Photo - Sanmongkhol/Shutterstock.com
Graham has discovered the brilliance of bromeliads.
Now he's keen to make up for lost time and introduce you to the all-year-round splendour of these easy care show-stopping sensations.
Bromeliads are members of a plant family known as Bromeliaceae with over 2700 described species in approximately 56 genera. The most well known bromeliad is the pineapple. The family contains a wide range of plants including some very un-pineapple like members such as Spanish Moss (which is neither Spanish nor a moss).
Other members resemble aloes or yuccas while still others look like green, leafy grasses. Billbergias were the first bromeliads I ever came across. As a teenager, I soon realised how easy they were to grow, multiplying by the dozen with striking flowers, despite them receiving little-to-no care. I was in for a shock later in life when I discovered there were so many eye-catching members of the bromeliad family. How did it come about? Well, several years ago, Linda introduced me to Bob Christophel, Australia's acknowledged Bromeliad Man. Bob was an expert grower, breeder and collector of bromeliads, who was supplying high-quality bromeliads for the gardens Linda was designing for Channel Seven's garden makeover show, GroundForce. Bob became a dear friend and fostered my curiosity for these epiphytic beauties. I released their importance as colourful focal plants – accent plants that remained accents all year around.
Glowing splashes of hardy tropical colour. Silver falls of Spanish moss. Photo - Moolkum/Shutterstock.com
In general they are inexpensive, easy to grow, require very little care, and reward the grower with brilliant, long lasting blooms and ornamental foliage. They come in a wide range of sizes from tiny miniatures to giants. They can be grown indoors in cooler climates and can also be used outdoors in temperate areas. With few exceptions, the flower stalk is produced from the centre of the rosette. With rare exceptions, bromeliads only flower a single time. Once the plant stops producing leaves and produces its flower, it will not start making leaves again. It will, however, vegetatively produce new plantlets called "offsets" or "pups". These plants will feed of the "mother" plant until they are large enough to set roots of their own and survive as a separate plant. The mother may sometimes survive a generation or two before finally dying off. Pups are usually produced near the base of the plant - inside the sheath of a leaf. Sometimes, however, pups may be produced on long stolons or at the top of the flower spike of the mother plant. The green, leafy top of a pineapple is in fact a pup that may be removed and planted to start a new plant.
Guzmannia. Photo - ntdanai/Shutterstock.com
In my book, there is a bromeliad for every garden. These stunning plants are suitable for cool or hot gardens, tropical or temperate, sun or shade, indoors or out, in pots or in the garden, even growing up in the fork of tree branches. And today, their colourful leaves are breathtaking to behold – a brilliant backbone to the subtropical garden. So what are you waiting for?
When to plant
Bromeliads are not seasonal plants and will grow all year round. They are not dependent on a certain temperature or air humidity to thrive, and can tolerate freezing winter conditions as well as sticky summer days. At the extremes, humidity can affect and alter the appearance of the foliage, changing its texture and colour.
How to plant
The roots of a bromeliad are purely for balance, as the leaves of the plant provide all the nutrients, food and water it needs. There's no need to prepare soil as the best way to plant a bromeliad is to place the plant, pot and all, inside a gravel-lined hole in the ground. Simply mulch the surface with pebbles and you've planted your bromeliad before you've even had time to get thirsty.
Where to grow
Bromeliads can be grown in pots, in the garden, in greenhouses, on balconies, indoors or mounted on a tree or piece of wood. Many bromeliads don't need full sunlight and in fact, grow better in shady spots – that's why they're so successful under big trees. As a general rule, soft-leaf bromeliads like more shade than the hard-leaf varieties. Four giant varieties that love full- to part-sun include Weraughia sanguinolenta 'Rubra', Neoregelia 'Alan Freeman' Hybrids, Neoregelia 'Gee Whiz', Neoregelia cruenta 'Rubra' – broad leaf form. There are also several varieties that thrive in cool tropical zones. Make sure you ask which conditions will best suit your bromeliad. And if you stick your bromeliad inside, make sure you take it out for some air to refresh it every week.
Spanish moss grows from trees and feeds from air. Photo - Moolkum/Shutterstock.com
Bromeliads cannot live on air alone and need to be fertilised occasionally. Feed them with a spray of quarter-strength Seasol or Aquasol no more than twice a year. Never fertilise a bromeliad during winter and always water lightly, just before fertilisation.
