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Cultural Information

Bromeliads belong to the plant family, Bromeliaceae, which encompasses over 2,700 species plus thousands of hybrids. With one exception all are native to the Americas. You'll find them growing from the southern part of the United States throughout the Americas to Chile and Argentina in South America. Spanish moss and ball moss are bromeliads found across a very wide range, but the pineapple is the most familiar bromeliad. In nature many bromeliads grow on trees as epiphytes or air plants. Their roots are used mainly for support. They are not parasites. While many bromeliads grow on trees, many others grow in the ground, on rocks and on clift faces. They are remarkably versatile, and form one of the most adaptable plant families in the world. They have a tremendous ability to survive, and can offer infinite variety, challenge, exciting plant forms and color combinations. Bromeliads are divided into groups called genera. Different genera and species require varying amounts of light, water and humidity; however, the majority of the plants in each genus (singular for genera) often have the same general cultural requirements. In cultivation, the most commonly found genera are Aechmea, Billbergia, Cryptanthus, Dyckia, Guzmania, Neoregelia, Nidularium, Tillandsia and Vriesea. Many make good house plants if given a reasonable amount of care. Potting for ease of growing, displaying and handling, most bromeliads can be potted, as opposed to mounted on wood or other material. However, most gray-leafed tillandsias will grow more easily if mounted. Bromeliads will grow in almost any medium that drains well, does not pack down, provides stability while the rooting system develops, and has a slightly acid to neutral pH. Potting mixes vary according to availability of materials or in combination include peat moss, perlite, very coarse builders sand, tree fern fiber, hadite, small sized gravel, and redwood, pine, cypress, or fir bark. The important consideration is that the potting mix must drain rapidly. Orchid bark is also satisfactory, and bromeliads complement many orchid collections. Cryptanthus and Dyckias grow well in African violet soil without any additive. Dyckias also do well in cactus soil. Many African violet growers find cryptanthus as good companion plants under fluorescent lights. Cactus fanciers grow dyckias and hechtias easily in the ir collections.


A Few Good Rules to Follow are:

  • Plant just to the base of the leaves to prevent possible rotting. Don't pot a bromeliad too deeply.
  • Use the right size pot. Don't use a pot that is too large or the danger of over watering increases. Four, five and six inch pots are all used, but a pot that is too small is preferable to one that is too large.
  • Don't allow the plant to rock back and forth, or wiggle. This damages the tender, developing roots. Stake the plant, if necessary, until the roots are well developed.
  • Use a fast-draining potting mix. The water should run right through the mix. Then empty the saucer.
  • Always use a pot with drainage holes in the bottom or sides.
  • NEVER use copper fungicides.

Watering

The roots of most potted bromeliads like to be moist, but never soggy. Keep the central cup, if there is one, filled with fresh water. Don't allow the water to get too old or stagnant, or the plant may rot. The water should be at room temperature, and should be poured into the center of the plant, the cup, and allowed to run through the leaves into the soil, so that the roots are moistened. Watering once a week is often sufficient. Mist the plant every few days if the humidity is 50 to 60%, or daily, if the humidity is lower. Soft leafed plants require more water and humidity than stiff leafed ones. Most vrieseas, guzmanias, and nidulariums like high humidity. Mounted plants need frequent misting unless the humidity is high, and do better with a weekly dousing in a sink, tub or bucket to thoroughly soak them.


Light

Bright, diffused light is best for most bromeliads. Hard, spiny, thick leafed plants, as well as those with gray-green, gray or silvery leaves, can take bright light for extended periods of time. Soft, thin leafed plants and those with purplish (discolor) foliage do well in a spot with lower light intensity, but no bromeliad likes a dark environment. Nidulariums require the least amount of light and gray leafed tillandsias the most. The intense translucent red seen in many neoregelias usually cannot be held, if grown solely in the house. The other genera mentioned fall somewhere in between these two in light requirements. Symptoms of too little light are dark green, often soft, drooping leaves that are longer than normal. Symptoms of too much light are yellowed leaves, markings that are faded and bleached out, a leathery, stressed look to the foliage, and in extreme cases, sunburn spots and holes.


Fertilizing

Opinions vary among growers as to whether one should fertilize, and if so, at what strength and with what frequency. This really depends on the amount of intensity of the light the plants are grown in, and on the genus. Many growers do not fertilize neoregelias, or stiff leafed aechmeas as they look better when grown in a slightly stressed condition. Most growers refrain from fertilizing during periods of very slow growth, often caused by low light levels and lower temperatures present in winter months. However, there is a consensus that guzmanias and vrieseas require fertilization to obtain large colorful bloom spikes. The strength of the fertilizer used should not exceed one fourth to one third of the recommended dosage, if fertilizer is applied once a month. If fertilizing more frequently, dilute the fertilizer to an even weaker strength. Slow release pellets such as Osmocote, 14-14-14 or Magamp, 7-40-6, can be added on top of the soil at a dosage of about one fourth teaspoon for a five inch pot every three to four month, but never place fertilizer pellets in the cup. Most plants do well if sprayed with a dilute solution of fertilizer from time to time.


Temperature

Most bromeliads will be comfortable where you are. Generally, they prosper at temperatures between 50 and 90 F (11 to 36 C). They are not winter hardy except in tropical regions. They prefer temperatures below 90 F (36 C), but many will tolerate heat if there is good air circulation. Guzmanias and soft-leafed Tillandsias are the least tolerant of hot temperatures and make excellent plants for cooler growing conditions.


Aechmea and Billbergia

Easily grown, dependable bloomers, and an interesting array of colors, form and foliage, these genera are very popular. These are tank-type bromeliads, and attention should be given to flushing the tanks. Give them moderate to bright light, protect them from wind damage and feed monthly with 20-20-20 fertilizer at half strength. They may be either potted or mounted.


Neoregelia

These tank-type bromeliads are some of the most spectacular foliage plants in cultivation. For the best color: place the plants in bright light to full sun; water less frequently; and use a low-nitogen fertilizer (eg 5-59-10) at quarter strength weekly in the pot only. Under-pot in a loose mix with little organic matter.


Guzmania and Vriesea

Being sensitive to heat, wet roots, mineral salts, and stagnant water, this group of bromeliads is a little more difficult to grown than others, but the rewards of having some of the most beautiful bromeliads are worth the extra effort. To insure success: pot, place in moderate light, maintain high humidity and good air movement. Take care with their soft leaves that are subject to wind and chewing insect damage.