Bromeliads: Exotic Beauties that Practically Take Care of Themselves
If you want an exotic plant that almost takes care of itself, try bromeliads.
Their rare exotic beauty sometimes causes inexperienced growers to assume that bromeliads are touchy and difficult to grow. The truth is that bromeliads are one of the most resilient and carefree choices for both the expert and the novice gardener.
Part of this "tolerance" for neglect is due to the physiology of the plant. With over 2500 identified species (two of the most well-known being the common pineapple and Spanish moss), many bromeliads are epiphytes, or "air plants", which means they get their water and nourishment from the air. Others create their own "reservoir" or cup in a rosette center in which they store water and nutrients. These self-contained forms of water collection allow them to be neglected and withstand near draught, as long as there is some moisture in the air.
Bromeliads receive nutrients from leaves as well as small insects and other matter that drops into their rosette. For this reason, some experts recommend that you do not give additional nutrients to bromeliads in the form of fertilizer, as it can actually make them lose some of their color.
Besides their almost indestructible nature, another big asset to growing bromeliads is the rate at which they propagate.
Although bromeliads really did not begin to gain wide popularity among home growers until the early 1970's, they now are becoming well appreciated for their almost constant color, both in their foliage and in their flower stalks. Plants usually consist of a rosette of blade shaped leaves, from the center of which a colorful "inflorescence", or flower cluster, emerges. This "inflorescence", although not literally the flower of the plant, sometimes remains colorful for months at a time. And since different varieties of bromeliads achieve their color at different times of the year, it is possible to keep color in your home or yard year-round by growing a variety of bromeliads
Growing Your Own Bromeliads
Some plant enthusiasts, especially if they are trying to sell you one, will swear that you "just can't kill a bromeliad." But the truth is, some are easy to grow and some are not. First, most bromeliads are not cold hardy, and are do best in plant hardiness zones 9 and higher.
Most sources agree that something to keep in mind with bromeliads is that "too much of a good thing" can be harmful. Too much water, too much sun or too much fertilizer will harm or possibly kill these hardy, exotic looking plants. But if you follow a few simple guidelines, bromeliads can add beauty and color to even the most difficult landscapes and last for years.
As a beginner, it is best to purchase your bromeliads from a reputable nursery that can provide some insight into the natural habitat and local growing requirements of the variety you select. In general, though, these rules can be applied to most species of bromeliads.
Light conditions for bromeliads range from full sun to dense shade. As a rule, a thin leaved plant will require less light than a thick leaved plant. Most bromeliads like an area that provides 60% to 70% shade. If the foliage becomes burned or washed out looking, reduce the light. If the foliage is not producing as much color as it should, increase the light. Experiment with different locations to see which light brings out the best coloration and form but does not burn the leaves. Bromeliads grown in full sun will often look entirely different from the same species grown in deep shade. Light affects both the color and the shape of the leaves.
In the absence of rainfall, water your bromeliads two to three times a week. Potting medium is not even necessary for many varieties, but it is helpful to hold the plant erect. If planted in pots, all bromeliads should be potted in a soil mixture that allows quick drainage. Air plant varieties can be mounted on driftwood or hung in baskets without soil and usually need little more than a regular misting. Of the varieties that produce cup-like rosettes, keep the "cup" filled with water, but the soil can be somewhat dry. Bromeliads do not like "wet feet".
All need fresh moving air, as they get much of their moisture and nutrients from the air they absorb through "scales" on their leaf surfaces.
Fertilizing is not required and is even not recommended by many bromeliad experts.
Bromeliads are some of the most pest free of plants. Most experts assume that this is probably due to the fact that insects just give up rather than trying to get through a bromeliads tough, leathery leaves.
Although all bromeliad varieties except one are native to the Americas, in their natural habitat they grow in terrains as different as sands along the ocean, tree branches in tropical rain forests, and high deserts in the Andes mountains. This diversity of the plants natural habitats also means diverse growing conditions. If the species you choose does not seem to be flourishing as expected you may have to experiment with some of the following conditions:
1) Cut back on watering (over-watering is the biggest cause of plant failure for bromeliads) or change to a coarser soil mixture to provide better drainage.
2) Move plant to a location providing more or less light.
3) Make sure plant has fresh circulating air, but is not in a draft.
With a little practice, you too can become a bromeliad expert. For the most part, all you will have to do is "stick them in the ground and watch them grow."