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Growing Tips for Beginners

Following on from Part 2, where we covered light, potting mix and planting, we now look at the basics of removing pups, watering and fertilising as your broms mature.

REMOVING OFFSETS (PUPS)

Most bromeliads self-propagate by producing offsets, commonly known as ‘pups’ from around their stem or root areas. This normally happens when they mature near or after flowering, as they attempt to create offspring that will continue to grow after the mother plant slowly dies, post flowering. However, it can also occur any time when the plant is stressed or has a change in environment that triggers the plant to produce pups or flower before maturity.
Basically all pups can be removed either by cutting or pulling them gently off the mother plant. As a general rule, wait until the pup is around a third to half the size of the mother before removing it. They will grow much faster when still attached, so the longer they are left on, the better. There are four main types of pups you will have to deal with as follows.

(a) Basal
If the pup is emerging from the basal root area or inside one of the bottom leaves, firstly remove the plant from the pot or ground. If the pup is joined to the root ball, remove any soil and cut off the pup as close as possible to the mother, trying to retain any small roots that have formed on the pup’s base. For pups that emerge within the lower leaf axils, remove the leaves BELOW the pup by splitting and pulling them to the sides to expose where the pup joins the mother. These types of pups often have a natural ‘joint’ where the pup’s base forms very close to the plant. If the pup can be gently pulled downwards and twisted without squeezing its stem, it will often come off quite easily without using a knife at all (see accompanying photos). However, this may be difficult with very large pups that are tightly connected to the mother. In this case, a thin serrated knife or saw can be inserted between the pup and mother and a cut made down towards the roots, taking care not to cut through the stem of both mother and pup.

(b) Stoloniferous
If the pup has long, woody stolons, they can easily be cut close to the mother using secateurs, or a sharp serated knife or saw. The stolons can then also be trimmed further close to the pup if required, before planting or mounting.

(c) Axial
Some bromeliads form their pups very high up the stem of the plant in the central leaves close to the inflorescence. These must be removed with great care, also using a sharp knife with minimal cutting into the stem of the mother. Most of these plants only produce one or two pups before dying, so it sometimes best to leave the pups in-situ, so they eventually grow through the mother.

(d) Adventitious
Other varieties (mainly in the Vriesea and Alcantarea genera) produce tiny adventitious or ‘grass’ pups from the basal area. This normally occurs when the mother plant is very young and sometimes these are the ONLY pups the plant will have. Therefore, it is a good idea to remove them when the grass pups are quite small (between 8-12cm long) and grow them on as you would a seedling in fine mix, with regular water and fertiliser in a warm and sheltered area.
The critical point to remember when removing any type of pup, is NOT to cut into or damage the soft white tissue in the base or stem of the pup or the mother, as this is the ‘live’ growing tissue that forms roots and leaves. Rotting and/or infection of the base or centre of the plant is highly likely if this occurs, or it may take a long time to recover – so take extreme care!

 

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A typical vriesea with lower leaves removed, exposing the pup.

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Twist and gently pull the pup away from the mother to remove.

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Close up of the pup showing new roots intact and minimal damage to the base.

 

 

 

 

 

WATERING

Most bromeliads like humidity and moisture to grow well, so it is important to look at their growing environment to ensure they are getting regular water. Broms growing in the garden will normally only need watering during hot summer months. Check the centre cups and soil moisture each week to ensure they are not dried out. Rain during the cooler seasons is all they will need to survive, so there is no need to water them at this time unless direct sun is drying them out. For broms in pots, inside or in greenhouses that do not get rain, again regular checking is necessary and some prudent watering may need to be done during the colder months as well – but DON’T overdo it! Too much water in cold weather can exacerbate fungal growth and promote ‘cold damage’ marks on the leaves. In winter, keep water in the centre cups and leaves to a minimal level and try to let the pot soil dry out between waterings.

As a general rule, water each plant until the cups and leaves just overflow and water runs out the bottom of the pot. Soil should be moist, but not soaking wet and the pot should never sit in water. One other thing to remember in summer, is to run your hose well before watering. The water in garden hoses can get very hot in summer and will badly scold and even kill broms.

 

FERTILISING

Fertiliser for bromeliads is a much debated and complex issue, as it can have such an huge effect on the appearance of the plant – both good and bad. Most broms grow perfectly well WITHOUT applications of any artificial fertiliser. Remember, the ‘tank’ types are well adapted to collecting nutrients in their cups and leaf axils. However, it is generally accepted that some fertiliser does help young pups grow roots and get well established -and also helps maturing plants to look their best. The trick is to find the right methods and type of fertiliser for your plants – as many of them have different nutrient requirements and growers have differing preferences as to how certain plants should look.
Without getting too complex, the more fertiliser that is applied - the larger and greener the plants will normally be. The leaves will probably also be longer and thinner, than if no fertiliser is used.
As a general rule, plants with soft, green leaves respond well to fertiliser, whereas shorter, darker/coloured leaves will normally look better with NONE at all. Therefore, look carefully at your types of broms, the colours, sizes and form they have – and decide which ones would benefit from fertiliser and which ones wouldn’t. One size (amount of fertiliser) does not fit all ! If in doubt, ask an experienced grower.

The best method of fertilising for beginners is to use 6-12 month slow release pellets (eg; Osmocote). Select a type which is medium/low in Nitrogen (N) very low in Phosphorus (P) but quite high in Potassium (K). Look for the ‘NPK’ ratio, which should be something like 14 : 4 : 24 (that is N=14 / P=4 / K=24), where the ‘K’ ratio is near twice that of the ‘N’. Simply mix a small teaspoon of pellets into the soil when planting a pup and from then on a small teaspoon around the soil surface each spring. This is normally sufficient for most broms to look good and grow well throughout the year.
The slow release method is less likely to cause problems with form, colour change and burning of the plant, than if regular ‘foliar spray’ feeding is undertaken. The foliar method is best left for more experienced growers or until you are sure how your plants respond to fertiliser in your growing environment.

Next in Part 4 we’ll look at controlling common diseases and pests and protecting your broms from the sun and frost.

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