Bromeliad Care Guide: Top Tips for Bromeliaceae

Ed Wike
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Bromeliad Overview

The bromeliad family, which consists of more than 3,000 members, was the first group of plants ever to be given its own family classification. You may be familiar with the pineapple plant (Ananas comosus), which belongs to the bromeliad family (Bromeliaceae). Other members of this family include the colorful billbergia and the cup-of-gold (Cryptanthus). Some bromeliads, like the Spanish moss plant (Tillandsia usneoides), grow close to the ground, while others grow as tall as trees. However, most are fairly small, growing only about 12 to 15 inches (30 to 38 cm) tall.

Some bromeliads are epiphytes, which means they grow on trees or other plants. These epiphytes, such as the pineapple plant, often cling to nearby plants with thick, woody, aerial roots. Have you ever noticed that the pineapple plant looks as if it has a pineapple on top of a "trunk"? That "pineapple" is actually a flower, and it is actually the reproductive organ of the pineapple plant, not the fruit.

Types of Bromeliads

There are two types of Bromeliads:

Air Plants

Also known as Tillandsias, air plants are interesting for a few reasons:

  • They have no permanent root system and many live on the ground.
  • They absorb moisture and nutrients through their leaves (leaves are usually covered in stomata and have a waxy coating).
  • They are one of the easiest plants to take care of and will grow in just about any climate.

Leafy Bromeliads

Leafy Bromeliads, unlike the air plants, are rooted and have very interesting leaves and flower structures.

Generally, leafy Bromeliads are found in the wild, and they are divided into two primary types: Tillandsias and Bromeliads.

As you may expect, there are many variations of each and in all types, you will find a bract. A bract is a modified leaf that surrounds the inflorescence, which is the Bromeliad flower.

In addition, the labeling can be very confusing, and there is little standardization.

For example, some bromeliads are labeled only with their genus name, some are labeled with both genus and species, and some with both genus, species, and variety. The Latin names can be spelled many different ways and the common names can be equally frustrating.

Tillandsioideae Sub-Family

Many people noted Tillandsioidea as their favorite of the bromeliads. They love the way it looks in a living room. They love the way it looks in a corner of a patio. They love how soft and furry it is. It is a plant that belongs to the bromeliad family. It is, however, unlike any plant you have ever known.

It is a prolific grower. It is a uniquely-shaped plant. It is easy to maintain, as you can see in the Tillandsioideae care guide below.

What is the Tillandsioideae sub-family?

Tillandsioideae is the rest of Bromeliad family. Tillandsia is what everyone calls the plant family of bromeliads. At first it seemed a strange name.

When first thinking about a bromeliad, it is always a plant in the shape of a rosette that comes to mind. However, once you realize that the family has a name, the name begins to make a lot of sense.

Pitcairnioideae Sub-Family

Includes:

Bromeliads can be divided into two subgroups:

{1}. Tillandsioideae sub-family: Foliage plants with strap-like leaves
{2}. Pitcairnioideae sub-family: Irregular bracteate plants with sword-like leaves

Although both sub-groups have their benefits, the Bromeliad (a member of the Pitcairnioideae) tends to be the most popular species.

The most striking feature is the fantastic foliage, with rows of large, colorful leaves and a wide variety of growing habits, depending on the species. The typical Pitcairnioideae plant has a rounded base emerging into a tall growth toward the top, with spiky leaves or bracts. Extremely popular in the houseplant market, Bromelias are available in a wide variety of sizes, colors and growing habits.

With their iridescent colors, delicate appearance and dramatic appearance, bromeliads are among the most popular indoor plants.

If you keep bromeliads healthy, you will be able to enjoy their spectacular effect for many years.

Bromelioideae Sub-Family

The Bromelioideae sub-family is one of the most popular variety of bromeliaceae. You will find a variety of colors, styles, and sizes in this bag. Leopard plant, Spanish Moss, Aztec Pineapple, and Snapdragons are but just a few of the plants in this family.

Catopsis Bromeliads – Catopsis bromeliads are a relatively recent introduction to the horticultural prof. They are native to Brazil and they are quite popular.

These bromeliads are commonly referred to as "ground hugging" bromeliads. While this moniker may imply a short height, this is not the case at all. These plants grow extremely tall, and they have a trailing habit which may grow upwards of six feet. Because of the trailing habit, this type of bromeliad does not lend itself well to hanging baskets. They may work in traditional bromeliad containers.

Other Sub-Families

Besides the standard Bromeliads, there are other sub-families of Bromeliad that can be used for home decor.

The Pitcairnina family is one of the most popular. It is a group of unusual plants whose leaves are used for fluffers. They can range in price and style. They are native to the Caribbean islands.

The Tillandsia family is another one that is used for decoration and they will give your home an island feel. The plants in this family have the biggest variety and they are one of the most common plants used for decoration.

They will be sure to give your home the right natural feel. These plants don’t like to be overwatered and they need high light.

Since they are from the islands it is assumed that the soil is sandy like with the cactus. But, this isn’t the case. Tillandsia prefers rich soil.

