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How To Grow Bromeliads

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No matter which garden nursery I enter the first place my feet tend to take me is straight over to the section with all the Bromeliads and I'm ever so disappointed if the selection is dismal or even worse they do not stock them! How can one resist the bright colours, strange flowers and fascinating foliage not to mention the instant feel of the tropics.

Most people do not realise even the good old pineapple is a bromeliad, this is usually the first one most Top End gardeners start off with without even knowing it in fact the pineapple is the only bromeliad variety cultivated for food.

The bromeliad has been in the western world now for more than 300 years and was origionaly bought over by a Spanish explorer by the name of Christopher Columbus. The bromeliad was an instant hit and soon spread all over the world around the sixteenth century with other botanist subdividing and introducing new names at a rapid rate. By the nineteenth century there was so much interest in these plants that collectors started to travel to all parts of the glob in search for new plants then they would send them back home.

When I was reading about the history of these plants I found they actually have so much heritage behind them that it's well worth taking the time to read about these fascinating plants they have a very interesting story to tell.  One man that interest me was a Mr Mulford Foster who died in 1978, he had collected so many bromeliads that he was actually the one responsible for introducing more bromeliads than anyone one else in the world. He use to travel with his wife to South America to find and introduce new plants, I recall it was something like 200 or more so he took this business very seriously.

Unfortunately I couldn't read anywhere when bromeliads were actually introduced into Australia but varieties such as the Billbergia pyramidalis concolor have been growing in Australian gardens since the nineteenth century either way it's been a long time. Mr Charles Hodgson was the first Australian to have a specialist collection back in the 1930's and when the USA Bromeliad Society was formed in 1950 Charles was the first Australian Trustee. In 1963 the Australian Society was formed and from there our love for the bromeliad exploded growing each year even today.

Now that you know a little about where the bromeliad came from the rest gets very complicated, I have many books on bromeliads and still find out more information when reading newsletters, web pages and gardening shows as there are so many varieties however there are basically three subfamilies (Pitcairniodeae, Bromelioideae & Tillandsiodeae)

  • Pitcairnioideae- Has sixteen genera and subdivides into 1070 species
  • Bromelioideae -Has 31 Genera containing over 1140 species
  • Tillandsiodeae- Has  9 Genera and makes up the largest known bromeliads



Bromeliades can be grown all around Australia and will also grow indoors and in pots as long as they get light and good drainage. If your planting your bromeliads in the ground make sure the cup (centre of plant which holds the water) is upright it's such a simple task but all to often I see clients cups tilted and the poor bromeliad suffering. b2ap3_thumbnail_Bromeliade-Cup.jpg

Up here in the tropics we have one thing most bromeliads love and that's humidity and warmth but don't over water as they really don't like to be too wet, you will find the wet season will have an effect on your bromeliads in the ground.

Be careful when also fertilising as they don't like allot of this either (see very easy going plants.)

I was told by a local lady to just mix a little slow release fertiler in with the potting mix and that should be sufficient for the plants life time. When the pups start growing just once again apply a small amount of slow release fertiliser or i hear you can even use orchid fertiliser in a spray bottle and spray once every few months.

*Never fertilise directly into the cup



Your bromeliad takes water through the cup not the root system like most plants, your smart plant will use the reservoir of water when it needs it. In the wet season your bromeliads will comes to life with the best coloring as they love the rainwater over tap water which contains chemicals. The Bromeliades mounted and the ones in pots should do really well but those days where we get never ending rain you may need to just watch the ones in the ground (water logging.)

Tree mounting is a fun way to grow your bromeliads, start off with easy ones such as the minature neo's, you wont need to worry about the roots being covered only that the cup gets watered.

Lighting is an important factor, it's good to know which variety you have as some will grow better in more shaded areas and other with more light. As a general rule try to imagine the amount of sun light 50-70% shade cloth gives and find areas where the light reflects this environment. 



Your beloved bromliad will eventually die in about 1-2 years however pups will produce over the flowering period which is when its time to get propagating.

Pups will start at the base of the mother plant and will develop a small rosette shape (approx 1/3 the size of the mother plant), at this stage you can separate.

