Exotic and showy in a transient way that only makes their colorful bursts all the more exciting, bromeliads are well-known but not over played in interiors. While they're often "throw-away" plants given as gifts, one bromeliad can leave a long legacy in your home. Here's how.
Potting Your Bromeliad
Bromeliads are very sensitive to moisture. It's important that the pot and soil you choose are conducive to keeping them happy. While the plants are drought-tolerant and hate over-watering or standing in water, they do need moisture. Hence, if you leave in a dry, arid climate, a plastic pot that tends to retain moisture might be a good choice. On the other hand, if you live in a humid area, a porous pot is a good option, as it will allow excess water to seep away from the roots.
Bromeliads in the wild are epiphytic, meaning they derive their moisture and nutrient needs not from soil but from rain and the air. So it's important that the soil you use provides very good drainage, such as a mix of 2/3 peat-based soil mix and 1/3 sand.
Water and Your Bromeliad
Bromeliads are adapted to tolerate droughts and do not like to be over-watered. Wait until the top two inches of their soil is dry before watering again. Alternatively, if your type of bromeliad has a "tank," a cup where the leaves meet, you can water your plant by pouring water in here. Make sure to empty sitting water so that insects and debris don't collect.
Although they can stand periods of dryness, bromeliads love ambient moisture. Mist them daily during the growing season, or in the winter if the air is dry and warm. One good solution for keeping humidity levels at their best is setting your bromeliad in a rock-filled saucer that contains some water. This will also catch drainage when you water. Remember not to let the plant sit in water, though.
If you can collect rain water, that is best for watering your bromeliad. Otherwise, it's best to let tap water sit so that lime and chlorine evaporate and the water is not too cold. Never use a metal watering can, as bromeliads are very sensitive to metal. Take the same care with the water used to mist your plant.
Bromeliads do not need much fertilization. You could use a half or quarter dilution of all-purpose plant food, some slow-release pellets mixed in with their potting mix, or a single pellet dropped into the bromeliad's water cup. Only fertilize during the growing season of spring and summer, and take care not to over-fertilize.
Bromeliads can tolerate a range of light environments but do best in bright, indirect light. Yellow-tinged plants may be getting too much light, while dark green, leggy plants may be seeking more light. Don't crowd your bromeliad with other plants or in too-tight quarters; they need air circulation.
Getting Your Bromeliad to Bloom
Bromeliads typically bloom only once in their lifetime, making the burst of color (actually formed mostly of leaf bracts) that much more precious. If you wish to force a bloom, do the following, as outlined in Gardening Know How: First, add some dissolved Epsom salts to the watering cup once per month for a few months to encourage chlorophyll production. Next, empty the water cup and encase the bromeliad in a large, clear plastic bag for ten days along with a piece of apple. The ethylene gas encourages flowering, which should occur within the next six to ten weeks.
After Flowering: Nurturing Bromeliad Pups for Another Generation
While many people say good-bye to their bromeliads once their flowers are spent, with a bit more patience, you can reap your plant's offspring, called pups.
After the bloom dies, cut it off with a sharp, sterile knife or scissors. The plant will now direct its energy toward the production of pups, which will appear near the bottom of the plant. Leave the pups on the parent plant until they are about a third to a half the size of the mother and they start forming roots. At this point, separate each pup from its mother with a sharp, sterilized instrument. Allow the cut to callous, which usually takes about a week, and then give each pup its own home and the same loving care you gave its mother.
For tips on styling bromeliads and other house plants, check out this helpful post in The Guardian (also image above).