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How to Care for a Neoregelia Plant!

Close up image of beautiful purple neoregelia leaves with green accents in the sun

Genus Neoregelia

Flowers are very pretty, indeed. But not all flowering plants are most valued for their flowers, and are instead valued for their attractive foliage. This is absolutely the case when it comes to the neoregelia plant.

Neoregelia is a genus of plants that is part of the bromeliad botanical family (bromeliaceae). They are also sometimes referred to as the aregelia blushing bromeliad, but I will not be typing that out 200 hundred times over the course of this article.

There are hundreds of neoregelia bromeliad hybrids out there, and that is because gardeners just can’t get enough of that funky foliage. Neoregelia leaves come in a dizzying array of shapes, colors, and sizes, and bring a tropical look to any landscape. People often grow tank bromeliads too!

Another cool thing about neoregelia bromeliads is that they don’t actually grow naturally in the soil.. that may sound odd and unusual, but keep reading to discover all about it! Caring for a neoregelia won’t be like caring for your other plants, but it brings about an entertaining challenge!

What do Neoregelia Plants Look Like?

Bunch of growing neoregelia species in the garden

Growth Habit

Neoregelia plants are super cool mainly for the fact that they are epiphytic plants, which is rather common for the bromeliad family.

An epiphytic plant is a plant that doesn’t grow in the soil at all, but instead attaches its roots to branches on forest trees through stolons. This is also very characteristic of members of the orchid family.

Another word for an epiphytic plant is an air plant, essentially because it seems to get everything that it needs for survival from the air! In actuality, it obtains nutrients from fallen leaf litter, humidity, and rain.

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Though when growing in the wild, they don’t grow in the earth, they can be cultivated and trained to live in very well draining potting medium (like pine bark or orchid mix). This is essential for the plant’s root system to breathe properly.

Flowers

For once, neoregelia plants don’t have their flower as the star of the show! Neoregelia flowers (or better called inflorescences) bloom in the “cup” of the plant. The cup is a shallow, central depression formed by the leaves. Usually filled with water, this is also where the small inflorescence forms.

These neoregelia flowers are very tiny and almost difficult to notice. They have 5 sepals and will usually be a white or pink color. There isn’t a specific bloom time for these flowers, but they do seem to blossom for an extremely long time — sometimes for almost all the months in the year!

However, once a neoregelia flower is done its blooming time, it will die. But not before it produces several pups. Pups are basically small clones of the mother plant that form in small clusters around the mother plant. As the mother plant dies away, the pups will grow larger and replace her.

Focus image of tiny blue neoregelia flowers growing in the central cup of the plant

Leaves

Now we arrive at the piece de resistance, neoregelia foliage! This is the entire reason why folks like to plant these specimens. Their leaves are widely varying depending on the species and the cultivar, but they are mainly broad and flat leaves formed in a leaf rosette.

A leaf will usually long and sword shaped, but what really varies between species is their color and pattern. Leaves are not simply green, but can be purple, yellow, red, bronze, pink, and many colors in between. Some are variegated and some have stripes, but they are all lovely.

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These different color patterns actually have an evolutionary function! The colors serve to protect the green photosynthetic tissues within the leaves from the sun. This is important for plants that don’t obtain nutrients (and protection) from soil, but instead thrive off of low light.

Where is Neoregelia a Native Plant?

Wild neoregelia plants attached to the side of a tree in the rainforest

One of the most valuable things I have learned within my gardening career is that by learning where a plant comes from, it makes it all that much easier for you to be able to mimic those conditions. This is the best way to learn how to keep a plant happy.

For instance, a person living in tropics would have quite the challenge growing a plant that is used to living the cold alpine, and vice versa. When this is the case, indoor planting is usually the solution!

When it comes to the neoregelia plant, this is a species that is native to the rainforests of South America. Here it grows wild at the tops of trees in forests that receive a ton of humidity and precipitation. They also receive dappled shade in this growing location – in the canopy of evergreen trees.

They can exist as outdoor plants in USDA growing zones 9 and 10, where they can be planted either in a very well draining potting medium or they can be attached to a piece of bark or driftwood. Outside of these growing regions, they will have to be kept as houseplants in all but the summer months.

What are the Growing Conditions of Neoregelia Plants?

Now that we know the fundamentals of what a neoregelia plant is and how it works, not it’s time to learn about what it really takes to grow for one of your own!

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Though it won’t be anything like what you are used to doing for your other garden plants or house plants, bromeliad care will pose an interesting challenge in its uniqueness.

Looking down at beautiful foliage of several neoregelias plants growing in the garden

Soil Type

Since we already know that the neoregelia plant doesn’t actually live in the soil because it is an epiphyte (or an air plant), it cannot be potted in simply any soil type.

In order to plant a neoregelia in the earth, it is absolutely crucial that it is planted is something that has excellent drainage. This is essential, as this is the only way that the root system of the plant can breathe.

