by Matt Gibson
If you live in a tropical climate, you can grow bromeliads outdoors in your garden. If not, you can grow these lovely, colorful, sun-kissed plants indoors. Growing bromeliad as a houseplant is relatively easy and brings a splash of color and texture to your indoor space. As these plants have a drastically different natural habitat than most common houseplants, they also have unique needs when it comes to plant maintenance and care. These needs are not necessarily more difficult than caring for other houseplants, just a bit different. Learn how to provide a stable environment for bromeliads and how to care for them indoors and you will have a unique, tropical, long-lasting houseplant that is attractive, low maintenance, and worry-free.
There are nearly 3,000 different species of bromeliad, and nearly all of them grow naturally in the tropic and subtropic regions of the Americas. The largest number of bromeliad species is found in Brazil. Bromeliads can be grown both indoors and outdoors in areas where temperatures never fall below freezing. They can easily adapt to both hot and cold climates, as well as moist and dry conditions. Bromeliads have a wide variety of plant species from achmea to Spanish moss to pineapple, and come in a wide range of types and sizes, ranging from miniature plants to giant plants. Bromeliads are grown as ornamental plants because they are easy to grow and maintain, they are relatively cheap, and they produce attractive, long-lasting blooms.
Instead of producing just one main flower, bromeliads make clusters of tall, bright flowers that form a rosette shape. All bromeliads have small scales that help the plant trap and absorb water called trichomes. As bromeliads mature, new leaves continue to sprout up from the center of the plant. The leaves of bromeliads are bright and eye-catching. Foliage colors include yellow, orange, red, brown, green, and purple.
Before a bromeliad plant dies, it produces pups, or new offshoots that feed off the host plant until they are established enough to produce their own root systems. These pups will eventually become plants of their own accord and will mature and flower. The roots of bromeliad plants do not for in the ground, but form on top of environmental objects, such as trees, or rocks, which makes them air plants.
Because of the shape of bromeliads leaves, most plants in the species are able to hold a lot of rainfall in the leaves themselves. With constant moisture which causes algae growth, a food chain is created within the bromeliad, making the plants a small, self-contained ecosystem. Snails, worms, tree frogs, and other tiny insects often make bromeliad plants a home throughout their lives.
Varieties of Bromeliad
All bromeliad species fall under the umbrella of one of three subfamilies: Bromelioideae, Pitcairnioideae, or Tillandsioideae. The bromeliads that are most often cultivated are epiphytic plants that grow naturally in the tropical or subtropical Americas.
Guzmanias are the most common houseplant variety of bromeliad. They bloom in clusters of red, yellow, orange, purple, and white flowers. Pineapples are grown for their fruit, but there is also an ornamental version of the pineapple plant which features spiderly leaves and miniature pineapples on top of the flower spike. Neoregelias are another popularly cultivated houseplant variety of bromeliad. They feature bold pink, red, purple and orange blooms. Last but not least, the Vriesea species is known for its tropical, feather-like blooms and striking variegated foliage.
Growing Conditions for Bromeliads
As indoor specimens, bromeliads need medium to bright light to thrive. The leaves of bromeliad plants grow around a central cup-like center. The cup catches water in the plant’s habitat. Therefore, bromeliad plants do not need deep pots or thick potting soils, but prefer shallow pots and low soil mediums, such as orchid mix, or a blend of sphagnum moss, bark, and organic amendments.
Care of Bromeliads
There are no special tools or fertilizers needed for growing bromeliads. Just feed them with a half strength fertilizer every month during the growing season. Watering is super easy, just a bit different from what you may be used to. Simply fill the cup at the base of the leaves in the center of the plant. Empty the water that collects in the pot on a weekly basis, and remove any debris, dead insects, or stagnant water that may have collected into the cup when maintaining the plant. Set the pot into a saucer lined with gravel and fill the saucer about halfway full of water to increase the humidity and help to imitate a tropical climate. Make sure that the roots are not submerged in the water so that you do not invite root rot.
Some bromeliads will grow better without a pot, but as air plants. These can be glued or nested onto logs, moss, or other non-soil organic items. Tillandsia, for example, can be wired onto coconut shells with no soil. The plants will collect any food or moisture that they need with their leaves but need a little help from you to establish a permanent placement in an indoor setting.
