Ever bought a beautiful blooming Bromeliad and been sorely disappointed when it died after a few months? You’re not alone. And you haven’t done anything wrong either! This is normal, although obviously it’s annoying. Luckily there’s a simple solution: propagating your Bromeliad.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about propagating Bromeliad and how to multiply these beautiful tropical plants to avoid having to buy a new one every few months.
Propagating Bromeliads: Why is it necessary?
The many species of Bromeliad have always been common houseplants. Many Bromeliads are especially beloved for their beautiful flowers, but recently air plants have gained plenty of popularity as well. The same goes for homegrown pineapple plants, which also work well as houseplants.
What all of these plants have in common is their limited lifespan. Here’s the deal: most Bromeliads are monocarpic, meaning they only bloom once. After the flowering period, they slowly die off. Many of the most common Bromeliad genera, like Guzmania and Neoregalia, flower after 2-3 years. This is when they’re shipped out from the nursery to be sold, even though they’ve actually already entered the final stages of their life at this point.
The flowers and plant will look nice for a few months or even up to a year. Eventually, though, the unavoidable happens: both plant and flower start to perish. Many houseplant enthusiasts start to panic at this point, convinced they’ve done something wrong and caused the death of their beloved Bromeliad.
So should you consider a Bromeliad a temporary plant then, almost like a slightly longer-lived bouquet of flowers? Not entirely. Although the lovely blooms are unfortunately a temporary thing, the plant does a pretty good job on its own at ensuring you won’t have to buy a new one every few months.
Here’s how that works: before and during the process of your Bromeliad dying off, it’ll produce offsets, also known as pups. These are essentially brand new plants. In fact, most mother plants produce more than one offset. This means that although you’ll lose the oldest specimen, you’ll often end up with more Bromeliads than you started with!
So how do you make sure the offsets your plant has produced thrive to eventually bloom as well? No worries. Propagating a Bromeliad is pretty easy and the plant itself takes care of most of the work for you.
Propagating Bromeliads using offsets
What you’re looking for when the time comes to propagate your Bromeliad is the offsets, which are produced when the mother plant reaches the end of its life cycle. These mini plants, often more than one, are exact genetic copies of the dying mother plant. You can separate them and plant them in pots of their own to basically restart the Bromeliad life cycle.
The nice thing about propagating Bromeliads is that you’ll be able to enjoy the new plants for much longer than you did the original one. This is because, as mentioned earlier, the mother plant was already doomed when you fell for her beautiful flower and brought her home.
The babies won’t bloom until after 2-3 years, after which the flower stays intact for around 3-12 months and the circle starts anew. This means that they’ll live for a few years in your home, rather than a few months like the mother plant.
Separating an offset
After this entire explanation about monocarpic plants and the Bromeliad life cycle, actual Bromeliad propagation is going to seem ridiculously easy.
Here’s how it works:
- Find the offsets. They almost always pop up from the soil, but in some cases can be attached to the mother plant’s stem. This occasionally happens with pineapple plants, for example.
- As soon as the offsets are large enough (around 1/4 or 1/3 of the size of the mother plant, for example), they can be separated without issue.
- The connection to the mother plant is easily severed with a clean knife. It’s easiest if you remove the Bromeliad from its planter, but this is not a necessity.
- Offsets growing in soil will usually already have their own root system, making things extra easy. Stem offsets don’t, but this is not a problem either. They usually root without issue.
- Prepare a planter with some Bromeliad soil and plant the offset. That’s it. Seriously! It should keep growing as usual.
Just a little word on Bromeliad soil: most Bromeliads (with a few exceptions, like Cryptanthus and Ananas) are epiphytes. They naturally grow on trees in a non-parasitic manner. This means their roots aren’t used to dense soil mixtures! Some species can even be stuck to a piece of wood or rock, technically not needing any soil at all.
A basic soil mixture for epiphytic Bromeliads would be 50% airy potting soil with 25% perlite and 25% orchid bark. This allows for plenty of air pockets and great drainage. For the non-epiphytes, you can up the potting soil to around 70%.
Congratulations! You’ve successfully propagated your Bromeliad and will hopefully be able to enjoy its progeny for years to come. Do keep an eye on the mother plant, though, as she can keep producing offsets until right before her passing.
