How to plant bromeliad

How to Identify Your Bromeliad

Author: Melanie Dearringer

Classification

The bromeliad family consists of many different genera. Leaf and inflorescence appearance can vary drastically among them. Most bromeliads can be identified by either unique leaf characteristics, inflorescence characteristics, or a combination of the two. Below you will find the general characteristics of some of the most popular types of bromeliads. For a more comprehensive guide that includes additional genera, check out our free Bromeliad Identification Flowchart.

Aechmea

Pronounced: eek-mee-uh

-Aechmea ‘blue tango’

  • Leaf characteristics
    • Margin: spiny
    • Color: banded or spotted
  • Inflorescence characteristics
    • Location: rising above the foliage on a bloom stalk
    • Bracts: brightly colored
    • Shape: conical, panicle, or cylindrical
    • Flowers: small and round

Guzmania

-Guzmania ‘limones’

Pronounced: gooz-mahn-ee-uh

  • Leaf characteristics
    • Margin: smooth
    • Color: greed or red
  • Inflorescence characteristics
    • Location: on a bloom stalk rising about the foliage
    • Bracts: yellow, red, orange, or pink
    • Shape: star-like
    • Flowers: small and short lived

Neoregelia

-Neoregelia hybrid

Pronounced: nee-oh-reg-el-ee-uh

  • Leaf characteristics
    • Margin: spiny
    • Color: Variety of colors available
  • Inflorescence characteristics
    • Location: flowers bloom in central tank
    • Flowers: small with three petals

Tillandsia

-Tillandsia aeranthos

Pronounced: till-and-see-uh

  • Leaf characteristics
    • Margin: smooth
    • Color: greyish
  • Inflorescence characteristics
    • Location: an a flower stalk
    • Flowers: purple, red, pink, and yellow

A collection of bromeliads placed on a tree at Costa Flores, Costa Rica.

Bromeliads are a family of plants (Bromeliaceae, the pineapple family) native to tropical North and South America. Europeans first found out about bromeliads on Columbus’ second trip to the New World in 1493, where the pineapple (Ananas sp.) was being cultivated by the Carib tribe in the West Indies.

Commercial pineapple, Ananas comosus, in the field.

The commercial pineapple (Ananas comosus) is native to southern Brazil and Paraguay. After the colonization of the New World it was rapidly transported to all areas of the tropics, and now is widely grown in tropical and sub-tropical areas. The only bromeliad to occur north of the tropics is Spanish “moss” (Tillandsia usneoides). It is neither Spanish nor a moss, but an epiphytic bromeliad. It doesn’t look much like a typical bromeliad, though, with its long scaly stems and reduced flowers.

Many bromeliads are tropical epiphytes.

Bromeliads are monocots, many of which, like their grass relatives, have a special form of photosynthesis that uses a variation of the more usual biochemical pathways to allow them to use water more efficiently. Even though they come from the tropics, this helps those that are epiphytes contend with life in the treetops where there is limited water and a real danger of drying out.

Flowering Puya berteroniana in habitat, near Lo Valdes, Chile (L) and its turquoise flowers (R).

There are about 2500 species and several thousand hybrids and cultivars. Many have brightly colored leaves, flowers or fruit, and range in size from moss-like species of Tillandsia to the enormous Puya raimondii from the Andes which produces a flowering stem up to 15 feet tall. About half of these grow in the ground, while the remainder are

An epiphytic bromeliad growing on a tree trunk.

epiphytes, or air plants, that grow on trees or rocks. They cling to these supports with their roots, but derive no nourishment from the trees. The small root system is used primarily for anchorage and the functions of water and nutrient uptake has been taken over by the leaves. Most bromeliads grow as a stemless rosette of leaves that may be symmetrical or twisted and curled.

Tank bromeliads in a tree.

Tank bromeliads have leaves that form a reservoir to hold water at their bases, with the largest bromeliads holding up to two gallons of water. Types that don’t hold water are called xerophytic or atmospheric bromeliads.

Tillandsia punctata inflorescence (L) and flower closeup (R).

The flowers of most bromeliads are rather insignificant, but the inflorescences can be quite spectacular with colorful bracts

The tall inflorescence of Vriesea imperialis (L) and closeup of the pendant flower spikes with a single white flower open (R).

(modified leaves at the base of several flowers) that last for several months. The true flowers, or florets, have three petals and 3 sepals surrounding six stamens and one stigma. The inflorescence may be an elongated spike, a panicle or raceme, or the flowers may occur in the center of the rosette, blooming one at a time over several months.

Dramatic plantings of huge Vriesea imperilis underplanted with red Iresine (L) and a Neoregelia hybrid set against black mondo grass (R).

Bromeliads flourish in tropical and subtropical climates, and are often used in these areas as bedding plants for outdoor ornamental plantings. But since no bromeliads will survive freezing, they can only be enjoyed as indoor plants in more temperate climates. If you do grow bromeliads as houseplants, they can be moved outdoors to enjoy natural rainfall and humidity during the warm summer months.

Bromeliads in the landscape at a private home in Costa Rica.

Types of Bromeliads

There are more than 50 genera of bromeliads, and many can be grown successfully as houseplants. The 8 most commonly cultivated genera include the following. The links for each genus below go to the Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies’ Bromeliad Encyclopedia website.

The nearly 200 species of Aechmea are all tank epiphtyes. They have broadly bowl-shaped rosettes with arching leaves. The leathery, strap-like leaves may be solid, spotted, striped or banded, but all have sharp teeth on the margins. The cylindrical, cone-like upright or pendant inflorescences have large, colorful bracts that remain in color for weeks or even months. They are often red, pink or orange, with blue, yellow or black flowers The flowers are often followed by fleshy, bright red or blue berries. Most are easy to grow, but need bright light. See Aechmea photos at http://fcbs.org/pictures/Aechmea.htm.

Aechmea ornata plants (L); blooming A. castelnavii (LC); blooming hybrid Aechmea (RC); and inflorescence of A. gamosepala (R).

The terrestrial tank bromeliad Billbergia litoralis growing in restinga habitat on sand dunes near Salvador, Brazil.

Billbergia is similar to Aechmea but its rosettes generally have only a few leaves that form a narrow tube or vase. There are about 60 species. The spine-edged leaves often have white or silver spots or banding, especially on the undersides. The inflorescences are mainly pendent and only last a couple of weeks, so they are grown primarily as foliage plants rather than flowering plants. The inflorescence is covered with pink, coral or red bracts and the flowers range from almost colorless to deep violet. A few are fragrant. They are easy to grow, and are nice as hanging plants, since they often look best when viewed from below. Another attractive feature is that they tolerate dry air and can survive neglect better than most other plants. See Billbergia photos at http://fcbs.org/pictures/Billbergia.htm.

