One of the most striking aspects of the life cycle of bromeliads is that, for most species, after 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, the plant will produce no new growth and it gradually will become less attractive as it begins to die.
Before they die 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 some plants, most notably bromeliads.
One plant generally produces several pups, so you usually end up with more bromeliads than you started with. Pups are separated from the original plant any time after they have grown to be about one-third the size of the parent plant. This may be done before the original plant dies or has even become unattractive.
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 parent plant at the point where they are joined. Ideally the pups will have some root development, but if they don’t, that’s OK. Pups will form their own roots after they are potted.
If the original plant is still attractive, this separation can be done without taking the plant out of the pot. Simply use the knife to cut off the pups while the parent plant is still in the pot. After the pups are removed, the original plant can continue to grow 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. Look at how the bromeliad was growing when you bought it. If there was only one plant in the pot, then this generally will be the best way to grow the type you have.
Pot each pup individually in a small pot (generally a three- or four-inch pot is large enough). Use a loose, fast-draining potting mix. You could also 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 bromeliad 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 individually to create more plants – or plant them all together for a fuller effect.
Since the newly potted pups will have poorly developed root systems 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 they are well-established. Do not plant the pup too deep in an effort to support it. Bromeliads should only be planted no deeper than the base of their lowest leaves.
While they are rooting, keep the plants in bright light but somewhat less than what 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 get 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 parent plant. Most people have the best success getting bromeliads 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, if all goes well, you will end up with more plants than you started with. 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.
For more information, contact Dr. Chris Robichaux, county agent/area horticulturist, St. Martin/Iberia Parishes, at 332-2181 or 369-4440.