Aechmea - Urn Plants
Top Tips & Info
- Care Difficulty - Easy
- Although a darkened environment is acceptable for Aechmea, we'd recommend situating it in a bright, indirect setting to downplay the risk of over-watering.
- Maintain evenly moist soil, allowing the top half to dry out in between waters. Reduce this further during the dormancy period from late autumn to early spring.
- It's also essential to have the central well topped with water, too. Keep the compost on the drier side to avert the development of 'crown rot'.
- Introduce a humidity tray while the heaters are operating to avoid browning leaf-tips from too dry air. The use of artificial humidifiers isn't needed in the summer.
- Fertilise using a 'Houseplant' labelled feed every four waters in the spring and summer, reducing this to every six in the colder months.
- A bract (flower stalk) will develop from its crown in the spring or summer months, lasting up to several weeks. If, however, your specimen has died shortly after producing a bloom, don't be disheartened as this is a natural response to unsuccessful pollination.
Location & Light
Provide a bright, indirect setting with minimal sunlight; pale brown patches will appear over its foliage if left in too strong light for extended periods. Alternatively, an environment that is too dark will increase the chance of a rotten crown, as well as yellowing leaves and stunted growth. Keep this plant around four meters from an operating heat source to avoid browning-leaf tips.
While actively growing, allow half of the soil to dry out between waters, reducing this further in the autumn and winter. Be sure to keep the 'crown' topped up with water if in a bright environment, as this will hydrate the plant and maintain high humidity. Under-watering symptoms include pale leaves, brown leaf patches, sunken foliage and crisping flowers; these issues are typically caused by intense sun or heat, being potbound, or pure forgetfulness. Over-watering symptoms include a rotten stem with yellowing leaves, flower collapse and 'pup' death. If this occurs AFTER the flowers have elapsed, this is a natural response after unsuccessful reproduction. For those that haven't bloomed, possible reasons for the decline are too little light or heat, excess moisture within its foliage and a lack of drainage. If the Aechmea is situated in a dark location, keep the central crown dry and revert to irrigation via the soil as over-saturation will cause 'crown rot' and southern blight.
High humidity is a must. Either keep the central well topped with water or introduce a pebble tray to maintain constant humidity. A pool of standing water beneath will provide enough moisture for the specimen without the risk of rotting foliage.
Fertilise every four waters during the growing period before reducing this to every six in the autumn & winter. Although an 'All-Purpose' fertiliser will still do the job, we'd recommend using a specific 'Houseplant' labelled fertiliser as it'll support the vital thirteen nutrients that this species will need to grow.
Common Issues with Aechmea
Plant death shortly after the flowering process is a natural and prevalent issue among growers. If you're looking to preserve the specimen for several years after the blooming period, be sure to provide a bright location and keep it under-watered with no moisture accumulating in its central 'well'. As over-watering and shady spots are the usual killers with recently-flowered individuals, keeping the foliage and soil on the drier side will allow it to enter its dormancy before developing basal offsets between its lower leaves. You can either leave the plant as it is or separate the offsets (pups) to grow in their own pots. Scroll down to 'Propagation' for more avid regarding this matter.
Alternatively, a lack of blooms from a non-flowered specimen is caused by an insufficient dormancy period, where the temperatures are kept more or less the same over the year. Reduce the temperature by a couple of degrees over the autumn and winter months, along with fewer irrigations to ensure a well-spent dormancy.
Yellowing older leaves (closest to soil) and crown rot are a clear sign of over-watering, usually caused by too little light. Although Aechmea can do well in darker locations, the frequency of irrigations must be reduced to counteract the chance of root rot. People don't realise that a plant's root system needs access to oxygen too; when soil is watered, the air will travel upwards and out of the potting mix. A lack of accessible oxygen for the roots will cause them to subsequently breakdown over the oncoming days.
Curled leaves and brown leaf-edges are the result of too little water and over-exposure to the sun. Aechmea are best located in bright, indirect settings, and those that haven't acclimatised to the harsh rays will show signs of sun-scorch and environmental shock. A splash of winter sunlight is acceptable as long as the soil moisture is regularly observed, with complete avoidance once summer comes along.
Too low humidity can cause browning tips with yellow halos on juvenile leaves. Although this won't kill your specimen, you may want to increase the local moisture to prevent the new growth from adopting these symptoms. Mist or rinse the foliage from time to time and create a humidity tray while the heaters are active to create a stable environment. The browning of leaf-tips on older leaves is wholly natural and is the product of extensive photosynthesis during its life.
