In the winter months, many gardeners miss caring for and enjoying plants. Houseplants like the Sansevieria trifasciata can fill the gap somewhat, but for dazzling color and easy care, bromeliads and orchids continue to grow in popularity for use as indoor plants.
According to the vice-president of marketing and sales for Silver Vase, a well-known grower of bromeliads and orchids, people are drawn to these unusual tropical plants because they want to try something new that will provide a spark of joy and happiness in today’s uncertain world.
Additionally, she says these bright, easy-care plants make a perfect spot of color in any décor. [source]
Orchids or Bromeliad Plants – Which Should You Choose?
Orchids and bromeliads are both excellent choices for almost any setting that maintains a steady, comfortable temperature and receives adequate, consistent indirect or fluorescent lighting. Both are widely available in garden centers, big box stores, grocery stores and many other everyday shops.
The care for these interesting plants is similar. Your choice between the two depends more on:
- The amount of space available
- The quality and amount of light
- The colors you want
- The “look” you’re trying to achieve – horizontal or vertical
In this article, we will weigh the pros and cons of bromeliads vs. orchids to bring color to your home or office. Read on to learn more.
Orchid vs. Bromeliad Quick Comparison
Choices and Affordability:
Both orchids and bromeliads are widely available, at very reasonable prices in many interesting, beautiful and colorful varieties. If you tend to like classically beautiful, elegant plants in traditional colors, you may be more drawn to orchids. If you enjoy oddball plants in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and textures, a bromeliad collection may suit you better.
If you have eclectic tastes, go for both!
Most indoor varieties of both bromeliads and orchids need some protection from direct sunlight. Bromeliads tend to like bright, indirect sunlight, while orchids may do better with lower indirect lighting; however, many orchid fanciers find that orchids do very well in bright light levels.
Both orchids and bromeliads enjoy the same normal household temperatures you do. If you like to turn your heat down low at night, you might be better off with bromeliads as they can tolerate slightly lower temperatures, but both types of plants do well with daytime temps of 70-85F and nighttime temps no lower than 60F.
Watering varies slightly from species-to-species in both orchids and bromeliads, but generally speaking, a weekly watering that soaks the very well-drained, airy planting medium will work fine. Be careful of overwatering, and never let orchids or bromeliads stand in water as they are subject to root rot.
Both types of plants like reasonably high humidity and frequent misting. Orchids also like to have their leaves wiped down with a damp cloth occasionally.
Both orchids and bromeliads take very little fertilizer. About a 1/2 tablespoonful of 20-20-20 organic, water-soluble fertilizer in a gallon of water is about right. Some fanciers fertilize “weakly, weekly.” Others feed monthly.
Growth and Size:
Orchids do tend to grow faster and bigger than bromeliads. An orchid plant can double its size in the first year while a bromeliad remains about the same size throughout its life.
Both orchids and bromeliads have long-lasting blooms, but the timing is different. A bromeliad will bloom once, and the bloom may last 3 -6 months. An orchid can bloom twice a year with good care. The blooms may last up to six weeks each time.
While some say it is not necessary to repot bromeliads, ever, it is a good idea to separate pups annually and give the parent plant fresh potting medium. You may not need to move the plant to a bigger or different pot, though. Repot orchids when the roots begin to ramble out of the pot and/or keiki (babies) start taking up space.
The two types of plants are very similar in terms of propagation. Both produce offspring which can merely be separated and moved into smaller pots to increase your collection, trade with other collectors or share with your friends and family members.
Aren’t Orchids Hard To Care For?
Orchids bring long-lasting, colorful blooms indoors during the winter months, along with pretty foliage and they make excellent houseplants throughout the rest of the year. Although they come with a long reputation for fussiness, this isn’t really true. Orchids are very easy to care for once you understand their care is different than a regular houseplant.
To grow orchids well, you should not use potting soil. These plants are epiphytes and naturally grow on tree bark. Their roots (with a few exceptions) never touch soil in the wild. That’s why its best to keep orchids in specially prepared orchid bark or a mixture of bark, peat (or coco coir) and perlite (or other coarse, porous substance). The goal is to use a substrate providing quick drainage and good aeration for the roots, which succumb very quickly to root rot.
Some orchid fanciers also add activated charcoal to the mix as it works well to remove excessive moisture. It also keeps the mix fresh and may even provide a bit of air quality improvement in the general vicinity of the orchid. This is especially true if you keep a fan turned on low nearby for healthy air circulation.
