Bringing out best colors and markings in Billbergias

rpwaltonAugust 9, 2014

Greetings from Louisiana,

I've started back in bromeliads after about a 35 year hiatus, and Billbergias have hooked me bad, especially the newer hybrids with B. vittata 'Domingos Martins'.
I know high light and low fertilizer for best color, but I'm interested in more details...

I see pics online of some great hybrids from Lisa Vinzant (and others!) with incredible markings, and then I see the same plant on ebay with lackluster markings - so I want to grow them more like Lisa or all those Aussie growers I see with awesome plants...

A local guy here grows broms (mostly neos) with rainwater only, no fertilizer, and to me they are somewhat dull. So I plan to use some fertilizer, probably early on in the Billbergia life cycle, and I have good sun here - admittingly not Hawaiian caliber sun, but about the same latitude as southern Morocco, Cairo Egypt, or northern Baja California so pretty good sun.
I've also heard that the pH of the water used can affect coloring so I plan to experiment with that angle as well...

So I'm curious to know how the experienced Billbergia growers here fertilize their plants for best color and markings. And those who use shade cloth, what percent shade?
I have a good injector so I can control ppm N/P/K, trace elements, and pH also.
Thanks.

Peyton

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hotdiggetydam

Buy good plants to start with and dont over think anything. Not knowing what area you live in hard to help. I always buy plants I can actually see many being grown together. Not just a photo of a single plant. Photos are always of the best plant any grower has.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 7:15PM
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rpwalton

Hey thanks, I'm in south Louisiana, not really near any Billbergia growers, so mostly using Michael's and ebay...

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 7:30PM
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gosalsk

It just depends on the variety; some are more sun-tolerant than others, and some look better with more or less sun than they can take. You should experiment.

I'm sure the pros all use shade cloth. Since I grow them at my house, I can't do that, so my best plants are grown under under trees where the light is dappled during the hardest hours (11 AM - 4 PM or so). They also prefer "light" shade -- not all shade is equal. A thousand footcandles or more in the "shade" is best. Get a light meter. Mine have done much better this year after I thinned out some of the denser trees a little.

Also watch out for the changing sun angle. Billbergias are tough but they can still burn.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 9:26PM
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gosalsk

I really haven't experimented with it enough, but I should also note that how much water you give them can have a big effect on form of billbergias. Growing them in dry air with infrequent waterings (in my house under bright lights, for example) produces small plants with very attractive forms. Problem is that it tends to kill the older ones!

That's a clump of an unknown Saundersii hybrid (probably Hoelscheriana). See the one second from right? It matured in the hot, dry, bright environment under lights (about 2500 foot candles 14 hrs a day) -- I've never seen that plant grow with that kind of symmetry except when grown dry. Usually it's almost twice as tall and greener with a lighter pink coloring from brighter light.

That plant has been fertilized a bit. In my experience it doesn't hurt the color any. I fertilize all my bromeliads with small amounts of slow release complete fertilizers (osmocote plus).

This post was edited by gosalsk on Sat, Aug 9, 14 at 22:07

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 10:05PM
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naoh123

Definitely agree about finding the right light level for the plant. My indoor grow setup actually produces better color than the spring/summer outdoor conditions, and that is for the simple reason that my lights provide stronger light than the average ambient levels out here. Ten hours of 6000-7000 foot candles per day brought out excellent color in everything under the artificial sun, Billbergias included. Should also point out intensity isn't everything, the spectrum of lighting you are providing also plays a big part in the colors that will show. But this is only a consideration if you're using artificial lights.

I never noticed much effect on coloration with fertilizer use. Foliage which is naturally green gets a bit greener after a feeding, but the red foliage on my Billbergias never showed a change.

I think light is the biggest player when it comes to colors. Fertilizer certainly plays a role in it, but I see it more as a supporting element. Good light levels, high humidity, and regular feeding should bring out your best colors and markings.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 3:58AM
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bromilad(9b Melbourne Aust.)

Is there any guide or book which gives light intensity ranges for different Broms?
Also isn't it nitrogen levels rather than fertelizer per se that affects color, especially for neos.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 6:35AM
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naoh123

I researched light levels for different broms last year and came up with this:

Aechmea: 1500-2300 foot candle
Cryptanthus: 2500-3500 fc
Neoregelia: 2500 fc
Orthophytum: 7000+ fc
Tillandsia Xeric: 4000-7000 fc
Tillandsia Soft: 2000-4000 fc
Billbergia - 3500-5000 fc

I made sure to find more than one source before noting each one, but to be fair it was all just a bunch of googling. Also, bromeliad families are pretty broad so certain species could fall far outside those numbers, its is a very loose guide and I'm sorry to say I didn't cite my sources.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 5:37PM
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hotdiggetydam

Light levels are only one factor...fertilzer, humidity, temperature and water quality. i never use encapsulated time relese fertizer because in heavy rains it will let all the fertizer out all at once. I use nutricote or similar.
Micheals is one of the best sources for billbergia and many other broms. I visit there often. Don Beadle's plants are propagated there by Michael. Don made some of the best bills ever.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 9:36PM
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gosalsk

Is nutricote not an encapsulated, time release fertilizer? It sure looks like one.

Fertilizing in the irrigation water sounds like a good idea, in theory, but in Louisiana would you ever need to water bromeliads? I almost never water mine that are outside in neighboring Mississippi. In my experience they can go several weeks or more without being watered. The exception would be smaller plants in more sun (like Neo Fireball).

This post was edited by gosalsk on Mon, Aug 11, 14 at 9:57

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 9:54AM
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gonzer_gw

I give my plants a variety of food in varying amounts depending on the weather. One of my favorites is to fill a can with 5-3-1 turf fertilizer and soak 'em. This stimulates pup growth as the fertilizer is designed to stimulate stolon growth in grasses. Sure I might lose a little color and get slightly less than tubular growth in some but they always rebound. Sometimes they may get a 0-10-10 or a 15-15-15 or a 1-7-6, never full-strength but enough to sate their appetites. I don't minister to the candle strength chart. I give them the highest light possible that in my experience each plant can take. Some hybrids of DM can take full sun while others prefer softer lighting. Here in Southern California (9a/b) full sun usually brings out the sharpest patterning. One has to experiment with different light intensities in their area to find what works best. It's not a 'one size fits all' scenario by any means.

This post was edited by gonzer on Tue, Aug 12, 14 at 7:25

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 7:24AM
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gosalsk

The light meter lets you translate experiences in California or Florida or Mississippi or whatever to other places. The human eye is very subjective about light levels, while the light meter is objective. And it costs about $20.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 8:44AM
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splinter1804

Hi everyone - Here where I live on the South Coast of New South Wales Australia, I find that to get good colour in any brom, especially Bill's, you need good light.

All of my Billbergias are grown beneath 75% beige shade cloth and where space will allow I hang as many as possible high up near the roof. Larger plants are on benches covered with galvanized âÂÂMini-Orbâ (corrugated iron with small corrugations). I find the reflective quality of the galvanized finish increases available light by reflection.

The only time I feed is when plants are repotted and at this time I add Osmocote High âÂÂKâ at the rate of 1gm per 1â of pot.; e.g. a 4â pot would get 4gm an 8â pot 8gm and so on. This will be supplemented three times per year with a feed of liquid Potash in the form of CondyâÂÂs Crystals (Potassium permanganate) dissolved in water at the rate of 1.5gm per 100 L of water.

I find this gives my BillâÂÂs good colour, however I still keep looking for better ways of improving the colour even more.

All the best, Nev.

Some of my plants on the "Mini Orb" covered bench.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 5:46PM
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rpwalton

Hey thanks for all the tips!
Right now my newly acquired bills are all on my patio with partial shade from some bamboo, recently potted in soil with some starter fertilizer already in it, and getting plenty (probably too much) rain.
I'll be moving them soon into a greenhouse where I plan on using a weak constant feed solution, maybe 25 ppm N, with a pH adjusted down from the slightly alkaline city water to around 5.5 to 6.5 and see what happens...
BTW, nice bills there Nev!
Peyton

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 12:20PM
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rpwalton

Hey Nev, what is the name of the fat tubular gray-green banded bill in the bottom front just left of center in your photo?
Thanks
Peyton

    Bookmark   August 29, 2014 at 9:41AM
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splinter1804

rpwalton - That's just an old Bill. sanderiana mother. Most people toss them when they get to this stage but I find I can usually get another pup of two from them and as I can sell them as fast as I can grow them, why not? It helps pay for bark, pots and other associated hobby costs as well as maintaining the continuity of the species.

All the best, Nev.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 5:42PM
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gonzer_gw

"fat tubular gray-green banded bill "

Those'd be fightin' words if my name was William!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 3:20PM
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rpwalton

Gonzer, that made me laugh!
Thanks

    Bookmark   September 2, 2014 at 4:53PM
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janartmuse

Lurking and laughing! Thanks! J

    Bookmark   September 23, 2014 at 10:39PM
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bromilad(9b Melbourne Aust.)

To get the relative light levels I grow the same pup in each location and then compare its colours, usually a colourful neo and perhaps a patterned vriesea.
I then move the other Broms accordingly.
Anyone use other methods to determine the best light levels.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2014 at 7:53AM
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