The most famous member of the bromeliad family is the pineapple (Ananas comosus). But there’s a wide range of different types of bromeliad available, in florists and garden centres – and they’re extremely easy to grow. Follow our simple tips and you’ll enjoy a long-lasting display of colour in your home.
Choosing a bromeliad
The actual flowers of bromeliads are small and insignificant, but surrounding them are bright, colourful bracts. Bracts last much longer than flowers so your bromeliad will keep looking good for several months.
There are so many different types to choose from, such as Vriesea splendens, which has a scarlet spike that looks like a sword, while the star-like blooms of Guzmania lingulata come in many colours. Billbergia nutans has hot pink bracts surrounding pendular green flowers with attractive markings. Nidularium innocentii leaf rosette has a deep red centre. Aechmea fasciata has a silver rosette that contrasts with its sugar pink bracts, and Vriesea hieroglyphica leaves are densely mottled in purple. Cryptanthus bivittatus is small and will fit almost anywhere, including in a bottle garden or terrarium. Buy plants that are free from damage to the leaves and, if possible, those whose flowers are still emerging, as they’ll last longer indoors.
Positioning a bromeliad
Most bromeliads thrive when given plenty of sunshine indoors, so choose a south- or west-facing windowsill. They’ll also do well in a conservatory, though the leaves may scorch on the hottest summer days. Avoid placing them near radiators and other heat sources as these can burn the leaves. Indoor bromeliads are not hardy and are best kept above 15°C, so they will do well in most centrally-heated homes.
In very warm rooms, it’s worth increasing the humidity by standing the plants on trays of moist gravel. During the summer, keep plants well ventilated and consider moving them outside to a shady spot over the warmest months.
When to water and feed a bromeliad
Most bromeliads grow on the branches of tropical trees and their leaves form a rosette that fills with water whenever it rains. It’s important to keep these ‘tanks’ filled up, but try to use rain water if possible, as lime scale will mark the leaves. Once a month, empty the rosette by turning the plant upside down, then refill with fresh water. The compost should also be watered, but not much – simply ensure it never dries out fully. Add a house plant fertiliser when watering the rosette, though use it at half strength, and only feed during the spring and summer months.
An unusual characteristic of bromeliads is that their central rosette will often die after flowering. After this happens, the plant will produce several babies at its base. The baby plants can be left in the original pot, and they can also be divided into more plants. When dividing bromeliads, it’s best to wait until the babies are at least 10-15cm long.
Lift the main plant out of its pot to remove the individual baby plants, being careful not to damage any roots attached to the new plants. Pot each of the baby plants in house plant compost then water both the compost and the rosette. Rooting takes around a month. Alternatively, you can wait until the main plant begins to die off, then cut it out and leave the babies to grow where they are.
It’s rare for indoor bromeliads to suffer from pests, but occasionally they can attract mealybug, scale and red spider mites. The first two are slow-moving insects that feed on sap and often the first symptom you’ll spot is stickiness on the leaves or nearby surfaces. As the insects feed, they release sugary sap, which becomes sticky and can attract black sooty mould. The best way to control these pests is to wipe them off manually with a damp cloth, but you can also spray with a systemic insecticide.
Tiny red spider mites are so small that they’re difficult to see. Look out for fine webbing between the leaves and yellow mottling on the surfaces. Mites are hard to control and few insecticides will work, but as they dislike a humid atmosphere, it’s worth spraying your plants with water and standing them on a tray filled with damp gravel. You can also try sprays containing plant oils.
Feature by Dr. Ross Bayton