Bromeliad Care

Guide: Why Natives Are Better

Bromeliad care starts with understanding that these tropical plants occur naturally in the wild. Bromeliads are common in the tropical Americas. Nearly 200 species occur in the United States, more than 300 species occur in Florida and even more species take up residence in Hawaii.

Although these plants are known as bromeliads, they belong to the genus Tillandsia. This group of plants has many synonyms, including Spanish moss and butterflies. The tiny, colorful plant most people know as Spanish moss is not a bromeliad at all … it is a member of the lichen family. To further confuse the botanical world, the plants also go by Tillandsia ionantha, which is the latter name for the same species.

Although bromeliads are native to the Americas, they have gained popularity outside of their native range. In fact, bromeliads are often grown as indoor plants throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. With their stalky, upright and symmetrical growth habits, they make striking houseplants … and some of them even flower! In addition to being grown as houseplants, they also form a part of the landscape in regions such as Florida and South Carolina.

Light

Incandescent and LED lighting is an excellent option for bromeliads, as it mimics the sun. Bromeliads prefer bright, indirect light. Too much direct light can result in burned leaves or become too hot.

As long as the lighting is not too bright you can provide a smaller amount throughout the day if you prefer. However, when it comes to temperature, bromeliads don’t like extreme heat or cold. They will benefit from temperatures about 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 80-90 degrees by day.

Water

Bromeliad maintenance is a simple task once you grow accustomed to the unique watering needs of these plants. While they are mainly watered by the rain in the wild, they need to be watered regularly when you have them in your home.

Bromeliad plants absorb water and nutrients from the surrounding moss, so be sure to tap the plant free of debris before watering it. You will also need to do this if you place any stones, so they aren’t submerged for too long.

Also, be sure to water your bromeliad from below, by filling the pot with water to avoid any splashing. Never use cold water if you can avoid it. Cold water can cause your bromeliad's leaves to contract, which will hamper the plant's photosynthesis process. If you are finding it hard to tell if the plant is receiving enough water, you can use a moisture meter to ensure it’s not dry.

Soil

Plant, and Lighting.

Bromeliad plants are epiphytic. They grow in trees and receive nutrients and water from the rain dripping through the branches. They also could be embedded in the trunk of a tree, attached to a branch, living on exposed rocks, or being suspended from tree houses. The only way you could kill one if you tried would be to bury it.

Exact characteristics will vary on a case-by-case basis. For instance, some bromeliads grow very tall and wide while others are shorter. Some grow lanky, while others are thick and heavy. In every case, bromeliads are known for their huge, colorful, exotic, and beautiful foliage.

Due to their epiphytic environment and allowing the rain to do most of the work, bromeliads should have very little soil, but they should be kept evenly moist. In fact, when you notice that the bromeliads are no longer getting the water or nutrients they need to thrive from the rain, you should consider doing bromeliad fertilizer at half-strength.

Bromeliad plants require excellent lighting, as they are epiphytes. The better the lighting the more likely the plant will bloom and grow exponentially.

Fertilizer

Bromeliads need very little fertilizer. To keep your plant looking healthy and vibrant, feed it every 2 weeks in spring and summer using a water-soluble, balanced liquid or granular fertilizer.

Be sure to follow the label directions closely and use fertilizer at half the recommended strength. Be aware that too much fertilizer can burn young tissue.

Too much fertilizer will also encourage algae growth, causing the water to become cloudy and soil to stick to the leaves.

Propagation

A bromeliad is a unique plant that requires specialised care. This genus of plants includes more than 1000 species. Most of these plants grow on trees in their natural environment, featuring water-filled vase-shaped leaves. Their flowers appear on a cluster, or on top of the vase.

At home, bromeliads do best in an outdoor courtyard that provides a warm temperature and plenty of sunlight. High humidity levels and moist substrate maintain them. You should position the plants in an area where there is no danger of snails and other pests attacking them.

Repotting a bromeliad should only be done in the right season. They are ready for repotting if their leaves turn yellow. The ideal time to repot a bromeliad is towards the end of the rainy season.

The best place to repot is where overwintering plants like eggplants are kept. When the bromeliad is ready for repotting, the soil should be removed from the planter with the plant’s roots. The plants should be put into a larger plant pot with fresh, sterilised soil and its old soil should be used to fill the plant’s old planter. If the plant is too big for the plant pot, you should prune the leaves.

Repotting

Bromeliads are not suitable for potting and repotting. They grow best in well-aerated clay or metal pots with a single drainage hole. They grow rapidly and their roots soon fill the pot. It is best to let them grow in the same pot for a long time. Old plants can become massive. They should remain in a big pot when all of their rosettes have appeared.

Pruning

Vrieseas are spectacular and are generally the easiest bromeliads to grow. They will bloom with beautiful violet-blue flowers, and set seed so they are capable of being self-pollinated.

All bromeliads, including Vrieseas, can flower and set seed when given the proper growing conditions, they have been known to flower indoors in as little as one to two years.

