Soil and Potting Needs for Bromeliads
Author: Melanie Dearringer32 Comments
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 thereof 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 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.
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
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.
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.
“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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