February 7, 2012

Bromelius Retailicus

NOT a garden type of bromeliad !
(Guzmania conifera)

In recent years, bromeliads of several types have shown up at garden centers and big-box home improvement stores. The array of colors and sizes is impressive, ranging from small plants in 2 inch pots to yard-diameter monsters in 14 inch tubs. Most of the plants, however, are in 6 inch pots, and are soft-leaf types with colorful and long lasting flower spikes. These are, for lack of a better term, "retail bromeliads", and I have Latinized the farcical general name into the title above. 

commercial Vriesia hybrid

What should you do after you buy one of these plants ? It is best to keep the plants away from strong sunlight, and in warm, humid conditions. A well-diffused bright and shadow-free light is ideal. Kitchens and bathrooms make ideal greenhouses in much of the USA in winter. The plants are usually grown in pure peat moss which holds a lot of water, but the plants don't need to be soaking wet to grow well. It is recommended to keep water in the center of the plants, but the roots should be moist also. The best way to water the plants is to pour room-temperature water into the center of the plant until it flows into the lower leaves , into the roots and out the bottom of the pot. Make sure that the pot has holes in the bottom of it, or the plant will quickly suffocate.  

Once the plants have been thoroughly soaked, wait until the surface of the potting medium is almost dry and then water thoroughly. Do not allow the soil to become very dry; it is difficult to re-wet the medium and it may take 4 or 5 or 6 attempts to get water to penetrate the center of the dry root ball. The plants are fairly light feeders at this stage of their life, but if you choose to grow the plant after it flowers, then it will need to be repotted and fertilized regularly. 

Guzmania 'Graaf van Horn'
a large plant, to 1 meter across

Once the plant has finished flowering, it can be grown as a houseplant like any other bromeliad suitable for houseplant culture, but most are not suitable for in-ground outdoor landscape culture. After flowering, cut off the old flower stem, remove as much of the old peat moss as possible, and repot the plant into a mixture of equal parts of African Violet soil and perlite.

Osmocote or Dynamite or any other controlled release fertilizer should be mixed into the potting mix, and the newly potted plant can be grown inside in a bright window sill or bright spot in the garden as a potted plant. It will take 18-24 months for the new offshoots to grow into a plant large enough to flower.  Most of the hybrids grown for retail sale are not very good as landscape plants in the ground, but are excellent as hanging basket plants or potted plants in protected locations. These plants are meant to grow fast in the nursery, have great colors, last a long time on the garden center shelves, and then essentially become disposable. With extra care they can make nice outdoor plants. There are great bromeliad choices for the landscape. Most of the "bromelius retailicus" types are meant for a different lifestyle, other than in the ground. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens 

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