How to Grow 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 relatively 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. 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 sunlight
  • 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, but be sure to empty it weekly because stagnant water attracts insects and collects 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 couple of drops of diluted houseplant fertilizer each month—instead of the stray insects that collect in a wild jungle bromeliad's central cup.

With sufficiently warm temperatures (55–80 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, and the original plant will eventually die back. 

Best Growing Conditions for Bromeliads

To help your bromeliad plants do their best, try to imitate their humid jungle environment and epiphytic growth habit. 

Bromeliads grow best in warm temperatures with bright, indirect light. If you notice brown tips on your bromeliad's leaves, that could be indication that the air in your space is too dry. Consider keeping your bromeliad in your bathroom to give it a humidity boost. Brown areas on the leaves can also mean too much light, while too little can cause the leaves to lose their silver patterning and grow long and leggy. Earth star bromeliads, in particular, need dappled shade since they're used to growing on the forest floor, far from sunlight.

While bromeliads may prefer to live in the treetops in the wild, they can also grow well in pots. Some varieties are well-suited for standard potting soil, but a soilless mix (like store-bought cactus soil) blended with wood chips is a better option. Stabilize your bromeliad in its pot with a light potting medium that will allow for air circulation.

Since bromeliads grow on trees in the wild, they also thrive on wood bases indoors. You can mount them on a damp piece of bark topped with a mix of coarse sand and sphagnum moss. You can also blend two parts potting soil, one part perlite, and one part orchard bark. The growing medium should be kept barely damp.

Some bromeliads, like tillandsia (air plants), don't need to be potted in a growing medium or have their roots wrapped in moss.

If you have enough space, bromeliad plants can be grown on a decorative tree branch indoors. Wrap your bromeliad's roots in a handful of long-fibered sphagnum moss that's been moistened, and then affix it to your decorative branch using a strong twine or floral wire covered in green floral tape.

Keep the moss evenly damp and the bromeliad's 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.

Bromeliad Varieties

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

Other 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—emerges in winter.

Although their 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.

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How to Propagate Bromeliads

While it's possible to grow these plants from seed, it takes years for bromeliads propagated this way 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 eight inches high, they're ready to be removed and potted on their own. Offsets can be repotted during any season. 

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 the plant pot. Check to see that the offsets have grown their own roots before removing them. Gently loosen the soil around the offsets' roots, and 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. Be sure to keep the new growing mediums barely moist and the central cup full of water. 

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

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