For indoor color and interesting foliage, it’s hard to beat bromeliads. While bromeliads have a reputation as being hard to grow, many types are actually quite easy to keep as houseplants. They’re low maintenance, adaptable to temperature and humidity shifts, and the blooms are long-lasting.
There are too many species of bromeliad to count – including Spanish moss and pineapples – with quite a few varieties cultivated as beautiful houseplants. Bromeliads are either epiphytic, which naturally cling to trees or rocks; or terrestrial, which grow in rainforest humus. While many adapt quite well to being potted, they all require very light potting mix.
The main kinds of bromeliads available as houseplants are the types that grow easily in soil. Potted varieties include Billbergia, Cryptanthus, Guzmania, and Neoregelia. The most common potted bromeliads have brilliantly colored flower spikes atop strappy foliage in all colors, including stripes and spots.
Bromeliad Growing Basics
Different varieties of bromeliads can have very different light, water, and fertilizer needs. To give your plant the best care, it’s important to find out about the particular growing requirements of your variety.
Choosing Plants: Look for bromeliad plants that are undamaged and early in the bloom stage. Go for shorter flower spikes that aren’t fully colored yet, to maximize the bloom time at home. Bromeliads that are preparing to bloom will start to change color in the center.
Potting: Bromeliad roots are mostly used for support, rather than taking up nutrients. Potted bromeliads should be planted exactly up to the base of the leaves. Any deeper and the plant will rot, any shallower and it won’t have enough support. The pot doesn’t have to be large – a 4” to 6” pot is usually big enough – but put the pot inside a larger, heavier planter if it’s top heavy. Epiphytic bromeliads can also be mounted to boards rather than potted, then misted with water and nutrients.
Light: Bromeliads generally prefer bright, indirect light, though some varieties tolerate more sun or shade than others. When choosing a bromeliad for a sunny window or dark room, make sure the type of plant is compatible with those light conditions.
Soil: Use light, fast draining, acidic soil to grow bromeliads (think rainforest leaf humus). Never use garden soil or dirt that becomes easily saturated. Packaged orchid potting mix is perfect, or mix some sand into a peat based potting mix.
Temperature: One of the advantages of growing bromeliads is their tolerance of wide temperature ranges (35° F to 100° F). However, bromeliads will grow best between 55° F and 90° F. In hotter temperatures be sure the plant gets plenty of humidity by misting or using a pebble tray.
Water: In general, allow the soil to dry out between watering bromeliads. Water thoroughly, emptying the drainage tray so the plant doesn’t stand in water. Water more frequently in summer while the plant is growing. If you have a tank-type bromeliad (the kind with strappy leaves that funnel down to a cup that collects water), make sure you flush out the leaf cup each time you water the plant, to remove built-up salts and debris in the standing water. If you wish, you can also add just a touch of fertilizer to the tank water, which will be taken up by the leaves.
Air Circulation: Bromeliads need air circulation, but keep them away from heat and cooling vents.
Fertilizer: Most bromeliads don’t need a lot of fertilizer, although some varieties are heavier feeders than others. A little slow-release fertilizer mixed in the potting soil is usually enough. If you prefer to feed regularly, mix liquid fertilizer at about one-fourth the recommended dosage, and feed once a month during the growing season. Don’t feed bromeliads during the winter.
Flowers: It can be very difficult to get bromeliads to bloom more than once. Each variety blooms according to specific day length, humidity, temperature, and care. To get your bromeliad to bloom again, research the specific needs of your variety. There’s some research suggesting that ethylene gas can be used to encourage bromeliads to bloom. To try it, enclose your bromeliad plant in a bag with several ripe apples for about 10 days starting 2-3 months before their normal bloom time.
Propagation: Some bromeliads die after they flower, but they send out offsets (or “pups”) that can be potted to propagate the plant. Wait until the offsets begin to look like the parent plant (with a leaf cup and roots) before slicing them off with a sterile knife, or cut away the dead parent plant and leave the offsets in the original pot.
Growing Problems: The main problems with bromeliads are due to using heavy soil or overwatering, which can cause fungus and rot. Repot your plant every couple of years to refresh the soil and prevent rotting.