Urn Plant Care: How To Grow Urn Plant Houseplants

Aechmea fasciata, the urn plant bromeliad, comes to us from the South American rainforests. It is an epiphyte, commonly called an air plant, and in the wild it grows on other plants where it receives moisture from heavy rains and nutrients from decaying debris around its roots. This is important to urn plant care in your home as you will try to mimic its natural conditions.

Tips for Urn Plant Care

In the rainforests, rainwater gathers in the stiff rosette of leaves that form the urn. Plant care in the home consists of keeping the center filled with water at all times. For a healthy plant, the water should be emptied and refilled once a week to prevent stagnation. Watch out for dry brown edges of the leaves. It’s a sign of dehydration in your urn plant. Care should also be taken with the soil. Keep it moist, but don’t overwater. Soggy soil will cause rot at the base of your urn plant bromeliad.

You can fertilize your urn plant bromeliad by misting with a weak foliar spray or by adding a half strength solution to the water at its center once a month.

If you live in a hardiness zone of 10b or 11, you can grow urn plants outside as long as you keep them well watered. They aren’t fussy about soil when grown outdoors, but caring for an urn plant indoor is a bit different. Once again, look at how they grow in the wild. Silt, decaying debris and bits of leaf and bark cling to and build up around the roots of the epiphyte.

In your chosen pot at home, you should try to duplicate this soft, well aerated soil. Orchid potting mix is ideal for this or, if you prefer to mix your own, mix peat moss, perlite, and finely shredded pine bark in equal parts. You need a soil that remains light and well aerated so the roots can easily spread.

Urn plants prefer bright light, but not direct sun and can suffer scorched leaves if moved too quickly from indoors to out during the summer months. They do best in temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees F. (12-24 C.), although they can tolerate higher with regular misting.

How to Get an Urn Plant to Bloom

Almost everyone who tries to grow urn plants wants them to bloom. Those colorful, long lasting bracts rising from the center of the plant are the ultimate reward in caring for an urn plant. A plant must be at least three years old before it produces a flower stem.

One of the most common complaints of gardeners is the failure of bracts to grow. Urn plants need good light and plenty of it for bract production. If light isn’t the problem, then it may be a lack of ethylene gas. To encourage blooming, try placing a quartered apple on top of the soil and using a plastic bag to cover both pot and urn plant.

Bromeliad plants bloom only once before they die, but don’t despair. They leave several lovely gifts behind. Once the bract turns brown, continue caring for your urn plant as before even as the leaves turn brown and die. Beneath the dying leaves you’ll find two or more “pups”–baby urn plants. Allow these pups to grow in place until they are 6 inches (15 cm.) tall which usually takes five or six months, and then transfer them to pots of their own.

Growth and Care Guide for Aechmea Bromeliads

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

Aechmea bromeliads are probably the most popular houseplant bromeliads on the market today. The stately plants generally have wide, strappy green leaves that sometimes appear to be lightly powdered. Their leaves have backward-curving spines that can be painful, so be careful how you pick them up. Although the plants themselves are beautiful, their long-lasting flowering bracts are stunning. Usually pink, they rise above the plant like a spiky crown, with smaller purple flowers emerging in time. It's not unusual for an aechmea flower spike to last for months.

Urn Plant Care

Temperature: Average room temperatures between 65°F (18.3°C) - 75°F (24°C) are suitable and maintain temperatures around the 75°F (24°C) mark to bring flowers in to bloom.
Light: Bright light without direct sunlight is preferable.
Watering: The urn or vase is topped up with water which has to be replaced every 2 - 3 weeks. Only water the soil when the top soil becomes dry to teh touch, and avoid overwatering the soil.
Soil: A peat based potting mix, mixed with bark and perlite is a good mix or any other mix if it drains well.
Re-Potting: When the plant is young and growing you can re-pot in a container slightly bigger which can provide room for new growth. Once it matures you'll only need to replace the soil once very 2 years, without re-potting.
Fertilizer: Feed from May - September monthly with a diluted liquid fertilizer, which is added to the vase. You can also use foliar feed which is added to a misting bottle to spray on the leaves, but try not to overfeed by using both of these methods.
Humidity: Average humidity indoors should be fine.
Propagation: The urn plant produces offsets (pups) which can be removed from the parent plant when they're at least 5 inches long. They must be removed when the parent plants foliage is dying down, although there is no rush - because the foliage dies down to provide the pups with the nutrients leaves were previously having from the main plant. These can be re-potted in a small container in moist potting soil.

Potential Problems

  • Brown leaf tips: Dry air from lack of humidity could be the cause of leaf tips turning brown and dry,w which can be improved with misting or using a humidity tray. Also, check if the vase has been filled with water regularly and enough.

  • Brown leaf patches: Brown leaf patches may be caused by too much direct sunlight. Move the plant into a shaded spot from the sun and remove severely damaged leaves.

  • Plant dies: If the plant has not bloomed yet and its not going through the normal cycle of creating offsets and dying then the most likely cause was over watering.

  • Insects: Mealy bug and scale can be a problem.

  • Plant tips over easily: These plants tend to be quite top heavy which can make them topple easy. Rather than use a plastic container, it's best suited to ceramic or other heavier types.

Selecting a Plant

These are 2 photos of a bromeliad (Aechmea fasciata) that I grew from a pup and rebloomed.

Notice the beautiful pink flower bract. The bract is NOT the actual flower. If you look closely, you’ll see the purple and pink flowers starting to emerge.

The flowers themselves won’t last too long, but the pink bract will last for a few months! I kept track of how long this particular one in the photo lasted, and it was a solid 5 months!

