Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Will my plant bloom again?
Most of the bromeliads that people grow only bloom a single time. As the plants grow by adding new leaves from the center, it becomes impossible to continue growth after flowering since the inflorescence blocks new leaf growth. The plants direct their energy into growing new vegetative offsets (pups) from growing buds at the base of the leaves. Some species of Dyckia and Hechtia grow lateral inflorescences (from the side rather then the center of the plant). These plants a free to add leaves from the center of original plant continuing its growth (they also pup freely). Some plants in the uncommonly grown genus Deuterocohnia can actually re-bloom on an existing inflorescence. Some can bloom for up to six years on one of these perennial flower spikes.
How do I get my bromeliad to bloom?
Your plant may not be large/mature enough to be ready to bloom yet. To encourage your plant to grow quicker, you can make sure it is well fertilized and watered and is receiving the proper amount of light and warmth. A small addition of Epsom Salts (Magnesium sulfate) may help promote growth and initiate blooming. Magnesium is critical for the production of chlorophyll and flowers. It helps strengthen cell walls and improves plants' uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.
If the plant is mature enough and just doesn't seem to want to bloom, blooming can usually be triggered by exposing the plant to ethylene gas. The simplest method for doing this is to enclose the plant in a plastic bag with a ripe apple. Keep it out of the direct sun for a week. The ripe apple will release ethylene which triggers a chemical reaction in the plant telling it to stop producing leaves and start producing a flower spike.
The bloom is turning brown. What should I do?
When the inflorescence ceases to be ornamental, just chop it off with cutter or a sharp pair of scissors. If the plant has not done so already it will soon start producing offsets called "pups". Since 99% of all bromeliads bloom only once, the plant's energy is now being redirected into growing the next generation of plants.
When should I remove the new plants forming around the original?
Bromeliads can start forming pups at any time, but most start pupping after they bloom. These pups are ready to be separated when they reach about 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the parent plant. If the pup is starting to form roots, that's a good indication that the plant can survive on its own. Pups may be removed by cutting with a sharp knife or clippers as close to the mother plant as possible.
The longer you leave the pups on the mother plant the quicker they will reach maturity (taking nourishment from mom). Feel free to trim back the leaves of the parent plant if they start interfering with the growth of a pup. Alternatively, taking the pups a bit smaller will encourage the mother plant to throw more pups sooner. It depends on whether you want a bunch of plants (for bedding or to share with friends) or if you just want a few that will mature quicker. If you are in a colder climate you may want to wait until spring time to remove pups that would otherwise be ready to remove in the winter as pups don't usually root well when it's cold.
Alternatively, if you have a number of evenly spaced pups around the mother, you may opt to cut away the mother plant and let the pups form a clump.
What kind of potting mix should I use?
Again, this depends on the type of bromeliad but for most commonly cultivated bromeliads, they like a light, well-draining mix. One of the standard recipes in use by many growers is to make a mix of equal parts of (1) mulch/pine bark nuggets, (2) perlite and (3) composted peat or professional potting mix (a soil-less mix). You want the medium to be able to be moistened easily but drain well.
Most epiphytic (growing on other plants) bromeliads do well in this loose, organic medium but terrestrial bromeliads do better in a mix that retains a bit more moisture. Most terrestrial (growing in the soil) bromeliads do not have leaves that form holding tanks to supply their need for water. These bromeliads include the succulent Dyckias and Hechtias, the grass-like Pitcairnias and the pineapple.
How do I fertilize them?
Bromeliads are generally slow growing plants that do not need a large amount of fertilizer. The best method seems to be use slow, time-release fertilizers lightly sprinked around the base of the plant. Never place fertilizer grains directly in the cup of tank bromeliads, doing this will probably burn the foliage and might foster the growth of algae or invite rot. Liquid fertilizer is another good method (especially for air plants that cannot be fertilized any other way). Use 1/2 to 1/4 of the recommended strength and spray several times per season. Flush tank bromeliads occasionally to prevent the buildup of salts that may damage leaves.
Some bromeliads (particularly the grass-like Pitcarinias) can be "pushed" to grow quicker by adding extra fertilizer. Most, though, will not benefit by excessive fertilizer which will tend to make the plants "leggy" (excessively long leaves) or, in the case of those with colorful foliage (like Neoregelias), it will diminish the colors turning the plant green.
How much water do they need?
Bromeliads that have a rosette of overlapping leaves that retain water (often called "tank bromeliads") should have the rosette kept full of water. Distilled water or rainwater is generally better than tap water (especially if you have hard water). It is a good idea to empty or flush the tank every couple of months and refill it with fresh water. This will clear out organic debris and lessen any chance of fungal rot. In nature, these plants have evolved to catch organic matter, which rots, fertilizing the plants. In cultivation, growers like to keep their plants tidy and debris-free and supplement them with fertilizer to make up for the nutritional loss. Keep the soil around the bromeliad moist (but not wet). This is especially important for non tank bromeliads as they draw their moisture primarily from their roots.
