Bromeliad Care: How to Keep Your Plants Healthy

HomeHow ToCare GuideBromeliad Care: How to Keep Your Plants Healthy

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Bromeliads belong to the family Bromeliaceae and are perennial flowering plants that can grow as epiphytes (on other plants) or terrestrial plants (in the ground). There are over 3,700 known species of bromeliads, categorized into about 80genera. They range from tiny epiphytes to large terrestrial plants.

Bromeliads are a diverse group of plants with unique and striking appearances. Their leaves are often thick, tough, and arranged in a rosette pattern. The leaves may have spines or serrated edges and are known for being stiff and spiky, although some can be soft and flexible. Bromeliads have dramatic flower spikes. The flowers typically emerge from a central inflorescence and can be tubular, bell-shaped, or star-shaped, depending on the species. These can be brightly colored and last for several months. Their vibrant flowers can be red, yellow, orange, pink, or purple.

Botanical Name
Bromeliaceae
Plant Type
Perennial
Family
Bromeliaceae
Height
Range from less than an inch to several feet in height
Bloom Time
Bloom once in their lifetime, with the flower lasting several months
Climate
They thrive in tropical and subtropical climates
Sun Exposure
Bright, indirect sunlight
Soil Requirements
A well-draining, airy potting mix
Hardiness Zones
USDA hardiness zones 9-11
Flowering
Spectacular flowers, that come in a variety of colors including red, pink, yellow, and orange
Seasonal Features
Change color during their bloom cycle
Toxicity
Non-toxic to pets and humans

History of Bromeliad

Bromeliads are thought to have originated approximately 100 million years ago in the tepuis of the Guiana Shield. The Andean highlands of South America have the greatest number of extant basal species. Bromeliads entered recorded history around 500 years ago when Christopher Columbus introduced the pineapple (Ananas comosus) to Spain upon his return from the New World in 1493. It was found being cultivated by the Carib Indians in the West Indies. Within 50 years, this tropical fruit was cultivated in India and other Old World countries.

The Inca, Aztec, and Maya civilizations utilized every part of the plant for food, shelter, fiber, and ceremonies. Over time, bromeliads have become widely used as ornamental plants, originally found in royal botanical gardens or the private greenhouses of wealthy Europeans. Their popularity has since spread, and today they are more available to enthusiasts than ever before, with new species still being discovered and plant breeders developing stunning hybrids.

Bromeliads play a crucial role in their native ecosystems. Their water-filled tanks provide habitats for various organisms, including insects, amphibians, and even small mammals. Bromeliads have evolved a variety of adaptations that allow them to thrive in diverse habitats, from rainforests to deserts. These adaptations include specialized leaves that can trap water and nutrients, and in some species, the ability to grow epiphytically (on other plants). Some are epiphytes, like Spanish moss, while others are terrestrial, like the pineapple.

Morphological Characteristics

Bromeliads come in a wide array of sizes, colors, and shapes, but they all share some common structural features.

Flowers

The flowers of bromeliads are often bright and long-lasting. Some species have inflorescences that are so intricate and colorful that they almost seem artificial. The bloom of a bromeliad is usually a once-in-a-lifetime event for each rosette, after which it will produce offsets, or “pups,” to continue its lineage.

Leaves

The leaves of bromeliads are typically long, and strappy, and may feature sharp spines along the edges. They form a rosette pattern that can either be symmetrical or spiral. The leaves often have a waxy coating and may be green, red, purple, orange, or patterned with various stripes or spots.

Natural Habitat

These plants are native to the tropical Americas, with a habitat range that extends from the southern United States to Argentina. They are particularly abundant in the rainforests of Central and South America, where they can be found growing on the ground, on rocks, and as epiphytes on other plants.

Distribution Range

The distribution of bromeliads is quite extensive. While they are indigenous to the Americas, human cultivation has spread them worldwide. In their natural habitat, they are adapted to a range of climates from rainforests to deserts, showcasing their incredible versatility.

Types of Bromeliads

Bromeliads are a diverse and fascinating group of plants with over 3000 varieties known worldwide, including popular varieties like the Neoregelia, Guzmania, and Aechmea.

