How to Revive a Dying Bromeliad


How to revive a dying bromeliad

Bromeliads are stunning plants and one of my favorites as they can flower for up to one year. However, they are very unusual in that they do not grow in the soil but when in the natural habitat but rather on trees, which means they have very specific care requirements. Therefore, I often get people asking me, “Why is my plant dying?”

I have grown bromeliads commercially for supply garden centers, and I have experimented with finding the best ways to grow them and keep them happy. In this article, I share the insights I gained from years of caring for bromeliads and give all my tips on how I would save them if yours are dying…

A dying bromeliad is usually because of low humidity, underwatering, temperatures lower than 50ºF, or too much sun, all of which turn the leaves brown with a dying appearance. Usually, the bromeliads flower turns brown and dies back after 6 months which also triggers the bromeliads leaves to turn brown and die back.

Don’t be alarmed if your bromeliad plant turns brown and dies after it has flowered, as I can assure you this is part of their natural cycle.

I find brown curling leaves typically indicate stress from low humidity, too much sunlight, and underwatering.

To know how to save your plant, I think it is important that we understand how they grow in the wild…

Bromeliads are epiphytes which are specially adapted to grow on other trees. As a result, they do not like their roots in normal potting soil, which causes the roots to rot and the leaves to turn brown.

In their natural environment, bromeliads attain their moisture requirements for the humid tropical air, making the leaves very susceptible to turning brown and dying indoors due to low humidity.

To revive a dying bromeliad (Bromeliaceae) I recreate the preferred conditions of its native environment with bright indirect light, high humidity, consistently watering, and a temperature range of between 70ºF to 90ºF (21ºC to 32ºC) during the day and 50ºF to 65ºF (10ºC to 18ºC) at night.

Keep reading for my step-by-step guide on how to save it…

Why is My Bromeliad Flower Turning Brown and Dying? (Bromeliads Die After Flowering)

Bromeliad flowers can last for 6 months before turning brown and dying back.
This is a photo of my bromeliad flower that lasted for 12 months before it turned brown and died.
  • Symptoms. The flower is turning brown and dying back.
  • Causes. Bromeliad flowers turn brown and die, which triggers the bromeliad foliage to die back in the following weeks.

Bromeliads can live several years in the right conditions (different species have different life spans, with 2-5 years being common), but the plant does die back after flowering (flowering can last up to 12 months).

Once the bromeliad has flowered, it has completed its life cycle, and the flower and, eventually, all the bromeliads turn brown and die back.

However, the good news is that bromeliads often produce offsets or ‘pups’ throughout their life that emerge from the main base of the plant, which can be used to grow a new plant that should eventually mature and produce another flower.

Even after the bromeliad has flowered and the flower has started to turn brown and die back, the bromeliad can produce more offsets to replace the main plant.

My bromeliads typically have 3 pups once the flowers turn brown and die.

Because bromeliads produce offsets regularly, this means that you can have a continual supply of bromeliad plants for many years as each individual plant goes through its life cycle and dies back.

How I Save it

After the bromeliad’s flower turns brown and starts to die back, I cut the browning flower back to the base with a sharp pair of pruners. I then keep the bromeliad in a warm, humid room with bright indirect light and keep the soil moist but not saturated.

This provides the right conditions for offsets to emerge and grow.

I advise waiting until the offset is around 1/3 of the size of the original mature bromeliad to ensure it is resilient enough to cope with stress before attempting to separate it and re-pot it.

I experimented to propagate offsets smaller than 1/3 the size of the original plant but found they did not have a developed enough root system to survive. I had a much better survival rate once the plant reached a good size.

Re-pot the offset into ideally a terracotta pot (as this is porous, which allows the soil to dry evenly), and I personally use an orchid potting mix to repot as most houseplant bromeliads are epiphytes like orchids, which means they require potting mixes with the same characteristics, although specific bromeliad potting mixes can be bought online or in garden centers.