When you propagate this way its called the vegetative way and is by far the most fast and simple way to propagate. I have heard you can keep fertilising the mother plant with a mixture of diluted fertiliser and more pups will re produce however a experienced grower once told me its only the first lot of pups that the plant produces which are your strongest, the more pups the weaker they will eventually become. 

When separating the pup from the mother plant do not use any force, it should all be done with ease . You simply snap the pup off with a clean break, if you use force then your risking the pup snapping leaving its lower part still attached to the mother plant (I was always told to stick to using a saw edged knife which I still use today.) 

Once you have succeeded with your pups let them dry out for 24hours then plant in damp peat moss and sand, I also use my trusty old vermiculite but only during the wet season as it can be to drying in the dry season. One of my books also suggests another great method is to place the pups on a base of wet peat moss in a plastic pot so the pup is secure and wont move. Just rest the pup on the moss (do not bury it) I'm yet to try this way out but apparently it gives a fantastic strike rate.  b2ap3_thumbnail_pups.jpg

Note: Not all species will produce pups, some will seed to carry on the species so it's important when you do buy a plant you intend to propagate know the species your dealing with.


Pests & Diseases

I wish I had of read up on this topic long before my first bromeliad as I have lost a few in the past due to pests and disease issues and now I'm having a hard time finding the species I once had here in Darwin, looks like I might need to do some late night internet shopping.

Avoid using white oil or copper based fungicides or pesticides, if you must use oil rationale with vegetable oil as it will degrade easily without causing your plant problems.

  • Aphids- Use a strong jet hose to remove what you can and use of chemicals such as Bugmaster, Malathion, Fenthion/Lebaycid and pyrethrin.
  • Caterpillars- Remove any caterpillars seen to the eye by hand and then use some Dipel, if this wont make them budge try the Bugmaster or Permethrin.
  • Grasshoppers - Spray with Permethrin.
  • Mealy Bugs- Use Carbaryl, Rogor, Malathion or Lebaycid.
  • Fungus- This is what made my poor foliage deteriorate, remove effected foliage immediately as it will spread.
  • Crown Rot- If your center leaves are turning brown and start to decay drain the sour water off the plant and soak the plant in Dithane for 40mins. Let the plant dry for a day in the shade then give water once again.


  • Base Leaves are starting to brown- Possible over watering and poor drainage.
  • Leaves Wilting- Lack of water, poor drainage
  • Brown marks on leaves- Watering has been done possibly in direct sunlight, check the light intensity and maybe use of pesticide has caused by incorrect application.
  • Inner leaves sticking together- No water in cup (reservoir of plant), insufficient misting
  • Bottom leaves yellow- brown (dying)- Could be just a healthy plant that is shedding its older base leaves as it ages or insufficient nutrients.
  • Leaves elongated- Not enough sun light, too much nitrogen in your fertiliser


Bromeliad Varieties

There are so many that I think it's probably better if I link you to a great website which goes through many of the varieties. *warning its addictive once you start.

Bromeliad Varieties b2ap3_thumbnail_brom.jpg


Fun Facts

  • The Puya ramondii is the largest bromeliad in the world, foliage can reach 10 feet in height and 9 feet in width with infloresence reaching 30 feet tall 
  • The pineapple is the only bromeliad cultivated for food
  • Bromeliads do not have one typical flower, instead they have array of smaller flowers on spikes or inflorescenses or in rosette shapes
  • Most bromeliads will only bloom once in their life time
  • Sometimes called air plants as they do not root in the ground


Where to buy?

In Darwin most our local markets will sell bromeliades as well as our garden nurseries, price anywhere from $15- $100 depending on the type

There are also many internet mail order specialty sites where you have access to a bigger variety, these people are usually full of knowledge and very helpful as they deal with bromeliades day in and day out.




 'Giant Bromeliad'












©Kylie Stephens
in Gardening Hits: 36797
  • Guest
    Helen Tuesday, 17 November 2015

    Thank you for these excellent tips! I have to say I love your website. It is always easy to understand and covers what I have wanted to know on several occasions.

  • Guest
    Karen Saturday, 30 December 2017

    I am confused on which ones grow in full sun here in Cairns.

    I have a lot of the bright green ones and some darker ones with spots or other marks...

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Guest Sunday, 24 March 2019