Cryptanthus bivattatus Ruby

Cryptanthus is a terrestrial genus with nearly flat, star-shaped rosettes that do not hold water. This group of 50 species and several hundred hybrids is grown primarily for the foliage. The leaves are succulent, often have wavy and toothed margins, and are generally strongly banded or frosted with gray, white or bronze, often on a pink to red background color. Some popular cultivars have very elaborate banding with sharp zigzag patterns. Some have narrow, almost grassy, leaves. The genus name comes from cryptos + anthos meaning “hidden flower,” and in most cultivars the inconspicuous white, light green or pink flowers are nested low in the center of the rosette. They are moisture-loving, and are good for terrariums. Their popularity has spurred the formation of a separate Cryptanthus Society within the Bromeliad Society. See Cryptanthus photos at http://fcbs.org/pictures/Cryptanthus.htm.

Dyckia delicata

Dyckia is another terrestrial genus with 120 species whose rosettes do not hold water. The succulent leaves are very stiff and spiny. Some species have green leaves, but most appear gray-green or white from the dense scale covering. Most species clump, forming large mats. Small, bright yellow or orange flowers are borne on unbranched spikes that emerge from between the leaves instead of from the center as with other bromeliads. The rosette does not die after flowering as it does in most bromeliad species. This genus needs very bright light and will tolerate months of drought, but need copious amounts of water during the growing season. See Dyckia photos at http://fcbs.org/pictures/Dyckia.htm.

Most of the more than 150 species of Guzmania are tank bromeliads. The leaves are generally dark green, but a few are colored, and shiny with smooth margins. The fountain-like inflorescences have large, brightly colored bracts in yellow, green, purple, scarlet or red that last for months, and white or yellow flowers. These species come from shadier habitats than most other bromeliads, so will do well in lower light conditions. Many hybrids are well adapted to the home environment. See Guzmania photos at http://fcbs.org/pictures/Guzmania.htm.

Guzmania lingulata (L) and Guzmania hyrbrids (C and R).

The 100 or so species of Neoregelia are all tank types. The rosettes are generally broad but some are vase-shaped. The leaves vary considerably among these species, and may be green, banded, striped, or spotted with various colors. The center leaves of many species turn bright pink, purple or red at maturity. Newer hybrids are frequently patterned in glowing pastels even when young. The leaf margins are normally serrated (but not spiny). The inconspicuous inflorescence barely rises above the water in the center of the plant, with small white, blue or lavender flowers, so these plants are grown primarily for their colorful foliage. These species develop the best color in strong light and with cool night temperatures. See Neoregelia photos at http://fcbs.org/pictures/Neo.htm.

Various hybrid Neoregelia showing colorful central leaves and tiny flowers in the center (R).

Tillandsia is the largest group in the family, with considerable diversity among the 550 described epiphytic species. Most do not form tanks and have gray-green leaves. The smooth-margined leaves are densely covered with fuzzy scales that give the plants their characteristic color. Many species have strange growth form, with curling, twisted, or otherwise distorted leaves. Rosettes vary from very symmetrical to highly contorted. Inflorescences are quite variable also. They range from barely visible to long, multi-branched spikes. The spikes are often colorful, and the pink, red or lavender bracts enclosing the flowers are usually the showiest part. Some species have fragrant flowers. The duration of flowering varies considerably by species, from a couple of weeks to a full year. Tillandsias require more humidity than tank bromeliads, and tend to dehydrate in the dry air of most homes, but can still be grown successfully with more frequent watering (misting is not adequate). See Tillandsia photos at http://fcbs.org/pictures/Tillandsia.htm.

A variety of grey Tillandias in a conservatory, including Spanish moss, T. useneoides (L); Tillandsia recurvata on electric wires in San Jose de los Remates, Nicaragua (C); and blooming T. cyanea (R).

Vriesea is a group of about 250 species that are mostly tank epiphytes, with the rosettes forming broad vases. The smooth-margined leaves are either shiny green or patterned with scales or translucent windows. The spectacular inflorescences are most flattened, creating a sword-shaped appearance. The single or branched inflorescences are composed of brightly colored, overlapping bracts of brilliant red or yellow that last for months. Many are bicolored, and numerous hybrids have been produced that are far superior in color and ease of culture than the wild species. They adapt to a wide range of conditions and generally make good houseplants. See Vriesea photos at http://fcbs.org/pictures/Vriesea.htm.

Vriesea ospinae var. gruberi (L); V. imperialis (C); and blooming V. splendens (R).

Bromeliad Culture as Houseplants

Bromeliads will survive for months or even years under less than ideal conditions. But in order to thrive you need to provide your plant with satisfactory light, temperature, humidity and keep them appropriately watered, fertilized and potted.

Many bromeliads make good houseplants because they thrive under lower light conditions.

Light. Bromeliads should receive 12 to 16 hours daily of relatively bright light. Most species need 2000 footcandles, but will have more compact growth and better leaf and inflorescence color at 3000-4000 footcandles. The different species vary in their requirements, but the general rule is to give a plant as much light as it can tolerate without burning or bleaching. But at these higher light levels the plants must also have higher humidity and more air circulation to prevent drying and burning. Of course plants need to be acclimated to brighter conditions gradually – over a period of several weeks.

Bromeliads can also be grown under fluorescent lights, with the lights hung about 8 inches above the tops of the plants.

Temperature. Most of the commonly grown bromeliads will tolerate a wide range of temperatures, some types even can handle nights near freezing and days over 100F. The optimal temperature range, though, is days of 70-90F and nights of 50-65F during most of the year. It is important that temperatures fluctuate by at least 10 degrees daily because most bromeliads have a special type of photosynthesis that requires substantial day-night temperature variations. Good air circulation is really only important at high temperatures to prevent sunburn. When the air is very dry, strong air movement may cause leaf tips to dry out and die.

Humidity. Bromeliads prefer relative humidity of 50 to 75%, and need the higher levels as temperatures increase. But too high humidity seems to inhibit the formation of leaf scales, which may make some plants less attractive under these conditions.

Tank bromeliads do best when watered with rainwater but will tolerate tap water.