Once you have the substrate right, daily care is easy. When you first purchase an orchid, if it is potted in soil or sphagnum moss, plan on repotting it after it finishes blooming. Take great care not to over water it in the meantime.
When you choose or blend the substrate for your orchid, understand that the coarseness of the bark and other materials used should coincide with the thickness of the plant’s roots. If the roots are thin (e.g., cymbidium and paphiopedilums roots), use smaller bark. For plants with thicker roots (e.g., Odontoglossum) choose medium-sized bark and coarser additional materials.
TIP: If your plant has sent out roots over the top of its pot, don’t remove them unless they are dead. These roots add visual interest and help the plant stay healthy.
Close up of the moth orchid Phalaenopsis “Sunset”
Everyday Care Is Easy
Most orchids are perfectly happy living life on a windowsill with bright, indirect lighting. Placing a tray of pebbles and water underneath the orchid pot helps provide the plant with the humidity it needs. This is especially important in winter when indoor air tends to be dry. Orchids appreciate a little air circulation but don’t place plants in front of a heating vent or a direct draft.
Watering and fertilizing instructions vary from one type of orchid to another. Generally speaking a thorough watering once or twice a month is desirable.
Allow the water run through the plant, or set the plant in a tub of water and let it soak for a short while. Allow the plant to drain thoroughly before setting it back on its bed of pebbles and shallow water (which should not come in contact with the roots of the plant).
Gently wipe the plant’s leaves with a damp cloth about once a week. This enables the plant to make the most efficient use of moisture in the air. It also just looks prettier without a coating of dust.
When your orchid finishes blooming, cut back the flower spike and repot the plant into a slightly larger container with all-new planting medium (bark or bark mixture). Continue to care for the plant as you have. It may re-bloom the very next year, but if not don’t worry. It should bloom in subsequent years, in the meantime just enjoy it as a houseplant.
A good demonstration of repotting technique along with sound advise on long-term orchid care.
When repotting your orchid, you may discover your plant produced baby plants (aka keiki). Carefully separate these plantlets from the parent plant and put them into their own pots to increase your collection or share with your friends. [source]
Which Orchids Are Best For Indoor Color?
These days the white Phalaenopsis – the Moth Orchid – is the most popular and readily available. You’ll find these orchids in grocery store produce departments, and dollar stores, as well as at nurseries and garden centers.
They are easy to care for and very affordable. Of course, white is not very colorful, but even white flowers can brighten your surroundings and lift your spirits in the dead of winter.
White bloomers are the most common and most affordable Phalaenopsis on the market today, but they do come in flower colors other than white, and they can even be artificially dyed.
This video from Whole Foods shows some excellent examples of the many colors available in Phalaenopsis orchids alone. These are easy-care orchids grown to be sold in a grocery store setting and kept in an average home.
Other types of orchids which provide good color are Cymbidium and Miltonia. These are also widely available and very affordable. These two mini-cultivars take up less space than a typical Phalaenopsis and make an excellent choice for a desktop setting, a small kitchen or bathroom windowsill.
Good Timing Means Year-Round Blooms
Phalaenopsis is a winter-blooming orchid. If you want floral color in your home year-round, build a collection of various types.
Here are the ten best household orchids according to Carol Gravens of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
While light requirements for these orchids vary slightly, most will do well at temperatures in the seventies and eighties during the day and no lower than sixty overnight. All like humidity levels of about fifty percent. Water well and fertilize “weakly, weekly.”
#1 – Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis) grows to be about three feet high. Big, showy, long-lasting flowers come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. “Phal” likes partial or full shade and appreciates a warm, east-facing window.
#2 – Venus’ Slipper (Paphiopedilum), sometimes called “Lady Slipper” because of the appearance of its lower petal. The pretty flowers come in a wide variety of patterns and colors. Lady’s Slipper grows to a maximum height of two feet. Like Phal, this plant likes to be in a warm, eastern window with low-to-moderate light.
#3 – South American Lady Slippers (Phragmipedium) can grow to be three feet high. Like the Venus’ Slipper, they also have a pouch-like lower petal, which gives them their common name.
