Caring for Bromeliads


The guzmania is one of the most spectacular bromeliads. See more pictures of bromeliads.

Bromeliads are perennial monocotyledons -- plants that have one seed leaf like lilies or corn, rather than two seed leaves like roses or beans.

Their seeds have a food reserve, which means bromeliads can be grown like most other plants.

The pineapple was the first bromeliad to make an impression in Europe.

When Columbus came to the New World, he found this delicious fruit (which he thought looked a little like a large pinecone) being used as a symbol of hospitality throughout the Caribbean.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, growing pineapples became the thing among European upper classes; pineapples "sprouted" on furniture, teapots, pillars, and posts.

Except for a species of Pitcairnia which comes from Africa, the 2,000 bromeliad species are native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas.

They grow from the southern United States to Argentina, from sea level to 14,000 feet. Bromeliads survive any temperature above freezing.

At maturity, bromeliads range in size from about an inch to 30 feet. They grow as individual plants or in large mats sometimes mixed with orchids and other plants.

Most bromeliads grow as stemless rosettes that can hold water (one of the exceptions is Tillandsia usneoides or Spanish moss).

Many of the bromeliads that we now cultivate grow on other plants, or on top of poles or telephone wires in nature. They are epiphytes and are not parasitic.

The terrestrial bromeliads, those that grow in the ground, are usually protected with thorns or spines along the edge of the leaves. The plants get their nourishment from rain, moisture in the air, and debris that collects in and around their leaves.

The plants have colorful foliage and brilliant bracts that keep their color for months. In most cases, the flowers grow on spikes from the center of the rosette.

In some cases, the flower spikes rise high above the leaves. In other cases, the spike is so short that the flowers bloom deep inside the vase.

In most bromeliads, each rosette blooms only once but can live a year or so after blooming. The plant sends up other rosettes (pups) which repeat the cycle.

Growing bromeliads for fun started in the mid-nineteenth century, often as a side interest for orchid growers whose collectors could not tell bromeliads from orchids and unintentionally gathered both.

Since that time, interest in bromeliads has been slowly increasing as more and more people find out how well they do in the modern home with high temperatures, dry air, and central heating.

When thinking about adding bromeliads to your indoor collection, keep in mind that not all bromeliads grow well indoors, but many do.

If you decide to grow bromeliads, start with a mature plant of an accommodating, tolerant variety that is beginning to bloom.

After you have some experience, you can begin growing the more difficult varieties and start propagating your own plants.

In this article, we will talk about how to care for bromeliad plants.

Temperature Requirements of Bromeliads will inform you of the temperature and air circulation preferences of bromeliads.

Light Requirements of Bromeliads will teach you which bromeliad plants require hours of natural light and which ones thrive indoors.

Watering Bromeliads is a great resource to find out just how wet your bromeliad needs to be.

Potting Bromeliads will teach you how to correctly pot your bromeliad and what type of potting media to use.

Fertilizing Bromeliads will tell you whether or not you should fertilize and how to correctly fertilize your bromeliad.

Bromeliad Care is a great resource for learning everything you need to know about care and maintenance of your bromeliad including how to keep pests and diseases away.

Propagating Bromeliads will teach you how to successfully seed or offshoot your plant.

Bromeliads are tolerant plants that can survive in a variety of temperatures. In the next section, learn about the temperature and air circulation requirements of bromeliads.

Want to learn more about gardening and house plants? Try these:

Temperature Requirements of Bromeliads

Greenhouses are great environments for growing bromeliads.
Greenhouses are great environments for growing bromeliads.

Bromeliads are tolerant plants that can survive in a variety of temperatures.

Most of the bromeliads in captivity are happy at "people temperatures," with a minimum of 45 degrees Fahrenheit and a maximum of 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, they can take even higher temperatures provided the humidity is increased. While they can also take temperatures down to freezing, they are happier if it doesn't get below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

A rule of thumb: the lower the temperature, the lower the humidity; the higher the temperature, the higher the humidity. Good air circulation provides more carbon dioxide for growing and cuts down on the possibility of disease.