Water. Most tap water is satisfactory for growing bromeliads, but avoid alkaline or salty water. Do not use softened water — it contains lots of sodium (salt). Hard water can be used without affecting plant health. It will leave spots on the leaves, however, which can make plants unsightly, especially those with shiny green leaves. If you use water with a moderate mineral content, make sure you flush the centers of tank bromeliads every week to prevent the concentration of minerals that can cause leaf tip dieback. Bromeliads prefer water on the acid side (pH 4.0-7.0), but many can tolerate water up to at least pH 8.0. If you have water problems use deionized or rain water instead. But be aware that very pure water can draw nutrients out of the leaves. Add a very small amount of fertilizer to distilled water to prevent this problem. Some types of bromeliads, particularly the miniature species, are very sensitive to salts, so distilled water should always be used for these.

In nature bromeliads provide food and shelter for animals, such as this green brilliant hummingbird (L) and strawberry dart frog (R).

Fertilization. Bromeliads should be fertilized frequently with acidic, water-soluble fertilizer diluted to 1/4 to 1/8 strength. Drench the potting medium, foliage and central tank with the mixture. Slow-release fertilizer can also be added to the potting medium of some types. However, overfertilization will result in loss of color and can also produce overgrown rosettes with poor form.

Potting. There are numerous materials that can be used for potting bromeliads. Almost any potting mix that is acidic and holds moisture, yet drains quickly, is acceptable, but do not put soil in the mix. The main function of the potting mix is to hold the plant steady, not to provide water and nutrients to the roots (except for terrestrial species). Roots quickly rot in a tight or saturated potting mix. Orchid bark mixed with coarse perlite and humus (Cymbidium orchid mix) is good for most bromeliads.

Many bromeliads are grown for their colorful foliage rather than for flowers.

Choose the type of pot for your plants depending on your growing conditions. Porous clay pots dry out more quickly, and therefore are more suitable for humid climates or if you tend to overwater. Conversely, plastic pots that retain moisture in the medium are better for use in dry climates (which includes indoors with air conditioning or forced air heating) or if you tend to not water regularly. Whatever type of pot you select should be of the appropriate size for the root system of the plant. A pot that is too large will remain wet, encouraging rot. Because most bromeliads have small root systems, a pot much smaller than would be used for other plants of the same size should be used. If the plant is too unstable in the appropriately-sized small pot, place the small pot inside of a larger pot for support rather than potting the plant in a larger container.

Many types of bromeliads can be mounted on pieces of decay-resistant wood or other nontoxic materials instead of being potted. Mounted plants require higher humidity and more frequent watering than potted plants, and some benefit from a layer of moss in dry climates.

Propagation of Bromeliads

Most species of bromeliads produce offsets after flowering, with the original plant slowly dying after blooming. These offsets can be separated to create new single plants once they are about 1/3 the size of the mother plant. The exact method of removal depends on the species and its growth habit. The new plants should be potted appropriately and kept in a shadier, more humid site until new roots begin to grow. Keep the medium rather dry during this time to discourage rot.
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison


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Painted Fingernail Bromeliad beginning to flower

Bromeliad FAQs

What kind of soil & fertilizer does my bromeliad need?

Most bromeliads will do just fine in a light, well-draining mix (the exception being epiphytic bromeliads known as Tillandsia or “air plants”. Check out our post on tillandsia for specific care information).

When it comes to fertilizer, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Bromeliads tend to be fairly slow growing, so they won’t need a ton of fertilizer. If you are concerned about over-fertilizing, try a time-released formula (available at your local garden store).

2) Never put fertilizer grains directly in the “water cup” of bromeliads, as this will probably burn the foliage & may promote rot or algae growth (ew).

3) If you are using a liquid fertilizer, dilute it to half-strength and spray your plants approximately once a month.

4) For those of you who think “some fertilizer is good, more must be better” (you know who you are): Most bromeliads will not benefit by excessive fertilizer. Instead the plants will become “leggy” or, in the case of those with colorful foliage, large amounts of fertilizer will diminish the colors.

How much water does my bromeliad need?

The soil around your bromeliad should be kept moist (but not wet) & well drained. For bromeliads that have a rosette of overlapping leaves (or as I like to call it a “water cup”), the rosette should be kept full of water. Flush the cup every week & refill it with fresh water to reduce your chance of fungal rot.

Tillandsia (air plant) varieties should be misted a couple of times a week. For detailed Tillandsia care check out our “Botanical Basics: Tillandsia” post.

Will the “water cup” of my plant attract mosquitos?

It can, but you can easily prevent your plant from becoming a breeding ground. Removing debris & flushing the cup with fresh water regularly should keep your plant mosquito free.

If you find you have problems with mosquitos, use bacillus thuringiensis israaelenses (BTI) to kill mosquito larvae. This safe bacterial toxin comes as granules or larger disc-shaped chunks sold under brand names like Mosquito Dunks & Aquabac at nurseries & online. Simply sprinkle a few granules in the cup every 45-60 days.

An alternative to BTI is available in your pantry. Use an eye dropper to put a drop of cooking oil in the cup every 2-3 weeks. This should smother any larvae present in the cup.

My plant is doing something weird (getting leggy, turning green, “bleaching”, or developing brown spots).

Many of these issues can be attributed to how much light your plant is getting.

The amount of light your plant needs depends on the variety you have, but a general rule of thumb (brought to you by the folks at the Bromeliad Society International) is “soft leaf – soft light, hard leaf – hard light.” If your plant has soft, flexible leaves (like Vrieseas), it does best in low light. Plants with stiffer, spiny leaves & Tillandsia like bright, filtered light.

So how does this relate to that “weird” thing your plant is doing? If a plant has too little light, it may become leggy & will often turn greener, losing the bright colors it may have had when you bought it. Move your plant to an area that gets a bit more sun & it should perk up. Too much sun is likely the problem if the color of your plant starts fading or “bleaching”, or develops brown, sunburned spots.

If just the tips of your plant’s leaves are turning brown, you should be watering more frequently.

If you have little round dots on the top or bottom of the plant’s leaves or white cottony looking patches, you’ve got bugs. If it’s isolated to a small spot, use a cotton swab to apply some rubbing alcohol to the problem area. If you’ve got a bigger bug problem, mix some liquid dish soap with water & spray the plant. This should suffocate the bugs, just remember to rinse off your plant later so that your plant doesn’t suffocate too.

Can I encourage my plant to bloom?

You can certainly try. The best thing you can do to promote blooming is to make sure your plant is getting all the essentials- fertilizer, water, & the proper amount of light.

If you’re the type who likes to meddle with your plant’s life cycle, a mature plant can be forced to bloom by exposing the plant to ethylene gas. Sounds fun right? This is actually fairly easy & requires no chemistry set. Simply enclose the plant in a plastic bag with a ripe apple & keep it out of direct sun for a week. The apple will release ethylene which tells the plant to stop producing leaves & start producing a flower spike.

