Gardening time is almost here! Are you ready to get outside and begin planting and watching those veggies grow? I love gardening and cannot wait until I get to put that first seed in the ground. Since it’s nearly time to get started on our gardens, I thought I would share some great gardening recipes with you – that will help you to avoid chemical fertilizers.
I have never been a fan of chemicals in the environment. In fact, I do organic whenever I can, and that includes the fertilizers that I use on my vegetable and flower gardens. The great thing about organic fertilizers is you don’t have to worry about your vegetables containing harmful chemicals – plus, it saves you money.
So, I realize it’s not quite time to go planting those spring gardens, but the time is coming quickly and it’s always better to be prepared, right? Whether you are planting potatoes, tomatoes, or any and all other veggies, I’ve got some great organic fertilizer recipes for you that will help you to save money and provide your family with only the very best in organic vegetables. Oh, and be sure to check out these other gardening Hacks that will save you time and money.
Plants need three things to survive and thrive: Potassium, Phosphorus, and Nitrogen. While store bought chemical fertilizers typically have these nutrients, you can also provide them to your plants without the harsh chemicals by just making them yourself, and most of them can be made with things that you already have on hand, and will probably just throw out. DIYing your fertilizer is a great idea, and we all love to DIY, right?
So, these recipes have been gathered to help you to protect your family and the environment. I can’t wait to try some of them, and I hope you use them as well. Also check out these 100 Expert Gardening Tips that are sure to give you even more ideas on how you can save time and money on your garden this year. I’m ready to get planting…are you?
Table of Contents
- 1. Coffee Grounds Fertilizer
- 2. DIY Molasses Fertilizer
- 3. Organic Tea Fertilizer
- 4. Straight Epsom Salt Fertilizer
- 5. Seaweed Fertilizer
- 6. Grass Clippings Tea
- 7. Gelatin Fertilizer
- 8. Banana Peel Fertilizer
- 9. DIY Fish Emulsion Fertilizer
- 10. Egg Shell Fertilizer
- 11. Quick Fix Fertilizer Tea
- 12. Fireplace Ash Fertilizer
- 13. Manure Tea
- 14. Vinegar Fertilizer
- 15. DIY Bone Meal Fertilizer
- A Better Garden Fertilizer
- Applying COF
- COF Cautions
- Soil Testing
- Chemical Fertilizer Cautions
- 9 Organic Fertilizers to Make at Home – Without Spending a Penny!
- 1. Stinging Nettle Stew
- 2. Comfrey
- 3. Manure Tea
- 4. Manure-Enriched Compost
- 5. Direct Manure Application
- 6. Green Manure
- 7. Seaweed Fertilizer
- 8. Kitchen Scrap Fertilizer
- 9. Coffee Ground Fertilizer
- Air Plant Care
- Air Plant Care: How To Care For Tillandsia
- Air Plants in Glass Globes
- Some of Our Favorites
- Artificial light
- Watering Your Air Plants
- Type of Water
- Air Circulation
- Growth Cycle
- Removing Air Plant Pups
- Mounting Your Tillandsia
- Attaching Your Air Plant
- Caring For Your New Plants After Shipping
- DIY Plant Food
- Homemade Fertilizer for Houseplants
- Homemade Indoor Plant Food
- Related Gardening Hacks
1. Coffee Grounds Fertilizer
Let’s start with coffee because well, you really need coffee, right? Most of us have coffee grounds leftover every day…I know I do. So, you’ll use those grounds, which by the way are filled with nitrogen and helps to increase the acidity in the soil. This is an especially good fertilizer for roses, hydrangeas, and magnolias, but you can also use it on your veggies to help them grow. This is also a really simple recipe – it just takes coffee grounds. You just work your grounds into the soil at the base of your plants, and the coffee will perk those plants right up!
2. DIY Molasses Fertilizer
Molasses, when you create a compost tea, helps to increase the microbes and beneficial bacteria that those microbes feed on. This helps all of your plants to grow big and healthy. To make molasses tea, you just mix one to three tablespoons of preferably organic molasses into a gallon of water. Then just add this tea to your plants once a week or so and watch them grow!
