Aechmea bromeliads are probably the most popular houseplant bromeliads on the market today. The stately plants generally have wide, strappy green leaves that sometimes appear to be lightly powdered. Their leaves have backward-curving spines that can be painful, so be careful how you pick them up. Although the plants themselves are beautiful, their long-lasting flowering bracts are stunning. Usually pink, they rise above the plant like a spiky crown, with smaller purple flowers emerging after time. It's not unusual for an aechmea flower spike to last for months.
Light: Indirect light or moderate shade. Do not expose to direct sunlight, but they can be acclimated to higher light levels.
Water: Keep water in the central cup. Change water frequently with clean water to prevent odor and bacteria.
Temperature: Aim for 55ºF or higher. They can survive to 45ºF, but not for long.
Soil: Any soil mix. These are technically airplants that use their roots for support.
Fertilizer: Fertilizer sparingly with a liquid fertilizer during the growing season.
After the flower bract dies back, cut it off at the base. New plantlets will emerge from the mother plant, which will gradually die back and can be removed at soil level. These new plantlets can be potted up individually in small pots, or left to form a clump of plants. Make sure newly potted bromeliads are well supported—they have a tendency to fall over as the root systems are weak at first.
Mature bromeliads should not be repotted. Smaller bromeliads can be potted into small containers until they are established, then moved into 4" or 6" pots until they flower. Be aware that a mature aechmea is a fairly top-heavy plant and will tip over in a standard plastic pot. Make sure the pot is well weighted.
The two most common aechmea varieties include the A. chantinii, or zebra plant, and the A. fasciata, or urn plant. The zebra plant is distinguished by horizontal darker stripes across its leaves, while the urn plant has solid silver-green leaves. Other bromeliads include the A. blumenavii, which is upright and light green, and the A. 'Fosters Favorite,' which is a lower growing plant with reddish leaves. The A. 'Blue Tango' features narrow, light green leaves with a spectacular blue flower bract. The A. 'Del Mar' is a smaller blue bromeliad.
Aechmea are wonderfully uncomplicated bromeliads to grow. The most important rules to follow are to keep the central cup filled with clean water. The plants like to be potted in smallish pots with absolutely perfect drainage. The water should run right through your potting media, leaving only slightly wet compost behind. If a bromeliad is unstable in the pot, it can be staked up. Don't replant deeply as this will kill the plant. Aechmea with lighter or silvery leaves can be slowly adapted to higher light levels and might appreciate being moved to a sheltered nook on your patio in the summer.