Bromeliads seem complicated to grow; most are truly low maintenance and tolerant of a range of growing conditions. Bromeliads are sold when the plant stages its most striking show – while coming into full flower. Sadly, the life cycle of most species of Bromeliad ends after the plant’s flower.
Some species of Bromeliad blooms can last for up to a year, but then again, the flower may begin to die a few short months after purchase. However, if your plant is not flowering or setting seed and is starting to die back, other factors may be to blame.
Bromeliads are not trouble-free despite the ease with which they grow. Learning how to troubleshoot and resolve what you are presented with can help you nurture a bromeliad back to health or keep a stronger plant growing well.
Common Bromeliad Care Requirements
The roughly 2,500 species of Bromeliads, which come in thousands of varieties, do best in warm climates.
Bromeliaceae members include several thousand species of plants native to tropical Americas. Some are epiphytes, others grow in rock crevices, and numerous are at home in the soil.
Bromeliads grow from a few inches to many feet high. These plants are generally recommended as houseplants as they grow well in small containers and can be placed just about anywhere indoors.
Despite their variety, bromeliads share many similar care requirements, including:
Watering: Indoor Bromeliads prefer to be kept dryer than the average houseplant.
- Do not overwater.
- Plants require well-drained soils and detest their roots standing in water.
Light: Plants tolerate a wide variety of light conditions.
- A rule of thumb is that variegated types and those with multi-colored leaves prefer more hours of brighter light than, for instance, green-leafed varieties.
- To develop flowers, Bromeliads require good bright light all day long.
Temperature: Should the temperature fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), Bromeliads tend to develop growth problems.
- The ideal temperature range for Bromeliads is between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (15 and 26 degrees Celsius).
- Always check with your garden care professional for the specific requirements of your Bromeliad.
Humidity: As a tropical plant, Bromeliads show signs of strain when the air is too dry.
- Mist the plants at intervals suitable to your home conditions.
- Move them to rooms where humidity is naturally higher.
Air Circulation: As epiphytes, air circulation is important to prevent diseases attacking your favorite Bromeliad
How to Troubleshoot Your Dying Bromeliad
Bromeliads are easy houseplants to keep affected by some conditions. Taking into consideration that Bromeliad plants die off once the flower is spent, the first step is to check if this is the case:
1 – Your Bromeliad Is at the End of Its Natural Life Cycle
Many bromeliads, excluding a few species such as those in the genera Dyckia, flower only once before dying back. The life cycle for the majority of Bromeliads can be summed up:
- Bromeliads produce a rosette of new growth from the middle of the plant. Their overlapping leaves often form a tank in the center of the plant. The tank stores water and nourishes the plant.
- Once the flower is formed, the plant itself can no longer grow. While flowering is the end of the life cycle of a bromeliad, the flower can last up to a year before finally having to be removed.
- As the mother plant starts to die back naturally when the flower comes to an end, it develops offshoots or pups.
When leaves are turning brown and drooping, check for offsets, or pups, at the base of the mother plant. These offsets usually appear well before the mother plant even starts to die off. Sometimes pups are only noticeable when you carefully lift the leaves.
If you see offsets looking healthy, the plant is dying off naturally, and nature will take its course. The mother plant dies off completely, leaving a legacy of pups. No intervention will save the mother plant.
Many indoor plant enthusiasts will purchase new Bromeliads to fill the gap until the pups start flowering.
TIP to Keeping the Plant Looking Its Best:
As the plant starts to die off, you can cut the brown and unsightly leaves off one by one until half the leaves have been removed. Cut the balance back to the base, exposing the pups to the light and giving them more space to grow.
2 – Disease
Diseases do affect the Bromeliad family. At best, if left unchecked, they stunt growth; at worst, the plant withers and dies.
Over Watering Induced Root Rot
Bromeliads thrive on a minimum of watering and do require some humidity. Watering your potted indoor plants in the same frequent cycle as other houseplants may lead to the growing medium being too wet for their liking.
When the lower leaves turn brown and ultimately mushy, it’s often due to root rot. This condition can be fatal to your beautiful plant if left untreated.
Why Are Bromeliads Susceptible to Root Rot?
Several bromeliads are epiphytic, naturally growing above ground attached to a substrate like driftwood or tree stumps. They’ve evolved not to need soil.
The Bromeliad epiphytic roots system’s main function is to anchor the plant and, to a lesser degree delivering water to the leaves, as in other plants. They, therefore, prefer well-drained planting mediums when planted in the ground or pots as houseplants.
Suppose they are planted in heavy, water-retaining soil, or the roots constantly sit in water. In that case, they become susceptible to the pathogens causing rot, eventually leading the entire plant to die off.
Can Root Rot Be Cured?
If the rot is not too advanced, you can hold off on watering to ensure the planting medium dries completely before watering again. Cut off any affected leaves at the base of the plant.
A more aggressive treatment for pot plants is to remove it from the pot, trim affected roots back to the healthy tissue, dust with a copper-free fungicide, allow to dry and repot in a Bromeliad specific potting mix. Should this mix not be available at your garden center, substitute with an orchid or cacti mix. These potting mixes all drain well.