My bloom looks…sad. Brown & sad. Now what?

Be excited that your plant is going to start making keiki (hooray for more plants!). When your bloom starts to fade & is no longer “ornamental”, just chop it off with a pair of scissors. The plant will direct it’s energy into producing new plants for you to enjoy. You can separate the keiki from the mother plant with that same pair of scissors when they reach about a third of the size of the mother.

Growing A Bromeliad And How To Care For A Bromeliad Plant

Bromeliad plants provide an exotic touch to the home and bring a sense of the tropics and sun-kissed climates. Growing a bromeliad as a houseplant is easy and brings interesting texture and color to the interior garden. Learn how to care for a bromeliad plant and you will have a long lasting unique houseplant that is low maintenance.

Bromeliad Plants

The unusual appearance of the bromeliad would seem to indicate that the plant is high maintenance and requires special gardening skills. The plant is prized for its thick foliage that grows in a natural rosette. Near the end of its life, a bromeliad plant may produce an inflorescence or flower whose form and color vary widely among each variety. The wide leaves are sword shaped or scoop-like and grow around a central “cup.” This cup catches water in the plant’s habitat.

Bromeliad plants are often epiphytic and cling to trees or other structures. They are not parasitic but simply use the structures as perches from which to gather sun and moisture.

How to Grow Bromeliads

These plants are widely available at nurseries and garden centers. The plants need medium to bright light as indoor specimens.

New gardeners learning how to grow bromeliads will find that the plant doesn’t need deep pots or thick potting soils. They do even better in shallow pots and may grow in low soil mediums such as orchid mix, a blend of bark, sphagnum moss and other organic amendments.

How to Care for a Bromeliad Plant

Bromeliad plant care is easy and requires no special tools or fertilizers. Feed the plants with a half strength fertilizer every month in the growing season.

Water needs are easily achieved by filling the cup at the base of the leaves. The water that collects in the pot should be emptied out weekly to remove debris and the dead insects the stagnant water tends to lure into the cup.

Set the pot in a saucer of gravel filled partially with water to increase humidity and help provide a moist atmosphere. Make sure the roots are not submerged in the water or this might invite rot.

Some bromeliads grow well as “air plants,” which are glued or nested onto logs, moss or other non-soil organic items. You may have seen Tillandsia plants wired onto coconut shells with no soil. These plants collect all the food and moisture they need with their leaves but need a little help from you in the indoor setting.

Bromeliad Life Cyle: Growing a Bromeliad Pup

Don’t label yourself a black thumb if your bromeliad plant begins to die within a year or two. These epiphytes are not long lived but will generally start to die back after flowering. Although interior bromeliad plants will fail after a while and cease growth, they will produce offsets, or pups, that you can remove and start as new plants.

Watch for pups at the base of the plant and nurture them until they are large enough to break away from the parent plant. To remove them, cut them away from the parent and then plant them in sphagnum moss mix or any well-draining medium. Then sadly, it’s off to the compost pile with the original bromeliad plant, but you will be left with a little carbon copy that you can tend to its full maturity when the cycle starts all over again.

These baby bromeliads require the same care as the parent plant. As soon as the pup forms a cup, it is important to keep it filled with water so the new plant receives adequate moisture.

Growing bromeliads is a rewarding hobby that can continue for years if you harvest the pups.

Soil and Potting Needs for Bromeliads

Author: Melanie Dearringer

Care and Culture, Product Reviews

Soil is the anchor for many plants. It provides stability for roots. It holds water to be taken up by the roots and provides nutrients to plants. Bromeliads, because of their adaptations to their natural growing environment, have special needs when it comes to soil or lack there of as the case may be.

Bromeliad Potting Soil

It is true that you rarely want to use top soil or garden soil for a container plant. It is too dense and does not allow for proper drainage. Plants growing in this medium will rot quickly and not be successful. You can purchase a soil-less potting mix at garden stores and nurseries. But even this mix maybe too dense for air loving bromeliads.

Bromeliads have three growing habits: epiphytic, terrestrial and saxicolous. Meaning they grow non-parasitically on other plants (typically trees), in the ground, or on rocks respectively. Many bromeliads that grow on trees in their natural habitat can also grow terrestrially. Even though they are planted in the ground they still need good air circulation and a chance to dry in between waterings. The special needs of bromeliads require special potting mixes that give them proper support and allow for fast drainage.

Potting Mix Suggestions

Special potting mixes for bromeliads can be purchased at nurseries and garden stores. Unfortunately these potting mixes can be expensive. It is possible to create your own bromeliad potting mix from purchased ingredients or even your own homemade ingredients. Here are three suggested mixes that you can try yourself:

  • Equal parts sphagnum peat moss, medium grade horticultural perlite, and fine fir bark.
  • 1/2 potting soil, 1/4 perlite, and 1/4 orchid bark.
  • Equal parts soil-less potting soil, perlite, and pine bark nuggets.

Other suggested materials include sand, tree fern and coconut shells.

About Potting Mix Ingredients

-Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum peat moss comes from decayed sphagnum. Sphagnum grows in bogs and is adapted to retain water within its structure. Sphagnum is useful in mixes for bromeliads because it helps retain water when the soil is dry and holds water within it when damp preventing the roots from staying too soggy. These natural properties will help the bromeliad get the water it needs while preventing root rot. It also provides stronger support for the top heavy plants. Sphagnum peat moss also adds some acidity to the soil, which bromeliads typically prefer. It can be purchased in garden supply stores.

Perlite is usually formed from obsidian, a volcanic rock. When it is heated it expands greatly and the finished product is incredibly light. Perlite prevents soil mixes from becoming too compacted. It helps water move easily through the mix. It does not retain water itself, therefore, it is an ideal addition to bromeliad mixes.

Fir bark also boosts to the acidity of the soil-less mix. It adds texture and encourages movement of water through the container. Fir bark can be found at garden suppliers. It is often sold as “Orchid Bark” as well.

The purpose of bromeliad potting mix is to allow for maximum air and water flow while still providing support, water, and nutrients to the plants. Feel free to try various mixes and substances to get a soil-less mix that your bromeliad thrives in. If you choose to use compost from your yard as part of the mix, be sure that it is first baked. This will remove any pests, viruses, bacteria or fungus that could harm your bromeliad or any other container plant.

