Bromeliad blooms are a special breed. They’re often huge and intensely colorful, and they can stay fresh and beautiful for months. Despite their long lifespan, though, these flowers can sometimes run into trouble. We’ll explain how to diagnose and address the most common Bromeliad bloom problems.
If your Bromeliad’s flower spike is turning brown, it could be aging naturally, or it could be suffering from environmental problems. Common examples include dehydration, overwatering, sunburn, and pests. Other Bromeliad bloom problems, such as poor nutrition or lack of light, can prevent or delay flowering.
You should have an easier time recognizing Bromeliad flower problems as you become more familiar with your plant’s natural growth cycle. In addition to tips on diagnosis and treatment, this article will review the stages of Bromeliad growth, flowering, and senescence. That way, you’ll have a clearer idea of when you need to be concerned for your plant’s health.
Why Won’t My Bromeliad Bloom?
One of the most common complaints about Bromeliad flowers is that they aren’t showing up. Imagine you’ve been lovingly tending your plant for more than a year, and now you’ve reached the peak of the growing season. Your garden is bursting with blooms…but your Bromeliad stubbornly refuses to flower.
Sometimes, this comes down to a simple question of timing. Blooming is a once-in-a-lifetime event for these plants. Almost all Bromeliads are monocarpic, meaning they stop growing after flowering and slowly fade away. Their life cycle has three basic stages:
- Maturation. A young Bromeliad grows as a single, spiral-shaped rosette, with new leaves growing in at the center. This phase typically lasts one to five years, depending on the amount of sunlight, water, and nutrition the plant receives.
- Flowering. When the Bromeliad has developed enough, it sprouts an inflorescence consisting of many tiny flower buds sheltered by modified leaves called bracts. The bracts are often the most colorful and dramatic part of the bloom. The inflorescence usually remains healthy for three to six months.
- Senescence. By the time the bloom has dried up and dropped off, a Bromeliad has usually begun growing small clones outside its central rosette. These “pups” will get bigger as the parent plant weakens and dies, which usually takes about one to three years.
Bromeliads are often sold while they’re flowering, and their beauty is at its peak. If your plant was in Stage 2 last year when you bought it, don’t expect it to bloom again. Alternatively, if it’s only been a year or two since you propagated a Bromeliad pup, it may need a little more time to mature.
However, it’s also possible for poor culture conditions to delay flowering. Here are a few common Bromeliad bloom problems that could be holding your plant back:
Your Bromeliad Might Not Have Enough Light to Bloom
Those big, fancy, colorful flower stalks that Bromeliads produce don’t come cheap. Your plant has to invest a considerable amount of energy into blooming. And the only way it can get that energy is by absorbing light. If it doesn’t get enough, it can’t flower.
This is one of the most common indoor Bromeliad bloom problems. Many houseplant owners learn that these plants prefer partial shade and respond by placing them in low-light areas.
Here’s the thing, though: almost any indoor location is “partially shaded” compared to the outdoor environments where Bromeliads evolved. No, you don’t want to scorch your plant by placing it on the sill of a hot south-facing window, but you also don’t want to tuck it away in a shadowy corner.
To help your Bromeliad to bloom, try to provide it with at least 6 hours of bright indirect light per day. Many of these plants can even handle a couple of hours of direct light during the morning. If you want to get technical, you can measure the intensity of the light when the sun is brightest using an inexpensive illuminance meter. Bright indirect light” translates to about 10k-20k lux.
It’s best to move your Bromeliad into a better-lit spot gradually, giving it time to adjust. For the first few days, you can put it in the brighter area for an hour or two only. Then start giving it a little more time in the sun every day. Over the next two to three weeks, you can get it to the point where it’s able to spend all day there. This added energy may be all it needs to start blooming.
Your Bromeliad Won’t Bloom If It’s Improperly Watered
More sunlight means your Bromeliad will use water at a faster rate, so make sure you’re keeping it well-hydrated. Insufficient moisture is another problem that could stop your plant from flowering. You’ll probably notice other signs of dehydration as well, such as drooping or crispy leaves.
Of course, the opposite error can be even worse. Watering too often could stifle your Bromeliad’s roots, depriving it of the oxygen, water, and nutrients it needs to grow. A severe case of overwatering can lead to a deadly case of root or crown rot. Rapid yellowing or browning can be signs of overwatering, as can limp, soft foliage.
To strike a happy medium, you should test the soil about once a week to see if it’s dry. Poke a finger into the potting mix, and if it feels damp, you can wait a few days and test again. If it’s dry, give your Bromeliad a thorough watering.