3. Organic Tea Fertilizer
For centuries, gardeners have been mixing this simple tea fertilizer to provide nutrient to plants, and it’s really easy to make. Mix 1/4 cup of Epsom salt with two cups of urine – this may seem like an odd step but it really does work. Mix this with two cups of ash from your wood stove or fireplace and then fill the five gallon bucket up with grass clippings or even weeds that you pull from your garden. Fill to the top of the bucket with water and allow the tea to steep for three days. Strain the tea after three days and dilute it by half with water. You can do this in a two liter bottle. Just add directly to the soil around your plants.
4. Straight Epsom Salt Fertilizer
If you prefer something a bit more simple, you can mix Epsom salt with water for a good fertilizer, too. You can find Epsom salt on Amazon, and it’s really inexpensive. It’s also a great source of magnesium and sulfur and is especially good for roses and tomatoes. This is a no-fail fertilizer. You just can’t get this one wrong. Just add a tablespoon of salt to a gallon of water and use this to feed your indoor and outdoor plants.
5. Seaweed Fertilizer
Okay, this one is better if you actually live near the sea…wouldn’t we all love to live near the sea. It’s another recipe that has been used for centuries. Seaweed contains mannitol that helps to increase the ability of your plants to absorb the nutrients that are naturally found in soil. You can use fresh or dried seaweed – for those of us not lucky enough to live near a beach, you can purchase dried seaweed at most organic stores. You’ll need eight cups of chopped seaweed. Fill a five gallon bucket halfway with water – use rainwater if you can, and then add the seaweed. Let it steep for three weeks and then strain. It stores well for up to three weeks. Then just mix half seaweed tea and half water in a two liter bottle and water your plants.
6. Grass Clippings Tea
Put those grass clippings to work the next time you mow your lawn. Place fresh grass clippings in a five gallon bucket and then cover with water. You’ll need to let this sit for about five days. Then dilute the fertilizer tea by adding 10 cups of fresh water to one cup of tea and pour on soil. The grass clippings help to add essential nutrients back into the soil.
7. Gelatin Fertilizer
Did I say that you can make organic fertilizer out of nearly anything? This gelatin fertilizer is proof of that. Gelatin is a great source of nitrogen, which your soil needs to produce big, healthy plants. Just dissolve a package of plain gelatin into a cup of hot water and then add three cups of cold water. Pour this onto the soil surrounding your plants about once per month. It’s also a great recipe for houseplants.
8. Banana Peel Fertilizer
Okay, so you’ve probably heard of using banana peels to help plants grow, right? We all know that bananas are rich in potassium. They also contain calcium and phosphorous and are perfect for fertilizing flowering plants and fruit trees and plants. You can just bury banana peels in the soil at the base of your plants and allow them to decompose. You could also freeze your overripe bananas (if you aren’t planning to make banana nut bread, that is) and then bury those next to your plants. Or, make a spray by soaking banana peels in water for three days and then spray your plants or seedlings to add the needed nutrients. This is also a great recipe for houseplants.
9. DIY Fish Emulsion Fertilizer
Fish waste, including fish parts and the water that fish are swimming in, is really good for your plants. This is another centuries old recipe and it’s one that takes a bit more effort to make and longer to create. The results though are astounding. Note that you’re using fish waste, so the smell is going to be less than pleasant. So, you’ll want to fill a 55 gallon drum about a third of the way with two parts water and one part fish waste. Let this steep for about 24 hours. Once that time is up, fill the drum to the top with water and cover loosely. You’ll want to let this ferment for a few weeks, normally around three weeks for best results. Add this to your soil around plants. The ratio is three gallons of liquid per 100 square feet of garden space. If you can get past the smell, this is a great fertilizer that adds tons of nutrients to the soil. It’s also a good way to dispose of fish waste and water if you have a freshwater aquarium.