  • Neoregelia Bromeliad: Neoregelias are distinctive for their wide, flat leaves and the water they hold in their central cup. They enjoy bright, indirect light and should be watered sparingly.
  • Guzmania Bromeliad: Known for their vibrant flower spikes, Guzmanias are popular for their ease of care and striking appearance. They prefer bright, indirect light and should be watered in their central cup.
  • Aechmea Bromeliad: Aechmeas are appreciated for their colorful bracts and long-lasting blooms. They require well-draining soil and can tolerate a range of light conditions.
  • Tillandsia Bromeliad: Often referred to as air plants, Tillandsias are unique because they don’t require soil to grow. They absorb water and nutrients through their leaves and prefer bright, filtered light.
  • Vriesea Bromeliad: Vriesea are known for their flat, sword-like leaves and patterned bracts. They thrive in moderate to bright, indirect light and need a well-draining growing medium.
  • Dyckia Bromeliad: Dyckias are terrestrial bromeliads with spiky leaves. They are more drought-tolerant than other types and can handle full sun to partial shade.
  • Billbergia Bromeliad: Billbergias are known for their dramatic, pendant flower spikes. They prefer bright, indirect light and should be watered in their central cup.

Growing and Caring for Bromeliads

Caring for bromeliads is relatively straightforward, but ensuring they flourish involves understanding their natural environment and mimicking those conditions as closely as possible.

Lighting

A location near a window with filtered sunlight is ideal. Species with stiff, spiky leaves can often benefit from some direct sunlight. Avoid too much direct sunlight to prevent leaf scorch. If the leaves start to lose color or the plant stops flowering, it may be a sign that it’s not getting enough light. Consider moving it to a brighter spot. If natural light is scarce, Bromeliad plants require 14 to 16 hours of bright lighting from an artificial source such as fluorescent light.

Watering

Water sparingly. Let the soil dry out between waterings to prevent root rot. For varieties with a central tank, Fill and make sure it doesn’t remain empty for long periods. Keep this tank filled with water, but make sure to flush it out periodically to prevent stagnation and algae growth. It’s best to use distilled or rainwater, as bromeliads can be sensitive to the chemicals in tap water.

Temperature

Most bromeliads prefer temperatures between 60°F (15.5°C) and 80°F (26.7°C). They can survive in hotter climates. Bromeliads can handle temperatures above 90°F (32°C) if humidity is high and they are protected from direct, scorching sunlight.

At night, they are comfortable with temperatures ranging from 50-70°F (10-21°C)2. Prolonged exposure to temperatures below freezing, can be harmful., it’s best to protect them from frost and ensure they don’t experience prolonged periods of cold.

Humidity

Bromeliads ideally between 40-50% relative humidity. They are tropical plants that appreciate a humid environment, they can tolerate a range of humidity levels.

Grouping several plants can create a microenvironment with higher humidity. Regularly misting your bromeliad can help maintain the humidity around it. Or place a tray filled with water and pebbles under the plant pot. It will increase the humidity around the plant. It’s also beneficial to keep their central “cup” filled with water, as they can absorb moisture through their foliage. For glossy-leaved varieties, which are often favored by collectors, a higher humidity that aids in moisture retention during peak growing seasons can be advantageous.

Soil

Bromeliads do best in a soilless potting mix that is coarse and fast-draining. A common and effective soil mix for bromeliads can be created using these components which contain 1 part orchid bark, 1 part perlite or pumice, 1 part peat moss or coconut coir,2 parts commercial potting soil, 1 part perlite or coarse sand. These components help to retain water and nutrients while still allowing excess water to drain away, preventing root rot.

Complementary, bromeliads have shallow root systems and are often epiphytic, meaning they can grow on other surfaces like trees without the need for traditional soil.

Fertilization

When the bromeliads slow growth, pale leaves, and lack of flowering, it means Signs of Under-fertilization. Bromeliads do not require a lot of fertilizer, fertilize every two to four weeks during the growing season, Use a balanced houseplant fertilizer, diluted to ¼ or ½ normal strength. Apply the fertilizer to the soil, and mist it over the leaves. For bromeliads with a central cup, you can pour a small amount of the diluted fertilizer directly into the cup. Ensure it doesn’t stay too long to prevent rot. Ensure to change the water in the urn regularly if you add fertilizer there. Always water your plant before fertilizing to help the nutrients reach the roots. Do not fertilize during winter as Bromeliads go into dormancy.