So how do you care for your new army of baby Bromeliads? Specific care will obviously depend on the species. It’s always a good idea to give it a quick Google. That being said, here are a few basics to get you on the right path:
- Light: Most Bromeliads will appreciate a nice and bright spot in the home, but are not too keen on direct sun. The genus Ananas (pineapple plants) is an exception, as it does love as much sun as you can give it.
- Water: Generally speaking, it’s probably better to underwater your Bromeliad than to overwater it (although obviously neither is ideal). You should be watering when the soil has gone about halfway dry.
Some Bromeliads, like the popular Neoregalia, feature a ‘tank’ where their leaves meet in the middle. This tank can be filled with distilled water and should be flushed regularly.
- Humidity: Many of these plants are native to tropical habitats that offer high air humidity. This can sometimes be problematic in our dry homes. A humidifier may be helpful for both you and your plants!
- Fertilizer: These are slow growers that don’t need much in terms of fertilizer. You can apply some diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer a few times during the growing season (spring-early fall). Stop fertilizing during the winter months.
Growing Bromeliad from seed
Bromeliads grown indoors don’t tend to produce seed without intervention, as they would naturally be pollinated by birds, bats or insects (Kessler & Krömer, 2000). However, this doesn’t mean you can’t pollinate the flowers yourself in order to be able to harvest seeds.
Growing Bromeliads from seed is a slower and more complicated process than normal Bromeliad propagation through offsets. That being said, it is pretty cool to be able to say you’ve grown your own houseplants from scratch! A great project for the more dedicated (and patient) houseplant enthusiast.
You can pollinate your Bromeliad flowers using a fine brush. With some luck, a seed pod will develop. If you remove and open this pod, you’ll usually find quite a few seeds inside. It’s best to start the cultivation of your Bromeliad army ASAP: seed quality begins to decline pretty rapidly.
Here’s how you go about it.
- Carefully wash your Bromeliad seeds with some soap to remove the layer of slime they’re naturally covered in. Leave them to dry on a few sheets of kitchen paper.
- Thoroughly wash some small plastic containers. Poke a few holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain easily.
- Mix 60% potting soil with 40% perlite and then mix this with boiling water to easily sterilize your Bromeliad seedling soil mixture. You could also consider using a mixture of something like spaghnum moss and vermiculite; there are plenty of good options.
- Discard the water and place the soil mixture in the plastic containers you prepared earlier.
- Place the seedd on top of the soil mixture. Don’t bury them! They develop better when they’re just sprinkled on top.
- Place the lids on the plastic containers if you have them. If not, you can cover the containers with some plastic wrap to keep the moisture in.
- Find a nice and light spot for your mini Bromeliad cultivation stations. Avoid direct sun: grow lights would be a great option.
- Important! Use a heat mat. Bromeliad seeds adore warmth and your germination rate will be way better if they’re kept around 25 °C/77 °F.
- Bottom water whenever the soil mixture appears to have dried out. This is done by simply placing the plastic containers in a layer of water. The soil mixture will absorb water through the holes you made in the bottom without the seeds being flushed in all directions.
- The seeds tend to germinate pretty quickly, usually within a few days.
- Keep the lids on the plastic containers until the seedlings have grown a few leaves each. After this, start gradually removing the lids for longer and longer periods of time, giving the seedlings a chance to acclimate.
- After a few weeks or months, your Bromeliad seedlings should be strong enough to move to planters of their own. They’re now ready to give away, sell or just keep for yourself!
Did you know? The method above works with many Bromeliad species, but not for air plants. They’re a bit different: the seed pods will burst on their own, releasing seeds that resemble dandelion fluff. These tiny seeds can be germinated on moist mesh or spaghnum moss. The resulting baby air plants are incredibly tiny and fragile!
If you have any more questions about propagating Bromeliads or if you’d like to share your own experiences with multiplying these popular houseplants, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. 🌱
Kessler, M., & Krömer, T. (2000). Patterns and ecological correlates of pollination modes among bromeliad communities of Andean forests in Bolivia. Plant Biology, 2(06), 659-669.