10. Egg Shell Fertilizer
Egg shells are something else that you probably have tons of throughout the week and typically just throw out. The shells contain a lot of calcium which helps with cellular growth in your plants. Calcium deficient soil can lead to blossom end rot on tomatoes and various other garden catastrophes. This egg shell fertilizer will help to end that. Just crush up used egg shells and then bury them in the soil. Or, you can make a spray with 20 egg shells and a gallon of water. Boil the shells in the water for just a few minutes and then leave overnight. Strain the shells and add the water to a spray bottle to spray directly onto your soil.
11. Quick Fix Fertilizer Tea
Sometimes you just don’t have time to wait for days or weeks for a fertilizer tea to steep. If that’s the case, you can make this quick fix fertilizer tea that actually uses real tea. In an empty gallon jug, just add a teaspoon of baking powder, a teaspoon of ammonia, three teaspoons of instant iced tea, and three teaspoons of molasses. You also need three tablespoons of molasses and three tablespoons of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide with 1/4 cup of crushed bone scraps, one crushed egg shell, and half of a dried banana peel. The ammonia adds nitrogen while the tea has tannic acid to help plants absorb nutrients. Hydrogen peroxide feeds oxygen to plants and of course, bananas add potassium. Once you’ve added these ingredients, fill your jug with water and let it sit for an hour, then water your plants.
12. Fireplace Ash Fertilizer
Fireplace ash provides calcium carbonate and potassium to plants. All you need to do is add the ash to the garden bed and then massage it into the soil. It may be best to do this right before planting so that you don’t risk knocking your plants over or harming them while massing the ash into the soil.
13. Manure Tea
Manure has been used for centuries as well for fertilizing and you can use manure from any farm animal that you may have. If you don’t have farm animals, your neighbors will probably be glad to give you some manure from their animals. You’ll want a shovel full and the manure should be pretty well aged, so nothing from the same day that you plan to make the tea. Put the manure in a pillowcase or burlap sack and then soak the bag in a five gallon bucket of water for about two weeks. Just dilute the tea with water by half and use it to water your plants. Not only does this help to add essential nutrients, you also get the benefits of manure without actually having to smell fresh manure on your plants.
14. Vinegar Fertilizer
Vinegar has acetic acid that is great for certain plaints. You can use this on roses and various other houseplants as well as vegetables in your garden. To make vinegar fertilizer, just combine a tablespoon of white vinegar (only white vinegar as apple cider vinegar doesn’t have the same nutrient properties) with a gallon of water. Use this solution to water your plants about once every three months for best results.
15. DIY Bone Meal Fertilizer
Bone meal is a great organic fertilizer and another way to use up things that you would probably throw out otherwise. You can make your own bone meal by boiling chicken bones. Be sure that the bones are completely clean before starting. Boil the bones for two days – be sure to turn the stove off at night and just let them sit. They’ll get soft after a couple of days of boiling and then you can grind them up with water in a blender. Add this solution to your soil under plants. This is great for tomatoes and many other blooming plants.
A Better Garden Fertilizer
Once a year, best done immediately before planting the first spring crop, uniformly broadcast 4 to 6 quarts of COF atop each 100 square feet of raised bed, or, if you organize your garden in long rows, scatter 4-6 quarts of COF down each 50 feet of planting row in a band 12 to 18 inches wide. Blend in the fertilizer with a hoe or dig it in. This amount provides more than sufficient fertility for what I’ve classified as “low-demand” vegetables to grow to their maximum potential and is usually enough to adequately feed “medium-demand” vegetables. If you’re planting in hills, first broadcast and dig in the usual 4-6 quarts of COF per 100 square feet and then mix an additional cup of fertilizer deep into each hill when forming it.
After the initial application, every three to four weeks you may sprinkle seed meal around medium- and high-demand vegetables. Spread it thinly, covering the area that the root system will grow into over the next few weeks. As the plants grow, repeat this “side-dressing,” placing each dusting farther from the plants’ centers. Each application will require more seed meal than the previous. As a rough guide, side-dress no more than 4 additional quarts total per 100 square feet of bed during a crop cycle. After side-dressing, if the growth rate fails to increase over the next few weeks, the most recent application wasn’t needed, so don’t add any more.
