Bromeliads are grown for both their brilliant tropical flowers and their colorful foliage. Bromeliads are tropical and semi-tropical plants that must stay warm—about 75°F (24°C). They grow and flower best when the air is humid.
Bromelia is a genus of tropical American perennials with long stiff leaves with spines along the margins; leaves are set in basal rosettes. Flower stems can rise to several feet high and are crowned with spikes or dense flat heads of bloom.
Genera grown for ornament include Tillandsia, Vriesia, Aechmea, Billbergia, Nidularium, and Cryptanthus.
Bromelia can be grown outdoors in subtropical climates, otherwise, they are best grown indoors. They require a well-broken-up loam. Water should be given sparingly in winter.
Bromeliads are propagated by suckers.
Get to Know Bromeliads
- Plant type: Tropical perennial epiphytic or so-called air plants
- Growing Zones and range: 10-11; will grow outdoors in Zone 9 with protection
- Temperature: Bromeliads need consistent warmth, 75°F (24°C) is best, not less than 60°F (16°C)
- Height and width: Vary by variety; commonly 6 inches to 24 inches tall
- Foliage: Rosettes of stiff leaves range from 1 inch to 3 feet (90cm) tall; most bromeliads have natural vase forms of a tight rosette of leaves
- Flowers: Showy spikes of red, yellow, pink, and green
- Uses: Houseplants; grow outdoors in semi-tropical regions
- Botanical name: Various genera—see below for descriptions
- Common name: Bromeliads, air plants, living vase plant
Where to Plant Bromeliads
- Bromeliads need bright light, but not direct sunlight.
- Bromeliads are epiphytic—so-called air plants; they do not need soil to grow. In nature, they use trees, rocks, and other plants to support their tiny root systems
- Most bromeliads grow best in clay pots and an epiphytic wood chip mix—an orchid potting mix; these mixes are fast draining.
How to Water and Feed Bromeliads
- Keep the center of cups of vase-shaped types filled with rainwater; drain and refill the cups every week or two. Let other types dry between watering. Provide extra humidity.
- Fertilize bromeliads with liquid fertilizer twice a month in spring and summer and once a month during the rest of the year.
- Put bromeliads outdoors in summer.
Bromeliad Common Problems
- Too much light can cause sunburn on leaves.
- Hard water can cause white stains (salt or lime buildup) on leaves; flush the cups weekly with rainwater to remove the stains.
- Remove offshoots at the base of plants and repot them. When the offset is several months old remove it with some roots attached and plant it swallowing in a seed-starting compost. Keep it warm until it is well-established.
Bromeliads Varieties to Grow
- Air plant (Tillandsia cyanea) has long, narrow, arching, green leaves and flat, paddle-like plumes of deep pink or red bracts and violet-blue flowers.
- Flaming sword (Vriesia splendens) has vases of brown-banded, green leaves and long, red flower spikes that can grow to 3 feet long. Needs bright but not direct light and average household warmth; warmth at 75°F will induce flowering.
- Guzmanias (Guzmania spp. and hybrids) grow in a vase shape with strap-like, arching, green leaves to 18 inches with broad spreading flower heads in brilliant colors. Bright green but not direct light; average household warmth; warmth at 75°F will induce flowering. G. musaica has mottled foliage and orange-yellow spires of flowers.
- Living vases (Aechmea spp. and hybrids) grow strap-shaped, blue-green leaves marked with silvery bands. Urn plant (A. fasciata) has fat spikes of blue flowers and showy, pink, petal-like bracts. Bright but not direct lights and average household warmth. When flowers fade, new plants develop as side shoots.
- Neoregelias (Neoregelia spp. and hybrids) have somewhat flattened rosettes of green leaves that are red near the bottom of the vase; flowers appear at the center with a blush of color. Needs bright but not direct light; average household warmth.
- Pineapple (Ananus comosus) has a vase-shaped form with narrow, toothed, gray-green leaves; the flower stalk is topped with a miniature pineapple.
Bromeliads Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the correct care for bromeliads?
A: Treat bromeliads like other succulent plants. They like winter temperatures of 55° to 60°F. High temperatures above 75°F may be required to bring plants into flower, but average warmth is satisfactory for foliage or plants in flower. Most bromeliads require a brightly lit spot away from direct sunlight.
Q: What are the best bromeliads for beginners to grow?
A: First try Aechmea and Billergia. A bit more temperamental are Vriesia and Tillandsia.
Q: How do I water bromeliads?
A: Aechmea, Billbergia, and Guzmania need their growing medium just slightly moist; they must have their growing “vases” filled with water all through the growing season. Those without water reservoirs–Cryptanthus, Tillandsia–need an evenly moist growing medium through spring, summer, and fall, with a slight drying during out in winter. Never overwater and ensure there is good drainage.
Q: What is the best potting medium for bromeliads?
A: A half-and-half mixture of shredded osmunda or tree-fern fiber with soil. Also, a handful of pebbles suits most bromeliads. An exception is Cryptanthus, a terrestrial species, which can be grown in standard house plant soil.
Q: How do I feed bromeliads?
A: Mist bromeliads frequently. Feeding through the leaves is the natural method of nutrition, so occasionally use dilute liquid fertilizer instead of water in the sprayer.
Q: Do bromeliads need sunlight to bloom indoors?
A: Bromeliads will do better with some sunlight not only to encourage bloom but also for good leaf color. Much of their beauty is in their colorful foliage.
Q: Is it true that putting an apple in the “vase” of a bromeliad will make it bloom?
A: Yes, the gas given off by the apple apparently stimulates flowering. Cover the plant and apple securely with plastic.