Why Grow Bromeliads?
- They are relatively easy to grow indoors, outdoors or in the greenhouse.
- They have attractive forms and colors.
- An inflorescence can last for months.
- They reproduce consistently and rapidly.
- They have few enemies.
Bromeliads have simple requirements:
- A firm support - either potted or mounted
- Reasonable temperature - 35 °F to 100 °F
- Moisture depends on species - low to high humidity; moist but not wet roots
- Light also depends on species - from deep shade to full sun
- Fertilizer requirements vary by species - from none to heavy, weekly feeding
Such variable plants mean that some type of bromeliad is ideal for your conditions. Some hints to help you succeed are:
- Stabilize your plant. The roots need firm support whether the plant is mounted or potted.
- Maintain humidity requirements.
- Maintain good air circulation.
- Provide required light level.
- Have good drainage.
- Avoid extremes of temperature.
- Over water.
- Allow to become totally dry.
- Over fertilize for the type of bromeliad. Be especially cautious during the winter.
- Move suddenly from deep shade to full sun.
- Place plants directly in the air flow from heating or cooling outlets.
The potting medium may be organic, inorganic (soilless), or a combination of the two. The main points to remember are to provide quick drainage and firm support. Plastic pots hold moisture well; clay pots require more frequent watering. Dark plastic pots may get hot in the sun and injure roots; clay pots accumulate mineral salts and algae.
The soil line should only reach the base of the leaves; if too high, the plant may not be stable; if too deep, the plant may rot. A pot near the diameter of the plant is usually selected: a smaller pot can restrict root growth; a larger pot allows roots to spread. Under/over-potting may be called for to achieve proper growth for a given species.
Most epiphytic (attached to a tree) and saxicolous (attached to a rock) bromeliads develop hold-fast roots. The plant must be firmly affixed to its support so that the tender root tips can attach to the support.
Almost anything is usable for a mounting surface: cork slabs, stone pieces, wood slabs, lava rock, driftwood, large fishing floats. Salts must be removed from items that have been in sea water. Soaking for two weeks, completely submerged, with frequent water changes, is recommended.
Since bromeliads, in their natural habitat, grow under such varied conditions as: rain forest, cloud forest, nightly fog or heavy morning dew, the rule of thumb for watering is: water well and allow to dry before watering again. Tank type bromeliads are those that hold water in the cup and leaf axils; frequent flushing by pouring fresh water over the plant, inverting and filling again is recommended to prevent stagnation and buildup mineral salts. The quality of the water is important. Tap water can generally be used for watering the pots. Better results are obtained by using rain, distilled or reverse-osmosis water for the tanks.
Moist air is as important as proper watering. If the humidity drops, mist the plants. Normally, 50% relative humidity will suffice.
Since these are naturally outdoor plants that receive constant air movement, they will be healthier if the air does not stagnate.
Disease and Pests
Rot and fungus are about the only diseases that bother bromeliads. These are nearly always related to over-watering or bad potting mix. An organic mix will break down after two or three years, and become soggy. This, in turn, allows roots to rot and fungus to grow. Scale and mealy bugs are easily controlled with the commercial Cygon 2E. If the plants are grown outside, other chewing and sucking insects should be controlled as with any other plant.
Notes on Specific Genera
Generally available genera are listed below with some guidelines for their cultivation. There are exceptions for every rule, and whatever growing method that works for you is the best.
Aechmea and Billbergia
Easily grown, dependable bloomers, and an interesting array of colors, form and foliage, these genera are very popular. These are tank-type bromeliads, and attention should be given to flushing the tanks. Give them moderate to bright light, protect from wind damage and feed monthly with 20-20-20 fertilizer at half strength. They may be either potted or mounted.
These tank-type bromeliads are some of the most spectacular foliage plants in cultivation. For the best color: place the plants in bright light to full sun; water less frequently; and use a low-nitrogen fertilizer (e.g., 5-59-10) at quarter strength weekly in the pot only. Under-pot in a loose mix with little organic matter.
These truly terrestrial plants, also known as "earth stars", naturally grow on the rainforest floor in the rich humus. Bright but diffused light, a lot of water and regular feeding with 20-20-20 fertilizer will bring out all their color and enhance their interesting shape. Over-pot since the root system is spreading and shallow. They are not usually suitable for mounting.
Dyckia and Hechtia
Contrary to their appearance (being often mistaken for some kind of cactus or succulent) these thorny plants love big pots, water and fertilizer. Over-pot in clay pots for best results.
There are two types of this genus: those with green or soft leaves, and those with grey or hard leaves. The rule of thumb is to mount the hard-leaved types, and to pot the soft-leaved types. The hard-leaved types like bright light and to receive water and fertilizer by spraying or occasionally soaking. They must drain and dry quickly. The soft-leaved types are tank-type bromeliads and should be potted and grown similarly to Neoregeilas with less light.
Guzmania, Nidularium and Vriesa
Being sensitive to heat, wet roots, mineral salts, and stagnant water, this group of bromeliads is a little more difficult to grow than others, but the rewards of having some of the most beautiful bromeliads are worth the extra effort. To insure success: pot, place in moderate light, maintain high humidity and good air movement. Take care with their soft leaves that are subject to wind and chewing-insect damage.
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