Bromeliads

Bromeliad is the name for a family of plants that is incredibly diverse. There are 2,877 different species of bromeliads. And just about as many ways to care for them as there are different varieties.  That being said there are a few things that will remain true for the majority of bromeliads and general principles of bromeliad care that will remain consistent.  The following are tips for both indoor and outdoor bromeliad care and maintenance.

OUTDOOR BROMELIAD CARE

Almost all bromeliads are native to tropical climates. Their original habitat is humid and they grow on shady forest floors or attached to trees. This means bromeliads are adapted for warm, wet, shady climates. If you live in an area that will not freeze, you can safely plant your bromeliad outside. However, make sure you have a space that will not expose your bromeliad to large amounts of direct sunlight.  A bromeliad can experience leaf burn if exposed to too much direct light. Different varieties have different tolerances for exposure to sun. Monitor your site to determine how much direct sun it receives and at what time of day and then purchase a bromeliad whose needs align with your site specifications. It is also important that your bromeliad remains moist.

If you live in an arid climate there are some bromeliads that are better suited to handle dry air. You may need to mist a bromeliad regularly if the humidity is less than ideal (60%).  Be sure to mist when your plant’s leaves are dry, but before they are exposed to any direct sun.

For those living in climates with a colder season, you will want to consider planting your bromeliads in containers. If you want the bromeliads to appear as part of your landscaping, dig a hole and bury the container. Be sure that your container has adequate drainage so the rainwater is not trapped within. This is a clever way to make the bromeliad appear as if it is growing from the ground, but allows for it to be easily transported inside before any damaging frost sets in.

INDOOR BROMELIAD CARE

Bromeliads also make great indoor plants. They have few needs and very few problem pests. With the right care, you can enjoy bromeliads in your home or office year round.

Water

Bromeliads are adapted to withstand drought, but are much less tolerant of being over-watered which can cause root rot. It is important that your bromeliad is planted in a medium that allows for fast drainage.  Each time you water the potting medium, thoroughly soak it so that the water runs from the drainage holes. This will remove any salt build up in the potting media. Don’t water the bromeliad again until at least the top two inches of potting media are dry. Any more often than this and the plant will be sitting in too much water and could succumb to root rot.

Many bromeliads also have a tank. This is the part of the plant where the leaves meet together and form what looks like a cup. Bromeliads also take in water through their central tank. Fill the tank with water, preferably rainwater, and be sure to flush it regularly to prevent water stagnation. If you have an epiphytic bromeliad, meaning your plant is growing on a rock, tree bark, or somehow mounted instead of potted in medium, watering is a bit different. You can simply keep the plant moist by misting it regularly.

Note: It is important to never use a metal container to water a bromeliad. Bromeliads are very sensitive to metal and the results could be devastating to your plant.

Humidity

Just like bromeliads that are grown outdoors, indoor bromeliads also prefer 60% humidity. This level of humidity can be very difficult to maintain especially in a home that is being heated by a furnace in the winter season. There are several options for increasing humidity levels.

  • Run a humidifier near your plant.

  • Create a humidity tray. Simply take a shallow plant saucer, or tray, and fill it with small pebbles or decorative stones. Fill the tray with water to just below the stones’ surface. Then set your potted bromeliads on or near the tray. The water will add moisture to the air and increase humidity in that area. If you set the container on top to the tray, it is important to make sure it is not setting in the water. This will keep the bromeliad’s roots too wet and can result in root rot.

  • Place a few more plants in the vicinity. Transpiration, the process in which a plant converts water into a vapor and releases it into the atmosphere, will help raise the humidity of the immediate area.

  • Use a spray bottle to mist the plant regularly. This requires a bit more diligence but is fairly simple.

 

Pots and Potting Media

Pots and potting media can directly affect the moisture levels in the bromeliad. Plastic pots tend to hold moisture for a longer period of time. If you are in an arid region or raising you bromeliad in a heated home, you may want to consider a plastic container to house your plant in. Unglazed clay pots are porous and allow water to seep out. If you are living in a very humid area, you may want to consider this type of container so your plant doesn’t stay overly wet. You will want to make sure that there is some sort of saucer or pad underneath to catch the seeping water otherwise you could end up damaging the the floor or furniture the pot sits on. Regardless the type of container, never use soil when potting your bromeliad. It is too dense and will not allow for the quick drainage that bromeliads require. Instead, use potting mixes specially formulated for bromeliads or mix your own using porous materials.

 

Light

Bromeliads have a wide range of light tolerances. Some varieties prefer bright, indirect light while other thrive in almost constant shade. For the most part, bromeliads thrive in bright, sunny spaces. However, exposure to direct sunlight for an extended period of time can cause damage to the leaves. In the winter, a south facing window is ideal.

Fertilizing

Bromeliads require little fertiliziing. Occasionally you will want to use a water soluble fertilizer. Never place fertilizer in a bromeliads central tank. Instead, fertilize around the bromeliad’s base. Air plants can benefit from a liquid fertilizer dilluted to 1/2 to 1/4 strength. Simply spray the mixture over your air plant. Many people try to encourage faster growth with the use of fertilizer. But because bromeliads are slow growing plants, too much fertilizer can cause the leaves to become leggy and vibrant colors to diminish.

Flowering

Most bromeliads flower only once in their lifetime. The brightly colored leaves that are often mistaken for flowers are actually called bracts, a leaf-like structure from which an inflorescence may grow. A bromeliad grows by added new leaves to the center of the plant. At some point, the center will become crowded and new leaves will no longer have room to form. At this point, the bromeliad will focus its energy on producing pups, also known as offsets. The bloom on a bromeliad can last several months and the colorful bracts even longer.You can cut back the flower once it becomes unsightly. Use a sharp, sterilized instrument and cut the spike back as far as possible without injuring the remaining portion of the plant. Sadly, the mother plant will eventually die. But hopefully not before producing offspring to continue its legacy.

Following a few simple steps can keep you enjoying bromeliads, both indoors and out, for several seasons.

  • Provide bright light without direct sun exposure

  • Maintain optimal humidity

  • Keep air flowing around the plants

  • Make sure the plants stay moist but not soggy

  • Provide adequate drainage

  • Fertilize sparingly

It is always important to read the specifications for your particular type of bromeliad. Bromeliad care requirements can vary and you may find that you will need to tweak a few things such as light exposure or watering techniques for optimal growth.

*Credit goes to www.bromeliads.info and Author: Melanie Dearringer for this article

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