Bromeliads are an unusual-looking houseplant and relative of the pineapple which exude colorful tropical energy. They are not difficult to care for, but they do have some specific needs and will react badly if these are not met.
If you find that the leaves of your bromeliad plant are curling, several things could be causing the problem.
The most common cause for curling leaves on bromeliad plants is a lack of water. Plants lose moisture through their leaves, and when they don’t receive enough water the cells in the leaves collapse – curling the leaf, reducing the surface area vulnerable to moisture loss.
Other issues could be causing the leaves on your bromeliad plant to curl. In this article, I’m going to round them up and help you understand the solutions!
Reasons for Bromeliad Leaves Curling
Bromeliads are native to tropical and subtropical parts of the Americas and most need a moist, humid environment to thrive.
Some bromeliads are epiphytes, which means they grow on other plants or structures and don’t use their roots to acquire water or nutrients. Others are terrestrial and get moisture and nutrients through their roots from the earth.
Terrestrial bromeliads such as Dyckia tend to be more drought tolerant than their epiphyte cousins and are sometimes mistaken for succulents or cacti.
Although they share similarities with succulents, bromeliads lack the water storage systems of true succulents and enter a state of dormancy when deprived of water.
The lack of water causes the cells of the plant to gradually collapse, which has the effect of curling the plant’s leaves.
For terrestrial bromeliads, make sure you water regularly, always checking first whether they need it. If the top two inches of the potting medium are moist, your plant does not need more water, even if its leaves are curling.
Epiphyte bromeliads, often known as ‘air plants’, absorb water through their leaves and often have a central ‘tank’ which in their natural environment fills up with rainwater, debris, and even insects, providing the plants with all the moisture and nutrition they need.
When keeping epiphytic bromeliads as houseplants it is vital to fill this tank with water once a week(top it up when it is nearly empty). Emptying the tank of stagnant water every couple of weeks will also help to keep your plant healthy.
- Keep the potting medium of terrestrial bromeliads well-draining, moist, but not wet.
- Use your fingers to check the top two inches of potting medium – water if dry.
- Pick up the pot – if it is very light your plant probably needs some water.
- For epiphytes, fill the central tank when empty.
- Empty tank every couple of weeks.
Epiphyte bromeliads use specially adapted scales on their leaves to absorb water and nutrients from the air.
In their natural environment, they use their roots to attach themselves to other plants or structures, but many can be grown terrestrially in pots.
If you decide to grow your epiphytic bromeliad in a pot it is important to remember that the plant still needs to take in water and nutrients through its leaves – so always water into the central reservoir, never at the roots.
If you water an epiphytic bromeliad at the roots, this will result in the plant not taking in any water, the leaves will curl and the plant will slowly die of dehydration.
Always check the needs of your particular type of bromeliad. If it is a terrestrial type, water it through the roots like a regular houseplant. If it is an epiphyte type, even if you are keeping it in a traditional pot, water your plant by filling the central tank.
- Check your bromeliad type.
- Water terrestrial bromeliads at the roots.
- Water epiphytic bromeliads through the central tank.
Our homes tend to have dry air due to heating and air conditioning, which can be a challenge for houseplants.
Bromeliads of all kinds like a humidity level of at least 40–60%, and usually prefer a level around 50% and will rapidly lose moisture from their leaves in humidity levels lower than this, causing their leaves to curl and die quickly.
You can measure the humidity level in your home easily using a hygrometer. If you find that the humidity level is below 40%, you’re going to need to increase it to keep your bromeliads happy.
To increase the humidity level in your home you could buy a humidifier, or place your plants on humidity trays – trays of water with pebbles sitting above the water level to stop the pots soaking in the water.
- Increase the humidity level in your home to at least 40%.
- Keep track of the humidity levels in your home using a hygrometer.
Although bromeliads are native to tropical areas, they are not very heavy feeders. They require a mix of nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, and nitrogen to thrive, but if given too much of any of these nutrients will display symptoms such as curling, floppy leaves.
If you have a terrestrial bromeliad, give it a feed with well-diluted, general-purpose houseplant fertilizer about once a month during the growing season, and don’t feed it at all during winter. Make sure to check the needs of your particular plant.
Epiphyte bromeliads usually need less feeding as they take in nutrients from debris that falls into their central tank.
Most epiphytic bromeliads will appreciate a feed once a month during the growing season with well-diluted liquid orchid food, delivered through their central tank. As with terrestrial plants, stop feeding in winter.
- Feed your terrestrial bromeliad plant every four weeks with 20-20-20 fertilizer.
- Epiphyte bromeliads prefer orchid fertilizer or none at all.
- Do not feed during winter.
- Ensure that fertilizers do not contain copper.
Lack of Nutrition
While it is true that bromeliads are not hungry plants, they do need some nutrients to live happily. Terrestrial bromeliads absorb nutrients through their roots and like a rich growing medium that is kept consistently moist and well-draining.
If your bromeliad plant is not getting enough nutrients, the leaves will slowly start to curl and die off. The plant doesn’t have enough energy to keep all its leaves working properly so it gradually shuts them down.
- Feed bromeliad plants every 4 weeks during the growing season.
