How to grow bromeliads
Many bromeliads make easy-to-grow houseplants, bringing long-lasting tropical colour to a bright room. Among the most familiar are pineapples, air plants and urn plants. Some can be moved outdoors for a few months in summer, and a few may survive year-round in very warm, sheltered gardens.
- Wide range of exotic-looking houseplants
- Many have vibrant flower-like bracts
- Leaves are often coloured or patterned
- Like warm, humid conditions
- Grow indoors in bright light
- Some can grow outdoors in summer
All you need to know
What are bromeliads?
Bromeliads are a large and diverse group of plants, often from tropical regions. Together they form the family Bromeliaceae. Many make exotic and unusual houseplants – popular choices include air plants (Tillandsia) and urn plants (Aechmea). Pineapples (Ananas comosus) are also bromeliads.
While their dramatic flower-like displays of colourful bracts last several months, their true flowers are usually small and insignificant. The bracts are often vividly coloured, including hot pinks, reds, oranges and electric blues, or dramatic combinations of several hues. Their leathery leaves, too, may be boldly patterned or coloured.
Many bromeliads are epiphytes, meaning they naturally grow on other plants, usually trees. They don't take
To grow well, plants need a wide range of nutrients in various amounts, depending on the individual plant and its stage of growth. The three key plant nutrients usually derived from soil are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, while carbon, oxygen and hydrogen are absorbed from the air. Other vital soil nutrients include magnesium, calcium and sulphur. Gardeners can add nutrients by applying fertilisers (either artificial or naturally derived) to boost plant growth and improve flowering and fruiting.
Bromeliads that are commonly grown as houseplants thrive on warm, bright windowsills or in heated greenhouses. They can also be moved outside in summer. A few of the more robust bromeliads can be grown permanently outdoors in very mild areas of the UK, such as Fascicularia bicolor.
How and what to buy
Bromeliads are available online, especially from houseplant and tropical plant specialists. The more popular types, such as air plants (Tillandsia), Vriesea, Aechmea and Guzmania, are often available in garden centres, florists and houseplant shops.
Bromeliads are almost always sold and grown in containers, even when they are epiphytes. Air plants (Tillandsia) are the main exception – these are usually sold attached to a piece of bark, in a glass terrarium or just loose.
When choosing which to buy, look out for those with an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which means they performed well in horticultural trials, so are recommended by our experts. Popular easy-to-grow houseplant choices include:
Billbergia nutans – trailing leaves and stems tipped with pink bracts and tubular greeny-blue flowers
Guzmania lingulata – glossy green leaves and a dramatic starry bloom of red bracts
Neoregelia carolinea f. tricolor – green and yellow-striped leaves, blushed with red in the centre of the rosette. The flower spike has red bracts
Tillandsia cyanea – pink quill has a flat head of vivid pink bracts
Bromeliads that may survive outdoors in very mild parts of the UK, such as Cornwall, and sheltered city gardens include:
Billbergia nutans – trailing leaves and stems tipped with pink bracts and tubular greeny-blue flowers
Fascicularia bicolor – with a low rosette of narrow leaves, blushed bright red in the centre
Puya chilensis – mature plants may produce a dramatic flower spike, 1.5m (5ft) tall, packed with yellow-green, bell flowers, above a dense clump of spiny leaves
Most bromeliads like plenty of light, warmth and some humidity. They are tender, so must be grown indoors, either all year round or over winter.
Position in bright light, but shaded from strong summer sun, which can scorch the leaves. Some can tolerate more sun than others
Keep at around 21ºC (70ºF) in summer, to encourage flowering, but once the buds form, cooler temperatures of 12ºC (55ºF) will help the display last longer
Provide a minimum of 10ºC (50ºF) in winter
They like humid air, such as in a bathroom or kitchen, or you can stand the container in a tray of damp gravel. See Ongoing Care below
Keep plants away from radiators or heaters, and out of cold draughts
While most bromeliads are grown in containers, some, including air plants (Tillandsia), can be mounted on a piece of bark or wood, to mimic their natural growing conditions on tree branches. Place them in a bright, humid location, such as a bathroom. They are very vulnerable to drying out and need to be immersed in water every few days. See our guide to growing air plants
Bromeliads can be moved outdoors for a few months in summer, once night temperatures are consistently above 10ºC (50ºF). They can add a splash of tropical colour to borders and containers. Acclimatise them to outdoor conditions gradually – see our guide to hardening off.