Repotting Bromeliads

When you purchase a bromeliad from a florist or garden center they are typically in bloom and will not grow more. Bromeliads have very small root systems and these plants will not need to be repotted during their lifetime in your home. However, if you purchase a very small bromeliad that has not yet produced a bloom you will need to repot it. Once your small bromeliad has grown out of its pot, you will need to move it to a larger one. If your pot is not retaining any water you know it is time to repot. A six inch container is most likely the largest size your bromeliad will need. Make sure that your container is clean. If it has been used in the past, wash it several times with mild soap and water being careful to rinse it well. You can also use a highly diluted solution of bleach to wash the container. Let the container dry completely before repotting your bromeliad. When your container is ready, fill it to just below the surface with your special bromeliad potting mix. Then place the bromeliad in the container and press more potting mix around it. Take care to ensure that all of the leaves are above the potting mix. Air circulation around these lower leaves is critical to the health of the plant. If your plant is too top heavy you may have to stake it until its roots are well established.

If you notice the potting mix around your bromeliad consistently soggy, and you are not overwatering, you may need to try a different mix. Bromeliads that stay wet can be severely damaged by root rot. Carefully remove the plant gently shaking as much of the old soil off as possible. Wash the old container well and replace the current medium with a potting mix that contains more perlite or sand increasing the drainage capabilities. As mentioned above, plant the bromeliad making sure that all of its leaves are above the soil.

Bromeliad pups can also be removed from the mother plant and potted in a similar fashion. Start with a small pot and you may have to repot increasing the size once during the bromeliad’s lifetime. It will take about two years for the new bromeliad to produce a bloom. Learn more about bromeliad pups with our free Beginner’s Guide to Bromeliad Pups.

Displaying in a Large Pot

-Self watering plant container

If you would like to use a larger pot to display the bromeliad there are several options. If the container is very large, place an empty pot upside down in the container then place the bromeliad pot on top of it. Fill some of the space with packing peanuts or even pieces of cardboard and then place sphagnum moss around the top making the bromeliad appear as though it is planted in the large container. However you arrange your plant within a container, make sure that the drainage holes are not blocked and that watering will not damage your set up. If watering will be a problem, simply remove the bromeliad from the decorative container, water it, let it dry a bit and replace it.

Individual Needs

Different species of bromeliads may have different needs. The climate in your area including humidity and amount of sunlight will also affect your potting mix needs. Check with your local growers to see if they have a preferred potting mix for your variety. In general, most bromeliads need good drainage, air circulation, and support to thrive in their container environment.

Soil Mixes & Potting Instructions for Bromeliads

Alex Cadalso – December 8, 2016

Bromeliads grow in a wide range of climates and terrains, from the epiphytic Neoregelias clinging to rainforest trees to the massive Puyas growing on the sandy desert floors.

It’s hard to speak generally about any family of plants that involves dozens of genera and hundreds or thousands of species. Creating a potting mix and selecting a container is about trying to provide a similar root environment to the plant’s natural habitat.

There are a lot of different types of bromeliads. Some bromeliads are necessarily epiphytic – growing on trees or other places; others are terrestrial – growing in the soil. Some are small enough to fit in a fish bowl terrarium, others bigger than a VW bug. Some like high light, others need deep shade.

As far as potting mixes are concerned, we separate Bromeliads into two types.

Epiphytic Bromeliads have a compact root system primarily for anchorage rather than moisture and nutrient uptake and retention. Epiphytes need a lightweight, fast draining mix without too much water holding capacity, or they will be susceptible to rot.

Terrestrial Bromeliads are generally larger and have root systems similar to other more common plants which have greater soil volume and moisture requirements.

Soil Mixes for Bromeliads

Our standard epiphytic bromeliad potting mix contains:

50% peat, 30% perlite and 20% fine pine bark

You can also use a 50 / 50 mix of orchid bark and standard potting soil. Bromeliads aren’t picky about their soil as long as it is well draining. Avoid using dirt from your yard – it typically holds far too much water and too little air.

Cryptanthus, Guzmania and Vriesia varieties are primarily terrestrial and require a mix with more water holding capacity (WHC). For these varieties we use: 70% peat and 30% perlite

Potting Up Bromeliads

4, 5 and 6” pots are the most common sizes used for growing bromeliads. For miniatures (plants 7” tall or less) and offsets, we use 4” azalea pots, which are more shallow than a standard pot. Plants may require repotting into a 5” or 6” pot after one or more seasons if it is a larger cultivar or one that produces offshoots. Plastic pots are less expensive, but may not be heavy enough for tall plants such as billbergia. Some gravel at the bottom of the container helps. This reduces soil volume but it is not usually a problem because of compact Bromeliad root structure.

You may consider growing in terra cotta or clay pots because they are heavier, less prone to tipping over and are more attractive. Clay pots dry out more quickly compared to plastic pots but bromeliads have minimal root zone moisture needs, so this added aeration can be an asset.

Don’t allow the plant to rock back and forth, or wiggle. This damages the tender, developing roots. Stake the plant, if necessary, with a bit of bamboo or chop stick until the roots are well developed.

Any container that isn’t too big with adequate drainage will do. You can also mount epiphytes on trees or other structures, which we will cover in a future article.

In Conclusion

Epiphytic species draw moisture primarily from their cup and leaves, so the pot and soil are mostly for anchorage instead of nutrient and moisture retention like terrestrial plants. Give them well draining soil in a just big enough container with adequate drainage and they’ll be happy.

Terrestrial Bromeliads like Cryptanthus and others have root systems similar to ‘normal’ plants and like good, loamy potting soil with good drainage and aeration – qualities found in most bagged potting mixes.

About the author: Alex Cadalso is a longtime writer/editor with a journalism degree contributing to bromeliad.com.

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How do I grow them?

Climate

Bromeliads can be grown outdoors in most frost-free areas of Australia. However, if you live in a cooler area, plant them in pots that can be brought inside in case of frost.

Water

The majority of bromeliads have their own ‘water tank’ – the cup or vase shape formed where their rosette of leaves comes together. So, when watering the plant, ensure the cup is filled but don’t allow the water to sit for months on end – it should be periodically flushed and replaced with fresh water. Keep the soil moist, but never wet.

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Aspect

The name ‘bromeliad’ covers quite a group of different genera and their light needs vary accordingly. Certain varieties can withstand full tropical sun while others will scorch. As a general rule, they flourish in dappled shade or filtered sunlight, but check plant labels to ensure you give your broms the best possible growing conditions.

Fertiliser

In spring, sprinkle a slow-release fertiliser around the base of your bromeliads – this gives them a boost of nutrients during the growing period and improves their condition, so they’re able to cope with the heat in summer.

