Are you worried that the time with your beloved outdoor bromeliad is ending as the cold weather creeps in? The good news for you is, that doesn’t have to be the case! If you live in a warmer climate—USDA zones 10 and 11—there’s nothing to fret about, but you will need to bring plants inside until spring in colder climates.
Let’s talk about how you can adequately care for your plants through the winter to keep them healthy and thriving. This article will focus primarily on caring for plants indoors and includes some information on outdoor bromeliad care.
Start by Assessing the Situation
First things, first. Stop and think about your plants and how you want to proceed. Do you have plants that have flowered and are fading? Do you want to care for extra plants through the winter? Do you have space in your home for your bromeliads? Then decide if you’re going to bring them indoors or toss them.
Clean Out Unwanted Plants
If you have bromeliads in your outdoor container garden and don’t want to haul them inside, that’s okay. You can treat these plants as annuals and buy new ones next spring. Don’t leave them outside, though. Pull them out of the containers and get rid of them, including the used potting mix. You can start with fresh growing media next spring.
Letting the plants linger through the winter significantly increases the chance of problems down the road. Since they won’t survive the cold temperatures, all they will do is attract pests and encourage diseases.
Move Plants Indoors You Want to Keep
Most bromeliads need to be brought indoors for the winter, as plants can’t survive colder temperatures. Once temps start dropping and the threat of frost is imminent, pull containers into your garage or house, depending on your available space and the type you’re growing. Cold-tolerant species will survive in a well-insulated garage, but others need it warmer.
Some species of vriesea and dyckia are okay as temps drop down to about 20°F. The cold might cause minor leaf damage, but the plants typically bounce back when it warms up again.
Check For Pests Before Adding Plants to Your Collection
Anytime you bring a new plant into your home—whether from your garden or the nursery—you must check it carefully for pests. Look over the entire plant, especially the undersides of the leaves and the nodes where the leaves attach to the stem. If you see any problems, treat them immediately and keep the plant quarantined for a couple of weeks.
Many people will automatically quarantine any plant they bring into the house for good measure. Keeping it separate from your houseplant collection gives any unseen insect eggs time to hatch. You can then treat the problem before it spreads to all of your plants.
Basic Care When Overwintering Bromeliads Indoors
Give Your Plant Bright Indirect Sunlight
Since they grow under the forest canopy naturally, bromeliads do best when they get plenty of bright yet indirect sunlight every day. Try to put the container in a spot where it can get at least six hours of filtered light. Windows with Eastern exposure are best, even if the plant gets a little direct sunlight in the morning.
You can always put your plant a few feet away from the window so the sunlight won’t scorch the leaves.
If you’re concerned your plant isn’t getting the right amount of light, don’t fret. Bromeliads are fantastic at telling you if their needs aren’t being met.
- If your plants are getting too much sun, you’ll see bleached or white splotches on the leaves. When too much sunlight is present, the leaf chlorophyll starts producing dangerous oxidants that damage the leaves, causing lightening and discoloration.
- If your plants aren’t getting enough sunlight, they will begin to grow spindly and leggy, and the leaves may take on a darker green hue. The darker color occurs as the plant produces a higher amount of chlorophyll as it is trying to absorb as much sunlight as it possibly can.
Don’t Give Your Plant Water Until It Needs It
One of the critical aspects of growing bromeliads is keeping them from rotting because the soil is too moist. You should water them the same way you’d water succulents or cacti—wait until the two couple of inches of potting mix is dry, and then water the plant thoroughly until the excess runs out the bottom.
You’ll need to water less often than during the warmer months. They slow their growth considerably just before the cold sets in to protect themselves from freezing temperatures and a shortage of water and nutrients, so they require less water. Plants partially need less frequent watering because cooler air temperatures prevent soil moisture from evaporating as quickly.
Remember that bromeliads are sensitive to metals, so it’s best to avoid using a metal watering can.
Keep the Humidity Level High
Bromeliads come from tropical areas, so they prefer a humid, moist environment. In many cases, the air inside is much drier than they’d like, so you may see crispy brown edges on the foliage. If you’re seeing this on your plants, try to increase the relative humidity, so it’s about 60%.
To increase the humidity, you can:
- Keep plants in naturally more humid areas like the kitchen sink or the bathroom.
- Mist the plant periodically.
- Group plants together.
- Create a pebble tray by spreading a layer of small rocks on the bottom of a shallow tray. Put a little bit of water in the tray, setting your plants on the rocks. As the water evaporates, it increases the humidity in the air.
Hold Off On Fertilizing a While
While your plant is resting, it’s helpful to hold back on fertilizing until it resumes active growth in the spring. While you may be tempted to give it a boost and see if you can get it to grow or bloom faster, too much fertilizer can be harmful. Your plant needs to rest. It’s a natural part of its growth cycle.
Too much fertilizer may also cause the foliage to bleach out and lose its vibrant color. It might also prevent your plant from flowering.
Separate Offshoots and Pot Them
You can separate plants with offshoots now. It’s the perfect time to clean them up and repot. Once the pups are about one-third to one-half the parent’s size, pull them or cut them away from the base of the mother and plant them into a new container with a well-draining potting mix.
Before replanting, dip the cut ends of the offshoots into fungicide and rooting hormone to prevent rot and encourage quick root growth. Use plant stakes or popsicle sticks to support the top-heavy pup until it develops strong roots that support the weight.
Spread the Bromeliad Wealth
Many plant owners think they can never have too many plants, but if you find yourself with an overabundance of bromeliads after repotting pups, this is the perfect time to give some away. Don’t worry. If you keep caring for your plants, they’ll continue to multiply! To help the recipients, print out an instruction card to go along with their gift.
General Winter Housekeeping Tasks
- Clean all of your empty containers. Scrub them with a soft-bristled brush and soapy water to remove any mineral buildup and residual potting mix. Then submerge the containers in a bleach-water solution, with nine parts of water to each part of bleach. Soak for about fifteen minutes and pull them out to air-dry. The bleach solution should disinfect them, killing any fungal spores or bacteria that can be lingering.
- Blend up your own potting mix using one part peat moss, one part perlite or sand, and one part chunky tree bark. After mixing, you can store it in a sealed plastic storage container until it’s time to replant offsets or move plants to larger containers.
Caring For Outdoor Bromeliads through The Winter
If you live someplace warm and you can keep your plants outside all year long, first off, you’re lucky! Your job is exponentially easier, but your bromeliad does need to be cared for just a little differently when the temperatures drop because the plant naturally goes into a resting period. Sometimes it goes fully dormant, and other times its growth only slows.
- Just like indoor plants, scale back on watering. Your plant needs less soil moisture because it isn’t growing as quickly, and the cooler air temperatures mean the soil doesn’t dry out as quickly.
- Avoid fertilizing during this slower growth period. You want to give your plant a break, not feed it full of nitrogen that will cause a flush of foliage growth. Once temperatures start climbing in the spring, start fertilizing again.