How to Grow Guzmania

Guzmania is a fascinating plant. A tropical plant, guzmania is part of the Bromeliaceae family. Its colorful and distinctive flower bracts are a popular way to bring life and interest to homes and offices.

Guzmania is also known as Scarlet Star. This name is a reference to how the foliage emerges from the center of the plant, in a star like shape. It is the green foliage and colorful bracts that are the main interest of this plant. However, guzmanias can also flower.

The flowers of the plant are white and rarely rise above the colorful bracts. Despite their insignificance these flowers can last, with the correct care, for up to four months.

1 An attractive houseplant Guzmania is a pleasingly low maintenance plant

An attractive houseplant, Guzmania is a pleasingly low maintenance plant. This makes it an ideal place to start if you are new to caring for plants. 

With a little care and attention guzmanias are reliable additions to any houseplant collection, bringing colorful shades and hues to indoor spaces. They are also pleasingly easy to grow.

Different Varieties

There are over 120 known varieties of guzmania. The vast majority of these share similar growing needs and habits.

Most common are the red cultivars such as Scarlet Star (Guzmania lingulata). An epiphyte that can also be grown in the soil, this cultivar is commonly grown as a houseplant. It’s rich red flower is in fact leaf bracts. These flowering bracts may turn pink in some growing conditions.

Other common red flowering varieties include G. Passion and G. Luna. If you want something a little different you will also find orange, yellow, white and purple varieties such as Purple Markle.

2 There are a number of different varieties of guzmania available in a range of hues and shades

 There are a number of different varieties of guzmania available in a range of hues and shades. The information in this guide is suitable to all varieties.

How to Plant Guzmania

Unlike other plants, the root system of the guzmania is primarily used to hold the plant in place. The root system plays little part in the plants ability to gather moisture or nutrients. This means that guzmanias do not require planting in large containers to flourish.

Your chosen container should be large enough to help hold the plant upright. As they grow and produce more foliage, guzmanias can become overly top-heavy. If the container is unable to hold the plant in place it may topple over. Another option is to place a rock or similarly heavy object can be placed on the soil. This helps to hold the plant in place.

Your chosen container should also be clean and have drainage holes in the bottom. If water is allowed to gather at the bottom of the container soil can become waterlogged and the plant may develop root rot.

Growing in a porous terracotta container, as opposed to a plastic flower pot, helps to encourage drainage. Terracotta containers are more porous, meaning that the soil tends to dry more quickly than in plastic containers.

3 Soil in terracotta containers dries out more quickly than soil in plastic containers

Soil in terracotta containers dries out more quickly than soil in plastic containers. This is particularly useful if you are growing plants that prefer well draining or dry soil. 

Choosing the Best Soil Mix

Fill your chosen container with fresh, well draining soil. Guzmanias do best in well-draining soil. They will struggle in heavy soils, such as potting mixes,  that retain moisture for long periods. An orchid or cactus mix is ideal. Alternatively, make your own by mixing a medium that is one part bark, one part coarse sand and one part peat. This combination creates the loose, well-draining soil that guzmanias thrive in.

Planting Your Guzmania

Position the guzmania as centrally as possible, the plant should sit comfortably in the pot with the top of the root system just below the level of the soil. Once you are happy with the position of the plant continue to fill the container with soil. Gently firm down the soil and water well.

Guzmanias have a lifespan of no more than a few years. This means that once planted you will not need to repot the plant. Instead you can continue your guzmania growing by propagation. This is done by harvesting the pups that the plant produces.

How to Mount a Guzmania

Guzmanias are epiphytes. This means that when growing in the wild the plants can attach themselves to supports such as trees or rocks. So instead of growing your guzmania in a flowerpot, like other container garden plants, you can mount it onto a structure.

Good guzmania mounts include:

  • Cedar
  • Cork Bark
  • Juniper
  • Mesquite
  • Oak
  • Rosewood
  • Tree Fern Slabs

A guzmania must have developed a root system of its own before it can be mounted. To mount the guzmania simply position it on your chosen mount. Cover the root system with moist sphagnum moss, commonly used in terrariums.

Secure the plant firmly in place with some string or fishing wire. Anything can be used to tie the moss and plant in place as long as it doesn’t contain copper. Firmly attach the plant so that it can’t move. This enforces contact between the roots and the surface, encouraging the roots to take hold. Keep the moss damp by regularly watering.

How to Care for Guzmania

Guzmania grows best in well draining soil. Remember these evergreen perennials are native to the humid or tropical regions of South America, Central America, Mexico, Florida and the West Indies. As a result they prefer humid environments where the temperature averages between 60 and 80 ℉.

Light and Position

If you are growing your guzmania indoors choose a position that receives lots of bright, indirect light. Usual houseplant positions such as a south-facing window receive too much direct light and should be avoided. If the position is too bright the plants foliage may lighten or yellow. In extreme cases the foliage will become discolored or burn.

If you are placing the plant in a south facing position, don’t place it directly in the window. Instead set it back slightly on a small table or nearby surface. This allows the plant to enjoy lots of bright, indirect light without the danger of burning the foliage.

Conversely if your chosen position is too dark the plants foliage will turn a shade of dark green before drooping and softening. While guzmanias can survive in low light conditions, growth may become stunted or cease.

If you struggle to give the plants the natural light that they crave artificial light sources, such as grow lamps can be utilized. These are a great way to ensure plants in dark positions get enough light.

During the warmest, summer months you can place your guzmania outside. Place the plant in a shady or partially shady position. Never place the plant in a full sun position. Remember to bring the plant back inside before the temperatures start to fall.

Avoid placing the plants in draughty positions.