For "air plants" like Tillandsias which are grown attached to a piece of wood, cork or sometimes nothing at all, they should be misted a couple of times a week and even more frequently during the dry winter season when grown indoors. As an alternative to misting, plants grown indoors may be dunked or soaked in water for a few minutes to rehydrate the plant. Make sure to drain away any excess water caught between the leaves as this may promote rot.
How much light do bromeliads need?
That depends a lot on the type of bromeliad. Knowing the genus that the plant belongs to within the bromeliad family can tell you a lot about its requirements. A simple rule of thumb that works for most cases is: "Soft leaf - soft light, hard leaf - hard light." If the leaves of your plant are soft and flexible and especially if they are spineless (like Guzmanias and Vrieseas), they probably grow in the shady understory in the wild and would do best in a lower light area. Those plants with stiffer (usually spiny) leaves (like Aechmeas and Neoregelias) or "airplants" like Tillandsias enjoy bright, filtered light. There are some plants that will tolerate full sun but most like a little protection.
Pay attention to your plants and they will tell you if they are unhappy. If a plant is being grown in too little light, it will often lose the bright colors that it had when you bought it. In addition to turning greener (adding chlorophyll) to make the most of the lower light level, many plants will start growing much longer leaves increasing their surface area to compensate. If your plant starts getting "leggy", try moving it (gradually) to a brighter area. The plant will respond by regaining its color and "tightening up" to form a dense rosette with shorter leaves.
On the other extreme, too much light can be the culprit if the plant's color starts fading or "bleaching". If brown, sunburned spots start appearing on the portions of the leaves, it is a clear indication that the plant is getting too much light. Sometimes a plant that should be able to take more light fades or burns when placed in a sunny area. The plant might have been living in dimly lit conditions before you obtained it. You can work it out into brighter conditions in stages to acclimate the plant.
Why does my plant have white crud around the base of the leaves?
Tank bromeliads (those forming a water holding chamber from overlapping leaves), sometimes get a white substance on the outside edges of their leaves near the base. This substance is generally caused by hard water. If the plants are watered with water that is high in mineral content (especially calcium), the minerals can crystalize on the bases of the leaves causing deposits that can injure the leaves. Bromeliads with soft leaves such as Vrieseas and Guzmanias can be particularly succeptable to hard-water damage. Using rain water or distilled water is an effective solution for this problem.
Another cause might be excessive fertilizer. The nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous salts contained in fertilizers can build up with repeated applications and precipitate into damaging crystals just like hard water. To avoid this problem, don't over-fertilize and flush the water in the cups occasionally to rid them of the salt buildup.
What is causing the leaf tips to turn brown?
Usually, this is a sign that the plant is too dry. Bromeliads, in general, are very hardy plants capable of surviving much abuse and neglect. To keep them looking their best (and avoid browning leaf tips), you should always keep some water in the central cup (for tank bromeliads) and keep the potting medium evenly moist (but not overly wet).
My plant is dying. What can I do?
If your plant has flowered already, not much. Bromeliads, in general, only bloom a single time and then produce vegetative offsets (called pups) which grow, taking nourishment from the mother plant, and then bloom themselves. The way bromeliads grow is by adding new leaves from the growing point in the center of the plant's rosette of leaves. When the plant flowers, it switches from adding new leaves to growing sending up a flower spike from the center of the plant. Once this happens, the plant can no longer add new leaves to the center so it instead shifts its growth laterally to producing new growing buds, usually inside the base of the leaves for protection. Sometimes the mother plant can hang around for quite some time producing many pups (and even grand-pups) before running out of energy.
If you plant has not yet bloomed, check to see that its conditions are right for this plant. Is the plant too dry? Is the central cup filled with water? Is the soil evenly moist? Is the soil too wet and soggy? Is the plant near a heating or air conditioning vent that is roasting/chilling the plant? Is the plant too cold? Remember, these are TROPICAL plants. Is the light level appropriate for this type of bromeliad?
If you can determine what is making the plant unhappy and correct the problem, the plant has a good chance of making a spectacular (although gradual) comeback. Bromeliads are resiliant, slow growing plants. If the plant does not recover it will probably still put its energy into producing some pups which gives you a fresh chance to start over again.
Are there any insect pests?
The main pests of bromeliads are scale and mealy bugs. Scale will look like little round dots covering the top or bottom of the leaves. Mealy bug will look like a white cottony patch. For small outbreaks, these can both be treated by wiping over them with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. For more wide spread infestations, try mixing a little mild dishwashing detergent or baby shampoo with water and spraying the infected plants. The soap will coat and suffocate the insects. It is recommended to rinse the plants off with clean water to make sure the pores on the leaves are open so the plant can breathe. DO NOT use heavy oil based insecticides as these are likely to choke the plant as well.

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