An exotic houseplant, the bromeliad is a surprisingly easy to care for plant. It is also an easy way to introduce color and texture to your home while improving your mental health. The variety of bromeliads on offer means that there is something for every home and person.
Despite its interesting appearance these are pleasingly easy to care for plants. Bromeliads are also non-poisonous plants. This makes them an ideal choice for pet owners, people with sensitive skin or if you have young children.
What better way to give yourself, and your home a boost, that with the fascinating bromeliad?
The bromeliad is a great choice for a houseplant. The diverse range of cultivars means that these easy to care for plants provide endless color and interest.
Most bromeliads are epiphytic. This means that their root system is not used to harvest moisture and nutrients. Instead epiphyte plants use their roots to attach themselves to trees or other structures.
The sword shaped foliage of the plant grows in a pleasing rosette form around a central cup. It is through this cup that the plant harvests water and nutrients.
Towards the end of the plant’s life it may produce a flower, sometimes called an inflorescence. The shape and color of this flower varies from plant to plant, adding to the bromeliad’s interest.
Gardeners in the warmest USDA planting zones and tropical climates that don’t experience frosts can grow a bromeliad plant outside. Everyone else will have success growing bromeliads as houseplants.
Bromeliads are commonly found for sale at plant nurseries and garden centers.
The bromeliad is a member of the bromeliaceae family. There are around 2,877 different varieties of bromeliad currently available. These come in a range of colors, shapes and sizes. Tillandsia, Guzmania and Vriesea are some of the most common varieties of bromeliad.
The variety of bromeliads on offer means that you are sure to find something that fascinates you.
The vast majority of bromeliad varieties are suitable for indoor cultivation as houseplants. While general care is the same across the varieties each plant has its own individual preferences. Check the plants growing information before purchase. This helps you to make sure that you can provide the conditions it craves.
If you want a low maintenance plant, try to avoid the varieties that adore humidity. The air in our homes can, thanks to central heating, dry out quickly making humidity levels difficult to maintain. Growing the plants near a humidifier or in a humidity tray can negate this somewhat.
How to Grow Bromeliad Plants
Commonly grown as indoor plants, bromeliads do best in medium to bright light positions. Gardeners in USDA zones 10 and 11 are able to grow these plants outside.
An epiphytic plant, the bromeliad doesn’t require a large container or a lot of space in order to thrive. Instead they prefer shallow pots and low soil mediums. Orchid or cactus soil mixes are ideal. If you are only planting one or two plants, you may find it easier to mix your own cactus soil than purchasing a large bag.
If planting, try to avoid using a regular potting soil. This can be too heavy. Damp soil can cause the plants to rot. Lighten the soil as much as possible before planting. A better choice is a soilless mix, combining sphagnum moss, bark and perlite. Peat moss can also be used.
If you don’t want to use peat moss, coco coir products such as ECO-COIR Compressed Coco Fiber Peat Bricks, are good, environmentally friendly alternatives. Whatever coarse organic material you decide to use make sure that it is fast to drain.
To plant, take a clean container with drainage holes in the bottom and fill with your chosen potting medium. Plant your bromeliad deep enough in the soil so that the lowest leaves are level with the soil.
Most bromeliads are quick to adapt to container conditions. This means that their roots soon begin to absorb water and nutrients as well as the foliage of the plant. If this is the case you can reduce watering through the plant’s central cup.
During cold or dark periods many growers refrain from watering through the central cup entirely. In these conditions water in the central cup can attract fungal or bacterial disease.
The bromeliad has a small root system. Consequently you don’t need to repot the plants too often, once every four or five years. Plants with a shorter lifespan may never need to be repotted.
If you do need to repot your bromeliad the new pot should be clean and no more than 2 inches wider than the original container. A container 3 to 5 inches wide comfortably holds a single plant with ease. Larger plants may be happier in containers 7 inches wide.
Growing as an Air Plant
Many bromeliad varieties, such as Tillandsia can also be grown as air plants. These are plants that don’t grow in a container. Instead they can be attached to logs, moss, such as sphagnum moss commonly used in terrariums or other organic materials. Many members of the bromeliad cultivar happily grow as air plants.
If you are mounting the plant it should be small enough to be supported only by its stem. A larger plant can be top heavy. This means that it may struggle to properly attach itself to the growing medium.
To mount the plant, clean the surface, removing any moss or fungi. Tie the stem of the plant in position with twine, non-copper wire or a silicone glue. If you are using an organic material, such as moss, cover the root system slightly with the moss. This encourages the plant to take hold.
It may take up to 6 months for the plant to become properly mounted. During this period continue to water and lightly fertilize the plant. Once the bromeliad is attached to the surface, care for it as you would a plant in a container.
Caring for a Bromeliad
Despite their exotic appearance, bromeliad plants are pleasingly easy to care for.
Position your plant somewhere where air circulation is good. Ideally the temperature will be around 70 ℉ during the day. This can fall to 55 ℉ at night. Humidity levels should be constantly over 60%.
To raise humidity levels place the plant in a humidity tray. Products made for bonsai plants, such as the Eve’s Garden Bonsai Humidity Drip Tray, are perfectly suitable and easy to use.
Alternatively place the plant on a saucer of gravel filled with water. Make sure that the roots aren’t contacting the water, this can cause them to rot. Remember to top up the water level regularly as it will evaporate. If the saucer or tray evaporates completely humidity levels will fall.
Growing the plant in a light bathroom, or near a kitchen sink can also work. Both positions, thanks to our use of hot water, are often pleasingly humid for tropical plants.
