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Growing Tips for Beginners

We’re following on from Part 1 where we covered the general growing requirements for the common bromeliad genera. In Part 2 we now look at the basics of getting started in the garden or greenhouse.

1. Acclimatisation and light

While most bromeliads are often extremely adaptable, a common mistake that is often made is to bring home a plant or cut off a pup and put it straight into an environment it is not used to. This often causes the plant to go into shock, fade/burn/elongate its leaves, or flower prematurely, regardless of whether it is a young pup or a mature specimen. Always try to find out what conditions it was growing under before you got it. A brom taken from a warm, sheltered greenhouse will normally not survive very well if planted immediately into a cold, wet and windy garden…a bit like us really! If you wish to have it positioned in a much sunnier or windier spot, make sure you acclimatise it slowly over a few months by giving it gradually more outdoor time/sun/ wind before planting. However, any pups that emerge from the mother plant in the new environment, will normally be able to handle the new conditions much better than mum did
– remember they are quite adaptable!
Finding the correct light levels for each of your bromeliads in order for them to look their best cannot be over emphasised. This is often a trial and error process that may take months or even years, depending on your growing environment. A general rule to remember; more light = more warmth = better colour and better form. Most broms love warmth and humidity, so experiment positioning them in places where they can handle as much light and sun as they can take, without scorching or bleaching the leaves and drying out. Conversely, placing most broms in full shade areas will often cause the plant to lose any red/orange/ yellow colours or patterning, reverting to longer strappy green leaves that often look nothing like what it’s supposed to look like! (see the two photos next page). This can be very disappointing (especially after paying good money for a special plant), so use shade with as much caution as planting in sunny areas. Remember the first point from Part 1 … ‘Learn your plant’s specific growing requirements before you start’.

Neo. ‘Dexter’s Pride x concentrica – showing good form and colour postioned in high light.

Another Neo. ‘Dexter’s Pride’ x concentrica – grown in full shade only 3 metres away from the other, with no colour and strappy leaves.


2. Growing media

Almost all bromeliads like a very free draining, or ‘loose’ growing media. Do not plant them in clay or heavy/ waterlogged top-soils, as they are likely to suffer and rot at the base. Any fine bark or pumice based ‘potting’ mix is ideal to use – often sold in 40 litre bags from garden centres. The key is to ensure any bagged mix does NOT contain high levels of nitrogen slow release fertiliser, as this can cause the plants to grow excessively soft and strappy. However, a small amount of 3-6 month slow release fertiliser in potting mix is normally fine for most broms and will give pups a good start.
A good tip to make your potting mix go further, is to add in other media such as 30% to 50% of the volume in; pumice sand, peat, coarse river sand, coarse gravel, scoria, larger bark chips and broken pieces or balls of polystyrene.
Broms are not that fussy what you use…and remember, no-one can see inside your pots! The ratios of media in your mix can vary – there are no set rules – as long as they help make the mix porous, allowing sharp drainage, reasonable airflow and drying ability around the roots.

3. Planting and potting

Most bromeliads do not need roots to be formed when they are planted. They will develop good roots over time if the mix is free draining, they are watered and not knocked around or stressed.

GARDEN PLANTING – Dig a 5-6 inch wide and deep hole for smaller plants and 6-9 inches for larger plants.
If the soil is heavy clay etc, use a steel rod or garden fork to make a few 4-6 inch deep drain holes in the bottom of the hole. This will aid draining water away from the base of the plant after heavy rain/excessive watering. 3/4 fill the hole with your free draining potting mix (as explained above), insert the plant into the mix and press the mix firmly - not tightly - around the plant on all sides. Take care to ensure the plant is NOT positioned too deeply, as excess moisture and pressure can cause basal rot. Fill the rest of the hole around the plant and use larger bark pieces, pebbles or small stakes if necessary to keep the plant stable in any wind etc. Alternatively, a good tip is the whole pot the plant is in can either be partially or fully buried in the ground. This allows easy removal and repositioning at a later date if desired.

POTTING – Choose a pot big enough to house a mature plant of the type you are potting. Put around 1 inch deep of larger media (chunky bark, polystyrene chips, scoria etc) in the bottom of the pot to ensure good drainage so the pot and roots will never sit in any water. Pot the plant in the centre of the pot as above (as high as possible without it becoming unstable). Two or three thin bamboo skewers are great for holding young pups upright in the pot until they form their roots and can stand on their own. Another good tip is to also put a layer of smaller bark (or pebbles) around the top of the potting mix to prevent moss growth and weed growth and help retain moisture in hot weather.

TREE AND ROCK MOUNTINGMany Bromeliads are also epiphytic (will grow well in trees) so they do not need any soil at all. These can simply be tied on with wire, strips of elasticised ribbing material or simply glued, nailed or stapled through or around the woody part of the base (stolon) onto the tree or rock. However, DO NOT fix them to or allow them to touch any tanalised timber fences, trellis, decks or oil painted surfaces, as the chemicals used in these are highly toxic to most bromeliads and can kill them. Always ensure the plant base is stable and doesn’t move in the wind. It will then normally put out new roots, helping it attach more securely.

Next in Part 3 we will continue with looking at removing pups, watering and fertilisng and disease and pest control.
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