Over-watering a bromeliad is just about one of the only ways to kill it. Bromeliads are not thirsty plants and filling the centre of them with water will cause the plant to rot. Instead, read your plant. If your bromeliad looks dry, water it, if it doesn't, leave it alone.
Simply cut off any damaged bits on the leaves of your bromeliad, by following the natural shape of the leaf. Cutting like this has no consequences for the plant, and the surgery will be unnoticeable.
How to keep pests away
Bromeliads are a durable species, rarely bothered by pests. Don't use pesticides, as they tend to smother the plants' breathing pores. Over-watering bromeliads and bad ventilation can be a welcoming atmosphere for some bugs, so regulate watering to avoid any pests. Scale insects can be simply wiped away. Because bromeliads breathe through their leaves, do not use white oil as it will suffocate them. Fungal rot is a potential problem, but it is easy to avoid - just use the correct potting mix (pine bark) and don't over water.
Aechmea, Vriesia grow from trucks and branches. Photo - Ratana21/Shutterstock.com
The dramatic flowers of a bromeliad will last for at least six months. A plant's flowering season depends on the age of the plant and not the time of the year. The offspring created by a flowering bromeliad, will develop as the mother plant ages, and eventually take over. This means that your plant will be constantly in bloom, with old and new flowers.
Crotons have brilliantly coloured foliage and look superb en masse in frost-free coastal locations. For height and colour look to hardy mother-in-laws-tongue,
Sansevieria, and the strappy-leaved dianella (D. 'Border Gold', 'Border Silver and 'Border Emerald') are perfect for dry shade and will grow to about
60cm. Clivea love the same dappled shade conditions and the range of hot colours in orange, yellow and tangerine go well with the bright foliage of
the broms. As will Brunnera 'Jack Frost', Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender' and the colourful coleus.
Plant notes - some more information about our favourite broms
Common name: Giant Alcantarea
Plant name: Alcantarea imperialis
Description: A giant broad-leafed bromeliad that forms a huge rosette of steel-grey foliage with a ruby red reverse.
Size: Height 1.5m, width 1m.
Special comments: Spectacular foliage colours make bromeliads the perfect companion for coleus and clivea. Grow directly in pine bark to keep them well-drained. We grow this in pots and frogs live in the water inside the well.
The enormous flower spike of the Alcantera. Photo - Linda Ross
Common name: Flaming Sword
Plant name: Vriesia
Description: The plants bear interesting and varied foliage and sword-like, eye-catching flowers. They are easy to grow and are a good bromeliad for beginners.
Size: Height 50cm, width 50cm.
Special comments: When potting, don't forget that the leaves hold water, so it's important to keep the central cup upright or it will tip all over you.
Common name: Vase or Urn Plant
Plant name: Aechmea
Description: One of the best known of these plants is Aechmea fasciata, or 'Silver King', which has long-lasting, pretty pink flowers and is often used as an indoor plant.
Size: Height 40cm, width 40cm.
Special comments: Division is the easiest method of propagation: wait until the offsets or pups are about 15cm in size then cut them away from the mother plant with a sharp knife and re-pot into pine bark.
Common name: Heart of Flame
Plant name: Neoregelia
Description: Many hybrids are very colourful and easy to grow. They are epiphytic bromeliads, which have blue or white flowers, and various red spots and markings on the leaves.
Size: Height 1.5m, width 1m.
Special comments: Good indoor plants, but they need to be freshened up with a spell outside every now and again.
Common name: Flaming Torch
Plant name: Billbergia
Description: There are around 60 species of billbergia; all are colourful and well-suited to growing in the garden around the base of trees. They clump up quickly to form good flower displays, although the flower spike on some species is short-lived.
Size: Height 1.5m, width 1m.
Special comments: Foliar feed every spring.
Did you know?
Frogs often live in the central well of bromeliads; we've had frogs living in our broms for years. Mother frogs will deposit one tadpole into each well, giving them enough room to grow into adults on their own.
Bromeliads are in the same family as pineapples! Around 500 years ago, Christopher Columbus spotted the pineapple being cultivated in the West Indies and brought it back to Europe.
Bromeliads come from the southern states of North America to as far south as Argentina. They grow in a range of climates from the mountains to the sea, the deserts to the tropics; there is a bromeliad for every situation.
Hello big eyes! Photo - Jeff McGraw/Shutterstock.com