Depending on the variety, bromeliad plants may require lots of lights to very little light. In fact some varieties are a great low light loving option.
The amount of light your bromeliad variety requires will be on the plant information label or container when you purchase the plant. Always check this label when you first acquire a plant. The information it provides helps you to care for your plant correctly.
However much light your plant desires, don’t place it directly in a window. Direct sunlight can burn the foliage. If you struggle to provide enough natural light, try placing the plants under a grow light.
For most bromeliads, the sunnier the position the more or better the plant flowers. Placing plants in overly light positions can cause some varieties to produce too much thick, pale foliage.
For the majority of varieties, a position filled with indirect medium to bright light levels is ideal.
The majority of bromeliad plants do best in light, humid positions. A bathroom windowsill, or above the kitchen sink is an ideal position.
Knowing how often to water houseplants can be difficult. Water when the soil is dry to the touch. A soil moisture meter, such as the Dr. Meter Soil Moisture Sensor, provides a more accurate means of monitoring the moisture level of your soil.
If the plant forms a central cup, it can be watered by filling up the cup. Keep the surrounding soil and foliage as dry as possible when watering.
Remember to empty any water that collects in the bottom of the cup once a week. Stagnant water can smell unpleasant as well as attracting pests and disease. After emptying the cup, fill it up again with fresh water. As long as there is water in the central cup the plant will be happy.
Bromeliads can be sensitive to the chemicals sometimes found in tap water. Instead water with filtered water. Alternatively try harvesting rainwater. This is a great way to keep your plants hydrated without running up an expensive water bill.
Mounted plants can also be misted.
Don’t use a metal container to water your bromeliad. The plants are sensitive to metal and metallic elements. Using a metal container to water the plants can cause serious damage.
If you are watering through the cup, or central reservoir aim to keep it a quarter to half full.
During the winter months reduce watering to once every two months. During this period the cup should never be more than a quarter full. Over watering the plant can cause it to rot.
Unlike other houseplants, bromeliads don’t require fertilization. These are a naturally slow growing plant. Applying a fertilizer won’t speed up the process. Over fertilizing the plants, in an attempt to get them to flourish more quickly, can cause them to become leggy and lose their vibrant colors. However, an occasional nutritional boost wont do the plant any harm.
A homemade or natural organic fertilizer should be used. A liquid houseplant fertilizer or compost tea diluted to half its strength can also be applied. Feed your plants once a month during the spring and summer months. Cease fertilizing during the winter.
Don’t use chemical products. Bromeliads are very sensitive to chemical fertilizers and these can do more harm than good.
Fertilize your plants by watering around the base of the plant. Don’t place fertilizer in the plants cup. Air plants can be sprayed with a liquid fertilizer diluted to at least a half of its recommended strength.
Bromeliad plants don’t require a lot of pruning.
Remove any dead or damaged leaves with a sterile garden scissors. The flower spike can also be trimmed away after it dies back.
While the inflorescence is attractive it also marks the start of the plant’s decline and eventual death. Growing on pups or offsets allows you to continue growing bromeliads.
After flowering, try to keep the rest of the plant healthy for as long as possible. This allows the offsets, or pups, to continue growing as part of the main plant.
Once the plant has died completely prune away the pups and pot on. Alternatively prune away the dead plant and allow the pups to grow on in the container.
Bromeliads have a short life cycle, rarely lasting more than two years. After flowering the plant begins to die back. While the life of the plant can’t be prolonged the pups of the plant can be harvested and grown on.
Pups, or offsets, emerge at the base of the plant. Allow these to grow on until they are large enough to physically separate from the parent plant. Cut the offsets away with a sterile knife or garden scissors. Plant them on in a well draining soil mix or a sphagnum moss.
Care for the pups as you would a larger bromeliad. As soon as the cup emerges, begin to fill it with water. Depending on the variety a bromeliad pup will reach full maturity, and flower, in 1 to 3 years.
A uniquely fascinating plant, harvesting bromeliad pups means that you can continue to grow these plants for many years.
Forcing the Flowers
You can force bromeliads to flower. However this shortens the plants lifespan. As soon as the bromeliad flowers it begins to die.
To force flowering place the plant in a clear plastic bag with a ripe apple. The gasses released by the apple will encourage the plant to produce a flower spike. Remove the plant after a couple of days and water. A flower should emerge within 6 to 14 weeks.
Common Pests and Problems
Pleasingly the bromeliad is a largely trouble free plant. Mealybugs and houseplant scale can sometimes attack the plants. An organic solution such as neem oil, applied gently to both the top and bottom of the plants foliage, will cure most infestations.
Browning of the foliage is a sign that the plant is reaching the end of its natural life cycle. Dying plants will also fade in color.
If water is allowed to stagnate in the central cup pests such as mosquitoes may be attracted to the plant.
Colorful, attractive and pleasingly low maintenance, the bromeliad is an ideal houseplant.
Easy to care for and endlessly fascinating the bromeliad is a great addition to a houseplant collection or a living wall. They are also a great place to begin if you are new to caring for plants. The variety of bromeliad plants on offer also means that you can have an endlessly evolving and growing collection.
Elizabeth learnt to love gardening as a child in her grandparents backyard. Today, she is a trained horticulturist and has maintained a productive allotment for over 10 years. When not growing her own, Elizabeth enjoys helping other people with the plant problems. An experienced writer and editor, away from gardening Elizabeth is also a keen bird watcher, local historian and genealogist, meaning that she can often be found with her dogs exploring an overgrown graveyard.