How To Grow Bromeliads In Containers
Bromeliads are most often grown indoors and do great in containers. Choose a container that’s at least twice as wide as the bromeliad is at its base and a peat-based potting soil. If drainage is an issue with the soil you choose, you can mix in some sand to increase it. Bury the bromeliad up to the base of the plant in the soil, using a stake to prop it up if necessary. You don’t want to bury further than the base of the plant to discourage rot from affecting your bromeliad.
Choose a place for the container that suits the light, humidity, and temperature needs of the specific variety of bromeliad you’re growing. Water when the soil is dry at the top two inches, which you can test by sticking a finger into the soil. If the soil clings to your finger, it’s still moist. When you water, be sure to do so deeply enough, letting the water drip out the drainage holes in your container.
How To Propagate Bromeliads
One of the amazing things about bromeliads is that they really propagate on their own. After flowering, the bromeliad will begin creating “pups,” which are small baby bromeliads that generally come from the base of the plant. You can either leave the pups where they are or remove them once they’ve grown large enough to plant them in their own containers. The mother plant will spend one or two years putting her energy into creating pups after flowering, then the mother plant will die to allow the pups to replace her (if they are still attached).
How To Plant Bromeliad Pups
If you decide to remove the pups from the mother to plant separately, wait until they’re at least one third the size of the mother plant. Some gardeners recommend waiting longer, until the pups are more like half or 75 percent of the size of the mother plant, because they say they have better success keeping the pups healthy after transplanting them. Once you’re ready, use a sharp, sterilized gardening knife and cut as close to the base of the pup as you can, bringing along as much of its stem and roots (if present) as you can get.
You’ll want the container you choose for your pup to be at least twice as wide as the pup is at its base. Use a peat-based potting soil, and bury the pup up to the base of the plant. Don’t bury deeper than this, or you may face issues with rot. If the shallow root system isn’t enough to keep the pup upright at this depth, you may need to use a stake to support it.
Once you’ve planted the pup, water it well (until the water drips out the bottom of the container). Dilute some seaweed fertilizer in your water to help your pup grow strong and healthy in its new home.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Bromeliads
There are usually no problems with pests and bromeliad, so you shouldn’t have to worry about major infestations, but they are susceptible to mealybugs and scale. Both of these pests are simple to manually remove as long as they are noticed and contained early. Mealybugs can be wiped off easily with a bit of alcohol and a q-tip. Scale can be removed with a dull blade or your fingernail. Don’t use oils to treat small insect infestations. Using horticultural oil, neem oil, or other oil based sprays can smother or suffocate your bromeliad plants.
Common diseases are usually the result of unfavorable growing conditions, such as bad potting mix, or overwatering. If you provide a stable growing environment and follow proper care instructions, you should be able to avoid any disease issues. However, bromeliad owners sometimes encounter issues with crown rot, root rot, helminthosporium leaf spot, and rust disease.
Common Questions and Answers About Bromeliads
Are bromeliads drought tolerant?
Yes, bromeliads are extremely tolerant of drought and require little watering. Overwatering them can lead to problems like root rot. Their tolerance of drought makes them an excellent outdoor gardening and landscaping choice in hot, dry climates.
Are bromeliads easy to grow?
Most bromeliads are easy on the gardener, although there is variation among the different species. Some varieties require a certain temperature range, amount of light, or humidity level. However, most bromeliads are more forgiving and just need to be watered every once in a while. Do some research into the specific variety of bromeliad you’re considering to ensure it’s one of the easy-care types before purchasing, if possible.
Can bromeliads be planted outside?
In regions with weather that is similar to the tropical climate bromeliads come from, they can be planted outdoors. Check the USDA hardiness zones recommended for the bromeliad species you’re growing to find out specifics.
Can bromeliads survive winter?
Bromeliads can survive winter if they are brought indoors until the weather warms up again. Move your bromeliads indoors as soon as freezing weather becomes a threat. Bromeliads in the Dyckia, Puya, and Hechtia genera can withstand temperatures into the 20s, but others draw the line at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Choose a location for your bromeliads indoors that has bright indirect light and high humidity. Kitchens and bathrooms typically work well, or you can use a humidifier near your bromeliads to raise the humidity in the room where they’re kept.
