How to Care for Bromeliads

The bromeliad group includes such unlikely relatives as the pineapple and Spanish moss, as well as many other plants. They are relatively easy to grow if given the proper conditions and often used as houseplants. They are hardy outdoors in USDA zones 9 through 11. When you buy a plant, it should come with care instructions. Many have colorful, exotic blooms or variegated leaves.


What Are Bromeliads?

A diverse group that ranges in size from tiny miniatures to tree-like structures, all bromeliads have a central rosette of stalks or leaves. The pineapple is the only edible member of the group. Although native to the tropics of the New World, they are found in diverse habitats, from rain forests to deserts to high mountains.

What Varieties Are There

There are literally thousands of bromeliad varieties. Many are available only from specialty nurseries and growers. Some possibilities include:

  • Guzmania subspecies – colorful flowers; varigated Guzmanias have striped leaves.
  • Neoregelia subspecies – usually grown for colorful foliage.
  • Ananas comosus – miniature relatives of the common pineapple.
  • Tillandsia cyanea – eye-catching hot pink flower.
  • Aechmea fasciata – silvery-green leaves and pink flower clusters.
  • Vriesea subspecies – blooms like feathers.

What Containers Are Best for Bromeliads?

Drainage is the most important criteria for selecting a bromeliad pot. In arid areas or in homes with wintertime central heat, plastic pots may be the best choice as they retain water. Gardeners in humid areas may do better with unglazed clay pots. When growing indoors, smaller pots are better, as they keep the plant at a more manageable size.

Can I Put Bromeliads Outdoors?

If you live in a warm, frost-free climate, you may be able to plant bromeliads outdoors. Choose your plants carefully. Most prefer warm, moist, shady climates, so site your plant accordingly. Morning sun is better than afternoon sun. In colder climates, you can grow them in pots and bring them outside during the summer.

What Soil Do I Need?

Bromeliads may be terrestrial, saxicolous or epiphytic. The first grow on the ground, the second on rocks and the third attach themselves to trees, shrubs or even telephone poles. None of these actually need soil. Epiphytic plants can even get their water and nourishment from the atmosphere. Grow your bromeliads in commercial mix made especially to meet their needs or mix your own.

How Do I Make Bromeliad Mix?

Bromeliads need an acidic, light and airy potting mix that drains very quickly. If you want to try making your own, be prepared to experiment. Start with equal parts sphagnum peat moss, medium-grade horticultural perlite and fine fir bark. Other possible additions include humus, orchid bark, coarse perlite, pumice, sphagnum moss, coconut coir and tree fern fibers.

How Do I Repot Bromeliads?

All bromeliads have relatively small root systems; they generally grow best in smaller pots. Even large bromeliads rarely need a pot greater than six inches in diameter. Using a large pot can encourage over-watering. Repot bromeliads in the spring by turning out the plant and gently shaking off the potting mix. Place at the same height in the new pot and gently firm planting mix around the roots.

How Do I Water Bromeliads?

Bromeliads are often drought-resistant and most cannot tolerate over-watering. When you water, add water until it runs out the bottom of the pot to help leach out salts. Don’t use a metal container; bromeliads are sensitive to metals. Allow the plant to dry until the top two inches of potting mix are dry before watering again. Some bromeliads like additional moisture and should be misted.

Do Bromeliads Need Humidity?

It depends on the variety. Most need an average humidity of about 60 percent. However, desert species may need much less. Indoors or out, mist plants to increase humidity. Make sure to wet the leaves well before they are exposed to direct sun. You can also run a humidifier near indoor plants, add more plants to the vicinity or set pots on a pebble-filled tray containing water.

What’s a Bromeliad Tank?

The bromeliad tank is the area where the leaves meet and form what looks like a cup. In addition to taking in water through the roots, bromeliads take in water through the cup. Filling the tank with water helps give them additional moisture. However, you should flush the tank regularly with water to prevent it from becoming stagnant. Rain water is the best choice.

