by Paul Wingert, S.E.Michigan Bromeliad Society

 Aechmea orlandiana cv.Pickininni ©



      Several people have inquired about my strategies for fertilizing bromeliads. I realize that many different opinions exist, and I’m glad that Pen also is including an article by New York grower Herb Plever in this newsletter.  First of all, in a plant family as large as the Bromeliaceae, it’s impossible to expect that all plants can be treated exactly the same, as they come from such incredibly diverse habitats. Furthermore, as growers, we provide different conditions for our plants- some are growing at windows, others use fluorescent lights, and others may have a greenhouse. In any case, the plants will make the best use of any fertilizer if they are also getting adequate light. Now, having said that, I’ll say that I clearly agree with Herb Plever that there are definite advantages to using fertilizer on many plants. Bromeliads that are grown primarily for their showy flower spikes will show the best results when they are generously fertilized.  I have used a couple of fertilizer formulations developed by some commercial Tillandsia growers. A product called ‘Epiphytes Delight’, sold by Rainforest Flora, has a N-P-K ratio of 18-9-27. A product sold by Tillandsia International under the ‘Grow More’ label as a Bromeliad- Tillandsia fertlizer has a formula of 17-8-22. Both of these products have given me very good results when used on practically all Tillandsias, Vrieseas, and Guzmanias, along with some Aechmeas and Nidulariums. I have also taken Herb’s suggestion of adding some Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) from time to time. I begin fertilizing in February as light and heat increase in the green house. As I move the plants outside for the summer, they get fed more frequently. I taper the feedings as the plants come back inside in the fall. I stop feeding around the end of October as the daylength and temperature diminish.  I know many growers in Florida who use Osmocote 14-14-14 slow release fetilizer. They often mix it in the potting mix when planting pups and then top dressonce or twice a year after that. I’ve been tempted to try it on a few plants from time to time, but haven’t gotten around to it, yet. 

      There are many bromeliads that I feed what I’ll call a “low- nitrogen diet”. These include most Neoregelias, Billbergias, Dyckias, and some Aechmeas. Most of these plants have either dramatically colored leaves, bold markings, or strong and spiny character. Sparing use of nitrogen can make a bigger and bolder specimen, as well as more flowers and more frequent blooms. I’ve recently taken note of this particularly with some of my Billbergias. However, I find that overuse of nitrogen can mute some of the more desirable characteristics. As I’ve told some of you before, if you use enough nitrogen, green will be your favorite color. The fertilizers that I’ve been happy with are ‘Schultz’s Cactus’ liquid plant food with a formula of 2-7-7, and ‘Alaska Mor-Bloom’ fish emulsion based 0-10-10. The ‘Cactus’ fertilizer I use when I water both the plant reservoir and the potting mix. The ‘Mor- Bloom’ I typically use just to water in the pot.  Now take a look at a plant such as Aechmea fasciata- the silver vase plant. Most of us have this plant in our collections. We see it frequently in stores shipped up from Florida. They are typically well fertilized, large, spreading specimens with ample inflorescences. …Nothing wrong with that. However, I prefer the look of a specimen which has been on a rather lean diet. The plant assumes a more upright, almost tubular shape that I find quite striking. Be aware, I think you can go too far. There are many plants that will grow with no supplemental fertilizing at all. Some can look quite attractive when grown that way. However, they tend to be smaller plants with fewer and smaller leaves, slower to flower- and with fewer flowers.

      One surprise that I’ve found in my collection regards my Orthophytums. For years I assumed they wanted the same conditions as the Neoregelias.  I’ve discovered that they respond to moderate fertilizing by growing much more vigorously. They keep their color and character as long as they have adequate light. As a side note (not related to fertilizing), I’m also finding that they make a much nicer specimen when they are grown in a larger pot as well. 
The moral to the story:
a) It pays to keep experimenting.
b) Sometimes you just have to make the “right mistakes”!
I look forward to feedback from other growers regarding their experiences with fertilizing!



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