The most ideal growing medium to plant a neoregelia is the same that is used for orchids. This is sold in nurseries under the name orchid bark or orchid mix. This is basically chopped up pine bark that is coarse enough to allow the root system to crawl its way through without being too crowded.

Water Level

Watering a neoregelia plant is also rather unusual. When growing wild these plants obtain water by rain droplets sliding down their leaves and gathering in the central cup.

This can be mimicked by a gardener through misting, or by simply filling up that central cup to about a quarter of an inch of its capacity in the winter months. If your plant is outside of its growing season it can be filled to only an eighth of its capacity.

It is important to give your neoregelia plant distilled water, as this is what most closely mimics natural rain water. The water should also be replaced every month to ensure that it doesn’t develop too much bacteria.

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Sun Exposure

The neoregelia plant can be a little be specific about the amount of sunlight that it would like to receive. They love living in bright light but with dappled shade. If growing indoors, they can be placed in an east or west facing window which will provide bright indirect sunlight for most of the day.

It is important that your plant receives bright light but not direct sunlight. If it isn’t receiving enough indirect light it will tell you in the way of developing more greenery in its leaves! If it is placed in direct sun, there is a high chance of leaf scorch.

Amazing striped leaves of the neoregalia plant

Temperature

Neoregelia plants are able to live in temperate regions, though they are not very tolerant to cold. They will need to be brought indoors once temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, they can be kept outdoors as long as temperatures hover around 60. They do not like winter, and they do not like frost.

Something that these plants do love is high humidity. This is pretty easy to maintain, especially in the summer, but to help mimic that high humidity condition, you can mist the foliage of your plant daily.

Fertilizer

Fertilizing neoregelia plants is also another unique way of plant care. Usually fertilizer is applied to soil, but since these plants don’t commonly grow in the soil, it has to be applied in another way!

These plants obtain nutrients from leaf litter that falls on their leaves and slides towards their central cups… So the easiest way to mimic this process is by taking a liquid fertilizer and spraying it on the leaves.

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There is a specific type of orchid food fertilizer that is perfect for this. It should be diluted to half strength, which is better suited for air plants, and it can be given to your neoregelia plant once or a twice a year.

Pruning

Very little needs to be done in way of pruning a neoregelia plant. They grow in a very neat and tidy habit, and the only maintenance it will need from you is picking away the dying leaves as they perish.

Once the mature plant starts producing her pups, she herself will start to die away and those pups will eventually replace her entirely. Simply take away the dying leaves so that the plant can direct all of its energy towards that new growth.

How do you Propagate a Neoregelia Plant?

Small pink young neoregelia plants growing in a rock garden

One of the coolest things about propagating a neoregelia plant is that the plant basically does it for you.. Not having to worry about transferring sensitive root systems or waiting for a cold snap or all of those other gardening specificities makes neoregelia propagation one of the easiest you could do!

The only thing this process requires is patience. These plants are very slow growing, and a plant may not produce pups (baby plants) for about 3 years! And then those pups will be very slow growing as well.

Once those pups do come around, all you have to do is decide whether you want to keep them next to the parent plant, or whether you’d like to plant them in orchid bark or mount them on a piece of bark or driftwood!

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How are Neoregelia Plants Used?

Centre cup of a blushing bromeliad plant

Wildlife Ecology

Something wildly cool about neoregelias is the relationships that they have with the wildlife that surrounds them in their natural habitat. We already know about their relationship with the trees of South America, but there’s another relationship worth mentioning.

The neoregelia plant is in a symbiotic relationship with a frog species called the poison dart frog. A symbiotic relationship is an interaction between two different species (this can be between animals, plants, or animals and plants) where each party equally benefits from the exchange.

These frogs will lay their tadpoles in that central cup that is filled with water on the neoregelia plant. This is the perfect safe place for developing frogs.

In turn, the waste that the tadpoles and adult frogs produce that ends up in the cup will end being nutrients for the neoregelia plant. It’s a win win situation for everybody!

FAQs

Are neoregelia plants deer resistant?

One thing that is a little bit negative about bromeliad care is that they are not particularly resistant to grazing from deer. Though they are not commonly planted in areas where they have access to, they can still be nibbled on if they are planted in a garden. This is because when growing wild, these plants live in the canopies of trees and have never been grazed upon by deer before! They’ve never developed a defence mechanism against large pest grazing.

What are the damaging agents for neoregelia plants?

The main things to look out for when it comes to caring for neoregelia plants is making sure that they are receiving the correct amount of light, and that they are being watered with distilled water and that that water is changed out of their cup every month. If that still water develops too much bacteria it can damage the health of the plant.

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Is neoregelia an annual plant or perennial plant?

