For a long time, bromeliads (Bromeliaceae) were considered advance houseplants, more fit for a greenhouse than a typical home. However, homegrown bromeliads have finally attracted the attention they deserve and can easily adapt to average home conditions. They are available in an astonishing array of colors and textures and mature in about one to three years. Even discounting their showy flower displays, bromeliads are beautiful foliage plants with strappy leaves in red, green, purple, orange, yellow, banded, stripes, spots, and other combinations.
As a general rule of thumb, bromeliads will thrive in the same conditions as epiphytic orchids. However, they are considerably more tolerant than orchids of fluctuations in temperature, drought, and careless feeding.
|Plant Type||Houseplant; epiphyte and terrestrial species|
|Mature Size||Varies based on species|
|Sun Exposure||Bright, indirect light|
|Soil Type||Fast-draining potting soil|
|Soil pH||5 to 6|
|Bloom Time||Blooms once; timing varies|
|Flower Color||Red, green, purple, orange, yellow, banded, stripes, spots, other combinations|
|Hardiness Zones||10 to 11|
|Native Area||Tropical Americas|
How to Grow Bromeliads
Bromeliads are beautiful foliage plants. In general, they need a fairly specific set of conditions to bloom—and these conditions vary from genus to genus. Their bloom cycle is affected by day length, temperature, humidity, water, and feeding.
While it can be difficult to accurately replicate the conditions any particular bromeliad needs to bloom, some research has shown the plants can be forced to bloom by exposure to ethylene gas. So if you want to force your plant to spike, place it in a tightly sealed, clear plastic bag for up to 10 days with a ripe apple. The apple will give off ethylene gas as it decomposes. Make sure any water is drained from the bromeliad's central cup (the center of the plant that catches water) before attempting this.
Different genera of bromeliads are tolerant of different levels of light. Some can withstand full tropical sun while others will quickly scorch. In general, the plants prefer bright windowsills but not direct sunlight. A south, west, or east window is often perfect. Plants that are yellowish might be receiving too much light while plants that are dark green or elongated might be receiving too little light.
Bromeliads can be grown in fast-draining potting soil. A mixture of 2/3 peat-based soil and 1/3 sand is often ideal. Bromeliads can also be grown mounted to boards and logs, though these plants will need more consistent watering.
Bromeliads are very tolerant of drought conditions. In a typical house, it's usually not necessary to keep the central cup filled with water. But this is an option if the light levels and temperature are high. If you do centrally water your bromeliad, make sure to flush the central cup every so often to remove any built-up salts. But in general, it's enough to water these plants through the soil weekly during the growing season and reduce watering during the winter rest period. Never let the plant rest in standing water.
Temperature and Humidity
Bromeliads are also highly tolerant of temperature variations, but plants in hotter conditions will need more humidity. Bromeliads prefer temperatures between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They should not be exposed to temperatures under 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They grow well indoors at humidity levels between 40% and 60%.
Bromeliads are not heavy feeders. During the growing season, use a liquid fertilizer at 1/2 or 1/4 strength. If you use a slow-release pellet fertilizer and water the central cup, a single pellet dropped into the cup will suffice for a season. Slow-release pellets can also be mixed into the soil compost.
Bromeliads multiply by sending up offsets, or pups. In a natural growth cycle, a mature plant will send up a flower spike that includes small, sometimes insignificant flowers surrounded by showy bracts. (It's really the bracts that people like in bromeliad flowers.) The flower bracts are often long-lasting—sometimes for months.
After the flower dies, the plant also begins to die over the next few months. However, the parent plant will send out one or several smaller pups at its base. These pups can be carefully cut off with sterile scissors and potted individually. Pups should only be potted after they develop a few roots and begin to form the central cup that's characteristic to bromeliads.
Growing Bromeliads in Containers
Obviously, few people have a tropical rainforest in their homes, though this is where bromeliads really shine. But the plants are highly adaptable. And in most cases, it's actually better to grow them in a rich, fast-draining potting soil than it is to attempt to duplicate their native conditions.
The roots and leaves of plants grown in containers will absorb nutrients and water, so it won't be necessary to fill the central cup at all. In fact, if the conditions are a bit chilly or dark, it can be dangerous to fill the cup because this can encourage bacterial or fungal growth.
Varieties of Bromeliads
There are several genera and species of bromeliads, including pineapples and Spanish moss. However, the ones most often seen in cultivation are epiphytic plants (plants that grow on the surface of another plant) that grow naturally in the tropical or subtropical regions of the Americas.
- Guzmania: The most common houseplant variety, the Guzmania blooms with clusters of red, orange, yellow, purple, and white flowers.
- Neoregelia: The Neoregelia features bold pink, red, purple, and orange flowers.
- Ananas comosus 'Champaca': The ornamental version of the fruit, this bromeliad features spidery leaves and miniature pineapples on top of the flower spike.
- Vriesea: The Vriesea features tropical, feather-like blooms and variegated foliage.