The term "bromeliad" is applicable to anything within the family Bromeliaceae, which includes 80 genera and approximately, 3,700 species including air plants, like Spanish moss, and the delicious fruit, pineapples! Though, typically when one uses "bromeliad" to refer to a plant, they are talking about one of a few different genera, all with a similar growth pattern. These plants arise from a rosette and have showy bracts in the middle of the plant that last much longer than the blooms. Typically, these bracts will be present for weeks to months. This family is native to the tropical regions of the Americas with one exception. Pitciarnia feliciana is a species native to West Africa. Air plants in the genus Tillandsia are a great beginner plant and already have their own care sheet published. The bromeliads we will be addressing today reside in the guzmania, neoregelia, and vriesea genera. These are pet friendly, slow growing plants that are fantastic beginner plants. Without further delay, let's get into the care!
Like most tropical houseplants, these plants require bright, indirect light. Inside, this is a bright area near a window. Outside, this means shade or dappled sun. Some species can tolerate low light, though it is important to keep an eye out for signs of etiolation, or reaching for the light. The top of the plant may lean to the nearest light source, or the leaves may get long and thin. These are signs your plant isn't receiving enough light. Adding a grow light or moving the plant closer to a window can both help with this issue. If using a grow light, be sure not to mount it too close to the plant itself. This has the same risks as putting the plant in too much sun outside. These plants can get sunburn, which will eventually turn brown and necrotic. These areas of the leaves will not heal and will remain for the life of the leaf.
Watering bromeliads can throw some people off. The base of the leaves form cups at the center of the plant. These are meant to hold water. It is best to use rain, distilled, or filtered water when filling these areas to avoid hard water build up on the leaves, as this has the possibility to cause damage. Regularly flushing the leaves is also a good way to prevent buildup. The soil, on the other hand, should be allowed to dry, as these plants are susceptible to root rot. Allow the top two inches of soil to dry at least before watering again. When you water, be sure to saturate the entirety of the soil to prevent overwatering. Overwatering is the practice of watering too frequently, not the quantity of water added to the pot in one sitting. Do not allow these plants to soak in water or stay dry for extended periods of time. In warmer weather it is important to not allow the center cups to dry completely. This will happen quicker on warm, dry, or windy days, if the plant is kept outside. Indoors, during winter, the cups should be washed out occasionally to ensure the water does not become stagnant.
Soil and Fertilization
Soil is an important part of bromeliad care. Be sure the soil is well draining but still holds moisture. As mentioned above, these plants are prone to root rot, so it is important to ensure the soil drains quick enough to lower the chances of your plant suffering from such a condition. Quick-draining soils are also a great way to combat overwatering, as they dry quicker than dense, slow-draining soils. Adding orchid bark or perlite is a great way to improve the soil. A nice, chunky mix is what you are going for.
Bromeliads are not heavy feeders, despite their longer than average bloom time. There are a few options to choose from as far as fertilizing your bromeliad goes. An orchid fertilizer would be perfect without altering the strength or frequency of fertilizing. They have very similar fertilizer needs. If using a liquid fertilizer or dissolving crystal fertilizer, dilute to half strength before using. If a slow release fertilizer is your preferred method of fertilizing, only drop one or two pellets into the cups and water centrally. The pellets will only need refreshed each growing season, so once per year.
Bromeliads, like many other popular houseplants, are fairly pest and disease resistant. Unfortunately, this does not mean they will never have a disease or a pest. As always, if your plant has a pest, isolate it immediately to prevent the spread to other plants nearby. The following are the most common problems you will find with your bromeliads.
Believe it or not, some leaf browning is natural. Old leaves will eventually die, but it will only be a few at the base of the plant. This is true of all plants! With that being said, sometimes other leaves will brown, as well. Most commonly, if a bromeliad's leaves are turning brown and crispy, there are two main causes. Either the humidity is too low, or the plant needs to be watered more frequently.
Flower Turning Brown or Fading
The large flower petals, which are truly modified leaves called bracts, will last for weeks on end before they begin to fade. All good things must come to an end, which is also true of the bromeliad's display. The mother plant will send out pups before they begin to die, which will happen soon after the flower dies. This is a natural part of the life cycle and cannot be stopped. The pups will grow up to have the same breathtaking display once they mature, so be sure to take care of the pups well!
Scale are a fairly common houseplant pest that looks like small brown bumps along the stems and leaves. They are masters of disguise, often looking more like a part of the plant than an insect. They can be a little tough to treat because of their hard, protective shield. You may see recommendations of utilizing rubbing alcohol to kill these insects, however that process only works on soft-bodied scale, such as mealybugs. Foliar sprays also aren't always effective treatment methods because of their shield. Using a systemic pesticide paired with physical removal of the insects is a fantastic way to eradicate the population. Of course, if you do not want to use pesticides, beneficial insects are also an option! Consider obtaining Aphytis melinus or Lindorus lophanthae or both to help control your infestation. If there are only a few insects, removal with your fingernail or toothpick may be sufficient.
Mealybugs are a white, sap-sucking insect that produces honeydew that can lead to sooty mildew. They often hide on the underside of leaves and in tight crevices of new growth. They are easily treated with pesticides, an alcohol mixture, or beneficial insects. For more information on how to identify and treat mealybugs, check out the blog post titled Mealybugs and How to Deal with Them.
Bromeliads truly are one of the easiest pet safe plants to take care of that put on a show for months on end! They are a unique addition to any room, bringing a tropical feel wherever they go. As always, if you have any questions about your plants or are worried about them in any way, send me a photo as well as how you have been taking care of it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be able to help.