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Soil

Bromeliads are epiphytic, meaning they grow on another plant for support, so are often found growing in trees, on stumps or on other supports. But they will also happily grow in the garden or in pots, as long as you use well-drained or free-draining soil that’s enriched with organic matter. To grow bromeliads in pots, use a free-draining mix such as orchid potting mix. If you wish to grow them in trees or on stumps, place a ball of sphagnum moss around the roots and tie them down with fishing line or jute.

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If you’re looking for a brom with the wow factor, look out for the Alcantarea (pictured, above). Depending on the species, these beauties can reach up to 2m high and wide! They’re also quite adaptable and can be found growing in shade to full sun. However, they develop their best colour and shape in full sun with afternoon shade. A popular species is Alcantarea imperialis, which spans 1.5m wide and has a thick flower spike reaching up to 2.5m in height. Truly amazing.

Bromeliads at a Glance1

Sydney Park Brown2

Bromeliads are easy-to-grow, low-maintenance plants that can be enjoyed indoors as houseplants, outside in containers, or, in warmer parts of Florida, as landscape plants. The bromeliads commonly sold at garden centers have colorful, long-lasting flower displays and/or brilliantly-colored foliage (Figures 1 and 2). Other familiar bromeliads are Spanish moss, ball moss, and the pineapple. In their native habitat, many bromeliads grow on trees as epiphytes—taking their moisture and nutrients from the atmosphere and the debris that decays in their “cups.” They are not parasites and will not harm the plants to which they are attached. This fact sheet offers basic information on growing these fascinating plants. The Bromeliad Society International is a good source of Bromeliad information: ; as are local bromeliad societies where members swap advice and plants: http://fcbs.org/members.htm.

Figure 1.

A beautiful array of Bromeliads in flower.

Credit:

Florelena/iStock/Thinkstock, © Florelena

Figure 2.

Some Bromelids produce brilliantly-colored foliage.

Credit:

Ratana21/iStock/Thinkstock, © Ratana21

Bromeliads as Houseplants

Bromeliads make excellent houseplants (Figure 3) that will survive (but not grow) for many weeks under very low light conditions. They’ll thrive on a porch, near a window or anywhere where they receive bright, diffused light, but no direct sun. A bromeliad will indicate whether light levels are satisfactory. A yellowish or pale green plant may indicate that the light level is too high. Conversely, dark green, soft, drooping leaves may be signs that light is too low. Water once every week or two. The simplest way is to put the plant in the sink or shower and allow lukewarm water to fill the cup and run over the leaves and into the soil; then drain the cup. It is rarely necessary to fertilize bromeliads when grown as houseplants.

Figure 3.

Bromeliads make long-lasting, easy-care houseplants.

Credit:

Andrew_Mayovskyy/iStock/Thinkstock, © Andrew_Mayovskyy

Bromeliads as Landscape or Container Plants

Most bromeliads are tropical or subtropical and thrive outdoors in Florida’s warm, humid environment (Figure 4). In north Florida, grow them in containers and move them indoors during freeze or frost events. Most prefer shade or partial shade, but some tolerate full sun. Even though they prefer moisture and humidity, they are extremely tolerant of low-moisture conditions and will survive prolonged periods of drought. Most problems with bromeliads are associated with root rot caused by too much moisture. The sandy, well-drained soils found throughout most of Florida soils are good for growing bromeliads. Where heavy clay soils exist, amend them with 2 to 3 inches of organic matter (peat, leaf mold, compost, etc.) mixed into the planting bed. Potted plants need a light, porous potting mix.

Figure 4.

Many species of Bromeliads thrive outdoors in Florida’s warm, humid climate.

Credit:

Patrick Kennedy/Hemera/Thinkstock, © Patrick Kennedy

Many bromeliads form a “cup” or “vase” in their centers which holds and absorbs water. Occasionally flush the cup with water to prevent stagnation and to remove the salts left when water in the cup evaporates. To prevent cold damage, remove water from the cup when temperatures below 40°F are likely. Cold damage appears as a brown line across each leaf at the water level.

Actively growing bromeliads respond to light applications of fertilizer. They require little or no fertilizer during the winter months, or under conditions of low light such as inside a home or office. A general purpose, soluble fertilizer can be applied to the soil of potted bromeliads every 1 to 2 months. Mix the fertilizer in water at 1/3 to ½ of the recommended dosage. It is best not to add fertilizer in the center cup because fertilizer salts could accumulate and burn new leaves.

You can grow some bromeliads on a board or piece of bark. Use staples, various glues, plastic-coated wire, or nylon stockings to attach them. Bromeliads can also be attached to the trunks of trees using glue and stockings to hold them in place until their roots attach securely to the tree trunk. Douse them with water when humidity or rainfall is low.

Blooming and Propagation

Bromeliads slowly die over a period of a year or two after flowering. However, pups (young plants) usually develop at the base of the “mother” plant. Separate the pups from the mother plant when they are half the size of the parent plant. To start new plants, simply cut the pup off where it attaches to the mother plant and place it in potting soil (Figure 5). Many factors affect blooming—plant age, day length, light intensity, water, and temperature. Some bromeliads bloom quite regularly while others do not. Bromeliad plants must be mature to flower. The time from the formation of a pup to maturity is approximately one year, but some species take much longer. The foliage of most bromeliads is typically so interesting and/or colorful that the blooms are considered a bonus.

Figure 5.

Bromeliads die after they flower, but usually produce “pups” that can be used to start new plants.

Credit:

kamnuan/iStock/Thinkstock, © kamnuan

Pests

Mosquitoes will breed in the water-filled cups of bromeliads growing outdoors. Once a week during the summer and fall rainy season, use a garden hose to flush out mosquito larvae and decaying leaves and twigs, which are a food source to the larvae. A biological, mosquito control product (Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis) is available from garden centers and home supply stores. The product should be sprinkled into bromeliad cups every 2–3 weeks in summer and fall; it will kill some species of mosquito larvae in 24 hours. For more information on reducing mosquitoes around your home see Mosquitoes & Their Control http://ifasbooks.ifas.ufl.edu/p-1273-mosquitoes-their-control.aspx

The Mexican bromeliad weevil, Metamasius callizona, attacks native bromeliads, especially Tillandsia, but has been known to damage private and commercial collections as well. The adult weevils feed on the leaves and flower stalks, leaving unsightly marks (Figure 6). The larvae are more destructive, tunneling into the base of the plant, and separating the leaves from the roots. Symptoms include leaves that are browning or decomposing near the base, and sections of the plant falling away, resulting in the death of the plant. Some plants exude a clear, gelatin-like substance thought to be used in defense. In 2007, a biological control (a parasitic fly) was released in several parts of the state. For more information on the “evil weevil,” see Featured Creatures at: http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/orn/m_callizona.htm.