COF must not be spread more than one time each year or else you risk adding too much lime. The amount of lime in COF was carefully calculated to provide just enough calcium and magnesium and sulphur as essential plant nutrients but not enough to massively change the soil pH or overload your soil with calcium and magnesium. If you are planting a following crop in the same year and wish to increase fertility in that bed or row, if the earlier crop had already received the usual amount of COF do not use COF again until next year. Instead, spread and work in only seed meal at the rate of 3 to 4 quarts per 100 square feet. If you have lots of money and care about your health, a better supplemental fertilizer is three to four parts seed meal and one part kelp meal.
COF works great anywhere there is enough rainfall to grow crops well but it may not work well, may even do damage, if it is used in arid regions. That’s because the soil mineral profile in much of the North American West and also in the Wheat Belt of the Prairie States, such as western Kanasas and eastern Colorado, is quite different compared to where there is more rain. Dry-climate soils tend to have high levels of calcium and sometimes excessive magnesium or sodium. Gardeners in those regions had better consult their local experts about what sorts of lime, if any, should be put into your soil. If, without doing a soil test first, I had to recommend a fertilizer for someone in these regions, I’d suggest digging in a half-inch-thick layer of compost or rotted manure, making a mixture of 4 parts seed meal, 1 part bone meal and 1 part kelp meal, spreading that incomplete organic fertilizer at 4 quarts per 100 square feet, and in that conversation I’d strongly urge the person to get a proper soil test.
People who have been compost gardening for many years are usually delighted when they experience what happens when they add COF. However, COF has limitations: it is designed to bring an imaginary soil containing absolutely no plant nutrients to near-perfection in terms of the major nutrients — NPKCaMg. Complete Organic Fertilizer contains some sulphur, but often this proves to be not enough sulphur. It does not provide the “minor nutrients” — copper, zinc, iron, manganese, boron. The kelp meal in it insures that your soil is not critically short of a long list of “trace nutrients” such as cobalt or iodine.
COF will, over three or four years of use, induce soil imbalances, especially amongst the minor nutrients. If everything that was taken from your garden were returned to it, then, assuming your soil was sufficiently well endowed from the beginning, it might never run short of minor nutrients. However, most of the minerals that plants remove end up in the septic tank or sewerage system. After a few years of this removal, even though you are using COF and adding major nutrients in approximately the correct amounts relative to each other, the soil might start moving seriously out of balance. In consequence you may begin to experience new problems — diseases usually. Or some species may not grow as well as it did a few years ago. I suggest that after using COF for three years, you have a full and proper soil test done and from its results work out your own custom COF. You might discover you have built too high a level of calcium and/or magnesium. In that case you can delete all limes — ag lime, dolomite lime and gypsum — from the mix. If you find you have a surplus of P (and I have seen several local gardens test that way), you can leave out the phosphorus booster from your own COF.
For soil testing I recommend Logan Labs because Logan’s test method leads to full remineralization and better nutritional outcomes. And Logan is inexpensive. Ask for their Standard Soil Test. Logan’s test results will not serve to guide an amateur; however, for a fee Logan will provide a soil prescription. If you did okay with high school chemistry, even if you hardly remember any of it, you will be able to work out your own custom COF with the help of a small book called The Ideal Soil written by Michael Astera. A copy can be purchased online at Soil Minerals.
Chemical Fertilizer Cautions
Synthetic fertilizers and naturally occurring salts like sodium nitrate and potassium sulphate, should come with labels warning against giving plants too much. One or 2 cupfuls of these can be the maximum amount 100 square feet of soil can accept. But uniformly spreading only one or two cups of material over 100 square feet of soil is not easy to accomplish. That is one reason I don’t recommend the use of chemical fertilizers. It is too easy for inexperienced gardeners to cross the line between just enough and too much.
