Arguably the most beautiful genus of tropical plants would have to be the bromeliads and it’s close relatives, tillandsias, guzmanias and billbergias. Commonly known as the ‘pineapple plant’ these adorable plants are responsible for adding vivacious colour to tropical gardens where green foliage is the order of the day.
One reader emailed me yesterday asking for some info and growing tips and insights into bromeliad care. I was bemused that I hadn’t written on these tropical stalwarts before but after checking my archives realised that it was a plant that had been sorely missing. Not that it should have been for I have three different bromeliad plants in my garden and one tillandsia. Don’t ask me their scientific names though as they were all given to me by my green thumb mother without id labels and I haven’t taken the time to wade through the possible 2400 species and more derivatives. If you want to try and id yours here’s a good place to start – The Bromeliad Society of Australia – and begin with the Photo Gallery.
How to grow a Bromeliad
Bromeliads are as diverse in their growing needs and requirements as they are in their structure, foliage and flower colours. Some, like many tillandsias are epiphytic – that is they can grow without soil – while others are trichomes (receive their water and nutrient needs through their leaves) and others grow just like normal plants. Due to their very different growing needs it pays to know which type of bromeliad you have unless you have already been informed how to grow and care for it.
Most bromeliads, although tropical, can grow well in milder climates provided they’re not subjected to frosts. They can handle the occasional one but if your area is prone to a few each year you may want to limit their outdoor activity to a minimum. Don’t let that stop you though as bromeliads make great indoor plants provided they can get enough sunlight each day they will grow just as well, and in some cases better, than those left to their own devices outdoors.
- Epiphytic tillandsias – as these don’t need soil the best place to grow them is on a wall or in the limbs or trunk of a large tree. In most cases they will need to be supported by wire to keep them attached to their host and this is just a matter of keeping them in place rather than binding them completely.
- Trichome bromeliads – the obvious problem with growing trichome bromeliads is planting them in your garden and expecting that your reticulation will keep them watered. Due to most bromeliads height and structure they could easily avoid getting any water at all. For this type you’re better off hand watering them and making sure that that each plant is supplied within their cupped foliage.
- Normal bromeliads – these are usually bottom-dwelling plants within a tropical rainforest and need to source their moisture and nutrients from the soil. Caring for this type of bromeliad should take little to no extra effort than most of the plants that already reside in your garden.
Bromeliad Care 101
Most bromeliads are very hardy plants and can usually survive without too much maintenance. They are susceptible to some pests, especially scale – which should never be treated with white oil or any other chemical, but merely cut out of the plant – but in most cases bromeliads have few predators.
One of the major problems for the bromeliad plant is it’s ability to clump, rot and die. It propagates itself by sending up pups alongside the mother plant. These can be cut off once they’ve reached a third of the size of the original plant and transplanted. If they’re not, they will eventually grow up and take over the plant and the mother will die. This isn’t completely problematic and it’s not always necessary to remove the pups but if you have problems with your older bromeliads surviving then this may be the cause.
The bromeliad plant can often become a home for garden snails and it’s not uncommon to find them within the safety of their foliage. This shouldn’t be a concern as they won’t harm your bromeliads but it may alarm you that this army of pests is snoozing in your garden.
Bromeliad care is almost an oxymoron as they’ve learned to survive some of the hardest places in the world to grow. Devoid of light, nutrient and competing with a plethora of other species, bromeliads can truly take care of themselves.
Pictures of Bromeliads
Apart from the great collection of images stored at the Bromeliad Society of Australia (linked above) there are some other gardeners who have great photos of their own collections. Here’s some of Rusty’s fantastic collection of bromeliads and here’s one of my bromeliads in bloom last year.