Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 7/28/2006 9:45:31 PM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Bromeliads are a wonderful group of tropical or semi-tropical plants that are popular container plants. Because they are easy to grow, colorful and stay in bloom for a long time, they also are commonly used by florists as gift plants.
As a result, even people who are not familiar with bromeliads sometimes find themselves the owners of plants they do not know how to grow.
One of the most striking aspects of the life cycle of bromeliads is that, for most species, once they bloom they die. Don’t panic. They don’t do it right away. They usually stay attractive for an extended period even after the flowers have faded. Eventually, though, no new growth will be produced, and the plant gradually will become less attractive as it begins to die.
Before they die, however, most bromeliads will send up offshoots from their base. These small plants, or "pups," can be used to grow the next generation. The dictionary defines pups as the young of dogs or several other animals, but gardeners use the term to refer to offsets or plants that form at the base of certain plants, most notably bromeliads.
One plant generally produces several pups, so you usually end up with more bromeliads than you started out with. Pups can be separated from the original plant any time after they have grown to be about one-third the size of the original plant. This may be done before the original plant dies or even before it starts to become unattractive – or it can be done later.
If the original plant has grown unattractive and you intend to discard it after removing the pups, take everything out of the pot to make it easier to work with. Using a sharp knife or hand pruners, cut the pups from the original plant at the point where they are joined. It’s nice if the pups have some root development, but if they don’t, that’s OK. Pups will form their own roots after they are potted on their own.
If the original plant is still attractive, however, the separation can be done without taking the plant out of the pot. Simply use the knife to cut off the pups while the original plant is still in the pot. After the pups are removed, the original plant can continue to be grown in the pot until it becomes unattractive and is discarded.
Once the pups are separated they should be potted. Most bromeliads look better when they are grown as single specimens. Consider how the bromeliad was growing when you bought it or received it. If there was only one plant in the pot, then this generally will be the best way to grow the type you have.
For growing them individually, pot each pup in a small pot. (Generally a 3- or 4-inch pot is large enough.) Use a loose, fast-draining potting mix. Soilless mixes work well. You also could use a potting soil with some extra perlite or finely ground pine bark added for increased drainage.
If the plant was growing in a cluster when you got it, you may choose to continue to grow your bromeliads in a cluster. In this case, the pups are often left to grow all together in the same pot, and the original plant is simply cut out when it is dead. An alternative would be to remove the pups as directed above and pot them up individually to create more plants. Or you could move the group to another pot that gives them a fuller effect.
Since the newly potted pups will have a poorly developed root system – or none at all – you may need to support them initially. This can be done by placing two or three small stakes around the plant (chopsticks or pencils work well) until the plants are well established. Do not plant the pup too deep in an effort to support it. Bromeliads should only be planted up to the base of their lowest leaves.
While they are rooting, keep the plants in bright light but somewhat less than is provided to established plants. Keep the potting medium moist but not constantly wet, and if the bromeliad is one of those that forms a cup with its leaves, make sure you keep it filled with water. Once the pup is well rooted, provide it with more light.
Adequate light is critical to getting the plant that grows from the pup to eventually bloom. Blooming, with good care, generally will occur one to three years after separation from the original plant.
Most people have the best success getting a bromeliad to bloom when they put the plants outside during the warm months of April to October. A few hours of sun in the morning and shade the rest of the day seems to work well for many types of bromeliads. The abundant light, warmth and humidity encourage growth and make blooming more likely to occur.
It’s nice to know that when you buy a bromeliad or receive one as a gift, you can end up with more plants than you started out with – if all goes well.
This is one of the great joys of growing bromeliads and why they are so much fun to collect. You always have extras to share with friends or trade for new types. And dividing bromeliad pups is a great way to develop your plant propagation skills.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.