Chemical fertilizers usually are too pure. This is particularly true of inexpensive chemical blends — so-called “complete” chemical fertilizers are entirely incomplete. They supply nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Some types also contain a useful amount of sulphur. However, unless the manufacturer intentionally puts in other essential minerals, the chemical mix won’t supply them. Especially troublesome is that chemical fertilizers rarely contain calcium or magnesium, which plants need in large amounts. Crops also require significant quantities of minor nutrients such as zinc and copper. Plants short on any essential nutrient, major or minor, are more easily attacked by insects and diseases, contain less nourishment for you and often don’t grow as well as they could.
There is yet another chemical drawback: Inexpensive chemical fertilizers dissolve quickly. In soils lacking clay this usually results in a rapid burst of plant growth, followed five or six weeks later by a big sag, requiring yet another application. Should it rain hard enough for a fair amount of water to pass through a clayless soil, most of the chemicals dissolved in the soil water will be transported as deeply into the earth as the water penetrates (this is called “leaching”), Often nutrients are leached so deeply that the plant’s roots can’t reach them. With one heavy rain or one too-heavy watering, your fertile sandy topsoil becomes infertile. The chemicals also can pollute groundwater.
Organic fertilizers, manures and composts, on the other hand, release their nutrient content only as they decompose — as they are slowly broken down by the complex ecology of living creatures in the soil. Soil conditions determine the how long it takes to fully decompose. Complete decomposition of most organic fertilizers takes around two months in warm moist soil. During that entire time, they steadily release nutrients.
Chemical fertilizers can be made to be “slow-release,” but these sorts cost several times as much as the type that dissolves rapidly in water. The seed meals in COF are natural slow-release fertilizers, and they usually are considerably less expensive than slow-release chemical products.
Adapted from Gardening When It Counts, a MOTHER EARTH NEWS “Book for Wiser Living,” from New Society Publishers. The text and recipe presented here were updated by the author, Steve Solomon, in December 2011 to reflect new research and experience with COF.
9 Organic Fertilizers to Make at Home – Without Spending a Penny!
Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links, so, at no cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through one and make a purchase. This in no way influences my opinions or recommendations.
Whether you’re growing fruit, vegetables, or flowers, you want them to perform at their best, yielding an abundance of high-quality produce. However, in a bid to lower your environmental impact, and because you really don’t want you and your family to consume a bunch of harmful chemicals, you really don’t want to use synthetic fertilizer. So what’s the answer? Simple – make your own from a range of common natural items. Sure, some of our suggestions are stinky, but they’re really effective, they contain no chemicals, and these organic fertilizers improve the content and structure of your soil long term, as well as boosting plant growth in the short term. Let’s take a look…
A huge crop of beans every single day of the season thanks to our organic fertilizer.
1. Stinging Nettle Stew
If you grow fruit and veg, we’re sure, like us, when trying to keep your beds clear, you consider stinging nettles to be the bane of your life. The good news is that you can actually use these pesky weeds to your advantage. All you need is a large bucket or a barrel with a lid or a cover, some water, and a stick. Simply dump as many nettles as you can find into your bucket and fill with water. Remember to take off the roots and avoid seed tops. The more nettles, the stronger the fertilizer. Keep the barrel covered for two weeks, stirring every other day. Et voila – potent organic liquid plant food. Make sure you dilute the mixture before you apply it. We generally use one part stinging nettle stew to four parts water – but it all depends on the strength of your initial mixture.
You’ve got two options with comfrey – use the same method as for nettle stew. Alternatively, strip the leaves from the plants and dig them right into the soil. Just remember to avoid roots or rhizomes, as you don’t want the plant to regrow.
3. Manure Tea
Sounds gross? Absolutely. Does it work? You bet! Get yourself some livestock manure – you can choose goat, pig, chicken, cow, horse, rabbit, or guinea pig poop. Place it inside a porous bag like a hessian sack. Place this sack in a water butt. Fill said butt with water. Leave for at least a week, then use the water as liquid feed. You can keep topping the butt up for three to six months, after which time you need to renew the manure sack to maintain potency. Why go to this trouble? Unless manure has been left to rot and reach a high temperature, it still contains viable seeds, so you run the risk of adding weed seeds to your beds. But this way, no seeds escape the sack and your crops still get the nutrients. Just remember to dilute it before use to avoid burning delicate plants.
