Preventing and Managing Root Rot in Bromeliads
Author: Celeste Booth10 Comments
Bromeliads face relatively few pests and problems. They are easy to care for and usually can tolerate a significant amount of neglect. However, most bromeliads are easily susceptible to root rot or crown rot.
Many bromeliads do not require much water to thrive and most do not like to remain soggy. Overwatering can cause severe damage to your bromeliad. It is typically better to err on the side of watering too little than too much. Bromeliads can recover much faster from being too dry than being to wet.
Prone to Root Rot
There are several reasons why bromeliads are prone to root rot. Most species are epiphytic, meaning they grow attached to a substrate such as a tree. Their roots are primarily adapted to act as anchors rather than the primary source for taking up water and other nutrients, as in most other plants. Instead, bromeliads have special scales called trichomes that take in water and nutrients from the leaves.
The trichomes gather water from humid environments, and rain that gathers in the central cups of the bromeliad due to their unique rosette shape. Trichomes take in nutrients from debris that happens to fall into the plant as well.
Many bromeliads that are planted terrestrially in a potting medium will adapt to take up water through their roots, but they should not be kept very wet. Additionally, you may want to add water to the central cup of the bromeliad.
While there are always exceptions, the ideal watering plan for bromeliads is to throughly soak the potting medium, once a week in the summer and every other week or less in the winter. Allow the water to soak in and run out the drainage holes. Do not add more water until the soil is dry several inches deep. Keep an eye on your container and make sure it doesn’t retain too much water. You don’t want your bromeliad sitting in puddle.
When you add water to the central cup don’t allow it to sit for more than a week. Water that stagnates in the cup can invite fungus which will cause crown rot. The leaves will turn brown and can even develop a foul odor. To avoid crown rot rinse the cup of your bromeliad at least every other week. Use only distilled or rainwater to place in the central cup because many bromeliads are sensitive to the mineral build up that can be caused by using tap water.
When you empty the central cup rinse it well and allow it to dry for a few days before adding water again. Rinsing your bromeliad will also help remove dust and debris from the leaves.
Most bromeliads go through a dormant period during the winter months. They are typically not growing or growing very slowly during this time. For this reason bromeliads should be watered less frequently because they are using less water in the winter. You should also avoid using fertilizer during the winter months.
Improving air circulation around the bromeliad will also help prevent both root and crown rot. Most bromeliads, especially epiphytes, require plenty of air circulation. Placing your bromeliad near an open window occasionally or setting up a small fan near your collection will help the bromeliads have the air movement they need. Be careful about setting bromeliads near heating or cooling vents. While the air movement is ideal, some species may be sensitive to the abrupt change in temperature. If you are growing your bromeliads in a terrarium or Wardian case, you may want to consider installing a small aquarium fan on the top to keep air moving through the humid environment.
Signs of Root Rot
Signs that your bromeliad is suffering from root rot may be hard to see until it is too late. Leaves will start to turn brown and soggy toward the base of the plant. Outer leaves may fall off easily when touched or slightly tugged. If the inner leaves are in tact and do not come apart when tugged, you may be able to save your plant.
Remove the plant from the substrate. Dip it in a fungicide or a root hormone that also contains fungicide. Then, stake it up in a well draining potting medium or next to a healthy bromeliad. The bromeliad should recover and develop roots.
Signs of Crown Rot
Crown rot can be identified by the central leaves of the bromeliad. When they turn brown and soggy toward the base of the plant and come off easily when touched, your bromeliad is experiencing crown rot. There is also often an unpleasant odor. You can try to use a fungicide to kill the fungus causing the crown rot, but in many cases by the time the symptoms appear it will be too late to save that bromeliad. However, it may still produce pups which can be removed and repotted and should survive without damage.
The potting medium can also cause root rot. Make sure you are using a sterilized, well draining potting mix. Most potting mediums sold commercially will be sterilized. Do not mix garden soil in with the potting medium because it could easily introduce fungus.
Potting medium that is rich in organic matter will break down over time. It will become more dense and retain more water. To avoid this problem repot your bromeliad every two years. Remove the old potting medium, thoroughly wash the container and fill it with new, fresh potting medium. Then replace the bromeliad.
Do not worry about letting your bromeliad get too dry. Bromeliads are much better at recovering from being too dry than too wet. When your bromeliad is too dry the tips of the leaves will begin to turn brown. The edges of the leaves may also begin to curl under. Simple soak your container and allow it to drain well. Then add some water to the central cup. Your bromeliad should recover quickly.
Keep in mind that most bromeliads also prefer high humidity. If the leaves begin to curl, but it seems like your bromeliad has plenty of water you may want to mist the plant. Misting bromeliads regularly will help them cope with lower humidity indoors. Placing a humidifier nearby can also help.
Prevention is the key to managing rot in bromeliads. There are few other pests or problems that bromeliads face. However, when bromeliads experience root or crown rot the effects can be devastating. Take these precautions and you shouldn’t have any problems:
- Water only when the potting medium is dry a few inches down.
- Water less in the winter.
- Plant your bromeliad in a well draining potting medium in a well draining container.
- Provide good air circulation.
- Err on the side of too little water rather than too much.
- Never let your bromeliad stay soggy.
With a little care most bromeliads will thrive in indoor environments. Many handle neglect well, prefer temperatures found indoors and don’t require too much light. Most will produce colorful inflorescence and many pups without problems. Needs always vary a bit by species, so be sure to look up any special care considerations for your particular bromeliad. What problems do your bromeliads face? What solutions have you found?
“Bromeliad Care.” Sloat Garden Center. <http://www.sloatgardens.com/bromeliad.htm>
“Bromeliad and Orchid Care Guide.” Charlotte Catherine. <http://charlottecatherine.com/bromeliad_orchid_care_guide>
“Bromeliad Root and Heart Rot.” The Bromeliad Society of New Zealand. <http://bsnz.org/articles/48-rotten-to-the-core>
“Bromeliads” Clemson Cooperative Extension. <http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/indoor/foliage/hgic1501.html>
“Signs that a Bromeliad is Thirsty” SFGate Home Guides <http://homeguides.sfgate.com/signs-bromeliad-thirsty-38031.html>
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