Here is a YouTube video which has a great visual explanation of how to separate bromeliad off setts from the mature plant:

Air plants are types of bromeliad, but generally require slightly different care.
These are my air plants, which are types of bromeliad but generally require slightly different care.

(Read my article on how to revive dying air plants, which are also a type of bromeliad).

Why is my Bromeliad Turning Brown?

  • Symptoms. Bromeliad leaves, and roots turn brown and die back. Leaves may turn brown and start curling in appearance.
  • Causes. Root rot from overwatering and damp soil causes the leaves and roots to turn brown. Low humidity and underwatering cause the leaves to curl and die back. Too much sun can bleach the leaves brown or even white, depending on sun intensity. Cold temperatures also contribute to leaves turning brown and dying.

I often observe bromeliads turning brown because of too much sun, low humidity, cold temperatures, or overwatering. Most bromeliads are epiphytes that grow in well-draining conditions. If the roots are in boggy soil from overwatering or poor drainage, they start to rot, which causes the bromeliad’s leaves to turn brown with a dying appearance.

Overwatering and Damp Soil…

In their natural environment, bromeliads grow on tree branches or rocks, and their roots are used for stability to anchor the plant in place.

The bromeliad prioritizes anchoring itself in a high-up position off the forest floor so it can be in bright light to promote growth and flowering. (It’s an interesting adaptation, don’t you think?)

The roots do not necessarily grow into the soil, so the bromeliad attains all its moisture and nutrients from the surrounding humid air.

I find this means that the bromeliad’s roots are especially sensitive to root rot if they are in damp or compacted soil.

Bromeliads also do not tolerate any compacted soil and even normal potting soil as it retains moisture for too long and prevents their roots from respiring. This is a common mistake I see people make as the firm in the soil with too much force around the rootball.

Repotting bromeliads into significantly larger pots is also likely to result in a brown, dying bromeliad as larger pots take longer to dry out.

UnderWatering with Low Humidity and Too Much Sun (Brown Curling Leaves)

Most bromeliad houseplants also have leaves that are shaped to funnel water into a central ‘well or ‘tank’ (an adaptation to collect rainfall whilst the bromeliad is off the ground) and thus should be watered by topping up the well so that there is water at all times and regular misting rather than watering the soil.

The 'well' or 'tank' of the bromeliad is in the center of the rosette of leaves which should always stay topped up to avoid the leaves turning brown.
This is my photo of a ‘well’ or ‘tank’ of the bromeliad in the center of the rosette of leaves, which should always stay topped up to avoid the leaves turning brown.

If the well is dry, the bromeliad leaves dry out, start curling, turn brown, and die back.

Bromeliads also thrive in bright, indirect light.

I find if the room is too shaded then growth is usually poor whereas too much direct sunlight bleaches the leaves and can causes the tips or perhaps all of the leaf to turn brown and scorched or lose color and turn somewhat white.

Most bromeliad plants are also native to tropical areas and prefer a humidity of around 50 to 75% (Which is very high for a houseplant). The humidity in our homes is often nowhere near as high as this, which is why this might just be the most common reason for brown leaves and flowers.

Temperature…

Bromeliads are also fairly unusual in requiring a 10ºF fluctuation in temperature from day to night to photosynthesize.

The optimal daytime temperature ranges between 70ºF to 90ºF (21ºC to 32º) and between of 50ºF to 65ºF (10ºC to 18ºC) during the night. I would consider whether your bromeliad is too near any source of indoor heating as this can cause the opposite temperature cycle with higher temperatures at night, which is in contrast to the preferred conditions.

Any exposure to temperatures outside the preferred range can contribute to the bromeliad turning brown.

How to Save it…

From experience, the key to reviving bromeliad with brown leaves is to replicate the conditions of its native environment. I do this by increasing the humidity with regular misting, maintaining a temperature range of between 50ºF and 90ºF, and planting the bromeliad in an aerated, porous potting medium.

But the first thing I do is cut back leaves that have turned brown and crispy.