Alternatively, if your Bromeliad’s foliage dips down at the center to form a “tank” or “urn”, you can water the plant there and leave the potting mix alone. This is often easier to get right because it doesn’t require any judgment calls about soil moisture. Instead, just make sure it’s always about ⅓ full of water and rinse it out once a week.
Nutrient Problems Can Delay a Bromeliad Bloom
Bromeliads can get by with a lot less fertilizer than some houseplants. You’ll still need to supply yours with some fertilizer if you want it to bloom, though.
Signs of malnutrition aren’t always obvious. Your Bromeliad may simply seem to be growing very slowly. It may rarely produce new foliage, and any fresh leaves may be unusually small. When the plant starts running seriously low on nutrients, you might see other indicators, such as discolored or misshapen leaves.
It’s also possible to err on the side of excess. Too much nitrogen can keep your Bromeliad from flowering — not by starving it, but by pushing it toward leafy growth instead of bloom production. If your plant seems to be exuberantly healthy, bushy, and green, but it’s not flowering, there’s a chance you’re fertilizing too much.
The best approach: every four to six weeks during the growing season, mix a small amount of liquid fertilizer into your plant’s water. Use a well-balanced formula and dilute the dosage to ½ or ¼ of the strength that the packaging calls for. Taper off the dosage to zero as the weather turns cold in the autumn.
Another option is to add a mild dose of slow-release fertilizer pellets to your Bromeliad’s soil. Once at the beginning of spring is usually enough.
Bonus Tip: The Apple Bag Trick
If you’re already giving your Bromeliad a healthy amount of light, water, and fertilizer, there’s one other thing you can do to encourage blooming. This technique relies on the biological signals that tell your plant it’s time to flower.
Many flowering and fruiting plants regulate their reproductive cycles with a hormone called ethylene. The interesting thing about ethylene is that it’s a gas at room temperature, so groups of plants can use it to coordinate their fruiting and flowering. That’s why, for example, all of the apples and bananas in the supermarket are usually at roughly the same stage of ripeness.
You can use one of those fruits to force a bloom. This can be remarkably effective on a mature plant (one that’s been growing in its own pot for at least a year). Simply seal your Bromeliad inside a clear plastic bag with a ripe fruit. Any of the following should work:
Make sure to empty out any water from your Bromeliad’s “tank” first. Let it sit in the bag for 10-14 days, keeping it away from direct sunlight. Then, take it out, throw away the fruit, and resume normal care.
It normally takes a little while for your plant to respond. After two to four months, though, you should see it start to bloom.
Why Is Your Bromeliad Bloom Dying?
Now, let’s turn to the other category of Bromeliad bloom problems: those that come after you’ve convinced your plant to flower.
If you’ve been following along so far, you may have guessed that ordinary aging can explain some of these “problems”. If your Bromeliad’s flower stalk has been in bloom for months, it’s completely normal for it to start losing its color and drying up. The plant is simply nearing the end of its lifespan.
On the other hand, if your Bromeliad bloom seems to be dying when it should be in its prime, you might be dealing with one of the following problems:
Sunburned Bromeliad Blooms
We mentioned above that direct sunlight exposure can be a problem for your Bromeliad. It’s especially vulnerable if it’s been growing in dim light for a while (for example, under fluorescent lighting in a big box store’s garden center). The harsh lighting can heat up and dehydrate the leaves and flowers.
Any part of your Bromeliad can suffer from sun scorch, but it tends to strike the uppermost surfaces of the plant first. After all, that’s where the sun is usually strongest. Many Bromeliads tend to grow tall flower spikes that are easy targets for the sun’s rays.
Damage from sunlight may bleach the colors from your Bromeliad’s inflorescence. It can also create dead spots where the tissues have dried out completely. These scorched areas can be tan, dark brown, black, or even reddish, but they’ll always be stiff and dry to the touch. And they’ll be mainly concentrated on the highest surfaces or those facing the nearest window.
When you see this type of damage, move your plant someplace where sunbeams can’t fall directly on its leaves. There’s nothing much you can do for the sections that are already damaged, unfortunately. You can prune away any crispy-looking bracts (always disinfecting your trimmers first), but the benefits are mostly cosmetic.
Infested Flower Spike
Pests are another possible source of Bromeliad bloom problems. There are a few different types of parasitic bugs that can infest these plants. Many of them like to target the freshest, most tender growth, which often includes the developing inflorescence.