Figure 6.

Leaf damage from the Mexican Bromeliad Weevil.

Credit:

P.M. Choate, University of Florida

Although the bromeliad is a fairly pest-free plant, scale and mealybug insects can sometimes be a problem. Your UF/IFAS Extension office can provide safe and effective management information: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/find-your-local-office/.

Bromeliad International Society. http://www.bsi.org/new/

Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies: http://fcbs.org/members.htm

Frank, J.H. Bromeliad-inhabiting mosquitoes in Florida: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/frank/bromeliadbiota/mosbrom.htm

Footnotes

This document is ENH 1071, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date July 2007. Revised December 2013 and January 2017. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

Sydney Park-Brown, retired associate professor emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department; UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, Wimauma, FL 33598.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension office.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.

The Best Locations to Grow Bromeliads

Author: Melanie Dearringer

Care and Culture, Growing Indoors, Growing Outdoors

Most bromeliads are native to tropical regions. A significant number of bromeliad species come from the understory of tropical rain forests. These native habitats shape how the plants perform in various conditions. Knowing what native habitat your bromeliad species is adapted to can help you choose the perfect location to grow the plant, whether indoors or out.

Ideally, bromeliads would be grown in a greenhouse that is kept between 70 and 80 degrees. The greenhouse would have plenty of humidity as well as excellent air circulation. It would provide bright, yet indirect light. While a greenhouse is available to some bromeliad enthusiasts, owning one is not the reality for most bromeliad growers who want to enjoy a plant in their home or office space. Fortunately, many bromeliads will thrive in less than perfect conditions.

Locations in the home

Bathrooms are excellent spaces for many bromeliad species. Bathrooms have naturally higher humidity than the rest of the house or office building. However, one challenge to bathrooms is that there is often very little natural light available. If there are no windows in your bathroom, make sure the plant is exposed to a florescent light that is on all the time or mount a grow light near the plant that will stay on even when the rest of the lights are off. Many Cryptanthus, a terrestrial bromeliad often found on forest floors, will thrive in low light. Several species found in the genera Aechmea and Vriesea will also tolerate low light conditions.

Kitchens also have higher humidity than other spaces in the home. An advantage that kitchens have over bathrooms is that they have more light available. Most bromeliads will thrive on a table or countertop a few feet away from a window. Do not place your bromeliad directly in a south facing window. The leaves are likely to scorch with too much direct sunlight.

There are some bromeliads that will grow well in drier conditions. Species in the Dyckia and Hechtia genera are adapted to bright, arid climates such as the deserts in Texas and Mexico. With these bromeliads you do not have to worry about humidity. However, they will do the best when exposed to plenty of direct sunlight. You can safely place these bromeliads in a south facing window. Be careful with these bromeliads because most species have very sharp spines that surround the leaf margins. Place them out of reach of small children or inquisitive pets.

If you have a bright spot, with plenty of indirect light, but low humidity, you can try raising the humidity a bit just around the plant. Place a waterproof tray filled with small pebbles or river rocks directly beneath the plant. Fill the tray with a few inches of water. Set the plant container on top of the tray, but do not let it sit directly in the water. If it sits in the water it will soak it up into the soil and cause root rot. The water in the tray will evaporate slowly and raise the humidity slightly around the plant. Remember that you will have to refill the tray with water occasionally.

Many bromeliads are epiphytes and can be mounted and hung as well as planted in a container. Tillandsias are especially well known as air plants and can make beautiful mounts. They can even be grown attached to suction cups that can be hung in a window. They are also very pretty in small glass orbs that can be hung from window frames. Most of the species in this genera also like indirect light so do not place them in an especially bright window or they will dry out quickly. Mist these plants regularly because they take in water through scales on their leaves rather than with roots.

Outdoors

Bromeliads can also be grown outdoors. They will thrive all year in tropical climates, but can also be placed outdoors in containers during the summer in more extreme climates.

Bromeliads in containers will do well on shaded patios or under trees with broad canopies that allow dappled light through. If your bromeliad will be in the sun during the day, try to have it in the less intense morning or evening light. Direct hot afternoon sun will scorch the leaves.

Be aware that containers will also dry out faster outdoors. When the potting medium is dry a few inches down, thoroughly soak the pot and allow it to drain well.

As soon as frost threatens, bring your container to a sheltered location. A garage should be warm enough until colder temperatures set in. Then you will need to move the container indoors. Dyckia, Puya and many species of Vriesea are cold hardy down to about 20 degrees. They may experience some damage on their leaves, but they should recover when temperatures warm up.

Colorful Neoregelias make attractive ground cover.

Bromeliads are also wonderful as landscaping plants in tropical climates. Some of the larger varieties make excellent focal pieces, while smaller, lower growing varieties are attractive ground covers. Species found in the Neoregelia, Aechmea, and Canistropsis genera make great ground covers and thrive in shade, under trees. They will often grow where grass will not. Bromeliads produce pups or offshoots. Overtime these plants will create thick mats of beautiful ground cover.

Dyckia, Hectia, Protea, and Hohenbergia are all genera that have some species that will tolerate full sun. If you have very little shade available in your yard, use a species that will not scorch when exposed to bright, direct light. These varieties can be used in unprotected south facing locations.

Warning Signs

Many bromeliads will survive in a broad range of light conditions from low light to full sun. Even though bromeliads will continue to live and grow they will not look their best unless they are given the light that they are adapted to in their natural environments. Bromeliads can have incredible variegation and color. These characteristics will diminish if given too much or too little light.

If a bromeliad receives too much light, it will become bleached out. Any coloring will become light green. If there is not enough light, the bromeliad will become a dark green color and any variegation will become less pronounced.

Bromeliad foliage will also become thin and leggy when it is not getting enough light. Brown dry spots on the leaves or tips of the leaves indicate that the bromeliad is being scorched by too much bright, direct light.

When your bromeliad experiences any of these problems choose a new location for your plant. The plant should recover and show off its beautiful characteristics once it is exposed to the right amount of light.

Tips To Keep In Mind

When choosing the perfect spot for you new bromeliad plant or when designing your landscape that includes bromeliads keep these key factors in mind.

  • Most bromeliads thrive in bright, indirect sunlight or dappled shade.
  • Many bromeliads will scorch when exposed for long periods of time to direct sunlight.
  • Most bromeliads require more humidity than is typical in a climate controlled environment.
  • Many bromeliads can be mounted and hung as an alternative to growing in a container.

