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Bromeliads add colour and are low-maintenance

A big beautiful display of bromeliads caught my eye when I stopped in at the greenhouse recently. There were blooms of every colour: electric orange, bright fuchsia, candy apple red and pastel pink.

Then there was the foliage that is just as amazing with strappy red, green, purple, orange and yellow leaves in bands, stripes, spots or other combinations.
Most gardeners believe bromeliads are difficult to look after but the exact opposite is true. They can easily adapt to our home’s growing conditions.

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Did you know that pineapple and Spanish moss are part of this family of plants?

The most common bromeliads (such as the Aechmea, Neoregelia and Guzmania genus) grow in rosettes of large, strappy leaves around a central cup. These leaves are often relatively thick and may have backward-facing spines capable of giving you a sharp jab. The leaves arise from the centre cup that is designed to hold water.

In the wild, bromeliads’ roots are adapted to clinging onto trees. The plant relies on rainfall and leaf litter to fill up the central cup with both water and ample organic material for food. Now no one has a tropical rainforest in their homes but plants are highly adaptable. For most people, it’s better to grow them in a rich, fast-draining potting soil than it is to attempt to duplicate their native conditions.

The plants prefer well-lit, bright windowsills, but not direct sunlight. A south, west or east window is often perfect. Plants that are yellowish may be receiving too much light, while plants that are dark green, or elongated, may be receiving too little light.

Bromeliads also are highly tolerant of temperature variations, but remember that plants in hotter conditions will need more humidity. Ideally, bromeliads prefer temperatures between 13 C and 26 C. They should not be exposed to temperatures under 4 C.

In a normal house, it’s not necessary to keep the central cup filled with water. If you do centrally water your bromeliad, make sure to flush the central cup every so often to remove any built-up salts. In general, however, it’s enough to water these plants through the soil weekly during the growing season and reduce watering during the winter rest period. Never let the plant rest in standing water.

Bromeliads should be grown in a fast-draining potting soil. A mixture of 2/3 peat-based soil mix and 1/3 sand is a good idea. Bromeliads also can be grown mounted to boards and logs. These plants will need to be watered more often and consistently throughout the year.

Bromeliads multiply by sending up off-sets, or pups. In a natural growth cycle, a mature plant will send up a flower spike that includes small, sometimes insignificant, flowers, surrounded by showy bracts (it’s really the bracts that people like in bromeliad flowers). These flower bracts are long-lasting — sometimes for months. After the flower dies, the plant begins to die also, and over the next few months, will decline. However, the mother plant will send out one or several smaller pups at the base of the plant. These pups can be carefully cut off with sterile snippers and potted up individually. Pups should only be potted up after they develop a few roots and begin to form the central cup characteristic to bromeliads.

So yes they were hard to resist and I brought one home to enjoy until I can get outside into the garden again. Why don’t you give one a try, too?


About the Author: Denise Hodgins is a horticulturalist and landscape designer based in London, Ont.

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