- Feed terrestrial bromeliads through the potting medium.
- Feed epiphytic bromeliads through the central reservoir.
- Remember, no copper!
Bromeliad plants like it hot – ideally between 55 and 80°F (13 and 27°C), never less than 40°F (4°C). They are used to generally consistent temperatures and don’t like sudden changes.
Some types are more tolerant than others, so always check your variety’s preference.
If you’ve recently brought a bromeliad home or moved your plant to different surroundings and found its leaves starting to curl, this could be the problem.
Remember that windows, radiators, A/C units, and doorways can all cause temperature fluctuation.
- Avoid moving your bromeliad plant between different environments.
- Acclimatize your plant over a few days if it has to be moved.
- Keep your plant away from draughts and heat sources.
Many people think that because bromeliads are tropical plants, they need a lot of water to survive. This is not usually true. Most varieties have quite modest water needs and overwatering can have severe consequences, such as root rot.
Bromeliad plants generally have very small root systems. If you keep as terrestrial plants will do best in a small pot, no larger than 3 to 5 inches, or 7 inches for very large plants.
If the pot is too large, water collects in the unused potting medium and encourages fungal growth, which can lead to root rot.
Even with a smaller pot, the medium must be very well-draining. If the potting medium is too wet fungal growth will likely occur, eventually causing the plant’s roots to rot.
This stops the plant from absorbing water and nutrients through its roots, causing curling leaves that eventually die and fall off the plant.
Epiphyte bromeliads are more difficult to overwater, as long as you water them in the right place – through the central tank.
- Water bromeliads in the right place – check your type!
- Keep terrestrial bromeliads in small pots.
Tap water contains substances such as sodium, chlorine, and fluoride which build up over time and cause damage to plants, both in the potting medium of terrestrial bromeliads and on the leaves of epiphytic bromeliads.
These substances can block your plant’s ability to absorb moisture and nutrients, causing the leaves to curl and eventually die off.
Bromeliad plants in particular are sensitive to salts and metals in tap water, especially copper. These substances are toxic to bromeliads and will very quickly cause damage and even kill your plant.
- Use filtered or rainwater to water bromeliads.
- Look out for mineral build-up on leaves and potting medium.
- Rinse off build-up with filtered water – either spray or use a soft cloth.
Too Much Direct Sunlight
Bromeliads are usually found in the shade of other plants, and although they love heat and bright light they are not fond of direct sunlight. Their delicate leaves are easily burned by the sun’s rays, especially when focused through a window.
If your bromeliad lives on a windowsill and you’ve noticed its leaves beginning to brown and curl, it is probably getting burned by the sun.
For most bromeliads, 10 – 16 hours of bright, indirect light every day is ideal. Many types can cope with fewer hours of sunlight, but for them to thrive and look their best they need as much bright, indirect light as possible. A few types are happiest in quite low light levels.
Get to know your plant’s particular light preference. In general, keep your bromeliad plant where it will receive lots of bright but indirect light, with minimal contact of the sun’s rays on its leaves.
If your home is very dark, you could install LED lighting to help your plants thrive without needing to put them anywhere near a window.
- Give your bromeliad lots of bright, indirect light.
- Minimize direct sunlight on the leaves.
- Avoid keeping bromeliads on the windowsill.
- Use grow lights in darker rooms.
Exposure to Copper
All types of bromeliads are sensitive to metals, and copper especially is toxic to bromeliad plants. If you’re using a metal container, watering can, support, or any other type of equipment you might notice your bromeliad’s leaves starting to curl and die.
- Never use any tools or equipment that contain metals to deal with your bromeliad.
- Use filtered, distilled, or rainwater to water your bromeliad.
End of Natural Life
Bromeliad plants only tend to live for around 2 – 3 years, and only bloom once. If your plant has flowered and the leaves are now curling and going brown, it could be that it is at the end of its life.
There is no way to stop the natural process of death, and there is no way to stop your bromeliad plant from dying off after it has flowered. However, there is hope!
Check around the base of your bromeliad. You will usually find small offshoots – or ‘pups’ – which can be separated from the main plant and potted on. These will grow like their parent plant, flower, before producing their pups and eventually dying.
- Bromeliads live for 2 – 3 years.
- All types die after flowering once.
- Plants produce pups from the base – baby bromeliads.
- Re-pot pups to enjoy your brand new bromeliads!
How to Prevent Bromeliad Leaves Curling?
To make sure your bromeliad’s leaves don’t start to curl or to stop curling leaves in their tracks:
- Understand the needs of your particular type of bromeliad.
- Ensure your plant is getting enough water.
- Use filtered, distilled, or rainwater.
- Keep humidity level above 40%.
- Check your plant for root rot.
- Avoid direct sunlight on your plant’s leaves.
- Do not use metals, especially copper, near your bromeliad.
- Check for pups at the end of your plant’s life.
Bromeliads are a fun way to bring some tropical color into your home. There are thousands of varieties commercially available, each with its peculiarities, and it can be a challenge to understand and get used to their particular needs.
Whether your plant is terrestrial or an epiphyte, I hope I’ve helped you understand more about why your bromeliad plant’s leaves might be curling, and what you can do about it.
(Source: Clemson University)