Potted bromeliads do not need to be repotted as often as other houseplants as their growth is slower. Repot bromeliads every two or three years. Move them up in size, making sure to use a slow-release fertilizer at every potting.

When transplanting a bromeliad, gently untangle the roots. Use a small container that is only about 1-2 inches larger than the previous pot.

Add some sharp sand to the new pot to help retain the moisture.

Soak the roots in warm water for a minute, but do not allow the leaves to get wet.

Remove the plant from the water and shake out the excess.

TRY NOT TO DISTURB THE ROOT SYSTEM AS YOU TRANSFER THE PLANT FROM ONE POT TO ANOTHER.

Use a potting soil that is a mix of medium-grade fir bark, orchid bark, peat moss and vermiculite.

Problems

Bromeliad disorders can be caused by factors such as temperature, light, and water quality. In poor conditions, plants will also suffer from pests, leaf spots, and root rot.

Potting Soil

Bromeliads need to be potted in loose, well-draining mediums.

Repotting

Repotting every two to three years is recommended for B. dekaphylla plants.

Watering

Potted bromeliads should be watered regularly, particularly during the hottest months and when the leaves are facing the sun.

Light

Bromeliads naturally receive some direct sunlight, but it is also important to make sure that the plants are in a location where they receive indirect light.

Temperature

Temperature regulation is essential for bromeliads. During the summer months, the plants should be kept in a shady area or near a window that can be opened. The plants shouldn’t face the sun directly but, should be able to catch some rays. During the winter months, the plants should be kept in an area that can be heated to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizing

Bromeliads should be fertilized every two to four months during the growing season.

Growing Issues

Bromeliads are quite easy to grow, but there are a few growing issues to steer clear of, most of which are preventable. Here they are below:

One of the most common bromeliad problems is overwatering. While bromeliads thrive in moist environments, they are not your average plant. They also can absorb water through their leaves, so if you're watering your plant as you would any other, you can cause root rot.

Storing water in the tank in too high levels or under the plant itself is another big mistake, as it leads to root rot again.

Crosspollination is another issue to watch out for. Bromeliad flowers are very hard to tell apart, so it's important to know the correct species names of your plants, and avoid having them fertilize.

Although they are easily avoidable, diseases can also be a problem for bromeliads. If your plant becomes sick, remove it immediately if it's at all possible.

Pests

If your bromeliad is showing signs of disease or pests, it's a good idea to isolate/quarantine the plant to prevent the problem from spreading.

The best way to do this is to simply move the plant to a small pot with a few inches of water in a sink, bathtub, or bucket. If using a bucket, make sure it's clean and dry and uses a pot with a drainage hole to minimize the chance of contamination. Keep the plant in a room you're in during the day.

If you suspect your bromeliad has mealybug, scale, or aphids, then use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to examine the plant for signs of these pests. If there's any indications of scale (little brown or black patches that resemble fish scales), aphids (small black and red bugs that look like specs of black pepper), or mealybugs (white or brown 'crusty' looking bugs) then you should quarantine the plant as the bugs can spread to your other bromeliads if not treated.

You can remove mealybugs and scale manually using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol and then read more about control methods.

Diseases

Growing Bromeliads is not always an easy task so it's necessary to be aware of what diseases affect them and take the necessary precautions to ensure you regularly check the foliage for signs of disease and to prune away any that is affected. This will also allow you to see any pests that are present so that you can treat effectively using the correct products.

Fungal Affects

There are a number of fungal organisms which attack the bromeliad plant. They vary form scale like organisms to larger areas of rotting of the leaves.

Spots and rotting of the leaves is the first thing that is noticed, however if left these infections can spread to the other leaves and cause them to fall off.

The Affects of Disease

When the diseased plant area is pruned off, and treated, it will need to be leaved for the infection not to reoccur.

Insects

In addition to disease, the plant is very attractive to insects. In fact it is very natural for aphids to attack bromeliads.

To prevent these, and other types of bug, it is essential if you notice any bugs on the plant to remove them as quickly as you possibly can.

However, if you have infected bromeliads, then it is necessary to use specific bug products to prevent other bugs from being able to live on the plant.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are some quick and easy tips that'll help you keep your bromeliads happy, healthy and beautiful for years to come.

How do I repot my bromeliads?

Add fresh potting soil to the container, leaving a 3-inch space between the soil and rim of the container. If you want to add an additional plant to the pot, use a mix of three-quarters bromeliad soil and one-quarter peat moss.

Insert the plant with the soil and roots fully intact, repotting to the same depth to which the plant was originally planted. Add water to the container until it is filled to the same level as when the plant was in the original pot. Water a little at a time, allowing the water to seep to the bottom of the container, so as to avoid waterlogging. Watch the leaves; water when needed, but don't over water.

Place the pot in a location with bright but indirect sunlight, temperature around 65 degrees F-75 degrees F and humidity level around 40%. These plants need a little more water than regular house plants.

How often should I water my bromeliads?