How to Grow and Care for Bromeliads

Potted bromeliad plants

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Want to add tropical vibes and brilliant color to your indoor space? Bromeliads offer both, and they’re easy to care for with just a few tips. Like ferns and many other tropical plants, the thousands of species within the bromeliad family are epiphytic. This means that while they grow beautifully in soil indoors, they're found on rocks and in tree branches in their natural habitat. Some bromeliads find better access to light in a jungle environment by growing in the treetops to soak up the dappled sun. Since they're not parasitic, no harm is done to the trees.

Bromeliads can grow this way because they take in nutrients from the air around them (and clean the air in your space while they're at it). They collect and hold water not through roots but through the central cup at their base, formed by a rosette of long, stiff, spiny leaves. In the right conditions, a spike of brightly colored flowers will grow out of the plant's center.

  • Botanical Name: Bromeliaceae
  • Common Name: Bromeliad
  • Plant Type: Perennial (some fruit varieties)
  • Mature Size: Varies by species
  • Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
  • Soil Type: Well-draining potting mix or soilless mix
  • Soil pH: 4.0–7.0

Plant Care

Bromeliads do best when their caretakers simulate natural conditions. You'll want a bright, humid space with lots of indirect light to keep these plants happy.

When watering, add water to the rosette's central cup—rather than the growing medium—to avoid root rot. Keep the central cup full of water as often as possible, replacing it each week to prevent stagnant water from attracting pests or collecting debris. Like the air plant, a member of the bromeliad family, many bromeliads thrive when misted with water regularly to simulate rainforest humidity.

To provide bromeliad plants with adequate nutrients, simply add a few drops of diluted houseplant fertilizer each month. Feed this plant during the spring, summer, and fall, then allow it to go dormant for the winter.

Best Growing Conditions for Bromeliads

To keep your bromeliads healthy, try to imitate their humid jungle environment and epiphytic growth habit. Bromeliads thrive with plenty of moisture in the air, so growing this species as a bathroom plant can give it a humidity boost. Provide warm temperatures between 55 and 90 degrees and bright, indirect light. It's best to opt for a north- or east-facing window, but windows on the south or west sides of your home are suitable with a sheer curtain to filter harsh sunlight.

Since bromeliads live on trees in the wild, they can grow on wood bases like tree branches or bark indoors. Wrap your bromeliad's roots in a handful of long-fibered sphagnum moss mixed with coarse sand. Mount the plant to its growing medium with strong twine or floral wire, then keep the growing medium evenly damp and the central cup well-watered.

You can attach different types of bromeliads to different points on one strong, well-anchored branch to make an attractive display.

To grow your bromeliad in a pot, combine two parts potting soil, one part perlite, and one part orchid bark. Follow the same watering steps for growing these plants as epiphytes on wood bases. Similar to succulents, you'll know your bromeliad is overwatered if its leaves begin to feel mushy. If this plant is underwatered, its leaves will become dry, crispy, and turn brown at the tips.

Types of Bromeliads

The bromeliad family is a big one: With more than 2,000 species, these plants have various growth habits, flower and leaf colors, and patterns.

A few popular types include pineapple (Ananas comosus), earth star (Cryptanthus bivittatus), sword plant (Vriesea splendens), and urn plant (Aechmea fasciata). While most bromeliad species feature stiff leaves arching out from a central rosette, the cultivar 'Queen's Tears' has a different look: A tuft of long, elegant, grasslike leaves which produce slender shoots with multicolored green, red, and blue flowers. This variant emerges in winter.

Although defined, organized leaves are a main characteristic of bromeliads, you'll find bright flowers in many variations, like the cotton-candy colors of Portea or the red (and bitter) pineapple fruit of Ananas.

How to Propagate Bromeliads

Your original plant will eventually die back, so growing new bromeliads from offsets is a great way to keep this species thriving in your home for years to come. While it's possible to grow these plants from seed, it takes years for them to grow to maturity. Because of this, most home gardeners prefer to reproduce their bromeliads by removing offsets, or pups, from the base of the mother plant. 

