Attractive in form and foliage throughout the year and easy to grow as house plants, bromeliads make a very attractive addition to house plant collections. Some have broad leaves, others have grasslike ones. Blooms, carried in low clusters in the heart of the plants or on tall spikes, often last two to six months. Blossoms are often not spectacular, but they are sometimes followed by colorful berries that hang on for months after the blossoms fade. Others carry their flowers in colorful flower heads. In some cases, some or all of the leaves will take on bright colors when the plant is in bloom. Bloom season may vary from year to year and variety to variety.
Most wild bromeliads grow on rocks or trees as epiphytes (plants that derive their moisture and nourishment from the air and from debris that lodges in crevices or tree limbs). Orchids are epiphytes, but unlike most orchids, bromeliads grow well in the dry atmosphere of the house and thrive in a variety of porous, fast draining potting mixes. The other type of bromeliad is called terrestrial (a plant that grows in the ground). There are some bromeliads that adapt themselves as terrestrials and epiphytes. Most will survive more neglect than will other house plants. The plants grow naturally in tropical America and are found in increasing numbers and varieties at local nurseries and at some florists.
Decorative uses for bromeliads
Bromeliads are striking, a single plant place on a coffee table can provide a very interesting accent for the living room. They can also be used effectively on the terrace or patio. An arrangement of epiphytic bromeliads on an attractive piece of driftwood can be exciting. This is the way they often grow on trees in nature. The roots of most of the tree-borne bromeliads serve principally to anchor the plants; the water is often stored in cuplike rosettes. The plant will do well on your tree if the cups are kept filled with water and the leaves are occasionally sprayed with water.
Clay pots seem to work best for bromeliads though plastic ones can be used. However, since plastic pots are lighter there can be a tendency for the plants to be top heavy. Also, watch your watering habits with plastic pots, as the potting medium will not dry out as quickly and may become soggy if over watered.
A 4 to 5 inch pot size is recommended for bromeliads, even the larger ones. These plants do not have much of a root system so a large pot is not required. Fill the 1/3 full of pebbles or broken pot pieces, then add potting mix. Place plant on the mix and work mix carefully around the roots, taking care not to place the plant too deeply in the pot. Staking may be necessary until the roots take hold. Orchids slabs or tree fern will also serve as a suitable base for bromeliads.
Bromeliads grow in many forms. By far the most common form is a vase or bowl type, the leaves form a rosette with a small vase in the center that contains water. Where the plants grow naturally in the tropics, debris, insects, and sometimes even frogs make their homes there and many eventually die and provide fertilizer for the plants. In some cases the rosette forms a tall vase, while in others the rosette is much flattened. New leaves are formed from the center so that the outer lower ones eventually discolor and dry out. Remove these to improve the appearance of the plant.
Some bromeliads can be forced into bloom if the plant is large enough. Place an apple in the center of the plant and cover the entire plant with a plastic bag. Allow the plant to remain in the bag for four days and then remove the bag and the apple. The plant should bloom in two to three months. (It is the ethylene gas produced by the apple that initiates the flower buds).
Another form of bromeliad is the tubular one, some billbergias are an example of this type of growth. Most bromeliads do not have extentive root systems, so a porous, well drained soil is important. These plants are also adaptable to growing on slabs of bark or being used to make a bromeliad tree.
The name bromeliad has an exotic ring and therefore may seem to have difficult growth requirements. However, these plants are quite simple to grow. They combine well with ferns, orchids, philodendrons and begonias. Two familiar members of the family are the pineapple and Spanish moss (the lather being a bromeliad without roots).
Native to the tropical regions of North, Central and South America, bromeliads tolerate temperatures from 130 degrees down to freezing, depending on the species, but most perform best between 50 to 70 degrees.
Grow bromeliads in a fast-draining but moisture-retentive soil in which air can circulate freely around the roots. Most produce their best bloom and most colorful foliage when grown in locations that receive plenty of light. However, to prevent the burning of foliage and flowers of the most tender kinds, shade them from the hot sun. These plants can be moved outdoors in the summer months if you pick a shady, protected location.
Many bromeliads have a water holding cup formed by the arrangement of the leaves. To prevent plants from wilting, sprinkle with a hose or a hand mist sprayer once or twice a week to keep these cups full. Water throughly around the roots when the soil mix is dry to the touch. There are a few exceptions to this rule. In general, guzmanias, nidulariums and neoregelias should not be allowed to dry out. These plants grow natively in very moist areas.
In nature bromeliads are found in places where the air circulates freely. Fresh air is essential for good growth, but avoid drafts.
Feed bromeliads regularly with a liquid plant food that is diluted to half the normally recommended strength. If you grow a kind that has cups, fill them with the same diluted solution.
Pests, diseases, and control
If plants are attacked by mealybugs, scale, spider mites or aphids, spray with malathion. Bait for slugs and snails, especially if you put plants outdoors in the summer.
Shoots that grow off from the side of the main crown of foliage can easily be removed to start new plants. Wait until the base of the offshoot is hard and woody before attempting to remove it, soft succulent growth is vulnerable to rot. To remove off shoots, break them carefully but firmly from the main stem, or cut them off with a sharp knife as close to the main stem of the parent plant as possible. Plant the offshoots in a 3 or 3-1/2 inch pots, moving them to a 4 or 5 inch size when they become root bound. They will usually produce flowering plants one to two years after separation from their parent. The original plant will not bloom again.
Some genera produce offshoots close to the flowering cup and eventually choke off the mother plant. Others send shoots from the axils of the leaves at the top of the cup. These can be pinched off when large enough to pot. Most bromeliads produce offshoots after flowering though some will produce them before or during this period.
Potting mixes for bromeliads
1 part soil
1 part coarse river sand
1 part peat moss
1/2 part crushed granite or fir bark or osmunda
1 part leafmold
1 part manure
1 part sand
small amount of crushed rock
Note; Use your favorite soil mix as long as it is porous and fast draining.