ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN
This greenish gray specimen has an exquisite bloom.
When we visit garden centres and see some rather exotic looking plants, we may be slightly intimidated and hesitate to buy them because we lack experience growing them. We might think that we will not have the expertise to look after these exotic plants properly.
This bromeliad features a unique flower.
(ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
The edges of some bromeliads have sharply serrated edges. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Even without a bloom, a bromeliad is a unique foliage plant. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Some bromeliads produce quite tall flower stalks. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
The fact that such plants are more readily available has gone a long way to assuage such doubts; for example, few indoor gardeners grew orchids a decade ago but they are so readily available now that it is unusual to find an indoor gardener who is not growing at least one orchid.
The same thing might happen in connection with another exotic plant that seems to be much more common in the marketplace recently — the bromeliad.
Bromeliads certainly fit the bill when the term exotic is applied, because of their striking tropically coloured foliage.
The stiff spear-like leaves emerge from a rosette and are often striped or marbled; there are exotic-looking marbled-green varieties, red-striped specimens as well as greenish gray types, all very unusual in appearance.
It is a foregone conclusion, then, that a bromeliad will be a focal point or display plant in the interior landscape. No other plants need be included in a display, as a bromeliad will stand on its own to provide colour and interest.
Despite their label as "exotic", caring for bromeliads is not that difficult although they do have a couple of specific requirements.
Firstly, these plants usually are purchased when they are in bloom.
Bromeliads require bright light and it is difficult to get them to bloom indoors unless enough light is provided. Buying a plant that has just come into bloom will ensure that the bloom is enjoyed for two to three months; bromeliads are slow-growing plants with a slow metabolism and the blooms are very long lasting.
Even when in bloom, provide a bromeliad with as much light as possible, perhaps by placing it in front of a sunny window. Bromeliads tolerate a wide range of temperatures, from 15 to 30 degrees, so ordinary household temperatures will suit them just fine.
Although common thought might be to water the plant by pouring water into the cup formed by the rosette of leaves, this might not be the best way to water a bromeliad when grown as a houseplant indoors. The water in the cup might cause the flower stalk to rot, as the water will be slow to evaporate indoors.
When grown outdoors, enough heat and evaporation are available to evaporate the water in the cup quickly. The plant likes the cup to completely dry before more water is poured into it, so if you choose to water the plant by pouring water into the cup, allow the water to dry up before adding more.
Only put a cup or less of water into the cup at any one time. If you choose to water the cup, then you do not need to water the soil as bromeliads are air plants that take most of the moisture they need directly from the air by utilizing special plant cells on the undersides of their leaves.
The plants are potted simply to hold them in place and are usually potted in a very porous, coarse mix that provides excellent drainage. If watered from the bottom, a bromeliad must be provided with excellent drainage or the roots will rot.
Bromeliads require very little fertilizer. Perhaps every few months you might give it a weak solution but generally, the plant will survive quite well without being fertilized.
Bromeliads will only bloom once; then it dies. Before it dies, however, it will produce some pups or offshoots around the perimeter of the rosette of leaves.
If you choose to propagate your bromeliad, let these pups grow for about six months, at which time they will be about one-third as large as the parent plant. At this time, they can be removed from the parent plant and potted up, while the parent plant can be discarded.
It will take two years at least before you can expect the new plant to bloom and if it is grown indoors, it may not bloom at all or take much longer to bloom. If you do not have that much patience or the facilities to handle the propagation process, you might choose to treat the plant as a disposable plant and buy a new one that is already in bloom.
Putting the new plant outdoors for the summer might encourage bloom the second year. A bromeliad will gradually lose some of the intense foliage colour if it is grown in insufficient light — putting it outdoors during the growing season will recapture some of the colour
Adding an exotic bromeliad to the indoor garden is an interesting project during the winter and will provide exotic colour and interest until spring arrives. Caring for a bromeliad is not that difficult, so do not be deterred by its exotic appearance.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 14, 2013