These plants hail from both Central and South America. Their flowers are heavily veined and come in lots of pretty colors (yellow, orange, red, pink and green). Keep them in plastic containers as they like to stay moist – not wet! Provide good air movement, bright, indirect sunlight and consistently warm temperatures.
#4 – Cattleya is a winter and spring bloomer featuring large, pretty, fragrant corsage orchids in white, yellow, orange, pink, red, purple or green. This plant likes bright, indirect sunlight and grows to be about two feet high. Some enthusiast successfully grow Cattleyas in their basements.
#5 – Members of the Dendrobium group vary a bit from one type to another in terms of light, temperature and care preferences. Be sure to correctly identify your plant type correctly and follow specific instructions for its care and placement. At four feet high, this is a big orchid.
#6 – Cymbidium is another example of a large orchid. These plants come in several varieties, ranging in height from one foot to four feet. They come in many colors, and all varieties are fairly resilient to cold for brief periods of time, but they prefer a partially shaded, consistently warm setting in an eastern window.
#7 – Jewel Orchid (Ludisia) is a small orchid at only one-and-a-half feet high. The flowers are small, white and abundant, but the foliage is dazzling. Leaves are large and velvety in shades of dark green and deep brownish-purple.
Leaves come marked with red or golden veins. Take care to water in the morning hours, so the leaves have ample time to dry before nightfall. The plant likes intermediate light, consistent warmth, and good air circulation.
#8 – Dancing Ladies (Oncidium) come in around 700 types. Most produce vast numbers of small, yellowish-brown flowers. They like consistent temperatures and moderate light. These plants are easy to care for if you have enough space. They can grow to be ten feet tall!
#9 – Nun’s Orchid (Phaius) is another large orchid, which can grow to a maximum height of four feet. The leaves are large and thin, and the flowers are abundant as each plant produces lots of spikes with lots of blossoms in shades of yellow, magenta, purple and white.
These plants like very bright indirect light, and unlike most other orchids, they prefer to be kept slightly moist. They are heavy feeders and do well with organic fertilizer treatments.
#10 – Zygopetalum produce beautifully scented blooms from late in the fall until early in the springtime. The multicolored flowers are long-lasting and interesting in appearance.
They come in shades of white, brown, mauve, purple and green. Many are heavily veined and/or decorated with festive splotches. These small, pretty plants grow to a maximum height of one-and-a-half feet high. They like bright, indirect sunlight, consistently warm temperatures, and good air circulation.
Bizarre Bromeliad Family Add Color And Interest
Like orchids, bromeliads make excellent houseplants. Their leaves and structure are intriguing, and their flowers (inflorescences) are brightly colored and long-lasting.
With over 3000 species of bromeliads, horticulturists are continually striving to create new, unusual, compact varieties with larger flowers.
Like orchids, some bromeliads are epiphytic and grow on tree bark in nature. This type of bromeliad grows in a bark type medium, with the same sort of care as orchids. Others grow well in a loose growing medium with good air circulation, such as orchid potting mix.
Like orchids, bromeliads do well in:
- Medium-to-bright indirect light
- Like high humidity
- Do well in pots set on a bed of pebbles with water.
Unlike orchids, bromeliads can be watered from the top, and it is desirable to allow water to collect in the plant’s central cup or rosette.
Bromeliads are happy at comfortable indoor temperatures ranging from 70 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and dropping to around 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night. They are a little more tolerant of cold than orchids and can survive brief spells of forty-five-degree weather.
It’s easy to see the many similarities between orchid care and bromeliad care. Another thing they have in common. Many people think of both as “disposable plants.” They both suffer from the misconception that after blooming, they are worthless.
As we have noted, with a little patience and consistent care, orchids will bloom again. While this is not true of bromeliads, it is true that you can easily grow lots of new little bromeliad “pups” from the mother plant to provide you with bright, pretty inflorescences indefinitely.
When your plant finishes blooming, it will begin to die back and look raggedy. Don’t throw it out! Check its base and you will likely see one or more little bromeliad pups waiting to take its place. Remove them gently, pot them, and you will soon have an all-new collection of plants to enjoy and share.
This video shares removing & Potting Up Bromeliad Pups
Bromeliads Can Be Space Savers
In the wild, epiphytic bromeliads grow in the top canopy of the trees of the rainforest. This setting allows them to receive copious amounts of filtered sunshine, fresh air, and rainwater. To keep these colorful air plants in your home, you would do well to try to emulate these conditions.