4. Manure-Enriched Compost
Really, really simple. Add manure to your compost heap and let it rot down. Then apply it to your beds as compost.
5. Direct Manure Application
There’s a couple of options here. Manure is an incredibly powerful organic fertilizer – and it’s free. If you want to apply it directly around in-situ plants, you need to rot it down for around a year before you use it because it’s simply too strong and you’ll burn your plants. So, get a big heap of dung, cover it with black plastic, and leave it alone for a year. Alternatively, when your beds are empty in the fall and you’re prepping the soil for winter, dig fresh manure straight in. Over the winter, the nutrients leach into the soil and the hay and other fibrous materials help to improve soil structure and drainage.
We get bumper crops of delicious apples with an organic manure top dressing that we apply in the spring.
6. Green Manure
Green manure consists of small, fast-growing plants. You simply turn the earth and sprinkle over the seeds. Once they grow, you simply turn them back into the soil and they return valuable nutrients back into the earth and improve soil structure. The root systems prevent soil erosion while the leaves smother weeds.
7. Seaweed Fertilizer
If you have access to a beach, organic seaweed fertilizer is free and easy to make. For those of you with kids, making seaweed fertilizer is a great way to get them involved, too. Get to the beach and gather as much seaweed as you can find (hence having fun with the kids). Soak it in fresh water for at least 24 hours and give it a good “swish” under the water. This helps to remove any lingering salt. Then, either dig it right into your soil or follow the directions for nettle stew.
8. Kitchen Scrap Fertilizer
Yes, most of your kitchen scraps go into the compost pile, but if you’re planting something that requires particularly nutrient-rich soil or you just want to give something a boost, there’s a fairly simple method. Dig a trench a few inches deeper than you’d normally plant. Put a layer of crumpled newspaper in the bottom, add a generous layer of vegetable scraps and peelings, and, if you have them, a layer of coffee grinds. Then water, cover with soil, and plant. It rots down quickly, particularly if you use coffee grinds as a catalyst. The newspaper helps retain moisture and improve drainage. Your plants will thrive as they root down into the nutrient-rich fertilizer.
9. Coffee Ground Fertilizer
Make organic fertilizer by mixing wood ash and old coffee grounds. Use a 1:1 ratio. Then you’ve instantly got a rich, organic fertilizer that hasn’t cost you a penny and is brimming with potassium, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorous. If you’re growing acid-loving plants or those that need high levels of nitrogen or potassium, like blueberries and some squashes, you can skip the wood ash and apply the used coffee grounds directly to the base of the plant, mixed in with grass clippings or dead leaves. Check out all the other ways we resuse old coffee grounds, too.
So, as you can see from the list above, you really don’t need nasty, synthesized chemical fertilizers. Nor do you need to spend heaps of cash to fertilize your plants, organically or otherwise. You can make organic fertilizer ridiculously easily, without spending an extra penny. Making your own organic fertilizer lets you stay in control of what you’re eating and helps you maximize your crop yield (or bloom yield, if flowers are more your thing).
Let us know what your favorite organic fertilizers are – and how you make them!
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We get a lot of questions about how to fertilize air plants, including when to do it, how much, what kind of fertilizer to use. While fertilizer is not necessary for your air plants to survive, itdoes help them thrive and encourages growth, bloom cycle, and offset (pup) production.
We like to use a low-nitrogen bromeliad fertilizer. Low-nitrogen fertilizers are best for air plants because it helps encourage blooming and offset production in Tillandsia. It’s also very important to use a non-urea-based nitrogen fertilizer, as this will provide nitrogen that is usable for Tillandsia. Urea based nitrogen uses bacteria in the soil to convert the nitrogen to usable form for plants, and because Tillandsia are not planted in soil, they are unable to process this type of nitrogen.
We make our own fertilizer that you can buy here.
Instructions for use of our Air Plant Food: Mist only once per month. Do not use in excess of once per month, or over-fertilization may occur. Air plant food is fertilizer and does not replace regular waterings or proper air plant care. Using more than once a month can cause the pants to suffer nitrogen burn and they will not survive.