Cultivation Techniques

Bromeliads are a diverse group of plants that can be grown both indoors and outdoors with relative ease. They thrive in well-draining soil mixes, such as those used for orchids, and prefer bright, indirect light. Water the central cup, but avoid waterlogging the roots, and use rainwater or distilled water to prevent mineral buildup. Bromeliads are epiphytic, meaning they can also grow without soil, attached to trees or other structures. Fertilize sparingly with a balanced, diluted fertilizer during the growing season, and avoid fertilizing in winter. Regularly remove dead leaves to promote healthy growth.

Potting and Repotting

Bromeliads are unique plants with small root systems, making them ideal for small pots. When potting or repotting, choose a container that fits the plant’s size—usually no larger than 6 inches for full-sized bromeliads. Repotting is typically done in the spring or summer, when the plant outgrows its pot, ensuring the new pot is only slightly larger to prevent excessive moisture retention. If necessary stabilize the plant until its roots are established. Overpotting can lead to over-watering issues, so it’s best to repot only when necessary.

Propagating Bromeliads

After bromeliads bloom, they produce offshoots, also known as “pups,” which can be used to propagate new plants.

Offshoots

  1. Bromeliad pups are baby plants that grow from the base of the mother plant. They usually appear after the mother plant has flowered.
  2. Once the pups are about one-third to half the size of the mother plant, they can be separated.
  3. Carefully remove the pups from the mother plant. You can do this by gently pulling them off or using a sterilized knife or shears to cut them away. Make sure to include some of the bases with roots if possible.
  4. Let the pups dry for a day or two to allow the cut ends to callous over. This helps prevent rot when they are planted.
  5. Plant the separated pups in a well-draining potting mix. A mix of soil, orchid bark, or a combination of fir bark, perlite, and peat moss is recommended.
  6. Lightly water the newly planted pup. Bromeliads don’t like to be waterlogged, so make sure the soil drains well. Provide bright, indirect light and maintain moderate humidity.

Seed

  1. Bromeliad seeds do not have a long shelf life and need to be planted soon after harvesting.
  2. Wait for the seeds to mature on the bromeliad plant. They are typically found in the green berries in the cup of the plant.
  3. Clean the seeds by removing any jelly-like substance, which can be done by soaking them in water with a drop of detergent.
  4. Scatter the seeds evenly over the surface of the soil. Do not cover them with soil, as they need light to germinate.
  5. Cover the seeds with plastic wrap or place them in a sealed bag to maintain humidity.
  6. Place the seed tray in a warm, bright location with indirect light. Maintain high humidity by covering the tray with a clear plastic lid or placing it in a plastic bag.
  7. Once the seedlings are large enough to handle and have developed several leaves, they can be transplanted into individual pots with a suitable bromeliad mix.
  8. Bromeliad seedlings grow slowly and can take up to five years to mature into full-sized plants.

Disease and Pest Control

Bromeliads, while generally hardy, can be susceptible to a range of diseases and pests. Common issues include fungal infections such as leaf spot and root rot, often caused by overwatering or poor drainage. They can occasionally be affected by pests such as aphids, mealybugs, and scale. It is to regularly inspect your plants and quarantine new additions to your collection for at least three weeks. If pests are detected, hand removal and thorough washing with water can be effective. Proper watering practices, insecticidal soaps, or horticultural oils for diseases and pest management.

FAQ

How long do bromeliads last?

Bromeliads can live for several years, but they typically flower only once in their lifetime. The bloom can last from a few weeks to up to 6 months.

What happens to a bromeliad after it flowers?

After flowering, a bromeliad will not bloom again. Instead, it begins a slow dying process, which can last a year or so. However, it usually produces offsets, or ‘pups’, before it dies, which can be separated and grown into new plants.

How do I get my bromeliad to flower again?

An individual bromeliad plant will not flower again once it has bloomed. However, you can encourage the ‘pups’ that the plant produces to grow and eventually flower. This involves separating them from the parent plant and providing proper care until they mature.

How to tell if a bromeliad is dying?

A dying bromeliad may have brown, curling leaves, indicating stress from low humidity, too much sunlight, or underwatering. If the center of the plant is brown and mushy, it’s a sign that the plant is dead or dying.

How do you revive a dying bromeliad?

To revive a dying bromeliad, you should recreate the conditions of its native environment. This includes providing bright indirect light, high humidity, consistent watering, and maintaining a temperature range of 70ºF to 90ºF (21ºC to 32ºC) during the day and 50ºF to 65ºF (10ºC to 18ºC) at night. Pruning brown leaves and ensuring the plant is not over or underwatered can also help.

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