The symptoms can vary depending on what kind of critters are plaguing your Bromeliad. Sometimes, you’ll be able to spot the bugs themselves. Other times, your first clue will be the damage they leave behind.
A bloom that’s growing in a balled-up, shriveled shape could have a pest problem. The bracts (the “petals” of the inflorescence) may curl up or droop down. They might also have odd-looking blotches or scars. Here are the characteristic signs of a few well-known Bromeliad pests:
- Mealybugs: Bits of fluffy white wax resembling cotton. Sticky fluid (known as honeydew) on the leaves, sometimes with sooty mold growing in it.
- Spider mites: Large areas covered with pinprick-sized yellow scars. Dirty-looking webbing between the leaves.
- Scale: Warty-looking brown, red, or black bumps on the foliage.
- Thrips: Uneven silver-gray patches that look like scuff marks. Tiny bugs dart away when the plant is shaken.
- Aphids: Clusters of small, pear-shaped bugs, along with sticky honeydew.
Quarantine your Bromeliad immediately if you think it’s infested. Wash off as many of the pests as you can with a spray of water, then treat with insecticidal sprays or oils. This article has some specific recommendations for different Bromeliad pests.
No matter what’s invading your Bromeliad, you may want to prepare yourself for a long fight. It often takes at least three to four rounds of treatment to rid your plant of pests.
Watering Problems Can Affect Flowers Too
We’ve already discussed overwatering and underwatering as possible reasons for delayed blooming. But they can also mess up the inflorescence after it emerges.
When the plant is too thirsty, the flower stalk may wilt, with the edges becoming dry and crunchy. Overwatering may also cause drooping, but the texture of the leaves will often be soft rather than brittle. If the soil stays too wet for too long, rot may start to spread up the flower spike.
The solution for underwatering is very simple: water your plant. Drench the soil thoroughly and wait for your Bromeliad to perk back up. If it’s overwatered, you’ll need to check for any mushy roots and leaves, pruning them away wherever you find them. You might also have to repot your Bromeliad in new soil with better drainage.
My Bromeliad Bloom Won’t Open!
Another reason you might be concerned is that your plant’s flower seems to be stuck. Though the colorful petals have formed, they aren’t spreading open to welcome pollinators the way you’d expect.
This may not actually be a Bromeliad bloom problem. It’s often just a case of mistaken identity.
Remember that the showy, colorful “petals” on your Bromeliad’s inflorescence are really bracts — modified leaves. In some species, they form a spreading shape reminiscent of blossoming flowers, but that’s not always the case. They may appear to be folded up and closed even when the flowers they shelter are blooming happily.
This illusion is common with Bromeliads in the genus Vriesea. These plants tend to grow flat, feather-shaped inflorescences that may look like unopened blooms to the untrained eye.
If you want to spot a Vrisea’s actual flowers, look for the delicate stalks popping out from between the bracts. They’re often quite small and thread-like in appearance, and they may droop down quickly after emerging. This can make it look like the bloom is struggling to open all the way. In reality, it’s doing just what it’s supposed to do.
Neoregelias are another common strain of Bromeliads that may appear to be failing to flower even while they’re succeeding. Instead of raising a tall flower stalk, they keep their blooms sheltered inside their central tanks. This can be concerning for new Bromeliad owners who were expecting a sprouting bloom like those on a Guzmania or an Aechmea, but it’s completely normal.
What to Do When Your Bromeliad Bloom Dies
Once your Bromeliad’s flower spike has reached the end of its lifespan, there’s only one thing to do with it: cut it off. This particular stalk will never bloom again, and until it’s removed, it will be using resources that would be better spent on the new crop of pups the plant is growing.
That said, there’s no particular rush. You can wait until the inflorescence has faded and shriveled up enough that you no longer enjoy looking at it. Once you decide it’s time, use a pair of sanitized scissors to clip off the stalk as close to the base as possible. If you have a Neoregelia, you might have to reach down into the plant’s “well” and scoop out the bloom by hand.
Although this Bromeliad’s blooming days are over, it will pass the torch to the new plants popping up around it. Now that you’ve gotten rid of the old bloom, they should have even more energy to sprout and grow.
Serious Bromeliad bloom problems are relatively rare. As long as your plant is well-supplied with the essentials — sunlight, water, air, and fertilizer — it should produce gorgeous blooms in good time. And if you want to speed it up a bit, you now know an easy way to step on the gas (no pun intended). Best of luck to your Bromeliad and its blooms!