Can I grow a bromeliad indoors?
Bromeliads are very well suited to indoor gardening. Grow them in a potting medium that provides excellent drainage, as they don’t tolerate overwatering or overly moist soil well and can develop root rot. Never use a metal container to hold water you’ll be giving your bromeliad, as the plants are sensitive to metals. When you water the bromeliad, use enough for the water to begin dripping out of the drainage holes in the container to flush salts from the soil. You’ll know it’s time to water your bromeliad when the top two inches of the soil are dry, which you can check by simply sticking a finger into the soil. When soil clings to your finger, it is still moist. If your bromeliad has a “tank,” which is a cup-like formation in the center, pour water into the tank as well. Rainwater is best, especially for filling the tank. Bromeliads that grow without soil are watered via misting a few times a week. Most bromeliads prefer at least 60 percent humidity, which is more than most homes provide, especially in the winter. You can increase the humidity in your home by running a humidifier near where you keep your bromeliads. Different varieties of bromeliad have different needs when it comes to light levels. The majority of bromeliads do well with bright, indirect light. That said, research the types you’re growing, as some need partial or full shade. Use a water-soluble fertilizer occasionally, but do not apply fertilizer to the bromeliad’s tank. Avoid giving bromeliads too much fertilizer, though, or they can become leggy and their colors can fade.
Can I trim bromeliad leaves?
You can use clean, sanitized shears to trim bromeliad leaves if they become damaged or browned by too much sun. You can remove the entire leaf if needed or only removed the damaged portion. There is no need to trim the leaves of bromeliads if they are not damaged.
Can I use Miracle-Gro on bromeliads?
Miracle-Gro’s website recommends using their orchid plant food mist if you choose to use Miracle-Gro on your bromeliads.
Do bromeliads die after flowering?
Most bromeliads do die after they’ve flowered, but not immediately. Once they’ve flowered, though, they begin the process of dying. This process can take a year or two, however, and is when the bromeliad produces pups that will become new plants. Do check into the life cycle of your particular species of bromeliad, as there are some that flower regularly and not just once.
Do bromeliads need full sun?
The various types of bromeliad have different sun needs, and there are bromeliads that thrive in shade all the way up to full sun. Bright artificial light works well for most bromeliad varieties growing indoors. For specific information, research the types of bromeliad that you plan to grow.
Do bromeliads need soil?
Some bromeliads are epiphytes that grow attached to trees or rocks and do not need soil. These bromeliads are also referred to as air plants. However, not all bromeliads are epiphytes. The ones that are not epiphytes tend to do best in a very well-draining soil.
Do bromeliads only bloom once?
Most bromeliads bloom just once before focusing their remaining year or two of life on creating pups that will grow into new plants. Some bromeliads bloom regularly, however, so it depends on the variety of bromeliad you plan to grow.
Do bromeliads spread?
Bromeliads do not have a particularly wide spread, and they are slow-growing. The size they’ll grow to depends on the specific variety, but grown as houseplants, they vary from just one inch to up to three feet tall. Particularly large outdoor varieties can get up to 10 feet tall.
Do you have to remove bromeliad pups?
You do not have to remove bromeliad pups from the mother plant. If left alone, they will grow as they do in the wild—the pups will continue to get bigger, the mother plant will die, and the pups will grow to take her place. This often results in a cluster of several plants that may all bloom together.
How big do bromeliads get?
The maximum size depends on the bromeliad variety. As a rule, bromeliads planted outdoors will grow larger than those that are houseplants. There’s a broad range of variation in maximum sizes for bromeliads among different species, from two inches all the way up to 10 feet.
How cold can bromeliads get?
Most bromeliads need to be brought indoors when temperatures get to freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit), but there are some species that can withstand temperatures down to 20 degrees. These species include those in the Puya, Hechtia, and Dyckia genera.
How deep do you plant bromeliads?
Bromeliads typically have shallow root systems, and planting them too deeply can cause rot. Plant bromeliads just to the base of their leaves. If it needs help to stay, upright, you can use wooden stakes to help support the plant.
