Bromeliad Root Rot

Bromeliad Root Rot

Bromeliads are commonly cultivated for their colorful foliage that comes in red, green, orange, yellow or purple. With the scientific name Bromeliaceae genera, these monocot flowering perennials have more than 3000 known species and are native to the tropical and subtropical Americas. These plants are drought-tolerant and fairly hardy, but they are as susceptible to root rot like any other plant. Read on to learn how to identify and remedy root rot in your bromeliads.

Bromeliad root rot: Signs and symptoms

The signs of bromeliad root rot are hard to spot before it is already too late, because the rot starts underground where you will not see it. As it progresses, the leaves become soggy and turn brown at the base of the plant, and the outer leaves fall off easily when slightly pulled or touched. If the leaves are intact and do not come apart when tugged, there is still a chance you can save the affected plants. 

The root systems of healthy plants are firm and white. If you notice soft, brown roots, this is an indication of root rot. The rot begins when fungal spores multiply and the fungus spreads inward from the extremities of the roots. As the infection becomes more severe, the healthy roots turn brown and mushy, and slowly die. 

The plants then lose the capacity to absorb nutrients, and the leaves begin to wilt, turn yellow, and eventually fall off. Blooming is delayed and growth becomes stunted. When conditions are ideal for the rapid spread of the fungus, the plant can die in as little as 10 days. 

What are the common causes of bromeliad root rot?

One of the most common causes of bromeliad root rot is overwatering. These plants do not like to be watered too much, and are more easily killed by overwatering than by underwatering. Too much water results in waterlogged soil, which encourages the growth of fungal diseases like root rot. Poor soil drainage is another cause of root rot, because if water cannot drain quickly enough from the soil, the result will be the same waterlogged situation as is caused by overwatering. 

Soil fungus is another leading cause of root rot, and weakened roots are even more susceptible to fungal infections. The fungus may have been dormant in the soil for a long time, and when the soil becomes waterlogged and the roots are compromised, the spores will come to life and attack the roots, causing them to rot and die. Common species of fungus that cause root rot include Pythium, Phytophthora, Fusarium and Rhizoctonia. 

The size of your plants’ pots could also contribute to root rot, and should be on your list of possible causes. Do not place your plants in very large pots; this can be detrimental to root growth because they hold too much water. Meanwhile, pots that are too small could also damage the root system of your plants as they become overcrowded in the soil and restrict air circulation. 

How to fix and prevent bromeliad root rot 

1. Avoid overwatering your plants.

Bromeliads should be watered on a regular schedule and according to their needs. Check whether the soil has dried out before you water the plants again, and pay attention to conditions such as the weather and amount of sunlight received. 

2. Make sure that there is good soil drainage. 

The soil should not be too heavy or absorb too much water but should be well-draining so that water does not stay stagnant in the pot. Commercial potting soil is fine, as long as the drainage is good.  The coarser the soil the better for these plants, and the more perlite in the mix, the better the drainage will be.  

Most plant growers add perlite to their commercial soil mix to improve the drainage. Add at least an inch or two of pea gravel or lava rock to enhance drainage and add to the stability of your potted plants.

3. Choose the right pot or container.

Be sure to choose the right pots for your bromeliads. They should be small enough to allow the potting soil to dry quickly, but large enough to hold the plants upright and prevent them from tipping over. 

4. Replace used soil when replanting. 

Replace the soil with new soil if you are replacing a previously rotten plant with a new plant. This will avoid the spread of any disease and ensure that the new plant will grow healthy and root-rot-free. 

5. Choose plants with healthy root systems. 

If you are buying your plants from a local nursery or garden centre, be sure to select bromeliads with healthy root systems. Inspect the roots by carefully sliding out the root ball from the grow pot. Make sure that the roots are green or white, and that the soil does not smell rotten. 

6. Plant  at the right depth. 

Keep the bottom leaves out of the potting medium when potting the plants, to allow the water to drain quickly. However, also make sure that the plants are secure and not loose in the potting mix. 

If your bromeliad is affected by root rot, you can still save it if there are any healthy roots remaining. Remove the plant from the pot and dip it in a fungicide, or you can use a rooting hormone that contains a fungicide. Place it in a well-draining potting medium so it can recover and develop healthy roots. 

Conclusion 

Bromeliads are drought-tolerant perennials and, like most plants, are susceptible to diseases like root rot if their soil conditions are not ideal. The common causes of root rot include overwatering, poor drainage, fungal infection, and incorrect pot size. To prevent root rot, avoid overwatering your plants, ensure adequate soil drainage, and choose the right pot size for your plants. 

Image: istockphoto.com / Anton Skripachev