There is much about bromeliads to be fascinated about. The excitement of blooms, followed by pups to create new blooms. Each genus and species have unique characteristics. Textured leaves, variegated patterns and plenty of color vibrancy once they flower.
And they should be flowering. It takes a long time though. On average, you should be expecting bromeliads to bloom after one year to 18-months.
Some varieties can take longer, but by a year and a half of good bromeliad care, it’s time to take a close look at why it may not be blooming, and consider what you can do to make a bromeliad bloom.
Without intervening, bromeliads dying before producing pups is a possibility.
First thing to know though….
Bromeliads Do Not Rebloom
You can make multiple plants rebloom. This is not one of those. These plants only bloom once, then produce offsets (pups) which will bloom eventually, but only when it is ready.
Depending on the variety, it could take it three years before it is ready to bloom. After it does, more pups are produced, then those need to be nurtured until they are ready to bloom.
Your job is to build up their energy reserves. The more energy they store up, the sooner bromeliads bloom.
The speed of blooming can be sped up naturally or chemically. The organic method is placing the plant in a plastic bag alongside a ripe apple for up to three days. When the apple ripens, it releases ethylene gas. That’s what forces bromeliads to bloom (more on that process to follow).
Even at that though, it really is only coaxing the plant to bloom.
Expect Commercially Grown Bromeliads to Take Longer to Bloom
Commercial greenhouse growers use ethylene gas to promote flowering on ornamental bromeliads. You can try this yourself. It is not needed, and can actually be worse because the plant may be forced into blooming before it is entirely ready. Blooms may not last as long.
When bromeliads bloom, the flowers can stay vibrant for 3 to 6 months. Then the flowers on bromeliads turn brown and die. Before they do, they produce pups and it is those that need to be nourished for the new plant to bloom again.
These will not bloom until they are ready. They are only ready once matured. That can take a year, two or three on some species.
How soon bromeliads bloom depends on the care they get.
Commercial growers use ethylene gas, mainly products containing Florel® brand plant growth regulator. Florel® is just the brand name. The active ingredient in it is Ethephon. Ethephon is the liquid form that changes to ethylene gas.
Since commercial growers or the retailers selling them are interested (mostly) in selling the plants, chances are high that a growth regulator has been used to force a bromeliad to bloom.
People don’t buy these for the green leaves. They want the bright colors from the flowers that the garden centers have forced the plants to bloom.
When that is the case, the likelihood is that the pups will take longer to bloom. It is unlikely they will have the same energy levels as a bromeliad left until it was naturally ready to bloom – once the energy reserves were built up in the mother plant.
If you are at the stage of contemplating forcing a bromeliad to bloom by using chemical manipulation, make sure all other growing conditions are spot-on because even using a plant growth regulator will not make a bromeliad bloom that simply isn’t capable. They need to be matured and healthy to bloom – chemically or organically.
What Bromeliads Need to Bloom Naturally
1 – Plenty of Sunlight Is Mission Critical
To have any chance of a bromeliad blooming, it needs to get lots of sunlight. Indirect light. Not direct as that will burn them. Even if the sunlight is not strong enough to burn the foliage, but just too hot for the leaves, it will stress the plant.
Stressed plants struggle for survival let alone bloom.
And without making a bromeliad bloom, you won’t get any pups. Bad times! Without the offspring, the plant withers and dies without leaving behind some offspring to bloom again. It’s game over.
Top Tip: Get the lighting right!
2 – Tropical Temperatures Are a Necessity
Bromeliads are tropical plants. Sub-tropical at best. The optimal temperatures needed are between 60 to 80-degrees Fahrenheit. That is dependent on the species though. There are thousands. 75 genera, and 2,700+ species. Each have adapted to different habitats.
Sometimes, they naturally grow on the forest floor under the canopy of trees, others favor rocks, others have adapted to growing in soil in potted containers.
Outdoor bromeliads are mostly only suited to USDA hardiness zones 9 and 10 where the average “extreme” minimal temperature may reach 30oF. For most of the time, temperatures remain steady above 40oF and closer to 50oF. Bromeliads struggle below 50oF.
Below 50oF is when the risk of the bromeliad dying is highest. They absolutely need heat.
Unless your area has a tropical climate, indoor growing or using a greenhouse is the better option.
When bromeliads struggle to bloom, it will be because something is not right with the growing conditions. The lack of heat is a common culprit.
3 – Air Circulation Gets the Essential Carbon Dioxide to the Plant
Crowded plants of any variety rarely do well. Bromeliads are no exception. Especially since they are large green leaved plants. Without good air movement, photosynthesis is inhibited.
All green leave plants need light and co2 for photosynthesis. It’s how the plant makes food. They simply cannot survive without carbon dioxide. Without sufficient light and air intake, it will not have enough energy to bloom.