How do you fertilize bromeliads?
Bromeliads should only be fertilized during their growing season, which is from April until September. Start scaling down the amount of fertilizer in August so the plant can prepare for its dormancy. After the last dose of fertilizer, cut the amount of water you give the bromeliad in half. The type of fertilizer to use varies depending on the type of bromeliad you have.
- Aechmea fasciata, also called urn plant: Use either a 20-20-20 fertilizer at half strength or a low-nitrogen 10-20-20 fertilizer. Put fertilizer at the center of the rosette, then water the plant deeply. If your urn plant is epiphytic (does not grow in soil), use 20-20-20 fertilizer diluted to an eighth or sixteenth of the full strength, and mist the plant with this dilution twice a week.
- Cryptanthus, also called earth star: Use 20-20-20 fertilizer diluted to a quarter of full strength, applied to the soil at the plant’s base. Use half this dose if the plant grows in the shade or a cooler climate.
- Neoregelia carolinae, also called blushing bromeliad: Use low-nitrogen 5-59-15 fertilizer at an eighth of full strength or 20-20-20 fertilizer at a sixteenth of full strength, feeding once a month. If the leaves become misshapen and large or begin to fade in color, use less fertilizer.
How do you repot a bromeliad pup?
Using a clean, sterilized garden knife, cut the pup away from the mother plant, retaining a short stem on the pup. You may wish to first remove the entire plant from its soil so you can easier access the pup. Pull off any leaves that are dead or damaged. Use a container twice the width of the base of the pup and a moist peat potting soil. Plant the pup with the soil just reaching the base of the plant. If it needs help to stand up, you can use a wooden stake to support the pup. Water well, using a diluted seaweed fertilizer to help kick off the pups’ growth in their new container.
How long do bromeliads last?
Most bromeliad varieties live between two and five years before the mother plant dies. However, if you leave pups attached to the mother plant, they will pick up where she left off, creating a cluster of plants that may all flower at once.
How long does it take for a bromeliad pup to bloom?
Depending on variety, it takes bromeliads between one and three years to reach maturity and bloom. The bloom lives for three to six months, and then the mother plant produces pups for another year or two before eventually dying to be replaced by the pups.
How often do you water a bromeliad plant?
Water a bromeliad plant growing in soil when the top two inches of the soil are dry. You can check the moisture by simply sticking your finger into the soil. If it clings to your finger, the soil is still moist. Epiphytes that grow without soil should be misted a few times a week, or you may choose to soak the plant in water instead.
How often do bromeliads bloom?
Most bromeliad varieties bloom just once in their lives, after which the mother plant will spend a year or two producing pups. The mother plant will then die to allow the pups to take over. The entire process from planting the young bromeliad to its death takes between three and five years, depending on the variety.
Is a pineapple a bromeliad?
Yes, the pineapple plant is a bromeliad and is also the only bromeliad grown as a commercial food crop.
Is bromeliad an indoor or outdoor plant?
Bromeliads are often grown indoors, but in climates that mimic the tropical locations where bromeliads come from, they can be grown outdoors as well.
Should I cut the dead flower off my bromeliad?
Use a sharp, sterilized gardening knife to cut the dead flower off your bromeliad. Make your cut as far down the flower stalk as you can.
What do you do with bromeliad pups?
You have the choice of either leaving your pups attached to the mother plant or removing them to place them in their own containers. If you leave the pups attached, when the mother plant inevitably dies, they will take her place, eventually forming a cluster of bromeliads that may all bloom at once. If you remove the pups, wait to do so until they are at least a third the size of the mother plant. Some gardeners advise waiting longer, until pups are 50 or 75 percent of the size of the mother plant, to ensure they will stay healthy when removed. Remove the pups using a sharp, sterile gardening knife, taking as much of their stem and roots (if present) as you can manage. Plant the pups in a container twice the width of their base, using a peat-based potting soil. Bury them just up to the base of the plant, using a stake to support the pup if needed. Water deeply after planting, with a diluted seaweed fertilizer, to kickstart their growth in their new home.
Want to learn more about how to grow bromeliads?
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