Depending on the variety, bromeliads will need different amounts and types of light. In the next section, learn about the light requirements of bromeliads.

Want to learn more about gardening and house plants? Try these:

Light Requirements of Bromeliads

Some bromeliads are found on shaded, lower branches of trees.
Some bromeliads are found on shaded, lower branches of trees.

In their natural habitats, bromeliads grow in the full range of light conditions from full sun to partial shade.

Many bromeliads are quite tolerant, but the variegated plants will often become solid green if they are given too much shade. Plants with soft green leaves usually need less light than those with stiff, leathery foliage.

Since light varies with geography and season, it is best to take directions from the specific plant. Plants that have been growing in shade or that have been traveling must adjust gradually to brighter light.

Depending on the variety, bromeliads will grow well in subdued to bright artificial light. Fourteen to sixteen hours of fluorescent light a day will usually maintain leaf color.

When the plants begin to bloom, move the plants to the area below the center of the tubes. Use your windows for large bromeliads and grow the smaller plants under lights.

Depending on the plant variety, the location, the light, and the temperature, bromeliads will need different amounts of water and humidity. In the next section, learn about the water and humidity requirements of these plants.

Want to learn more about gardening and house plants? Try these:

Watering Bromeliads

Neoregelias prefer even moisture with excellent drainage.
Neoregelias prefer even moisture with excellent drainage.

For bromeliads, the watering requirement depends on the plant, the location, the light, and the temperature.

When the humidity is high and evaporation is slow, less watering is needed. Bromeliads that have a rosette that forms a cup (tank-type) prefer to have their cups kept filled with water.

Most bromeliads will tolerate heavy watering as long as the drainage is excellent. It is better to water less when the light or temperatures are low.

Plant needs vary, but most bromeliads adapt very well to the humidity available with central heating.

Bromeliads that originally grew in trees often can go without watering as long as the humidity is high enough for water to condense on them at night.

Since bromeliads don't have much of a root system, they do not require large pots. In fact, some of them don't even need pots. They will grow affixed to chunks of fiber attached to tree branches or directly on pieces of driftwood. In the next section, learn how to pot, or to not pot, these plants.

Want to learn more about gardening and house plants? Try these:

Potting Bromeliads

Preparing a bromeliad for potting
Preparing a bromeliad for potting

Choosing the correct size pot and soil type is important for most plants, but this is not the case for bromeliads. In fact, bromeliads don't even need to be potted to thrive.

This section will inform you of the various potting options available to bromeliad plants.

Many bromeliads do not have much of a root system and do not need large pots. A full-sized Aechmea fasciata could probably grow very nicely in a four inch pot, but the pot would be much too small to hold the plant upright.

You will have to choose a larger pot -- perhaps a six inch one -- so you will not have to stand the plant up all the time. If you overpot, the roots may rot.

When potting, keep the bottom leaves level with the top of the potting medium. Pack the potting medium firmly around the plant to give it support.

Bromeliads will grow in almost any type of container as long as it has good drainage. Bromeliads are ideal no-pot candidates.

Many of them will grow very nicely affixed to chunks of fiber attached to tree branches. Small plants can even be glued directly on to pieces of driftwood.

Since bromeliads don't have much of a root system, they are usually grown as single plants. Repotting is not often necessary. When it is, be sure to choose the proper sized container.

Terrestrial bromeliads, those that grow in the ground, will grow in any commercial potting or soil mix as long as the drainage is good.

The epiphytic bromeliads, those that grow in trees, will grow in anything that has good aeration and drains well but still holds enough moisture to keep the exposed roots happy.

Materials for potting epiphytic bromeliads include osmunda fiber, fir bark, and coconut shells.

Actively growing plants can benefit occasionally from a fertilizer treatment, and bromeliads are no exception. In the next section, learn about fertilizing requirements of bromeliad plants.