If you have a choice, select a plant where the bract isn’t fully grown yet and the purple flowers are just starting to emerge (or even before this). This will ensure that you will have a longer time to enjoy the bract and flowers at home.

Other Effortless Aechmeas

Aechmea chantinii

Aechmea chantinii, better known as the Amazonian Zebra Plant, is another common bromeliad grown indoors. It has large dark green leaves with lighter yellow vertical stripes and white to silvery horizontal stripes. The Amazonian Zebra Plant can grow to be 2-3 feet across and 1-3 feet tall. Its flower spike has red or orange bracts with tight red flowers.

Aechmea fosteriana

Aechmea fosteriana, also known as Foster’s Favorite Aechmea or Lacquered Wine Cup, is also a lovely Aechmea species. There are several different cultivars of Foster’s Favorite. Some have dark green leaves with a shiny, glossed appearance. Others are a deep purple, almost black, throughout the leaves. The bracts are a deep red or wine color. Foster’s Favorite can grow up to 18 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The flower spike is pendant shaped, curving down around the sides of the plant. It produces a red or red and blue tip flower. Foster’s Favorite can handle light shade but will thrive in bright, indirect sunlight.

Del Mar

The Del Mar cultivar has bright light green leaves that are broad and leathery. The leaves are surrounded by small but very sharp spines. The most stunning characteristic of the Del Mar is its flower spike. The flower spike itself is hot pink rising above the foliage in the middle. On the end of the flower spike are brilliant bluish-purple bracts. This cultivar grows to about a foot high and thrives in light shade.

There are many more beautiful and unique varieties of Aechmea. Aechmeas make excellent gifts and can be easily found in decorative containers at florists, nurseries, and garden centers. Their minimal care requirements make them an ideal plant for the beginner bromeliad grower. The Aechmea will reward you with a beautiful, long-lasting flower spike and truly unique foliage.

Which bromeliad did you start with?

Feeding with a Good Fertilizer

The best feeding time is in spring and summer when it exhibits active growth. Too much fertilizing can affect the leaves and foliage since the plant is slow-growing.

Lightly apply either a liquid/water-soluble fertilizer at one-quarter strength or a slow-release fertilizer in the form of powder, granules or pellets around the base of the plant, avoiding the tank in the middle to prevent foliage burn.

Nursery plants may require a combination of a slow-release fertilizer and a liquid one, while hanging air plants have to be sprayed with a liquid fertilizer diluted to 1/2 to 1/4 strength.

To make your plant bloom quickly, a combination of nitrogen (N) 3.0, phosphorus (P) 8.0, and potassium (K) 25.0, added with few other trace elements might help. Some avid gardeners suggest that use of fertilizers with a higher potassium content than nitrogen helps with speeding up flower production and improve foliage color.

Repotting (if necessary)

Having small and shallow roots makes the plant thrive in small pots during its short lifespan. The possibility of repotting, carried out ideally during spring, may arise when it overgrows its container or give rise to pups that may need to be accommodated in a new pot.

How to Repot

While young plants/pups can be transferred to a 4-inch container, mature ones need a planter measuring no more than 6-7 inches.

To repot pups, allow it grow up to 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the main plant. Then cut them with a sterilized knife or scissors as close as possible to the plant.

Place your overgrown plant or pups into the new potting medium firmly, but not too deep or shallow, only up to the base of the leaves to prevent a crown rot.

If the roots are still underdeveloped, the plant might not stay upright in the pot, moving freely around, resulting in damage. To prevent it, use wooden stakes to keep it secured at one place, allowing the roots to grow properly. You can remove them once the roots have developed enough to support the weight of the plant.

Can Bromeliad be Forced to Bloom

In some cases, certain environmental conditions may keep the plant from flowering or take longer than usual to develop blooms. Here are a few ways that may help you making your plants flower:

Apple in a bag: Place the entire plant including the container after removing any trace of water from it in a clean plastic bag without any holes along with a ripe apple (or even a banana/kiwi) and seal it at the top. Keep it in this way for 7 to 10 days in a shaded region without exposing to direct sunlight. After removing the cover, wait for another 6 to 14 weeks till it begins to bloom. The early flowering is attributed to the ethylene gas emitted from the fruit.

Ethylene-containing chemicals: Products with ethefon, a plant regulator, as an active ingredient present in various concentrations produces ethylene after dissolving in water. Once diluted, spray it lightly over the top of the plant within four hours. If you have a tank bromeliad, pour an ounce of it into the tank. The waiting time would be the same as in the previous method, excluding the first 7 to 10 day.

Epsom salt: You can directly add 1 tablespoon of the salt into the soil. For a tank variety, dissolve some Epsom salt in water and pour it directly into the tank, repeating once every month.

NOTE: Maintain an optimum night temperature of 65°F (18.3°C), and abstain from fertilizing two weeks before and after blooming.


Light, warmth, and humidity are three important factors in growing healthy bromeliads. This is evident by their nature to grow in the hot climates around the equator and in other high moisture and hot temperatures regions. While newly potted pups enjoy bright indirect light, they require less light than full grown, mature bromeliads. Be sure to keep the new plants watered. It is best to keep the potting medium moist but not wet. Over-watering bromeliad pups can cause rotting at the base of the plant, which could lead to a low chance of survival at this critical stage.

As the plant becomes stable with its roots system you can remove the supports and allow it to start receiving more light. Provide the plant with some good light in the morning especially during the summer months. Shade for the rest of the day after the morning sun usually leads to a good bloom on a bromeliad.

Taking a bromeliad from the pup stage to full maturity is incredibly rewarding. It’s a process that can be repeated over and over and takes approximately 2-3 years. With the proper knowledge and care, bromeliad propagation can be a great way to build your collection.

Watch the video: Giant House Plants: When Little Plants Get Big!

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