How to Grow and Care for Bromeliads
The showy bromeliad may look difficult to grow, but it can easily adapt to average home conditions with its astonishing array of colors and textures. Although many do have very splashy flower displays, bromeliads are just as popular as beautiful foliage plants, with leaves in red, green, purple, orange, and yellow colors and with bands, stripes, spots, and other features. Bromeliads are relatively slow-growing plants that take one to three years to mature into flowering plants.
In general, bromeliads need a fairly specific set of conditions to bloom—and these conditions vary from genus to genus, and even from species to species in a single genus. Their bloom cycle is affected by day length, temperature, humidity, water, and feeding. You will need to research specific genera and species to determine how best to grow them.
Bromeliad species can either be terrestrial (grown in soil) or epiphytic (clinging to trees and absorbing nutrients through their leaves), but when grown as houseplants, both types are usually grown in a porous, well-draining potting mixture. As a general rule of thumb, bromeliads will thrive in the same conditions as epiphytic orchids. However, they are considerably more tolerant than orchids of fluctuations in temperature, drought, and careless feeding.
When cultivated as indoor plants, most bromeliads—both epiphytic and terrestrial species—are usually planted in a mixture of potting soil and sand. Watering is done either by moistening the soil or by filling the center depression ("cup") formed by the rosette of leaves.
Different genera of bromeliads are tolerant of different levels of light. Some can withstand full tropical sun, while others will quickly scorch. In general, the varieties with soft, flexible, spineless leaves usually prefer lower light levels, while those with stiff, hard leaves prefer bright indirect light.
Plants that are yellowish might be receiving too much light, while plants that are dark green or elongated might be receiving too little light. Increasing light exposure can help the plant bloom, provided the other conditions are appropriate.
Bromeliads grown indoors thrive in fast-draining potting soil that holds moisture but drains well. A mixture of two-thirds peat-based soil and one-third sand is often ideal. You can also use orchid mix, charcoal, or soilless potting mix. Many bromeliads that are epiphytic can be grown in containers, or you can try to grow them as authentic "air plants" mounted to boards or logs (typically secured with ties or glue).
Although native to tropical, moist environments, some bromeliads are very tolerant of drought conditions, but they prefer moist, not soggy, soil. In a typical house, it's usually not necessary to keep the central cup of the plant constantly filled with water. But this is an option if the light levels and temperature are high. If you do centrally water your bromeliad, make sure to flush the central cup every so often to remove any built-up salts. But in general, it's enough to water these plants very sparingly through the soil weekly during the growing season and reduce watering during the winter rest period. Never let the plant rest in standing water, as bromeliads are prone to root rot.1
Wait until the top two inches of soil feel dry to the touch before watering. Plants you are growing as epiphytes (as air plants without soil) need more attention: mist them with a spray bottle, and give them a good soaking by submerging them in water once per week.
Temperature and Humidity
Bromeliads are tolerant of temperature variations, but most bromeliads need protection from cold. If you want to add these plants to your landscape but live in a climate with freezing temperatures, consider planting bromeliads in pots that can be brought inside in winter. Bromeliads prefer temperatures between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Though some cold-hardy types can survive temperatures down to 20 degrees, they should generally not be exposed to temperatures under 40 degrees.1 They grow well indoors in 60 percent humidity. In many climates, bromeliads can be moved outdoors during the summer. Remember: bromeliads are native to tropical, humid, shady forest floors or grown in trees. Try to mimic those conditions for your plants.
Bromeliads are not heavy feeders. During the growing season, use a liquid fertilizer diluted at half strength. Avoid feeding mature plants in winter or when the plant begins to flower.