June 17, 2024

When and How to Propagate Bromeliads

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Bromeliads are popular houseplants or garden specimens and they produce offset for easy propagation. Learn how to propagate bromeliads now on Gardener's Path.

A close up vertical image of a variety of different bromeliads growing in pots indoors. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

It almost feels like bromeliads are begging you to propagate them.

They send out little miniature plants or “pups” that look just like the adults. They reproduce so readily that they don’t even need you to help them, they’ll do it themselves.

Your job is mostly to move the offsets to a different container, if that’s what you want.

A close up vertical image of a variety of different bromeliads growing in pots indoors. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.A close up vertical image of a variety of different bromeliads growing in pots indoors. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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Obviously, I’m making the process sound a bit easier than it is, but only a little. It’s mostly a matter of timing plus a dash of patience.

Whether your bromeliad’s lifecycle is almost over and its sending out offshoots or you just want to give those ever-present young pups their own place to root, here’s what we’ll talk about to help you propagate bromeliads:

What You’ll Learn

  • The Bromeliad Lifecycle
  • Separating Pups
  • Sowing Seeds

In this guide, we’re going to focus on propagating pups, but you can also propagate bromeliads from seed that you collect from spent flowers.

A close up horizontal image of a Cryptanthus bromeliad with an offshoot to the side of it pictured on a dark background.A close up horizontal image of a Cryptanthus bromeliad with an offshoot to the side of it pictured on a dark background.

The risk of starting from seed is that many bromeliads on the market are hybrids, and seeds from hybrids might be sterile, or they won’t grow true to the parent plant.

That means you have no way of knowing what the new plant will look like. It might be smaller, larger, a different color, less hardy, have smaller flowers, or a number of other differences.

First, let’s start by talking about how the bromeliad lifecycle works.

The Bromeliad Lifecycle

Plants that bloom once and then die are known as monocarpic.

Bromeliads, agave, and some other succulents are monocarpic perennials, which means they can live for years, but once they flower, they die.

Once the bromeliad blooms, it moves all its resources to support the flowers and seeds.

Bromeliad flowers can last for months or even up to a year, which means they take up a lot of resources for a long time. As a result, the rest of the plant starts to fade, turn brown, and die.

A close up horizontal image of a red flower stalk of Aechmea bromeliad growing in a pot indoors.A close up horizontal image of a red flower stalk of Aechmea bromeliad growing in a pot indoors.

All is not lost, however. Even though the parent plant will die after the flowers fade, it will send out offshoots known as pups, and the circle of life continues.

You can remove these bromeliad pups, pot them up, and have a new plant growing happily in no time.

The pups aren’t like seeds, as they are genetic clones of the parent and will grow up to look the same. So, in a way, even though the parent plant is dying, it will continue to grow.

Many bromeliads will also put out offshoots before they bloom. These can be propagated whenever they are present. There’s no need to wait for the plant to flower and die.

To learn more about how to care for bromeliads as they bloom, please read our guide.

Separating Pups

Examine your bromeliad and identify the larger pups or offsets closest to the soil rather than those that are higher on the stem.

The ones at the soil line will usually have some of their own roots, but those that grow solely attached to the stem might not.

You may need to lift up the lower leaves and poke around to locate the pups as they tend to hide down at the base of the parent plant.

A close up vertical image of a Tillandsia plant putting out an offshoot, pictured on a gray soft focus background.A close up vertical image of a Tillandsia plant putting out an offshoot, pictured on a gray soft focus background.

Okay, so here is my top tip: Let the bromeliad pups grow as large as they can before you remove them.

If you can let them grow to a third or half of the parent’s size, that’s ideal. This doesn’t always happen, especially if your bromeliad has finished flowering and is fading rapidly.

But don’t snip off the baby plant when it’s too small. If you take an inch-tall pup off a plant that is a foot tall at maturity, the chances that it will survive the whole process and grow new roots are slim.

A close up vertical image of a gardener removing a small offshoot from a pink and brown variegated bromeliad growing in a pot,A close up vertical image of a gardener removing a small offshoot from a pink and brown variegated bromeliad growing in a pot,

When you have identified a good-sized pup near the base of your plant, grab your clean knife or a pair of pruners.

I use a mushroom knife because sometimes you need to use the tip of the knife to work into the spot between the pup and the mother to pry it loose. Once you nudge them apart a little, you can use the edge of the knife to slice the offshoot away.

Even if you don’t go mushroom hunting, it’s always handy to have one in your toolkit.

I keep one like this Hanziup folding mushroom knife, available at Amazon, in both my car and my garden shed.

Hanziup Folding Mushroom Knife

My philosophy when removing an offshoot is to protect the new plant, not the mother. She’s on her way out, anyway. Sorry, girl!