  • Mist the bromeliad every day to counteract low humidity, use a humidifier, or place it in a bathroom or kitchen. Keep the bromeliad away from any draughts or air currents that could be caused by air conditioning or forced air. I experimented with all three approaches and found my bromeliad was more likely to revive if I placed it in a room with a humidifier, as I found it was key to keep the humidity not just high but consistent.
  • Maintain a temperature range of between 50ºF to 65ºF (10ºC to 18ºC) at night and 70ºF to 90ºF (21ºC to 32º). I keep my bromeliad on the other side of the room from radiators or any source of indoor heating and do not allow any leaves to be in contact with the cold glass of a window.
  • Place the bromeliad in an area of bright indirect sunlight, away from full sun. If any leaves have been scorched brown or bleached by the sun, cut them back to the base of the plant with a sharp pair of pruners, as these individual leaves do not recover their green appearance. I place mine in a bathroom (as the window is frosted, which diffuses the light) or in a bright room with a sheer curtain, which I found is also effective at softening the harsh sunlight.
  • Keep the bromeliad’s ‘tank’ or ‘well’ topped up when watering. If the bromeliad cultivar is an epiphyte (most houseplant bromeliads are), then it is important to water the tank rather than the soil to prevent the leaves from turning brown, as damp soil promotes the conditions for root rot. I find I have to top mine up every week to prevent it from turning brown and crispy.
  • Always re-pot bromeliads in an orchid potting medium rather than potting soil. Normal potting soil is not porous enough for the bromeliad and retains too much water. Orchid potting medium is my favorite as it is well-aerated, which allows for good drainage and replicates the growing conditions of the bromeliad’s native environment to prevent root rot and browning leaves.
  • Plant bromeliads in terracotta or unglazed clay pots. Terracotta and clay are my preferred pots as they are naturally porous, which allows the potting medium to dry more evenly and mitigate the risk of root rot. Always re-pot the bromeliad or bromeliads off-setts in a pot that is one size larger than the previous pot. Bromeliads are so sensitive to overwatering and damp soil mediums that it is important to use a slightly larger pot, as this should dry at a similar rate to the previous pot.
  • I would cut away any individual leaves that have turned brown. Once the leaves have turned brown, they do not turn green again, so I snip them back with a sharp pair of pruners.

Once you have corrected the environmental conditions that were causing your bromeliad’s leaves to turn brown and created the optimal conditions, with high humidity, bright light, the preferred temperature range, and the right potting medium, it is more likely the bromeliad should recover, but I find full recovery can take months.

However, if the bromeliad’s leaves have turned brown because of any issues pertaining to overwatering, damp, or compacted soil, it is likely to cause root rot, which is more difficult for the plant to recover from.

If the original mature plant dies back, then bromeliads often grow off setts in abundance, which is very easy to propagate to save the plant. I have had to do this many times, and it has been the best way to revive it.

(Read my guide, How do I Care for a Bromeliad Indoors).

Key Takeaways:

  • The reason for a dying bromeliad is usually because of low humidity, underwatering, or too much sun. Bromeliads attain their moisture requirements from humid air rather than soil and prefer a bright indirect light rather than full sun. Low humidity and direct sunlight turn the leaves brown and curl with a dying appearance.
  • Bromeliad flowers turn brown after 6 months of flowering as a natural part of the bromeliad’s life cycle. The flower turns brown and dies back, which triggers new offshoots to grow, and the mature bromeliad plant’s foliage turns brown with a dying appearance.
  • The bromeliad foliage turns brown and dies back if the soil is too damp or compacted. Bromeliads are epiphytes that naturally grow in trees and prefer an orchid-based potting medium that replicates their natural growing conditions. Consistently damp soil causes root rot and results in dying leaves.
  • To revive a dying bromeliad, recreate the preferred conditions of its native environment by misting regularly to increase the humidity, maintain a temperature range of 50ºF to 90ºF, and locate the bromeliad in bright indirect light. Prune back any brown, dying leaves with a sharp pair of pruners and propagate any off-setts.

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