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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
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- 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
- 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
- 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.