Deb Babcock: Bromeliads: exotic, easy-care houseplants

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

If you go

Because of high demand, another session of the seminar on vegetable gardening is offered to those who were unable to attend our first workshop.

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Steamboat Springs Community Center

Cost: $25, includes lunch

Call: 879-0825 to register

For dry, indoor environments we find in Steamboat Springs area homes, bromeliads particularly are suitable houseplants. Although most bromeliads are epiphytic (they grow on tree trunks or rocks in nature), they adapt well to living in containers as long as you give them proper light, water and soil. This plant also is widely considered a wonderful air filter for homes and offices. It removes toxins from the air and replaces them with fresh oxygen.

Because most bromeliads do not have a very extensive root system, it's not necessary to plant them deeply in a large pot. In fact, for many bromeliads, such as Tillandsia, the potting medium can be similar to that used for orchids : a mix of porous bark, twigs and sphagnum moss. A small pot with a little potting mixture is adequate.

Because these plants are used to obtaining their water and moisture from the air, and that air in a Steamboat home is pretty dry, you likely will need to moisten the plant roots a couple times a week to sustain a healthy plant. Don't let the roots sit in water, though, as that will cause the roots to rot, and the plant to die.

The best lighting for these plants comes from south, east or west-facing windows, or artificial light. Too little light will cause the plant to weaken. You can tell if the light is too low if the leaves turn abnormally dark; conversely, yellow or pale green leaves are an indication of too much sun exposure.

The Bromeliad Tillandsia often is found wired with sphagnum moss around its small roots to a slab of tree fern, cork bark, or even the fibrous shell of a coconut. Plants growing on slabs like this need to have their roots and leaves sprayed well with water every 1 to 2 days in our dry climate.

One way to ensure that the air around your bromeliad is moist enough, is to fill a shallow container with marbles or stones, water halfway up the level of stones and sit the pot containing your bromeliad on top, ensuring that it is not sitting down into the water.

During the growing period, fertilize the plants with half-strength fertilizer every month.

Unfortunately, once a bromeliad flowers, it will slowly die. You can prolong the life by cutting off the bloom as far down the spike as you can, and then care for it as usual. The plant likely will sprout some new shoots, called pups, which eventually may be removed and replanted. In one to three years, the pup may bloom.

For color, exotic foliage and air purifying qualities, bromeliads are wonderful houseplants.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825.

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