Give them a warm, sheltered spot in sun or partial shade, but protected from midday sun. They work well in tropical-style gardens, vibrant summer bedding displays and contemporary settings.
A few bromeliads, including fascicularias, puyas and Billbergia nutans may survive outdoors all year round in very mild areas of the UK, such as Cornwall, or in very sheltered city gardens. They need a warm, sunny, frost-free spot, with free-draining soil or compost and protection from winter wet. See our guide to planting in containers and planting perennials in borders.
When grown in containers, these bromeliads can be moved into a frost-free greenhouse or conservatory during cold spells. See our guide to preventing winter damage and overwintering plants in a conservatory
Bromeliads with a central 'well'
Many bromeliads have a well (or tank) in the centre of the rosette, including urn plants (Aechmea), Guzmania lingulata and Neoregelia carolinea f. tricolor. The well should always be kept topped up, ideally with rainwater or distilled water. Empty and refill it every month or two, so the water doesn't become stagnant.
You must also water their compost – in summer water regularly to keep it damp but not soggy, in winter water more sparingly, letting the compost dry out between waterings.
See our guide to collecting rainwater.
Bromeliads without a 'well'
Keep the compost moist at all times, but never wet. Always allow the water to drain away after watering, and never leave plants standing in water. Good drainage is essential. These bromeliads include pineapples (such as Ananas comosus var. variegatus), Billbergia nutans and Cryptanthus zonatus.
Air plants (Tillandsia) should be immersed in water a couple of times a week and misted regularly. See our guide to growing air plants.
Raise the humidity around tropical bromeliads, particularly in summer, as the air in most homes is usually quite dry, especially when the heating is on:
Stand the container in a saucer of damp gravel or clay pellets. Keep the water level just below the surface of the gravel, so it doesn't saturate the compost in the container
Mist the leaves regularly with soft water, especially in hot weather or when the heating is on for long spells. (Hard water tends to mark the foliage)
Group several container plants together to create a more humid microclimate.
Bright, steamy bathrooms and kitchens are often good locations for bromeliads
With plants that are grown outdoors in summer, position them in a sheltered spot, out of drying winds.
Many bromeliads are slow growing and come from low-nutrient environments, so generally need little or no feeding. Overfeeding may sometimes reduce the vibrancy of leaf colours.
However, if you do wish to feed, there are various methods for different types of bromeliads:
For bromeliads with a central 'well' – add a balanced or low-nitrogen liquid fertiliser, diluted to half-strength, to the central well once a month in spring and summer. Never place solid feed in the well, as it can burn the foliage
For epiphytic bromeliads without a 'well' – mist the leaves with balanced foliar feed once a month from spring to autumn
For ground-rooting (terrestrial) bromeliads, such as pineapples (Ananas comosus var. variegatus) and Cryptanthus – apply a half-strength balanced liquid feed to the compost every two to four weeks, from spring to autumn
Fertiliser labels explained
Plant nutrition: feeding plants
Bromeliads that have outgrown their container can be re-potted in summer, if necessary. Most need a very free-draining compost that doesn’t hold on to moisture, as their roots are prone to rotting in soggy conditions.
Choose a new container that is only slightly larger, to avoid problems with overpotting. Most bromeliads will be fine in a small or medium container, 7.5–12.5cm (3–5in) in diameter, as they tend to have compact root systems. Larger plants may need to be moved into a 17.5cm (7in) container if they become top heavy or the rosettes start to get overcrowded.
