Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
December, 2009
Regional Report

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The fantastic flower spike on this long-lived bromeliad is worth waiting for.

Easy, Exotic Bromeliads

One of my most prized houseplants is a bromeliad given to me by a gardening friend who grows dozens of species in his greenhouse and delights in propagating these tropical beauties. When I first received it, I knew I couldn't duplicate his growing conditions, so I was a little apprehensive about the fate of my new plant. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about; bromeliads are perfectly suited to growing under average household conditions.

Bromeliads are members of the pineapple family, and there are literally thousands of bromeliad species. In general, these plants have leathery, sometimes succulent, and often variegated leaves that grow in the form of a rosette, making a central base or cup. Most bromeliads send up fantastically colored bloom spikes (inflorescences), which bear brightly colored modified leaves called bracts.

For a bromeliad, the appearance of the inflorescence is the grand finale. After flowering, the plant slowly declines and eventually dies. But before it goes, it produces offshoots at the base of the plant. These offshoots are called pups, and if you detach and pot them up, they will grow into brand new bromeliads.

Cultivation and Care
Most bromeliads require the same general care as other houseplants: adequate light, water when the soil is almost dry, and good drainage. Each species or variety has its own particular needs, but for the most part they will thrive when given exceptionally good drainage; good air circulation; high humidity; and bright, indirect light.

Growing Media
In nature, bromeliads grow with their roots exposed to air. If planted in a waterlogged mix, they will quickly rot. You can make your own growing medium by combining two parts commercial potting soil with one part bark chips, or you can purchase a bag of potting soil formulated especially for orchids.

I water my bromeliad when the soil is on the dry side, which equates to once a week in summer and once a month during the winter months. I pour fresh water into the plant's cup and let it run into the pot. This keeps the water in the plant fresh and helps increase the humidity in the surrounding air. Misting the foliage also increases the humidity, which is especially important during the winter when central heating dries out the air.

Light Requirements
Bright, indirect sunlight is best for bromeliads; a south- or west-facing window is perfect in winter, but direct sun can burn the leaves during the summer months. I keep my bromeliads close to the window during the winter, moving them back a few feet when summer arrives.

Air Temperature and Circulation
Bromeliads love fresh air, as long as it doesn't come in the form of cold drafts. I use a small fan near my plants, directing it in the general vicinity and carefully avoiding blasts on the foliage.

Most bromeliads enjoy the same household temperatures that make people comfortable, adjusting to a range between 65 and 90 degrees F., depending upon the season.

Bromeliads grown from seed can take several years to flower, so most gardeners propagate their plants by removing the offshoots that form at the base of the parent plant. Given proper care, a plant will produce several offshoots during its lifetime. Wait until an offshoot is at least one third the size of the parent plant before detaching it so it has time to develop a healthy root system.

If you prefer to have your plant grow as a clump, leave the offshoots in place and remove the leaves of the parent plant one by one as they dry up. Plants grown this way can stay in the same pot for several generations. They put on a beautiful show when the offshoots mature and bloom all at once.

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