Tropical plants are becoming part of every garden and houseplant collection all over the country. The bromeliad plant took some time to catch up since most people thought it was hard to grow. That’s not entirely true. Although the tropical bromeliad plant certainly needs rather high temperature and humidity, you can still grow it in your garden or home. Unlike other flowering plants, the bromeliad plant is not toxic and is safe to grow around pets.
Truth be told, it’s easy to grow the bromeliad plant, but caring for it is a whole different matter. I think we can all agree that it’s a little fussy and would need a little bit of extra attention than your average houseplant. It also requires some gardening skills so it’s not recommended to start your tropical garden with the bromeliad plant.
Bromeliad Plant Basics
The bromeliad plant (Bromeliaceae) is an epiphytic plant that uses its roots to hang on to other plants, rocks, and trees. In that aspect, they’re similar to orchids that need to latch on to something for support. So how do they get their nutrition if not from the roots? Usually, they absorb water and nutrients with their lush and large leaves.
The blooms of the bromeliad are both exquisite and breathtaking. The only problem is, some varieties will only bloom once in their lifetime. Some varieties of bromeliads are annuals and once they flower, they will die. So you’ll need to plant them every year. However, it’s easy to start these plants as we’ll see later. Other varieties are perennials and will hang around for years.
The flowering of the bromeliad is a rather complex affair. First of all, the flowers grow out of floral bracts. It’s easy to confuse the flowers with the flower bracts. While the flowers themselves can be too tiny to even notice, it’s the flower bracts that steal the show. However, your bromeliad will have to mature before these flowers and flower bracts appear. That could take anything from one to three years depending on the species or bromeliad variety you grow.
Bromeliad Plant Varieties
So which bromeliad varieties are best suited for your climate, geographical location, and gardening skills? While some varieties adapt well to your garden, others will only grow indoors and in certain conditions. As we mentioned, bromeliad plants are similar to orchids. That includes growing conditions and care as well. Here are the common varieties of the bromeliad plant you would consider to grow.
- Aechmea: A popular variety with large leathery leaves. The leaves sometimes have spots, stripes, or blotches of color that give them an ornamental value. However, the thin and long leaves have sharp edges and teeth-like protrusions so you need to be careful when handling these plants. The floral bracts grow out of colorful cones and the flowers vary in color from red, pink, white, blue, or purple. This variety needs bright light or full sun to grow successfully.
- Billbergia: The leaves of this variety have either white spots or patterns on them. The leaves also have sharp teeth and they grow from a tubular stem. This variety doesn’t flower much and the flowers are often colorless. They only last for a short time so you can grow them as an annual for their foliage and ornamental values.
- Cryptanthus: This variety has flat yet succulent leaves with pink stripes on a green background. The patterns vary from one cultivar to the next but mostly they all have toothed edges. The flowers are often too tiny to notice and can be white, pink, or light green. They crave moisture and humidity and flourish near fish tanks or other sources of water.
- Dyckia: The thorny leaves are thin, stiff, and look menacing. Although their decorative value makes them a popular variety. The spines later will grow flowers either yellow or white. Other species will grow flowers right in the center of the plant but this variety grows them along the spines of the leaves. This variety also survives the demise of the flowers and usually needs plenty of light to succeed.
- Guzmania: While the foliage of this variety is not as patterned as the other bromeliads, it’s by no means less ornamental. The dark green leaves have smooth edges making them safe to touch or handle. The floral bracts come in various colors from light green to scarlet, red, and purple. The flowers themselves are often yellow or white. This variety doesn’t require bright light and can grow in the shade or medium lighting.
How to Grow A Bromeliad Plant
We mentioned that people have considered the bromeliad plant to be an advanced species that needs a highly skilled gardener to grow. But as we’ll see, there’s nothing special about growing bromeliads. The easiest way to plant them is by using their pups to grow new plants. Here’s how you can do that in simple and easy steps.
- Wait until the pup is at least one third the size of the mature bromeliad. The longer the pup, the better chances it will have in growing and establishing as a new plant.
- Use a sharp and sterilized blade to cut the pup as close to the stem as possible. The more roots and stem the pup has, the less likely it will die after you transplant it.
- Use a medium to a large pot with plenty of drainage holes at the bottom. The pot should accommodate the base of the pup comfortable with plenty of room to grow.
- Fill the pot with a general-purpose potting mix. Add peat to give the soil the right texture that improves the drainage and keeps the roots of the bromeliad plant growing in a healthy way.
- Dig a hole deep enough to take in the base of the pup. Since the length of the pup varies, you’ll have to measure the base before you dig the hole in the soil.
- Place the pub in the hole and fill it with soil. Make sure only the base is buried in the soil not the rest of the stem. This could cause the pup to rot.
- Place a stake in the pot next to the pup as support. Most likely the roots will not be strong enough to keep the plant upright.
- Water the pot immediately enough for the water to flow out of the drainage holes. This helps the pup settle in the soil.
- Some gardeners recommend using seaweed fertilizer in a diluted dose along with the water to give the pup a good start.
Bromeliad Plant Care
Perhaps the only difference between planting the bromeliad plant and many other flowering plants we covered here is the supporting stake. Other than that, the planting process is straightforward and simple. So what makes many people hesitate about growing this epiphyte? It’s the light, water, and pruning that need special care.
Watering for many plants is the lifeline that keeps them growing healthily. And with bromeliads, it’s no different. The only difference is, instead of watering the soil, you pour the water on the plant itself. This has to do with the way the plant absorbs water and nutrients through the leaves, not the roots. And that’s where watering the bromeliads differs from other plants. You need to keep the cup full of water all the time while the soil needs to be dry. Make sure the water is fresh. You might have to scoop the water out and replace it to avoid stagnation and fungal infestations. As a tip, avoid using tap water since the chemicals in the water damage the plant. Use filtered water or rainwater instead.
If watering the bromeliad leaves, not the soil sounds weird, wait until you hear about misting. The bromeliad plant thrives in high levels of humidity. Naturally, the air in your home is usually dry thanks to the air conditioning systems. However, some rooms in your house are more humid than others. The bathroom and kitchen are good examples. You can place the pot in either the bathroom or the kitchen so you won’t have to worry about misting it. If that’s not possible (as in if neither of those places has bright light) you’ll need to mist the bromeliad. You could also install a humidifier near the pots to maintain adequate levels of humidity.
While some varieties of the bromeliad plant thrive on a bright light, others tolerate dim to medium light conditions. However, they all share one thing in common. They don’t like exposure to sunlight for long hours. This leads to leaf burn which could prove fatal to the plant. If you’re growing it inside, then a grow lamp will give the bromeliad the right amount of light it needs.
The bromeliad plant takes good care of itself. Also, it doesn’t have a higher than usual growth rate, so you won’t have to worry about pruning. From time to time you would need to remove a dead leaf or get rid of a fading flower. But other than that, the plant will need as little intervention from you as possible. As long as its cup is full of water, it will grow happily.
Pests and Diseases
Where there’s water, succulent leaves, tender hanging roots, and flowers, there will always be bugs and pests. That’s just a fact of the gardening life that every gardener knows and accepts. The most common pests that assault your bromeliad plant are mealybugs and scales. Neither of them is a bug to tolerate. So use neem oil to kills these bugs before they spread and become a risk to the plant. If you don’t’ have neem oil, just dip a swap in rubbing alcohol and give the bromeliad plant the full treatment. It’s not recommended that you use chemical pesticides since the bromeliad is sensitive to chemicals that could kill it.