Use a free-draining compost mix of fine composted bark (or orchid compost), perlite and coir fibre, in equal proportions. These ingredients are stocked by most garden centres
Alternatively, use an equal-parts mix of fine composted bark (or orchid compost) and multipurpose compost, including peat-free options
Ready-mixed bromeliad compost may also be available, and cymbidium orchid compost can also be used
Make sure the plant is positioned in its new container at the same level it was previously growing
Bromeliads are tender and won't survive frosts. They can be moved outdoors in summer, but must be brought indoors in autumn, before night temperatures drop to 10ºC (50ºF).
In some very sheltered, frost-free locations, some of the more resilient bromeliads, such as fascicularias, puyas and Billbergia nutans, may survive outdoors in mild winters. See our guide to preventing winter damage.
Caring for older plants
Most rosette-forming bromeliads flower only once in their lifetime, then start to die off. But before they do so, they usually produce new plants around the base – see Propagating, below.
No pruning or training is necessary.
Most rosette-forming bromeliads are easy to propagate from 'offsets', which are baby plants produced around the base of a mature plant. Bromeliads can also be grown from seed, but this is trickier and slower.
Growing from offsets
With most rosette bromeliads, the main plant will eventually die off after flowering. But it will usually have produced several baby plants, known as offsets, around the base. However, plants bought in flower seldom have offsets, although if you continue to water them, new shoots will usually form. Old plants can be kept for two to three years, and will produce offsets at intervals.
With a single offset, remove the old rosette after flowering and re-plant the offset into a smaller container
Use a soil-less mix of fine composted bark (or orchid compost), perlite and coir fibre in equal proportions, or an equal-parts mix of fine composted bark and multipurpose compost. You can also use a ready-mixed bromeliad compost
If several offsets form, allow one to grow on naturally as above. Use a sharp knife to remove the others from the crown in April or May, when about one-third of the size of the mature plant
Trim away any remaining parts of the old crown, then plant each offset into a small container filled with one of the compost mixes detailed above
Place in a heated propagator or cover with a polythene bag and position in a warm, bright location out of direct sun
Growing from seed
Bromeliads can be raised from seed, although seedlings may take five years or more to flower. Seeds are rarely available commercially, apart from puya seeds, which are more widely sold. The Bromeliad Society International also sells seeds to its members. Alternatively, you can help your plants to produce their own.
Bromeliad flowers don't usually self-pollinate, so if your plants are growing indoors (and not visited by pollinating insects) you will need to hand pollinate them. Use a small paintbrush to transfer pollen from the (male) stamens of one flower onto the sticky (female) stigma of another. If successful, a seed pod should form, and the seeds can be harvested when ripe. It is usually best to sow them soon after harvesting.
Fill a seed tray with a mix of two parts' free-draining compost (see above) and one part sharp sand
Sow the seeds on the surface. Don’t cover them with compost
Mist to dampen the compost without disturbing the seeds
Cover with a plastic bag to keep the air humid, and place in a warm airing cupboard to germinate. Alternatively, place in a heated propagator at 26ºC (80ºF)
Fresh seeds should germinate after a few days
Acclimatise the seedlings to a less humid atmosphere once they have three or four leaves
Move the plants into small individual pots of free-draining compost mix (see Planting above)
Bromeliads are generally easy to grow and disease free. However, if the growing conditions aren't suitable, they may show some of the following symptoms:
Failure to flower – plants may take several years to flower. Ethylene gas, from ripe fruit, may be used to stimulate flowering. Place the plant in a large propagator or polythene bag with several ripe apples or bananas for up to a fortnight
Leaf tips turn brown and roots rot – due to overwatering or waterlogging. Always allow the water to drain away after watering, and never leave plants standing in water. If the container is standing in a tray of damp pebbles to improve humidity, make sure the water level is below the base of the container, so the compost doesn't get saturated. Always plant in free-draining compost (see Planting above)
Leaves bleached or browned – caused by sun scorch. Protect plants from strong sun, especially in summer
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