4 Guzmania’s like lots of bright indirect light

Guzmania plants like lots of bright indirect light. This combined with the plant’s preference for lots of humidity means that the ideal conditions can be difficult to provide. Once you get it right, the plant will reward your efforts with lots of rich colored foliage. 

Humidity

Guzmania likes high humidity levels. A humidifier is a great way to do this with little effort.

A more attractive method is to place the plant’s container on a humidity tray or a regular tray filled with pebbles and water. Remember to regularly refill the tray, ensuring that the water level remains just below the top of the pebbles. If you choose this method, ensure that the container is not sitting in the water. This can cause the soil to become overly soggy and lead to root rot and other issues.

Regularly misting the plant can also help to maintain humidity levels. This needs to be done several times a week to keep the plant happy and healthy.

Finally, if your bathroom is light enough, your guzmania may be happy to grow there. Bathrooms are often more humid than other parts of the home because of the hot water used when bathing or showering.

Watering

Guzmanias are moderately tolerant to drought conditions. It is better to underwater guzmanias than to overwater them. This helps to prevent the soil from becoming waterlogged and the plant from developing issues such as root rot.

Harvesting rainwater is a great way to keep your plants hydrated without running up an expensive water bill. It also means that the soil is less likely to suffer from a buildup of salt. This can cause the foliage of the plant to become burnt or brown.

To rid the soil of a salt build up you need to flush the soil. This can be done by simply holding the container under running water for a few minutes. To ensure your plant remains healthy flush the soil once a month.

Unusually guzmania absorbs water through its foliage and center rosette. This is sometimes called a vase or a cup. To ensure the plant remains hydrated water the plant by filling up the cup with water.

Knowing how often to water houseplants can be difficult. When the plant is actively growing, during the spring and summer, you may need to water several times a week. During the winter, when the plant becomes dormant and growth slows, you can reduce watering to once a week or every two weeks.

If you are unsure when to water, wait until the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Alternatively, for a more accurate measure, try a soil moisture gauge. Tools such as the Goueven Soil Moisture Meter are easy to use and can be particularly useful if you have a large collection of houseplants with different watering needs.

Finally, when watering try to avoid getting the flowers wet. This can cut short the lifespan of the plant.

Fertilizing

If you are growing a guzmania as a houseplant you will find that it is a light feeder. An application of fertilizer once every two months during the spring and summer should be enough for most plants. During the fall and winter when growth slows, cease feeding.

A general purpose houseplant feeder can be applied. Alternatively you can make your own. Homemade plant feeds are just as effective as commercial products. They also allow you to know exactly what you are putting in your soil. Another benefit is that a homemade plant fertilizer can be tailored to the specific needs of your plant in a way that general purpose plant feeds can’t.

Liquid plant feeds are easy to apply. Simply dilute it to at least half its strength before applying to the soil around the plant. Never apply fertilizer to the central rosette of the plant.

Pruning

Pruning is rarely necessary. If the tips of the plants foliage become brown or damaged they can be cut away. This is best done with a clean, sharp pair of garden scissors.

Spent flowers can also be removed to keep the plants appearance neat.

How to Prolong Flowering

With a little encouragement mature guzmanias flower from late winter until summer. The easiest way to prolong flowering is to avoid getting water on the flowers of the plant.

You can force the plants to flower by placing the plant in a plastic bag with a ripe apple. Allow the plant to remain in this state for two or three days. After this remove the plant and return it to its usual position. Blooms will begin to emerge in 6 to 12 weeks.

Once the flowers die cut them from the plant at the base of the flower stem.

Guzmania Propagation

Guzmania propagation is easy. After flowering cut the flower stalks away, being careful not to damage the plant.

After flowering the plants will produce pups, or offshoots, around their base. If you are growing your guzmania in a large enough container you can allow the pups to grow on until they reach a reasonable size, at least 4 inches tall, before removing them.

To remove the pups gently pull them from the mother plant. They can also be cut from the main plant with a sharp, clean knife. When removing the pups be careful not to damage the foliage or root system of the mother plant or pup.

Plant the pup in a 4 inch pot filled with well-draining potting mix such as orchid or cactus soil. Do not plant more than one pup per pot.

To plant the pups make a small hole in the center of the container, large enough to hold the root system of the plant. Place the pup in the hole and firm the soil down. Water and place in a similar position to the mother plant. A guzmania pup takes about one year to mature.

Common Pests and Problems

The most commonly encountered problem when growing guzmanias is root rot. This is commonly caused by allowing the plants sitting in overly soggy soil. It is often a direct result of over-watering. To avoid this issue plant in well-draining soil and water only when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.

Mealybugs can target the foliage of guzmania, leaving cotton like deposits on the leaves. Scale and spider mites can also target the plants. Regularly checking the foliage of the plant will help you to spot the signs of infestation. Wiping the plants with a damp cloth, or an application of homemade insecticidal soap, clears most infestations.

Yellowing Foliage

Foliage can turn yellow for a number of different reasons. The most common reason is that the plant has not been fertilized and is in need of nutrients. An application of half strength houseplant feed should cure this issue. If the leaves continue to turn yellow it may be a sign that the plant is sitting in an overly bright position.

Older plants that have developed pups turn yellow as they reach the end of their lifecycle.

5 A pleasingly problem free plant

A pleasingly problem free plant. With the right care and attention, guzmania will reward your efforts with a pleasing display of colorful foliage. 

Guzmanias are an attractive and easy to care for addition to any houseplant or container collection. Just make sure that they are warm, humid and well watered. In return the plants will reward you with colorful foliage and delicate flowers. While the plant’s lifespan may be relatively short, propagation is easy, meaning that you can enjoy guzmania plants for many years.

Guzmania cover image

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