How to grow and care for a bromeliad plant

A red bromeliad plant in a pot on a ledge in front of a window.
While bromeliads may flower, these plants get their vibrant colors from their leaves, also called ‘bracts.’ Daniela Duncan/Getty Images

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Bromeliads often come in and out of fashion, says Annette Gutierrez, co-owner of Potted in Los Angeles, California, but they have a lasting appeal for many house plant enthusiasts. Even if they’re not currently the trendy social media plant, their low-key care needs mean they’ll always have a fanbase. “It’s a great plant for people who are neglectful,” says Gutierrez.

Bromeliads also add color in a way that most plants do not. Most house plants don’t flower at all, or when they do, it’s only for a brief period. While some bromeliads do flower, their colorful leaves, called “bracts,” stay bright and vibrant for much longer than a flower stays in bloom.

“That’s something I love about them,” says Gutierrez. “They give the people who love that idea of flowers something that makes them happy while not actually flowering.”

According to Gutierrez, there are many kinds of bromeliads. While most of us know and love the Guzmania, recognizable by its colorful flower-like formations near the top of the plant with long, evergreen leaves near the bottom, there is a whole world of bromeliads out there for plant enthusiasts to begin caring for.

Common varieties

A Guzmania plant.
Common varieties of bromeliads include Tillandsia, Guzmania, Vriseas, Neoregilia, and Cryptanthus. Elizabeth Fernandez/Getty Images

There are approximately 3,000 bromeliad species. Pineapples are a distant cousin of bromeliads, although bromeliads themselves aren’t edible.

Though the colorful house plant variety is more common, some bromeliads are air plants, which attach themselves to other plants and take moisture and nutrients from the air. “They’re not a parasite,” explains Gutierrez, “They more just latch on and co-exist.”

  • Tillandsia: Most often labeled as air plants, these are actually a type of bromeliad, though some do grow in soil. They look like spiky green stars with lots of layers, and range in size, though most available at the plant store can fit in the palm of your hand. They require lots of light (one of the few types of bromeliads that likes direct sun) and frequent misting. Some also produce flowers.
  • Guzmania: The most recognizable bromeliad, Guzmania is known for its vivid bracts – usually in orange, red, or yellow – and its low-key care needs. It’s unlikely to flower, and if it does, the flower won’t rise much higher than the bracts.
  • Vriseas: Vriseas are characterized by vivid geometric orange and yellow bracts, which is how they got the nickname “flaming swords.” It may flower once, near the end of its lifecycle.
  • Neoregilia: These are a favorite of Gutierrez’s. “They’re much firmer,” she says, “With a little bit of spike on the edge of their bracts.” The colors range from chocolate brown to neon pink. If you’re lucky, small flowers may grow from the base of the cup.
  • Cryptanthus: Sometimes called earth stars, these more closely resemble other potted green plants. Their leaves grow in a rosette formation, and can range from pink to red to forest green.

Water

Close-up of brightly colored bromeliad plants.
Bromeliad plants don’t need to be watered frequently, only when they’re dry. Jacky Parker Photography/Getty Images

As with many other houseplants, overwatering is a sure-fire way to kill a bromeliad. Though they love humidity, they generally only need water 2-3 times a week.

“It’s a hard concept for some people, but your bromeliad just needs water when it’s dry,” says Gutierrez. “Get to know your bromeliad and check in on it every few days.” Gutierrez tends to just water directly into the “cup,” or center of the plant.

Potting and fertilizer

Bromeliads, like orchids, prefer loose, well-draining soil. You can use orchid mix for bromeliads (Gutierrez sometimes does this) or a mix of peat moss, perlite, charcoal, and/or bark. Bromeliads generally take a long time to grow, so Gutierrez recommends buying one in the size you want it to be for most of its life. Because of their shallow root system, large plants can be put in fairly small pots. Any kind of pot with drainage can be used, whether clay or plastic or otherwise.

Temperature

Bromeliads are a tropical plant that thrive between 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, though they can handle up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or as low as 50 degrees. Bromeliads appreciate high humidity, though Gutierrez says it can depend on the type you have. “Guzmanias tend to not be so picky,” she says. Humidifiers aren’t necessary, but can be useful if you live in a dry climate. If your climate is normal to humid, just give your bromeliad a quick mist with a spray bottle a few times a week.

Light

Close up flower head of bromeliaceae.
Bromeliads prefer indirect sunlight, and will develop white or brown spots on their leaves if they’re getting too much light. wulingyun/Getty Images

Though tropical plants are all assumed to be fans of the sun, bromeliads prefer moderate, indirect light. If you notice white or brown spots on your bromeliad’s leaves, that’s a sign that it’s getting too much light.

If you have a bathroom with a window, Gutierrez says your bromeliad will love this combination of indirect light and high humidity.

Common problems

The most common bromeliad problems will be due to overwatering. “Their shallow root system just rots out, and you’ll see it tip over,” says Gutierrez. “Then it’s toast.” If you see brown spots on a bromeliad, it’s likely due to not enough humidity. If you see your bromeliad starting to brown and lose its bracts, cut it back down to where the color is vivid.

Propagation

If you see smaller offshoots growing from the base of the plant, those are called “pups.” They will have better success if they’re allowed to stay on the mother plant until they’re ⅓ to ½ the size of the original plant. At that point, they can be removed and replanted.

Insider’s takeaway

Bromeliads are a great house plant for new plant parents or fans of bright colors. There are many types out there, but if you start out with a Guzmania, you can count on it being especially beginner-friendly. Just make sure to water it only when the soil is dry and to give it humidity and moderate, indirect light.

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