diameter. If the bromeliad becomes top heavy in such a small container, you can use a larger pot as an anchor by filling the larger pot and then placing the small pot that contains the bromeliad inside.
Epiphytic bromeliads can be mounted on various structures. There are a few different methods for mounting epiphytes, but most involve untreated wood. Cork bark and tree fern slabs are commonly used for mounting. Cedar, juniper, oak, mesquite, and rosewood are good woods to use that are rot resistant. Stumps can also make unique mounts. Make sure that regardless the type of wood you choose it is untreated and salt free. Wood that has been treated with copper will kill the bromeliad. Any rough and porous surface free of chemical will work as a mount.
Once you have found a mount, you can choose your plant. Many plants in the genera Tillandsia, Billbergia and Aechmeas are epiphytes that will mount nicely. It may find it easier to mount pups as their root systems have not yet matured. If you use plants that have already formed roots, you will need to cover these soft roots with sphagnum moss. The moss must be moistened regularly in order for the soft roots to take up nutrients. There are many different materials you can use to attach your bromeliad to its mount .Fishing line, PVC covered wire, string, certain types of glue, and even strips of nylon stockings are suitable. When using wire, make sure that no copper comes in contact with your bromeliad. If you plan to glue your bromeliad to its mount, use the smallest amount of non-toxic glue as possible to achieve the bond.
With any mounting material, you will want to secure the plant to the mount so that it does not wiggle. Allowing for movement on the mount can cause the bromeliad’s sensitive roots to break off.
Keep in mind that mounted bromeliads need much more water and higher humidity than terrestrial bromeliads. If the air is exceedingly dry, roots may have difficulty attaching and foliage will suffer. One way to keep air moist in dry indoor climates is to place a tray of pebbles or decorative rocks filled with water below or near the mounts. The water will evaporate into the air and make the environment around the bromeliads slightly more humid. It is still important to keep a careful eye on mounted bromeliads and water them regularly. Misting mounted plants with a spray bottle is recommended.
Points to Remember
There are several things to keep in mind as you establish your bromeliads,
- If you are mounting epiphytes, use rot resistant wood that has not been treated.
- Take care to make sure the plants are fastened securely.
- Make sure your mounted plant is receiving enough moisture.
- If you are potting a bromeliad, use coarse potting mix that is acidic.
- Plant your bromeliad in a 4-6 inch pot. If your plant is too large, place the small pot within a larger container for stability.
Growing bromeliads can be fun and easy. Your plants will get the healthiest start if they are established in the proper growing medium and environment.
“Bromeliad Basic Culture” Collecting Bromeliads and Orchids in Florida. http://www.jacksbromeliads.com/basicculture.htm
“Bromeliaceae” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bromeliad
“Mounting Bromeliads” Bromeliad Society Internationl, Odean Head,
Featured image photo credit: Katie Spence via https://www.flickr.com/photos/spenceke/3275533130/
Epiphytic bromeliad photo credit: Lisa Jacobs via https://www.flickr.com/photos/bunnygoth/7113826939/
Hechtia Care Cheat Sheet
Learn how to care for your Hechtia bromeliad with this quick and easy informational guide.Learn More
Ask an Expert
Questions about bromeliads?
Our experts love a challenge!