The root systems of these plants are minimal, so you don’t need a large pot or planter. Most types can be kept in five-inch or six-inch pots. You may want to go for heavier planters to avoid having your bromeliads topple over.
Epiphytic bromeliads (e.g. gray-scaled Tillandsia) do well potted in orchid bark, tree-fern bark or cork-oak bark. You can also save space with this type of plant by mounting it on a slab of bark or wood, which can be hung on a wall if you are short on surface space.
To do this, just wrap the base/roots of the plant in sphagnum moss and wire it to the bark or wood using plastic coated wire (wrapped around the moss – not directly around the plant). Twist the ends of the wire together in the back of the display where they are out of sight but can be undone. When the plant has taken root and secured itself to the base, you can remove the wire
This video shares a slightly different method of mounting bromeliads using fishing line instead of wire.
To water this display, you would spray the plant and the moss a couple of times a week. Don’t ever allow the moss to become completely dry. Maintain humidity of at least 50 percent. There should always be a little bit of water in the leaves’ built-in reservoir. Rinse out stagnant water and give the plant and base a good soaking by submerging the whole thing in water monthly.
What Are The Best Bromeliads For Color Indoors?
There are nearly 3500 types of plants in the Bromeliaceae family the world over, and hybridizers are continually creating new and interesting cultivars. Here is a small sampling of some of the best and easiest types to start with. Keep in mind that within each of these types, there are numerous varieties.
Aechmea is a genus containing over 255 different types of bromeliads which are often referred to as “beginner’s bromeliads.” The “Silver Vase plant” – Aechmea fasciata is one of the most popular.
These epiphytes are remarkably resilient and produce very long-lasting blooms. You can expect six months of color from your hardy little plant and many offspring to repeat the performance in perpetuity.
Neoregelia plants hails from the South American rain forests. These plants are more compact than many other bromeliads, which may explain why they are also the most popular. They have beautiful foliage and flowering bracts that provide color for months on end. Additionally, they are a bit more tolerant of cold than their cousins.
Vriesea is a genus named after the Dutch botanist and physician, Willem Hendrik de Vriese (1806-1862). There are many varieties of this plant, but the most popular species is Vriesea splendens (aka Flaming Sword).
These striking plants feature attractive foliage and a bright red, sword-shaped flower bract. The flowers, themselves, are very small. These plants provide an excellent bright spot as a desktop plant in a low-light office or one that has fluorescent overhead lighting.
Guzmania has many hybrids and is sometimes called “tufted air plant.” These plants come in many attractive shades of white, yellow, orange, red and purple. The flowers last for several months, and the plants produce lots of pups. If you want a brightly colored, easy-care plant for your windowsill or even for a low light, protected outdoor setting, the Guzmania bromeliad is an excellent choice.
In this video, Horticulturist Dan Gill from the LSU Ag Center shows us just how easy it is to take care of this pretty plant.
Which Is The Better Choice: Orchids or Bromeliads?
In the final analysis, one is not better than the other. In terms of care and setting, orchids and bromeliads have pretty much the same needs and are equally easy to care for. The main differences between the two have to do with appearance and space requirements.
Today the Phalaenopsis Moth Orchid is readily available in a multitude of colors – white, pinks, yellows, purples, candy stripes, mottled and more. If you’re looking for a graceful display of beautiful flowers with an upright, vertical growth habit – pick a moth orchid.
TIP: To get a longer bloom time (3 – 4 months), select a plant with flowers open and 2 – 4 buds formed on the flower spikes but not opened. This tip alone with probably give your plant an additional 3 weeks of bloom!
The Guzmania bromeliad also comes in a wide array of vibrant colors as well – reds, oranges, purples, yellows, and pinks. When in bloom the Guzmania also provides great color indoors for 3 – 4 months.
TIP: To get a longer tool time, select a Bromeliad plant with flowers low in the cup.
For both orchids and Bromeliads ask the vendor when they get new plants in and buy them on that day!
Consider making yourself a Bromeliad or Orchid garden where you can rotate plants out as they go out of bloom!
It‘s easy to see that when making your choice, your best guide is your own preference. Go with the plant or plants that appeal to you and make you happy. Keep in mind that unless you only have space for one plant, there’s really no reason to choose! These plants are perfectly compatible and complementary, and a collection of orchids and bromeliads makes an interesting and colorful display!