Bromeliads are easy to care for when given the proper growing environments. They do not require much water, fertilizer or other maintenance. Knowing what type of environment your variety of bromeliad prefers will help you find the best location for your plant. Where is your favorite spot to display your bromeliads?

Sources

“Best Bromeliads for Indoors—Growing Bromeliads Indoors.” About.com Houseplants.

Jenkins, Dale. “Cold Sensitivity of Bromeliads.” Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies.

“Bromeliads, Tropical Plants.” Florida Landscaping Today.

Bromeliads in the South Florida landscape

Neoregelia. PHOTOS BY MIKE MALLOY/COASTAL BREEZE NEWS

PLANT TALK

Mike Malloy

Bromeliads are finally getting the attention they deserve. Until recently, they were only popular with a small segment of house-plant enthusiasts. Today, bromeliads are prized tropical treasures in many Southwest Florida landscapes and public and private gardens. Featuring a wide range of color, leaf shapes and textures, bromeliads are as beautiful as they are hardy. If you’re looking for beautiful, exotic-looking tropical plants that are easy to care for and drought tolerant, look no further than bromeliads.

Bromeliads are in the Bromeliaceae family, which is native to the tropical Americas. The pineapple plant is the most popular bromeliad and is a major food crop industry. Bromeliads range in size from minuscule Spanish moss to the 30- ft. – tall Puya raimondii. There are

Billbergia.

thousands of varieties of bromeliads, making them an ideal fit for any spot in your garden. Some produce upright flower spikes, while others produce tiny flowers inside their water well (cup). Similarly, some have a faint scent, while others are heavily fragrant.

Bromeliads only bloom once. After blooming the mother plant dies, sometimes taking two years. But don’t despair, because bromeliads continually reproduce new plants (called pups) on the outer perimeter at their bases year after year. The pups can be removed when they are about one-third the size of the mother plant.

This is a big bonus with bromeliads. You may end up having too many pups, which occasionally you will have to thin them out for better air circulation to maintain healthy plants. This

Tomasito.

is not something I would call a problem: It’s time to party. Throw a bromeliad party and swap pups with your fellow bromeliad enthusiasts or just give them to friends.

Bromeliads are extremely diverse in their tolerance of sunlight. Some can withstand the full brunt of the South Florida sun, while others require full shade. They are also highly adaptable to indoor and outdoor environments.

Another bonus is that bromeliads have few insect problems. However, keep an eye out for scale and ever present snails. They like to take up residence in the water cups of your bromeliads or hide at the base where there are sturdy leaves. Also, wasps like to build combs on the underside of these sturdy leaves, so look before you leap, it could

Gusmania.

be a nasty surprise.

Bromeliads are not heavy feeders and, personally, I don’t think fertilizing is necessary. But, if you must, use a liquid fertilizer at half strength or a granular mixed with the potting soil, or fill the cup with water and add one pellet of slow release fertilizer, hardly worth the effort.

Bromeliads can be planted in mass, singularly in pots, or even attached to tree limbs. For an instant garden showpiece use an old cypress stump and flip it over, it makes a perfect planter for many bromeliads. This also makes for perfect a growing medium. They also look great attached to pieces of driftwood and the bare trunks of palm trees.

For even more visual impact, try hanging your bromeliads. Here’s a trick

Simbella.

I use: Place bromeliads in the larger ends of old palm seed pods (attach plants with floral wire) then hang them on your lanai walls or in the garden. It’s a great way to add to your plant collection, when you have run out of planting room.

Bromeliads also work well in pots on the lanai because they add a lot of color without dropping old flowers or leaves and staining the surface of your deck.

Many bromeliads have such striking leaves; they needn’t be in bloom to attract attention. But when the flower spikes emerge, they become a work of art.

And more good news: That flower spike should last for months. Your local hummingbirds and butterflies will be doubly attracted, because they can feed on

Neo Seduction.

the flowers and drink from the water cup. Enjoy bromeliads and KEEP BUTTERFLYING!!!

Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. A Collier County Master Gardener, he has written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted and designed numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or visit his website, www.naplesbutterfly.com

How to Fertilize Bromeliads

Species Determines Fertilizer Needs

The huge number and diversity of bromeliads means a wide range of fertilizer requirements as well. Another factor is how the plants obtain nourishment. Epiphytic bromeliads like Spanish moss or air plants (Tillandsia), get much of their food from the air and rainwater. Some also get nutrients from decomposing insects that die on the plant. Terrestrial bromeliads like the pineapple absorb nutrients through their roots.

Timing Fertilizer

No matter what kind of plant you’re feeding, timing makes a difference. Bromeliads are active growers in spring and summer, then taper off in fall and become partially dormant in winter. Begin feeding in April and continue to feed until August, when you should taper feeding through the end of September. Water regularly during the feeding taper, then cut water by half after the final feeding.

Fertilizer Don’ts for Bromeliads

Some basic rules should be followed for all bromeliads. Among these:

  • Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers if you want flowers.
  • Don’t fertilize a dormant plant as it can burn the leaves.
  • Never put solid fertilizer like pellets or powder into a bromeliad’s central cup; it can burn the plant.
  • Don’t give any bromeliad full-strength fertilizer; diluted is safer and more effective.

Feeding Urn Plants and Earth Stars

Urn plants (Aechema) and earth stars (Cryptanthus) both do well with 20-20-20 NPK fertilizer. However, dilute to half strength for urn plants and apply to the central foliage rosette; water thoroughly. Feed cryptanthus with fertilizer diluted to quarter strength and pour it directly on the soil. Feed epiphytic urn plants by spraying twice weekly with one-eighth to one-sixteenth dilution of 20-20-20 NPK.

Feeding Blushing Bromeliads

Blushing bromeliads belong to the Neoregelia group. The flowers are insignificant, but the base of the leaves and plant center turn red when it is about to bloom. If you use 20-20-20 NPK fertilizer, dilute to one-sixteenth and feed only once a month. You can also use 5-59-10 NPK fertilizer diluted to one-eighth strength and feed once a week. Stop feeding if it begins to lose foliage color.

Feeding Other Bromeliads

Bilbergias are epiphytic bromeliads. They do best with a monthly feeding of 20-20-20 NPK at half strength during the growing season. Guzmanias can be fed with slow-release pellets added to the soil only. Tillandsias (air plants) should be treated like neoregelia if soft-leaved. Hard-leaved tillandsias need low-nitrogen fertilizer at one-quarter strength. Soak the plant occasionally.

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