Clean the leaves regularly. Although this isn't too much of an issue, a build-up of dust particles can clog up the plant's pores, causing lowered light capturing-efficiency. Rinse the topsides of the leaves down once a month to keep levels down and improve growing conditions.
Mould developing on the soil means two things - too little light and over-watering. Despite the harmlessness, it'll prove unsightly to most gardeners and is therefore removed once known. To remove, replace the top two inches of the soil for a fresh batch of 'Houseplant' compost. Either increase the amount of light received (no direct sunlight for the first few weeks to prevent environmental shock) or decrease the frequency of waters slightly. If the mould is accompanied by yellowing lower leaves, you may also have a case of root rot.
Originally from South America, species of Aechmea were brought over in the 1820s to Europe for the rich and privileged. The genus was first classified by Hipólito Ruiz López & José Antonio Pavón in 1798, using the Greek word 'aichmê' that refers to the spikes found on its leaves. The most popular species' name, A. fasciata, was first penned by John Lindley in 1827, using the Latin for for 'bands' that refers to its striped foliage.
If you wonder why Aechmea has silver leaves, it's to do with the evolution of light-reflecting scales that combats potential water-loss during sunny or windy spells. Not only can they absorb harmful chemicals during the day, but they can even do it at night, making them an ideal candidate for urban residential areas.
16° - 30°C (60 - 86°F)
H1a (Hardiness Zone 13) - This plant should ideally be grown indoors or under glass all year round. Never allow temperatures to dip below 12℃ or permanent damage may occur in the likes of flower loss, stunted growth and yellowed leaves.
Up to 50cm in height and 40cm in width, with an average age of two years. Once the specimen has finished flowering, it may die shortly after so performing basal offset (pup) division is vital to keep the plant's existence going.
Pruning & Maintenance
Remove yellow or dying leaves, and plant debris to encourage better-growing conditions. While pruning, always use clean utensils or shears to reduce the chance of bacterial and fungal diseases. Never cut through yellowed tissue as this may cause further damage in the likes of diseases or bacterial infections. Remember to make clean incisions as too-damaged wounds may shock the plant, causing weakened growth and a decline in health.
Remove the flower stalk close to the plant's well once it begins to wilt, keeping the well dry from there on in. If the open tissue from the stalk's base remains submerged in water, it could result in rot that may spread to the rest of the plant if untreated.
Via Seed or 'Pup' Propagation.
Basal Offset Division (Easy) - Your plant will produce several basal offsets that can be separated once they have a sufficient root system and surpass the mother plant's height by half. If possible, water the soil 24hrs before the main event to reduce the risk of transplant shock, when its dry root systems are over-touched. Take the plant out of its pot and place your fingers close to the nodal junction - compost may have to be removed for better access. Push the chosen offset downwards until you hear a snap. Separate the foliage and its root system away from the mother plant, mentally noting the high risk of damage. Transplant in the appropriate sized pot with a fresh batch of 'Houseplant' labelled compost. Maintain evenly moist soil and situate it in a bright, indirect location away from any direct sunlight. After four weeks, treat it like a healthy specimen, following the care tips above!
The individual Aechmea will only flower once, but as mentioned above, pups will form at the base of the plant that'll eventually flower. The bract can be up to 40cm in length, and can last up to three months in the spring or summer. Colours include: red, yellow, green, brown, purple or pink, that are arranged in a coning-rosette shape.
Are you interested in stimulating a show of blooms in the summer months? Reduce the ambient temperature throughout the autumn and winter, along with a reduction of watering to encourage a dormancy period. As the natural temperatures and daylight hours begin to increase in the spring, your specimen will slowly exit the resting period, potentially producing a bloom by mid-summer!
Although it isn't entirely necessary, you can transplant it every few years in the spring using a 'Houseplant' labelled compost with the next sized pot. Hydrate the plant 24hrs before tinkering with the roots to prevent the risk of transplant shock. For those that are situated in a darker location, add an extra splash of perlite in the pot's base to improve drainage and downplay over-watering.
Pests & Diseases
Keep an eye out for mealybugs, spider mites, scale, thrips & root mealybugs that'll locate themselves in the cubbyholes and undersides of the leaves, with the exception of the latter in soil. Common diseases associated with Aechmea are root rot, leaf-spot disease, botrytis, rust, powdery mildew & southern blight.
Not known to be poisonous when consumed by pets and humans. If large quantities are eaten, it may result in vomiting, nausea and a loss of appetite. Although the leaves may look delicate from online pictures, its foliage and flowers can be very sharp, acting like small Swiss-army knives.