How to Care For Bromeliads

Bromeliads are known for the beautiful foliage and showy flowers. Are you taking care of it properly?

Easily recognized for their brightly colored, beautiful foliage and showy flower displays, bromeliads are commonly grown as houseplants.

When given the right environmental conditions, these slow-growing plants need relatively little care, adding a lovely touch of color to your home. Their colorful aesthetic works well in modern, tropical, and contemporary decor but can also add bold color to gardens in warmer climates.

What Are Bromeliads, And Why Should I Grow Them?

Bromeliads are exotic-looking tropical and subtropical plants featuring bracts of rosette-shaped leaves that develop on a flower stalk rising from the plant’s center. These brightly colored bracts are often called flowers and can be red, gold, white, green, yellow, or purple. The foliage can be broad and fleshy or thin and smooth and soft, or sharp and spiky. 

The brightly colored inflorescences last from two weeks to a year. Once the center of the plant gets too crowded or the plant is done “flowering,” it stops producing new leaves and instead focuses on growing offsets or “pups.” 

They are loved as houseplants because of their stunning colors, fanciful foliage, and relatively easy-going nature. Most species tolerate infrequent watering and are free of insect problems.

Yellow bromeliad full bloom

The Different Types of Bromeliads

The Bromeliad family is categorized into 75 different genera and more than 3,000 known species in a range of rich colors, leaf shapes, and sizes. Like other plants, such as roses and orchids, they are separated into different types to help distinguish the different varieties. Most plants are identified by their unique leaves or inflorescence. 

The thirteen most common types are:

  • Aechmea
  • Ananas
  • Billbergia
  • Catopsis
  • Cryptanthus
  • Dyckia
  • Hechtia
  • Neoregelia
  • Nidularium
  • Portea
  • Tillandsia
  • Vriesea

Should I Grow Bromeliads Indoors Or Outside?

People grow bromeliads indoors and outside, so it is possible to have them in either place or both. However, since the family is native to tropical areas, you need to consider a few key points when choosing a location. First and foremost, always look at a plant’s recommended growing zones as many varieties are not cold-tolerant.  

When trying to decide, consider the following aspects.

  • What is your winter climate? How low do temperatures get? If you live in cold areas, you could grow a bromeliad in a container and bring it indoors for the winter.
  • How much sun do you get inside your house and in garden spots? 
  • Do you live in a climate that is humid enough, or is it too dry outside? It’s easier to raise the humidity indoors than in a garden bed.

What Is A Central Tank, And Why Is It Important?

Before delivering into care, let’s talk about an essential physical trait of bromeliads known as the central tank. In the wild, most plants take in very little moisture through their roots and leaves but gather water in a central tank or reservoir that sits in the center of the plant. Therefore, you need to keep that tank filled with water. 

Periodically flush it with clean water. Stagnant water can lead to rot over time.

Pink bromeliad growing caught up water in its leaves

Caring For Indoor Bromeliads

Choosing A Container And Growing Medium

It’s essential the container and growing medium are well-suited for your plant. Many bromeliads are epiphytes, so they are used to cyclical periods of moisture followed by stretches of dryness. Therefore, you want a container and growing media that maintain a good amount of humidity while allowing air movement through the root zone. 

For containers: If the air inside your home is arid, choose a plastic container to help retain soil moisture. If your home is humid, a terra cotta pot will help avoid rot.

For growing medium: A fast-draining medium is critical for bromeliads. Choose either a bromeliad-specific potting soil or mix your own using 1 part peat moss, 1 part perlite or sand, and 1 part tree bark.

Giving Your Plant The Right Type And Amount Of Sunlight

Like many other houseplants, bromeliads like plenty of bright, indirect sunlight. Aim to give your plants at least 6 hours of filtered sunlight every day—a few feet away from a window is perfect. Never put your plant where it can get bright, direct sunlight since this will harm the plant and burn its leaves.

Bromeliads are fantastic at telling you if they get too little or too much light. 