If you are confident that your bromeliad is getting sufficient light, consider the air flow surrounding the plant. If there is a lack of air movement, the plant will be struggling for energy.
Place multiple plants too close together, air movement slows down, carbon dioxide levels decrease, then the plant struggles.
Put some distance between your plant collection.
4 – Low Localized Humidity Levels Prevents Bromeliads from Blooming
Being a tropical plant that derives most of its nutrients from the air, bromeliads rely on moisture. Dry air does them no good.
The optimal humidity levels ought to be between 40% and 60%. Never below 40%. That is localized humidity. If the relative room humidity is 40%, you can guarantee that the local humidity (moisture content in the air directly around the plant) is lower.
Your best bet for these is using a small portable humidifier closer to the plant to increase local humidity. That way the plant benefits from the increased humidity levels, but not so high a room humidity that makes it uncomfortable for you to be in the same room.
Alternatively, keep it in a room that naturally has a higher level of moisture, such as a bathroom or kitchen. Just be sure that the lighting conditions are sufficient too. Don’t swap one problem for another.
You don’t need a humidity meter to know if low humidity is an issue. The plant signals the problem. Yellowing or browning leaves on bromeliads is a known symptom of low humidity.
So too are bromeliad leaves curling inward. Watch how your plant reacts when you water it. It can keep you right.
5 – Feeding Bromeliads a Nitrogen-Rich Fertilizer Prevents Blooming
Bromeliads fed too much nitrogen will take longer to bloom. Nitrogen promotes growth. Potassium promotes flowering.
While the plant is growing, bromeliads grow fast when fed with a high amount of nitrogen. Keep it up when they may be ready to bloom, they will continue to grow faster, putting out more pups, but all are unlikely to flower.
Bromeliads in their growth stage do well with a balanced fertilizer diluted to a quarter strength, then switching to a lower nitrogen content such as an NPK 10-20-20 fertilizer when it is ready to bloom. You can go slightly lower on the phosphorous level, and really low on nitrogen.
Increase the potassium levels to promote flowering. Unless the nitrogen levels are reduced, bromeliads will continue focusing their energy on growth instead of blooming.
Once the blooms start dying off, the mother and pup can go back to higher nitrogen fertilizers to put them all into a faster growth cycle.
Top Tip: Use the right fertilizers at the right time to help the plant perform its best.
6 – Match the Soil Blend to the Climate the Bromeliad Is Growing In
Ready-mixed potting soils are available aplenty, but they are not always the way to go with bromeliads. The type of soil you use on an indoor container grown bromeliad needs to match the humidity levels available.
In general, all soils should be fast draining. How fast depends on the moisture level in your home.
For homes with dry air, moisture retention in the soil would be helpful. Otherwise, it will dry out too fast.
Mixes that have sphagnum moss retain some moisture, and also increases the soil acidity… something that is important for bromeliads as the preference is to have a pH level of 5.0 to 6.0.
As bromeliads get the bulk of the nutrients from air, perlite ought to be in the mix too. That adds aeration in the soil. Terracotta pots are porous, so that again, adds to air movement within the soil, and lends an assist at faster drainage.
Provided the soil mix is right for the plant, bromeliads need little water. Once a week is all that should be needed.
If you are finding your soil drying out within a few days, check the humidity levels are around 50%, and the soil mix has perlite for aeration and other ingredients that can hold some moisture.
Ideally, the plant will get the bulk of water through its leaves from the humidity in the room. The soil should be an anchor for the roots and a reserve for additional trace elements from the fertilizer.
It is better for it to dry out between watering, but not to the extent that you need to add water every few days. If you do find that is required, it will be the humidity that is too low.
Use the checks above to confirm you have met the plant’s care requirements. If those are all in place, the plant should be able to bloom naturally. Failing that, you can try the ‘apple in the bag’ approach, or apply a plant growth regulator that contains Ethephon.
Explainer: The Apple in a Bag Trick to Make a Bromeliad Bloom
- Ethylene gas is the chemical that triggers the blooming process in bromeliads. Many fruits produce this during decomposition. Apples are the most common.
- To use the process naturally, you need a large enough clear plastic bag to cover the plant. It needs to be clear so as not to block sunlight.
- Cut apple slices and place them in the bag, but not on the plant. As the apple slices begin to decompose, ethylene gas is released.
- The bag gets filled with some air, then tied to create an enclosed environment. Like a terrarium.
- By trapping the ethylene gas inside the clear bag, the plant has longer to absorb it.
- Leave it in the bag for a few days, then take it out and the blooming process should begin.
As you can see from the video below, this is not new, and guides you visually through coaxing a bromeliad to bloom.