Do Bromeliads Need Fertilizer?

Bromeliads should be fertilized occasionally, but don’t overdo it. Too much fertilizer makes the leaves leggy. Excess fertilizer can also diminish the plants’ bright colors. Place a little organic fertilizer around the plants’ base and water in well. You can also spray plants with water soluble organic fertilizer. Don’t put fertilizer in the plant’s tank.

Can I Raise Bromeliads From Seed?

You can grow bromeliads from seed. Very few self-pollinate, however, and indoor plants can’t be pollinated by insects or birds. The process of collecting and ripening the seeds is complex and their viability period is short – sometimes only four weeks. If you really want to, you can grow them from seed, but it’s probably better to get seeds from a commercial source. It’s much easier to grow them from offsets, or pups.

What Are Bromeliad Pups?

Pupsis the term for the offsets bromeliad plants produce after they flower. Pups look like tiny plants attached to the base of the mother plant. When they grow to one half to one third the size of the mother, cut them off with a sharp, sterilized knife. Dip ends in an organic fungicide and rooting medium, then plant in bromeliad mix. Keep in bright indirect light and water sparingly.

When Do Bromeliads Flower?

A bromeliad blooms only once in its lifetime. Although called flowers, the brightly colored structures on the top of the plant are actually a specialized form of leaves called bracts. The true flower grows from these. Bromeliad maturity varies from one to three years depending on the species and variety. After the plant has flowered, it will begin to produce pups.

How Long Do Bromeliad Blooms Last?

Although a bromeliad flowers only once, it’s an impressive once. In almost all bromeliads, a bloom will last at least three and sometimes as long as six months. Once the bloom dies, the plant focuses on producing pups to start the next generation. Bromeliads will bloom best if given optimal growing conditions, especially warmth.

Can I Force a Bromeliad to Bloom?

A bromeliad newly matured from a pup can be forced. Cover the entire plant (make sure it’s dry) and pot with a clear, intact plastic bag and place a ripe apple inside the bag. Leave in a shaded area for seven to 10 days. Within six to fourteen weeks, the plant should show signs of blooming. Commercial ethylene can speed up the process by about 10 days.

Do Insects Bother Bromeliads?

Only a few insects bother bromeliads, and in most cases they are easily controlled. Scale insects such as mealybugs and spider mites suck plant juices. They are more likely to be a problem with indoor plants. Always keep a new plant separate from the others for a month or so to make sure it doesn’t have pests. Remove them by hand or spray with insecticidal soap.

Do Bromeliads Develop Diseases?

Root and crown rot (heart rot) are caused by a fungus. Over-watering and lack of oxygen for the parasite Trichoderma foster conditions that promote rot. Pythium is a group of parasites that attack the plants’ roots. Leaf spot is a fungus that causes yellow, blister-like areas on the leaves. Rust is another fungal disease – blisters are rust colored and appear on the leaf undersides.

How Do I Control Diseases?

Prevention is always the best way to control diseases that attack bromeliads. Excessive water, overhead irrigation or rainfall (in the case of outside plants) are the biggest contributors to bromeliad diseases. Excess sun may also promote leaf spot. If you must, use an organic fungicide, but don’t expect good success, especially if plants are in full sun.

How Do I Care for an Air Plant?

Air plants are ephytic bromeliads. In nature they grow on trees, getting water and food from the air – hence the name. Submerge them in room temperature tap water (rain water is better) every week or two for about 10 minutes. Shake off water and drain upside down for 10 minutes. Occasionally spray with organic liquid fertilizer diluted with water to ¼ to ½ strength.

Can I Grow a Pineapple?

You can grow a pineapple as a house plant by rooting the cut-off top of a fresh pineapple; it will not produce fruit. Trim the bottom of the stem back to brownish bumps (root buds). Let dry for several days. Plant in a light soil mix and water well; place in bright but indirect light. It will take up to two months for roots to become fully established.