When the offsets are about 8 inches high, they're ready to be removed and potted on their own. Offsets can be propagated during any season. Here's how:

Step 1: Prepare a pot with fresh growing medium, like a soilless mix with wood chips or a mix of long-fibered sphagnum moss and coarse sand.

Step 2: Gently remove the mother and pups from their plant pot or wood bark. Check to ensure that the offsets have grown their own roots before removing them. Gently loosen the soil around the offsets, then carefully pull the roots to see where each offset connects to the mother plant.

Step 3: Use a clean, sharp gardening blade, make a cut as close to the mother plant as you can without damaging the roots. Carefully remove the detached pup from the mother plant. 

Step 4: Plant each offset in a small pot (or mount it to another surface) and replant the mother. Barely moisten the new growing mediums and add water to the central cups, then care for the plants as usual.

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Common Problems With Bromeliads

Bromeliads are known for their easy-growing nature and simple care steps, but it's still possible for your plant to have problems involving light, water, and pests. Here's how to diagnose and treat your plant:

Brown Leaves

If you notice brown tips on your plant's leaves, that could be an indication that the air in your space is too dry. Move your plant to a bathroom (if it has a suitable window), mist its leaves regularly, or add a humidifier to the room. You can also create a humidifying tray by placing the pot on a tray filled with pebbles, then adding water to just below the top of the pebbles.

Leggy or Crispy Leaves

Too little light can cause the leaves to lose their colors or begin to grow long and leggy. On the other hand, too much light can scorch your bromeliad and lead to crispy, brown spots. Earth star bromeliads, in particular, need dappled shade since they're used to growing on the forest floor, far from sunlight.

Pest Infestations

Your bromeliad may become infested with common pests like aphids, mealybugs, scale, spider mites, and even snails or slugs. Treat pests by rinsing the plant down completely with water, then applying insecticidal soap or rubbing alcohol to its leaves with a cotton ball.

Potting and Repotting Bromeliads

While bromeliads may prefer to live in the treetops in the wild, they can also grow well in pots. If your plant is noticeably outgrowing its container, it's time to repot. Avoid using pot sizes that are too large, as they can hold in too much moisture and lead to root rot.

Repot your bromeliad during the spring growing season. Some varieties are well-suited for standard potting soil, but a soilless mix (like store-bought cactus soil) blended with wood chips or orchid bark is a better option. Stabilize your bromeliad in its pot with a light potting medium that will allow for air circulation.

How to Get Bromeliads to Bloom

With sufficiently warm temperatures (between 55 and 90 degrees) and light exposure, your bromeliad will likely shoot up a central flower spike. If your bromeliad isn't flowering, try inducing flowers by placing the plant and pot in a clear plastic bag with an apple for a week or two. Be sure the bag doesn't have any holes. The ethylene given off by the apple can help induce flower buds. 

Your bromeliad's blooms can last as long as six months. During the regenerative post-bloom phase, which can sometimes take months or years, your bromeliad will grow offsets, or new plants, at its base. Once the flower dies back, trim it off with a clean pair of gardening shears and care for the plant as usual.

FAQs

Do Bromeliads Only Flower Once?

Your bromeliad will only flower once in its life, but its blooms last longer than those of many flowering plants. The flowers on your plant will stay vibrant and colorful for up to six months before dying back. After your bromeliad finishes flowering, it will begin to grow offsets that can be propagated as new plants.

Do Bromeliads Need Sun or Shade?

Bromeliads don't need full sun or total shade; they do best between both. These plants thrive in bright, indirect light. North- and east-facing windows are a perfect spot for your bromeliad, but it can also grow in south- or west-facing windows with sheer curtains (or placed a few feet away, out of direct rays from the sun).

What Is the Lifespan of a Bromeliad?

When grown indoors as houseplants, bromeliads typically live between two and five years. Providing the best growing conditions (indirect light, warm temperatures, and humidity) can help your plant thrive as long as possible.

Article Sources
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  1. Claudio L. Planting Healthier Indoor AirEnviron Health Perspect. 2011;119(10). doi:10.1289/ehp.119-a426