Bromeliads for South Florida Gardens

I first encountered Bromeliads as houseplants in the 1980s. Winter Gardens, Atrium and Interiorscaping were popular indoors in Shopping Malls and Office Buildings. At the time, I worked for a large Architectural firm as a Landscape Architect and designed these gardens using flowering Bromeliads as color beds in large planted areas. The Bromeliads I used primarily in these indoor plantings were Aechmea fasciata (left) and Guzmanias on the right.

 

 

 

 

Many years later, my husband and I relocated to the Treasure Coast of Florida. I was excited to learn about all the Bromeliads I could use in my garden. Houseplants rule the outdoors in South Florida. Now I have Guzmanias and Aechmea fasciatas in my garden.

Bromeliads have a broad range of appearance. They range from highly colored foliage with flowers prized in our gardens to Spanish Moss hanging from Oak trees common in the Deep South. Bromeliads may also be found at the supermarket in the form of a Pineapple. Some are epiphytes living on trees (Spanish Moss) others are considered terrestrial and root into the ground. Bromeliads use specialized cells to collect water from the air, they also use cups to collect rainwater and derive nutrients from debris collected in the cup.

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While we have several native Bromeliads in Florida (Tillandsias for the most part), most of the showy ones we use in our gardens are from further south in the tropical Americas, many of my favorites hail from Brazil. These are easy to grow, tough plants that lend a tropical touch to our gardens. I use them as the icing in the garden, like using flowering perennials further north.

Being of different origins than most perennials, Bromeliads require a bit of understanding-the plant originally purchased eventually will flower and die. This is called the mother plant generally. The mother plant flowers then begin to decline; offshoots called pups then appear around the plant. Pups can be left in place around the mother or clipped off when they reach a third the size of the mother plant. Pups removed may be replanted and usually require staking or a rock to hold them in place until they are established. Aechmea ‘Chiantinii Surprise’ with pups.

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Chantinii Surprise

My transition from a houseplant tender to the garden Bromeliad enthusiast had a bit of a learning curve. Soon after moving to the Treasure Coast, the very common (here) Blanchetiana Bromeliad began blooming around town. Being a burgeoning fan of the garden Bromeliad, I nearly wrecked my car trying to get a look at the thing. Orange foliage, nearly as tall as I am with a red and yellow spike flower of a similar size. No longer in houseplant territory- this was some serious vegetation!

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Now I make wreaths during the holidays from the flowers:

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Seeking advice on the needs of these plants proved to be elusive and I began to just plant them. If someone said it needs “some sun” – this means it really needs partial shade. I charco-broiled more than one plant seeking the “some sun”. There are some reliable full sun plants; finding the right plant for the right spot is key.

Some favorite sun Bromeliads:

 

 

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Some favorite shade Bromeliads:

 

 

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Another key to success with Bromeliads is planting them during the proper time of year. Dividing and installing new plants in your garden should be done between November and March, the reason, to allow the plants to slowly acclimate to the sun – the sun angles in South Florida are dramatically different between summer and winter. Some of the more sun tolerant ones may be planted year round. Landscape beds near a north facing wall can be the full sun in summer and full shade in winter.

Design tips:

Consider the big Bromeliads exclamation points in the garden, use sparingly. Everybody can’t be the star. Even stars need a chorus. This is Aechmea Blanchetiana in a pool of Beach Sunflowers (Helianthus debilis)!

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Restrain the color palette to three colors. My favorite color schemes are:

In shade to partial shade: Colors and varieties

Red/Green/Burgundy – Neoregelia ‘Maria’, Neoregelia ‘Angel Face’

 

 

Good companion plants: Coontie Palms, Ferns

Gold/ Green/ Salmony Red: Vriesea ospinae ‘Gruberii’, Neoregelia ‘Super Fireball’

 

 

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Combination of orange, red and green for sun; named from left to right

Neoregelia ‘Fireball’, Neoregelia ‘Bossa Nova’, Bird of Paradise (not a Bromeliad), Aechmea ‘Alvarez’, Aechmea ‘Red Candles’

The Bird of Paradise is shown as a companion plant example.

Bromeliads also make great container plants. Here are a few examples we put together at Pinders Nursery in Palm City, Florida for a talk I gave (about Bromeliads!) last Saturday. These container plantings last a long time, until the plant flowers or you need a change of view.