  • If plants aren’t getting enough, they produce a greater amount of chlorophyll to absorb as much sunlight as possible, and the plants turn a darker green.
  • If plants are getting too much light, the chlorophyll in the leaves starts producing dangerous oxidants that damage the leaves, causing bleach or white patches.
Colorful bromeliad as indoor houseplants

Let Your Plant Get Thirsty Before Watering It

Bromeliads should be watered the same way you’d water other drought-tolerant houseplants like succulents. Wait to water until the two inches of potting soil feels dry, and then flush the container until the excess water runs out the drainage holes in the bottom. This method drenches the soil and helps flush out any harmful salt buildup.

Avoid using a metal watering can or container, as bromeliads are incredibly sensitive to metals.

Keep the Relative Humidity Level High

Since they are native to tropical areas, bromeliads prefer a humid environment. If you grow them indoors, it’s best if the relative humidity inside your home is about 60% to keep the leaves from drying out. Many homes are drier than this, so you’ll need to mist it or set it atop a pebble tray containing some water.

How to Care For Outdoor Bromeliads

Many people choose to grow bromeliads indoors since it’s easier to control environmental conditions, but you can plant them outside if you live in the right area. One of the most critical things to keep in mind is your plant needs to be sheltered from direct sun, especially in the summer when its rays are intense.

A garden filled with full bloomed bromeliad

Choosing the Right Type For Your Hardiness Zone

If you are growing a bromeliad outdoors, your hardiness zone must be suitable for the type you want to grow. Bromeliads have evolved to be somewhat tolerant of a range of temperatures, but most cultivars prefer temperatures between 60 and 80°F. Some types can survive hotter temperatures and may be okay with temperatures down to freezing.

Basic Outdoor Care

  • Pick a spot outside where plants receive filtered or dappled sunlight, avoiding the bright direct sun during the afternoon when it is intense.
  • Plants like well-draining soil. If your garden soil is heavy or doesn’t drain quickly, create a mound of freely draining soil or mix in chunky bromeliad growing mix before planting.
  • Water your plants once soil’s top two inches are dry.

Does A Bromeliad Need Fertilizer?

Overall, plants need minimal nutrients to survive, so it isn’t necessary to give them fertilizer. But if you want to give them a boost, opt for a liquid fertilizer formulated for bromeliads specifically or other houseplants. Apply fertilizer at ¼ strength during the summer months when the plant is actively growing, and avoid getting fertilizer on the leaves.

Proper Bromeliad Care After Flowering

The biggest drawback to growing a bromeliad is that plants only “flower” once in their lifetime, and once they do, the plant eventually dies. Once you see the leaves starting to die, use sharp, sterilized scissors or pruners to cut the plant off at the base. This directs the remaining energy into producing offshoots known as pups.

Propagating a Bromeliad Plant

New plants generate from offsets that are often called pups. These offsets are identical clones of the mother plant that often sprout after the plant flowers. Once the pups are a few inches in size, use a sharp, sterilized knife to separate them from the mother, and then plant them in a container filled with a suitable growing medium.

Insect Problems to Watch For And Treat

Pest problems in these plants are rare and regular inspection will keep problems from getting out of control as early treatment is critical. The most harmful insect pests are aphids and mealybugs, similar to other houseplants. Both are easily treated by spraying the entire plant and soil with insecticidal soaps or neem oil.

However, tank bromeliads can become breeding grounds for pesky mosquitos because of the standing water. They don’t damage the plant specifically but are a significant nuisance to the grower and anyone else in the vicinity.

Common Plant Diseases

The common disease problems found in bromeliads are typically the result of unfavorable or poor growing conditions. Overwatering and inappropriate potting mix may cause rot; insect infestations, mechanical injury, and sunburn increase fungi’s chances of invading the plant. The most common problems are root and crown rot, Pythium, Helminthosporium leaf spot, and rust disease.

Prevent disease problems by working with a well-draining potting mix, taking care not to overwater plants, treating insects quickly, and keeping plants out of direct, harsh sunlight. If you discover a disease problem, follow recommended treatment protocols for the specific issue.

Carley Miller
Carley Miller is a horticultural expert at Bustling Nest. She previously owned a landscaping business for 25 years and worked at a local garden center for 10 years.
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