Bromeliad blooms are often as long-lasting as they are vivid, often giving you months of beautiful color. They do eventually fade and wither, though, at which point you have a choice to make. Should you leave them in place or remove them? This article will explain why it’s a good idea to deadhead a Bromeliad bloom once it’s past its prime, as well as how to do it successfully.
It’s best to remove a Bromeliad bloom once the color becomes dull and the bracts (colorful leaves) start wilting. This allows the plant to redirect its energy toward creating pups. To deadhead a Bromeliad bloom, cut the flower stalk with clean shears as close to the base as possible.
Leaving the flower spike in place won’t hurt anything, but it won’t do you any good, either. A Bromeliad bloom will never return to its former glory. All it will do is continue to drain energy and nutrients from the rest of the plant. You’re better off discarding it as soon as it no longer looks good to you.
Will a Bromeliad Rebloom if You Deadhead It?
In most flowering plants, the purpose of deadheading — clipping off spent flowers — is to encourage the plant to blossom again. Unfortunately, this won’t happen with most Bromeliads.
With a few exceptions, these plants flower only once in their life cycle. After that, they slowly decline and die. In scientific terms, they’re monocarpic. A few genera, like Dyckia and Hechtia, can flower more than once, though their blooms tend to be less showy than those of the more well-known varieties like Guzmania and Aechmea.
You can often tell which type of Bromeliad you have by observing where the flower stalk emerges. Those that push straight up from the center of the plant tend to be monocarps. Polycarpic Bromeliads often send their blooms out to the sides.[Note that what most people mean by a Bromeliad “flower” is actually a complex structure called an inflorescence. This stalk contains multiple small flowers, supported and protected by large, colorful leaves called bracts. These are what you’d normally think of as the “petals” of the bloom.]
Why You Should Deadhead Your Bromeliad
If your Bromeliad is doomed anyway, why bother clipping off the old inflorescence? The most important reason is to make way for the next generation.
Though the main plant will wither and die after it blooms, it should also start forming clones. Miniature versions of your Bromeliad will start poking out from the base of the central mass of leaves. If you raise these “pups” with love, they should someday bloom just as beautifully as their “parent”.
When you deadhead a Bromeliad bloom, you speed that process up. As long as the old flower stalk is hanging around, it’s drawing on a certain amount of the plant’s resources to sustain itself. Getting rid of it lets your Bromeliad focus all its efforts on making more pups and making them stronger. It’s not strictly necessary, but it’s a good idea.
There’s also an aesthetic argument in favor of clipping it off. As an inflorescence begins to die, it tends to lose its lovely coloring and start to droop. It turns a sickly, pale shade of brown or yellow, and the bracts will sag limply down at the sides. Removing the old stalk is usually an upgrade for your Bromeliad’s appearance.
When to Remove the Old Flower
How do you know it’s time to deadhead a Bromeliad? Ultimately, the answer is up to you. You can clip it off as soon as you notice it fading, or you can wait until it looks so ugly you can’t stand it.
The sooner you remove the bloom, though, the sooner your Bromeliad can start putting its full strength into making pups. We’d suggest snipping off the inflorescence once the majority of the color has faded.
By this point, you should see some new pups forming around the edge of the plant. They look pretty much like tiny copies of the parent — which, genetically speaking, is exactly what they are — minus the flower spike. If your Bromeliad isn’t pupping yet, it’s probably best to wait a little longer.
Fortunately, these plants stay in bloom for a long time. If your Bromeliad began flowering in June, it likely won’t be time to amputate the dying flowers until November or December.
Again, the exact time frame is a judgment call on your part. It won’t hurt your Bromeliad or its pups to leave the flower spike in place a bit longer than usual. The only consequence is that you might have to wait a little longer before you can split off the clones.
How to Deadhead Your Bromeliad
In practice, removing the old flower stalk from a Bromeliad is one of the simplest tasks in houseplant care. The most important phase is the preparation.
Choose a pair of clean, sharp pruning shears. If you don’t have access to those, you can probably use ordinary kitchen shears, but this increases the odds of creating a ragged cut that could get infected.
To reduce that risk, make sure you have some disinfectant and a clean rag to apply it with. Rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide (at the strengths you’d use for first aid) are both good options. You can also use ordinary bleach, though you should dilute it to about 10% strength.
Wipe down your blades with your disinfectant, then position them around the flower stalk, ready to snip. They should be as close to the base of the spike as you can get without poking or slicing the other leaves. Place them at a 45-degree angle, then snip through the inflorescence in one smooth motion.
Discard the old bloom however you prefer, and you’re done!
Caring for Your Bromeliad After Deadheading
Now that you’ve gotten rid of the old flower, you can focus on keeping your plant healthy so that it will grow strong clones. This doesn’t require anything special beyond typical Bromeliad care:
Give it plenty of bright light but very little direct sun
- If it has a “tank” — a central hollow formed by the leaves — keep it full
- Empty, rinse, and refill the tank at least once a week
- Don’t water the soil until the top one to two inches are dry
- Provide a mild dose of fertilizer once a month during the growing season
- Don’t expose it to extreme heat or cold
When and How Should You Remove the Pups?
There’s a bit of a tradeoff involved in cutting the pups off the parent plant. Doing it sooner can encourage your Bromeliad to grow even more pups. Waiting until they’re bigger will increase the odds that they’ll survive the transition.
A common rule of thumb is to slice away the clones when they’re between ⅓ and ½ the size of the original plant. Doing it sooner will greatly increase the odds that they’ll die. Root formation is a definite sign that they’re ready to leave the nest, but even bare offshoots can survive.
Make sure to have fresh pots ready before dividing your Bromeliad. A four inch nursery pot is usually perfect. When possible, you want to keep these plants in shallow containers. They don’t form very deep root systems, and too much soil increases the odds of root rot.
Use a fairly coarse potting mix to allow plenty of aeration. For a quick and easy recipe, blend one part orchid bark, one part perlite, and one part African Violet mix. Moisten it lightly before transplanting your pups.
Once that’s ready, slice each offshoot away from the base of the plant with a sharp, disinfected garden knife. It’s helpful to get a bit of the adult plant’s root mass, if possible.
Place them into the pots, then set them somewhere bright and warm with no exposure to direct sunlight. Adding a humidifier nearby is also a good idea. Bromeliads love high humidity, and it’s helpful for root growth.
When Will Your Bromeliad Pups Bloom?
Left to their own devices, baby Bromeliads will often take a while to reach maturity and form flower spikes of their own. With proper care, lots of light, and a little luck, you might see them bloom after about a year.
Slower Bromeliads may take three to five years to reach maturity. That may not be a problem for you — many of them are beautiful foliage plants in their own right. Flowers aren’t everything!
However, it’s often possible to push them to blossom. Wait until your plant is at least a year old before trying this, though.
The trick is to expose the Bromeliad to ethylene gas. This is a signaling hormone that plants in the wild use to coordinate flowering and fruiting. It’s the reason why fruit in the grocery store all tends to ripen on the same schedule!
That makes obtaining ethylene quite simple. All you need to do is get a ripe (or overripe) piece of fruit, such as an apple or a banana. Place it in your Bromeliad’s pot.
Make sure the central urn is empty, then seal the whole pot inside a clear plastic bag. This will let the ethylene build up inside. Leave it in place for a week or two, and you should spur your Bromeliad to bloom.
It doesn’t take much skill to deadhead a Bromeliad. All you need are clean tools and the right timing. This simple care practice is a great way to help your plant transition into the next stage of its life cycle. Before long, you should have a new crop of Bromeliad pups growing in pots of their own!