 

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Plants are: in back ‘Imperial Red’ Alcanterea (for sun – these bloom every 10 years), in the blue container for shade, Aechmea ‘Del Mar’, the brown bowl has Aechmea ‘Bracteata Red’ and Neoregelia ‘Donger’ would take Sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Container Gardening Information for the Treasure Coast

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Last week I gave a talk to the Hibiscus Circle of the Stuart Garden Club about container gardening. The Treasure Coast of Florida operates basically opposite of the rest of the US in terms of gardening. Our gardening season is moving into full swing now. I have just planted tomatoes and vegetables and will be renovating my containers as we move outside for the winter. Below is the omnipresent theory for Container Design.

 

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I find this concept to be sound advice. Planted in an 18″ container, a 6″ nursery pot with a thriller and two 4 or 5″ nursery pots with a filler and a spiller make a wonderful addition to your front door step, porch or outside seating area. Plant selection is another story. More about specific plants later. As far as planting the container goes, see below for the idea:

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Tips and tricks for planting containers include:

  • Always use potting soil.
  • If the container is going outside, be sure there is a drainage hole and cover the hole with coffee filters and pebbles to keep the potting soil in the pot.
  • When planting an oversize container, the bottom can be filled with Styrofoam noodles separated with coffee filters or weed check fabric to keep the soil around the plants in the upper part of the pot. Always maintain a 12″ depth of soil in pots to keep watering chores to a minimum. The exception to this rule, Bromeliads, Orchids and succulents can be grown in less soil.
  • Allow an inch of soil from the rim and keep soil level an inch below the rim of the container.
  • Add time release fertilizer after planting, 13-13-13 is best for our area and lasts longer in the heat.
  • Check container daily and water accordingly, many containers need daily watering.

RECOMMENDED PLANTS FOR CONTAINER GARDENING:

Tropical Plants: Many tropical plants thrive in containers on the Treasure Coast. There are many kinds of Bromeliads and Aglaonema, all of the plants pictured require a shaded area.

 

 

 

 

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Many annual flowers are good for use in containers, they generally don’t last the summer here so be prepared to renovate your containers every 4 to 6 months. Here are a few plants to consider:

 

 

 

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Vegetables and herbs are great plants for containers. Many vegetable gardeners use containers exclusively to avoid weeding and backbreaking labor in soil preparation. Notes on seed packets and vegetable plants will sometimes include recommendations for container sizes.

Herbs for Treasure Coast Gardens:

 

 

 

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There are many other herbs that can be grown here. Fresh herb plants appear in the big box stores and garden centers this time of year. I grow what I like to eat. My favorites are:

Basil: I always have a pot of Basil around, my preference is basic Sweet Basil with the large green leaf. It can be called Genovese or Napletano. I also like Greek Columnar Basil but it can be difficult to find. Basil lasts about 3-4 months in a container so I replace mine quarterly.

Bay Leaf: My first attempt with Bay Leaf failed, I planted it in the ground and it did not flourish. I bought two more and they have happily provided Bay Leaf from their perch in a terracotta pot. Bay Leaf plants can be difficult to find in our area so buy them online. Be careful to buy the culinary Bay Leaf (Laurus nobilis) – there are other types used for decorative purposes and not to eat.

Dill: Dill is a favorite for use in soups or with sauteed vegetables or fish. A tall, ferny plant this is a cool season plant and will go to seed in the late spring. The seeds are a bonus and can be used in breads or saved to grow more Dill next fall.

Parsley: I prefer Italian Parsley (flat leaf) for flavor, Curly Parsley can be easily grown here as well. This is a cool season plant and will grow here from October until late spring.

Rosemary: Rosemary lasts year round in a pot. Eventually, it needs replacement – I consider this maintenance as we eat a lot of Rosemary. I like the flavor of the upright plants rather than the creepers.

Thyme: Thyme is another cool season herb. I may have managed to get it to live through a whole year once, but this requires a lot of attention in the summer. My attention tends to wane as the humidity rises. I prefer the Lemon Thyme to German for the flavor.

My Fall Containers are currently under construction, I will work on another post when they are complete.

For more information about Garden Design follow this link https://theshrubqueen.com/garden-design-and-consulting/