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Growing a bromeliad

Over the last few years I have noticed bromeliads offered for sale more and more in garden centres as blooming pot plants. These unusual plants are familiar to those folks who take winter holidays in warm locations where they are used extensively in outdoor landscapes. They are popular in these locales because they are easy-care plants that are remarkably resilient and quite drought tolerant — and many sunny spots that tourists visit during the winter are deserts.

In Manitoba, however, bromeliads are sold as flowering potted plants. The foliage is also part of the attraction as it is often variegated or striped and several colours are usually evident on the leaves. The leaves are leathery, tough and are sword shaped, slightly pendulous and form a rosette around the centre of the plant. From the centre emerges the flower stalk that then generally rises well above the leaves to put on a spectacular display.

The flower will last for two to three months, and during this time you should try to give the plant bright light — it will even take direct sunlight coming through a window at this time of year. Bromeliads are called “air plants” as they obtain most of their nutrients and water from the air due to some specialized cells on the undersides of their leaves. For this reason, the soil in which the plant is growing can be kept quite dry, although it does not hurt the plant to have some moisture in the soil.

There should be a bit of water kept in the cup formed by the rosette of leaves in the middle of the plant, but not too much or the leaf bases may rot. Keep the leaves clean by wiping them periodically with a damp cloth. Be careful as some varieties have leaves with very sharp edges! Some of the bright colouration in the leaves might fade if the plant receives too little light.

Once the bromeliad bloom fades, it should be removed. The plant will gradually wither and die as a bromeliad will not rebloom. The plant’s demise will be a gradual process that may take upwards of six months. For some of this time the plant will remain an attractive foliage plant. During this period, the plant will develop “pups” or offshoots around its base and after the parent plant has died these pups can be potted up to become new plants. The pups will take about six months to develop to a size ready to pot up. Discard the old parent plant.

It is very difficult to get a bromeliad to bloom indoors because it will not get enough light. If possible, put the new plants outdoors for the summer; bring them indoors for another winter, and if you put them outside the following year they may very well produce flower stalks. It takes about two years for new plants to develop bloom. If you don’t want to go to all this trouble, enjoy your bromeliad while it is in bloom, then treat it as a disposable plant and discard it after the bloom has faded and the leaves are no longer attractive. By this time it will have given you several months of pleasure.

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