Want to learn more about gardening and house plants? Try these:

Fertilizing Bromeliads

Bromeliads, such as the aechmea fasciata, can live for years without fertilizer.
Bromeliads, such as the aechmea fasciata, can live for years without fertilizer.

Actively growing plants can benefit occasionally from a fertilizer treatment, and bromeliads are no exception.

In this section, learn about fertilizing requirements of bromeliad plants.

Bromeliads can live for years without fertilizer. Since there are no supermarkets in the jungle, all the food they get is brought to them by the wind and the rain.

Bromeliads respond to feeding in the summertime. When using chemical fertilizers, use about a quarter of the amount recommended on the container.

Since the leaves can absorb fertilizer, spray them or pour the water over them as you water. Bromeliads grown under lights can be fed all year around.

Occasionally, bromeliads may become infected with a variety of pests or diseases. In the next section, learn about how to keep your plant healthy, what types of pests and diseases can attack your plant, and how to deal with these problems.

Want to learn more about gardening and house plants? Try these:

Bromeliad Care

Regular care and maintenance will keep your bromeliads, such as the cryptanthus, healthy.
Regular care and maintenance will keep your bromeliads, such as the cryptanthus, healthy.

Bromeliads, in general, are quite easy to grow. Although they do not need a great deal of maintenance, there are certain things you should watch out for in order to keep your plant healthy.

In this section, you will learn about the types of pests and diseases that could compromise your plant's health and how to deal with these issues if they arise.

To prevent pests and diseases from infesting your plant, keep the natural vases formed by the leaves filled with water and change the water regularly.

Keep all dead and dying plant parts removed from the plant and the pot.

Watch the plants to make sure they are free of pests. If you put fresh flowers in the bromeliad vases, make sure that the stems do not stab the center of the plant.

Bromeliads are usually pest-free if you keep them clean. Remove all the dead leaves and trash so snails and slugs will not have a good place to hide.

Scale is probably the biggest problem. Soft brown and hard black (fly speck) scale can be scraped off with a fingernail, worked off with a soft brush and soapy water, or controlled with 50% malathion applied at the rate of one tablespoon per gallon of water.

If you keep the humidity up, and if you wash your bromeliads regularly, red spider will be discouraged.

If aphids attack the flower spikes or tender bromeliads, use an insecticide for sucking insects. Wash off both the insecticide and the insects after the aphids are dead.

Bromeliads are almost disease-free when well grown. Brown tips on otherwise healthy plants are usually due to the salts and other substances in the water.

Avoid fungus diseases by cleaning up trash and preventing the air from becoming stagnant.

Bromeliads are easy to propagate. In the next section, learn everything you need to know in order to propagate your plant successfully.

Want to learn more about gardening and house plants? Try these:

Propagating Bromeliads

Bromeliad with pup
Bromeliad with pup

Bromeliad collections can easily be reproduced through propagation. The best method of propagating depends on your plant type.

This section will explain the different types of propagation.

Bromeliads are propagated in two ways -- from seed or from offshoots. Seeds often germinate very promptly when fresh. The fattest seed usually germinates best.

Start the seeds in moist, sterile media at 65 degrees Fahrenheit under light. A sterile paper towel or a piece of flannel kept evenly moist in a shallow container, covered with glass, in bright filtered light works well. Don't let young plants dry out.

Every bromeliad leaf has a bud or "eye" at its base that is a potential plant. Some of these eyes develop into shoots, offshoots, or "pups" about the time the plant begins to flower.

In order to propagate a plant from offshoots, remove the pups when they are a quarter to one-half the size of the parent, depending on the variety.

The pup is ready to leave home when its base is no longer soft and tender and has become hard and firm.

Use a sterile blade to cut the pup off as close to its parent as possible. If it is an important plant, dip the cut ends in fungicide and rooting hormone before potting.

Pot it up, centering the pup in the pot and making sure you do not set it too deeply into the mix.

Want to learn more about gardening and house plants? Try these: