Bromeliad care

Bromeliads are useful as terrariumplants, houseplants, container plants for the patio and as collectible specimens that require but minimal care, and will thrive, rewarding the grower with beautiful foliage, blooms and years of enjoyment. Here are a few simple and easy tips to get you started in the right direction.

Environmental Requirements

1. Air Movement: Grow your bromeliad in a well-ventilated area. Good ventilation will help avoid prob- lems that could arise, such as fungal diseases, scale, mealy bugs and other pests and can help pre- vent overheating in sunny or hot locations.

2. Light: Bromeliads show their best color and form if kept in bright light within tolerable limits. Not all bromeliads thrive in the same conditions. A few rules of thumb may be helpful to determine light requirements of your bromeliad:

a. Bromeliads with soft foliage that may be spineless or have small spines, is deep green or dis- color (green above, reddish below) generally like less light and usually do best out of direct sun, often making good houseplants.

b. Those with brightly colored or silvery, somewhat stiff leaves with moderate spines thrive in bright light, up to partial sun.

c. Very stiff or succulent leaves, heavy spines, yellowish-green or reddish coloration may indicate tolerance for more sunlight.

d. If in doubt, keep your plant in some degree of shade and increase the light intensity in stages over a period of weeks until it reaches its best potential. Too little light causes weak, etiolated,

fading or poorly colored foliage. Too much light may cause bleaching or burning on the leaves

upper surfaces that will result in patches of dry brown or yellow.

3. Moisture and Humidity: Bromeliads are native to a variety of habitats and therefore have varied

needs for water. It is natural for ‘tank type’ bromeliads to have water in the central ‘cup’ formed by the leaves. Most bromeliads do not like to be kept in wet soil.

4. Temperature: Protect bromeliads from frost. Preferred temperature range is 20-30 Celsius. though many can take short-term dips to near freezing in landscape situations. A few exceptional varieties can even tolerate a light freeze with little or no damage.

Cultural Requirements

1. Potting: For most varieties a well-drained medium consisting of bark, peat, Perlite and/or a mix of other organic and inorganic media that promotes drainage and aeration, but retains some moisture will do well. Choose a pot sufficient to hold the plant upright. Avoid over potting, you can repot later if needed. Bromeliads are epifytic plants and therefore can be attached to any piece of wood or decoration in your terrarium.

2. Watering: Bromeliads do not like wet feet! Though some like more moisture than others, none thrive in wet soil. Water thoroughly as needed when soil becomes dry to the touch just below the surface. Drench the plant and soil with enough water to flush the cup and run out the bottom of the pot, usually 1 to 3 times per week as dictated by your local conditions. Use water low in salts and, ideally, on the acid side, pH 6.5 or lower. Bromeliad ‘cups’ that hold water may be kept filled or empty.


Few pests or diseases routinely infest bromeliads, though problems may occur if the environment is not right.

1. Poor air circulation, over or under watering and poor quality water are the cause of many common

bromeliad problems.

2. Most insect pests such as scale and mealy bugs can be avoided with good air circulation and by con-

trolling ants that ‘farm’ scale and other insects. If scale or mealybugs appear, removing them with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol can treat them, as will a mild soap solution or as a last resort; chemical sprays.

3. Exposure to metal salts can be the source of problems. Avoid exposure to pressure treated lumber or copper in any form. Water dripping from pressure treated or ‘green’ lumber will carry enough cop- per or other metals to severely damage your bromeliads. Copper or zinc based fungicides may dam- age bromeliads. Do not worry about these metals in fertilizer.


Bromeliads are most commonly propagated by offsets or ‘pups’ as many refer to them. Nearly all cultivated bromeliads produce offsets, which simply put are vegetative offshoots or if your prefer; ‘branches’. If you want to enjoy a larger, full specimen with multiple blooms, you need not remove the offsets. However, if you want to propagate the plant, the offsets may be removed and potted to grow and bloom, renewing the cycle. A few rules of thumb apply to propagating by offset:

1. Offsets can be removed when they are about one third the size of the original or ‘mother’ plant, or when they begin to harden at the base and open at the top to form a funnel-like shape. About one third as large as the mother plant is a recommended size for removal.

a. Remove offsets with a firm grip at the base and a slight twist, or cut them free with a pair of sharp shears, close to the main stem of the plant.

b. Offsets need not show any roots before cutting.

c. Most plants will continue to produce more offsets if the first ones are removed.

2. Offsets can be potted right away or allowed to sit in an empty container for some days or weeks, as long as the plants are upright and are kept watered. They may form roots during this phase and begin to grow, even without soil!

a. Generally, if the stem of the plant is woody or hard, it need not be left to dry and ‘callus’, but

can be potted immediately.

b. Pot offsets with the plant centered in the pot, in an upright position, regardless of the angle of

the base or stolon. Rooting hormones are not needed, though they do no harm.

c. Pot just deep enough to hold the plant upright. Not over an inch and a half or so of the leaves should be below the soil. If the plant will not stand alone, you may stake it as needed. DO NOT

PACK SOIL TIGHTLY! Bromeliads need good aeration at the roots.

d. Use the same media that you will grow the plant in to maturity. Some people root sensitive off-

sets in Perlite, but generally, this is not necessary.

e. Choose a pot that will hold the plant upright and accommodate it for the next few months. It is

better to repot later than to use too large a pot to start with.

3. Place newly potted bromeliads in indirect light until they becomes established. Water enough to keep

the soil just moist, never keep wet or allow it to become bone dry. Once roots are established, the plant may be moved to optimum light for fin- ishing growth and may be treated as a mature plant would be.

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