That means if the plants are clinging together stubbornly, you can use your knife to slice away some of the mother’s roots and stems to come with the offshoot rather than the other way around.

Once they’re separated, rinse the roots with room temperature water. Set the bromeliad pup on a paper towel in an area out of direct sunlight for 24 hours and allow it to form a callus.

If you’re potting the offset in soil, fill a container with loose, airy potting soil. My go-to is to mix half standard potting mix with half fine orchid bark.

Aim to use a fairly small container. Most pups should be in a pot that is about four inches in diameter to start. Larger pots with a high volume of potting soil are prone to retaining excess water, which can lead to root rot.

I swear by FoxFarm’s Ocean Forest potting mix.

It has earthworm castings, bat guano, fish meal, forest humus, sandy loam, and sphagnum moss in a combination that every plant seems to love.

FoxFarm Ocean Forest

Grab a one and a half cubic foot via Amazon and combine it with some orchid bark like this product made by Legigo, which comes in two, four, six, eight, ten, or 12 quart bags at Amazon.

Orchid Bark

Set the offshoot into the soil with just the top of the roots covered. None of the leaves should be buried. Water the medium well and top off with a bit more potting medium if it settles.

If you want to grow your epiphytic bromeliad species as it would in nature and you live in the right climate, you can attach the pup to a tree.

To do this, take the pup and hold it securely against the tree on a lower branch with at least a foot of space between branches.

Use twine or a zip tie to secure it to the tree. Keep it moist by spraying it or drizzling water over the roots in the absence of rain.

Sowing Seeds

Starting from seed is much less successful and time-consuming than propagating pups and, as a result, much less common.

Remember, seeds you collect might be sterile and even if they’re viable they won’t grow true.

There are only a few bromeliads that are self-pollinating, so if you’re growing yours indoors and don’t have two specimens to allow you to manually pollinate, your plant might not even grow any fertile seeds.

Bromeliads growing outdoors are probably fine to collect seeds from because hummingbirds, bats, and bees will pollinate the flowers.

But if you aren’t worried about what you end up growing – or if you end up with anything at all – then propagating by seed can be a fun project to play around with.

A close up vertical image of a spent flower and seed pods of a Vriesea bromeliad growing outdoors.A close up vertical image of a spent flower and seed pods of a Vriesea bromeliad growing outdoors.
Photo by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

To collect seeds, wait until the flower goes to seed and turns brown. Take the flower head and rub it between your hands to release the seeds. You can remove the flower to do this or leave it on the plant.

You’ll need to sow them right away because the seeds won’t keep for very long. If you need to store them for a few weeks, put them in an envelope and place them in a cool, dark spot.

Once you’ve collected your seeds, find one of those clear plastic take-out containers with a lid that soups or salads come in.

You can also use a standard potting container or tray so long as you have some plastic or a cloche to cover it with. The seeds need lots of moisture, humidity, and temperatures between 70 and 80°F to germinate.

Fill your chosen container with a clean, sterile, soilless potting mixture. Place it outside in direct sunlight for at least two hours to kill any pathogens.

Then, sprinkle a little sphagnum peat moss in a thin layer on top of the medium. This will prevent the pathogens that cause damping off from killing your seedlings.

Moisten the medium thoroughly so that it is moist but not soaking wet.

Sprinkle the seeds on top of the moss, saturate with water from a spray bottle, and cover with a humidity dome or clear plastic.

If you want to be precise, you should place two seeds every half inch or so, but since the seeds have low germination rates, I just sprinkle them randomly so that a seed falls about every quarter inch.

Place in bright, indirect light, and keep the soil moist by gently watering the surface of the soil. Spray once a day to increase the humidity.

Within three weeks, the seeds should have germinated. If they haven’t sprouted by this point, it’s likely that they won’t.

Once the seedlings emerge, remove the cover and continue to keep the medium moist.

When the seedlings are about two or three inches tall, you can pot them up into individual containers and take care of them as detailed in our guide to growing bromeliads.

You Can Never Have Too Many Puppies

When your bromeliad sends out pups, it’s game on. Your plant is ready to start over again, since it’s dying, and all you need to do is remove those offshoots and give them their own space.

Of course, growing from seed you’ve saved is an adventure and you never know where you’ll end up.

A close up horizontal image of the colorful foliage and tiny flowers of a variegated bromeliad growing outdoors in the garden.A close up horizontal image of the colorful foliage and tiny flowers of a variegated bromeliad growing outdoors in the garden.

What kind of bromeliad are you growing? Has it flowered and you’re looking for ways to keep it going? Let us know in the comments section below!

If you’d like more knowledge about propagating houseplants, we have several guides that might be of interest, including:

  • How to Propagate Houseplants from Stem and Leaf Cuttings
  • Propagating Spider Plant Babies: 3 Methods to Root Spiderettes
  • Houseplant Propagation for Beginners

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