Neoregelia plants are technically known as perennial plants, but they do not bloom in the same way that perennials do. These plants will flower pretty much at any time of year and will stay in bloom for months on end. There is no knowing when it will perish, but once it does, that portion of the plant will die. However, baby plants called pups will quickly take the parent plant’s place, and then those new plants will eventually flower.

What is neoregelia carolinae?

Neoregelia carolinae is a species of neoregelia better known as the blushing bromeliad. It is called such for its leaves that have a pink accent that begins at the base of the leaf which deepens into a dark green color.

What is an epiphyte?

Neoregelia plants are super cool mainly for the fact that they are epiphytic plants, which is rather common for the bromeliad family.

An epiphytic plant is a plant that doesn’t grow in the soil at all, but instead attaches its roots to branches on forest trees through stolons. This is also very characteristic of members of the orchid family.

Another word for an epiphytic plant is an air plant, essentially because it seems to get everything that it needs for survival from the air! In actuality, it obtains nutrients from fallen leaf litter, humidity, and rain.

Though when growing in the wild, they don’t grow in the earth, they can be cultivated and trained to live in very well draining potting medium (like pine bark or orchid mix). This is essential for the plant’s root system to breathe properly.

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Can neoregelia plants be grown indoors?

A neoregelia plant can easily be grown indoors. In fact that is a much easier way to maintain their ideal growing conditions, and they also won’t have to readjust to the conditions if they are brought indoors and outdoors according to the season! Tank bromeliads are very popular air plants.

Are neoregelia plants hardy?

Neoregelia plants are able to live in temperate regions, though they are not very tolerant to cold. They will need to be brought indoors once temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, they can be kept outdoors as long as temperatures hover around 60. They do not like winter, and they do not like frost.

Something that these plants do love is high humidity. This is pretty easy to maintain, especially in the summer, but to help mimic that high humidity condition, you can mist the foliage of your plant daily.

Can neoregelia grow in shade?

The neoregelia plant can be a little be specific about the amount of sunlight that it would like to receive. They love living in bright light but with dappled shade. If growing indoors, they can be placed in an east or west facing window which will provide bright indirect sunlight for most of the day.

It is important that your plant receives bright light but not direct sunlight. If it isn’t receiving enough indirect light it will tell you in the way of developing more greenery in its leaves! If it is placed in direct sun, there is a high chance of leaf scorch.

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How should neoregelia plants be pruned?

Very little needs to be done in way of pruning a neoregelia plant. They grow in a very neat and tidy habit, and the only maintenance it will need from you is picking away the dying leaves as they perish.

Once the mature plant starts producing her pups, she herself will start to die away and those pups will eventually replace her entirely. Simply take away the dying leaves so that the plant can direct all of its energy towards that new growth.

Will a neoregelia plant survive winter?

Neoregelia plants are not cold hardy and will not survive if they are subjected to frost or winter temperatures. They are native to South America, and could not handle the climate of North America.

When does a neoregelia flower bloom?

It is very difficult to know when a neoregelia plant will bloom. It grows very slowly and can sometimes take between 3-5 years for flowers to appear. Even then, there isn’t really a time of year where it will happen, but once it does, the flowers will stay in bloom for almost all months of the year.

How tall do neoregelia plants get?

Height will vary according to species and cultivar, but neoregelia plants will be anywhere from 12-20 inches in height.

Do neoregelia plants need fertilizer?

Fertilizing neoregelia plants is also another unique way of plant care. Usually fertilizer is applied to soil, but since these plants don’t commonly grow in the soil, it has to be applied in another way!

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These plants obtain nutrients from leaf litter that falls on their leaves and slides towards their central cups… So the easiest way to mimic this process is by taking a liquid fertilizer and spraying it on the leaves.

There is a specific type of orchid food fertilizer that is perfect for this. It should be diluted to half strength, which is better suited for air plants, and it can be given to your neoregelia plant once or a twice a year.

How often should a neoregelia be watered?

Watering a neoregelia plant is also rather unusual. When growing wild these plants obtain water by rain droplets sliding down their leaves and gathering in the central cup.

This can be mimicked by a gardener through misting, or by simply filling up that central cup to about a quarter of an inch of its capacity in the winter months. If your plant is outside of its growing season it can be filled to only an eighth of its capacity.

It is important to give your neoregelia plant distilled water, as this is what most closely mimics natural rain water. The water should also be replaced every month to ensure that it doesn’t develop too much bacteria.

What USDA growing zone can neoregelia grow in?

They can exist as outdoor plants in USDA growing zones 9 and 10, where they can be planted either in a very well draining potting medium or they can be attached to a piece of bark or driftwood. Outside of these growing regions, they will have to be kept as houseplants in all but the summer months.

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What is an l b smith neoregelia plant?

Both the l b smith and the h luther are tank bromeliads that have been cultivated for their ease of care and for their intricate leaf rosette of gorgeously colored leaves.