TIP: Watering the soil and the leaf urn in indoor plants may be the cause of overwatering.
Heart or Crown Rot Due to Overwatering
Do the leaves fall from the center of the plant? Does the Bromeliad’s center emit a slight rotting odor, appear brown and soggy?
These symptoms could point to a condition known as heart or crown rot. The rot tends to move down through the plant and can become fatal to the plant.
Causes of Heart Rot?
Overwatering is most often the cause of heart rot. The same pathogen as root rot is to blame.
In nature, many bromeliads form an urn or cup from which the flower emerges. In its natural habitat, the urn collects water for the plant.
Indoors, filling the urn up, and watering the soil, can cause overwatering of the plant.
Can Heart Rot Be Cured?
Flush the center urn with water. Fill it again to no more than a quarter with tap water left on the counter for at least 4 hours, or rainwater. Repeat this weekly.
Unfortunately, heart rot is usually detected in the more advanced stages when it becomes difficult to save the plant.
That said, one may be able to save the plant if this condition is detected in time:
- Cut back the rotted parts of the flower to the white tissue.
- Treat with a copper-free fungicide and allow the tissue to dry out and callous over.
If the Bromeliad has produced pups, you should separate them and repot the healthy plants while discarding the rotten mother plant.
Because bromeliads are epiphytes, they require adequate air circulation to avoid disease, especially fungal infections.
Helminthosporium leaf spot is one of the fungal infections often found on bromeliads. It begins with tiny brown or purple lesions on the foliage, which grow and eventually cause the affected plant areas to wither.
Prevent fungal disease by controlling air circulation and misting leaves; treatment of these diseases includes fungicide application and reduced watering.
This disease can be fatal to the plant if not managed.
3 – Humidity and Temperature
Different species of bromeliads prefer diverging levels of humidity. Neorogelias, for example, like it to have a high humidity factor while Dyckias can tolerate dry conditions. Most Bromeliads thrive somewhere in between. If your Bromeliad seems to be withering away or just starts showing brown leaf tips, try increasing the relative humidity.
- Fill a tray with pebbles and add a few inches of water. You can set the bromeliad container on the tray. Ensure that the plant pot is not sitting in the water soaking it up – increasing the chance of root rot.
- Alternatively, simply move the plant to a naturally more humid location, such as a kitchen or bathroom. If the air is extremely dry, such as in a centrally heated home in the winter, consider setting a humidifier near your Bromeliad. It is beneficial for both your health and that of the plant!
Bromeliad leaves are damaged when temperatures dive too low. The leaves become limp and brown, or the entire plant becomes mushy overnight. Bromeliads are generally comfortable at the same temperatures as humans, so low-temperature damage is likely to be a relatively uncommon occurrence.
4 – Good Air Circulation Promotes Healthy Bromeliad Plants
Epiphytic bromeliads naturally grow in areas with good airflow, even breezy conditions. Air movement is key to preventing fungus and disease as it dries out areas that would otherwise be prone to disease or infection if kept constantly wet.
5 – Pests
The good news is the Bromeliads have relatively few problems with pests.
Listed are some of the most common pests affecting indoor plants and how to control them:
- Mealybug. These cottony white sap suckers cause damage to the leaves and flowers. Manually remove them by carefully wiping them off the plant. Also, check the roots near the top of the soil.
- Scale. Little brown hard knobs are found on both sides of the leaf. The adult of this pest can be removed manually by dabbing it with a cotton earbud soaked in rubbing alcohol. Another method of control is to scrape them off carefully.
Occasionally, thrips, aphids, and weevils can become a problem. Check with your garden center professional for the best way to deal with these.
Bromeliads are sensitive to salts and chemicals. It’s best to use manual methods to get rid of pests before taking the drastic step of spraying with pesticides, organic or chemical.
Tip: Keep any newly purchased plants in isolation for about three weeks before introducing them to the rest of your plant collection. This will allow for enough time for most pests to be picked up.
Carefully check the leaf axels and undersides of leaves daily. After this time, if all is clear, the plant can be confidently placed with the rest of your plants.
Best Care for Your Bromeliad
It’s best to nail down what type of Bromeliad you have purchased to determine the best care.
Bromeliads are generally easy to care for as long as you know how to troubleshoot any problems that might crop up. Stick to the following tried and tested methods to grow a beautiful, healthy bromeliad:
- Cut off the flower after it has turned brown. The plant won’t grow any new flowers, instead, it should produce a few pups.
- Keep the bromeliad plants moist but not soggy in well-draining soil. If it is an urn-type bromeliad, water it with rainwater and rinse the urn regularly. It’s more important to have water in the urn, less than a quarter full, than keeping the soil wet.
- Keep up the relative humidity and temperature.
- Provide plenty of bright yet indirect sunlight, especially for those with gloriously colored leaves.
- Check your leaf axils for pests, and don’t forget to inspect the underside of leaves.
The architectural rosette shape of Bromeliads provides eye-catching focal points suitable to most interior decorating styles and is at home in nearly any room in the house.
Bromeliad collecting is a satisfying hobby, often overflowing to a separate greenhouse, specifically temperature and humidity controlled for optimally lush growth and health of these fantastical plant species.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.