Here are some tips on how to use fertilizer to help your Tillandsia thrive!
- Choose an air plant fertilizer like ours or similar. Look for Bromeliad or Tillandsia fertilizer. Ours has a formula ratio of 17-8-22 or nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium, all things that air plants love and need to bloom and reproduce. Make sure the fertilizer you use contains a non-urea-based nitrogen!
- Fertilize once a month inaddition to weekly waterings. Fertilization is not a substitute for regular watering, so make sure to water them when you fertilize as well as on your normal watering schedule (read more about air plant water tips here). Very important: do not fertilize your air plants too often, as this will cause nitrogen burns on their leaves and will kill them.
- Our air plant food comes pre-mixed in a handy sprayer bottle, so you need only to mist your plants after watering. Or you can mix a few sprays in their water as you soak them.
- If you notice your plant starting to blush or bloom, this is a good time to fertilize, as this will help with blooming, as well as reproduction.
Air Plant Care
Meet a low-maintenance houseplant that grows without soil. Air plants, known as tillandsia, have earned friendly nicknames among their fans, including tilly and tills. These quirky plants are a type of bromeliad and hail from the Americas—from U.S. southern states to northern Argentina.
In their native environs, air plants perch above the ground like botanical trapeze artists, finding footing on tree branches, rocks, rooftops and even power lines. Tillandsias are native to varied natural settings, from open woodlands, to deserts, to tropical rainforests. Like other plants, tillys have leaves, roots and also produce flowers. The difference is that air plants don’t need soil to grow.
In an air plant, roots act as anchors, securing plants to their supports. Leaves handle the job of absorbing moisture. Each leaf on an air plant is covered in specialized scales known as trichomes, which have the ability to absorb water and nutrients. Some trichomes are smooth; others are hairy.
In a home setting, give an air plant bright, but filtered sunlight, like that found near an east-, south- or west-facing window. Many gardeners place an air plant in a bathroom to take advantage of shower-generated humidity, but having adequate sunlight is more important. Outdoors, a screened porch, lanai or pool enclosure usually gives air plants the filtered sunlight they crave.
Watering is probably the trickiest part of growing these unusual plants. In an interior room, air plants often die from underwatering because their owners mistakenly assume the plants absorb moisture from the air. On a cloud-swaddled Andes mountaintop or in a rainforest, that scenario works. In the dry air of a heated or air-conditioned room, air plants need water.
Daily misting doesn’t provide sufficient moisture for air plants. It can help raise humidity around plants, but it won’t ensure survival. If misting causes water to collect where leaves emerge, it can actually kill plants. The best way to water an air plant is to submerge it in a dish of water for 1-2 hours. Air plants only take up as much water as they need, so you won’t overwater by doing this.
Use rain water or bottled drinking water. Avoid using softened water; it’s high in salts. If you live in an area with hard water, the chalk content in the water will eventually clog the trichomes on air plant leaves. When you remove plants from the water, gently shake them upside down a few times to dislodge water from the center of the plant.
In a typical indoor setting, an air plant watered by submerging shouldn’t need watering for 10 to 14 days. Monitor your plant’s appearance to learn when to water. Take note of how the plant looks the day after watering. Note leaf color and appearance. Leaves on a drought-stressed air plant may curl under, color may seem flatter, and leaf tips may turn brown.
To fertilize air plants, use a water-soluble fertilizer developed for ephiphytes, bromeliads or air plants. These specialized fertilizers contain nitrogen in a form air plant leaves can absorb. Add fertilizer to the water before submerging your air plant. For best results, follow package directions.
Air Plant Care: How To Care For Tillandsia
You can fertilize by adding a pinch of Bromeliad or Orchid fertilizer to your mister. Our one year supply of air plant fertilizer is available here.
Air Plants in Glass Globes
Air plants in glass globes have become so popular that I get calls all the time about caring for them. Follow these simple instruction to enjoy your glass surrounded plant for many years. If you are looking for glass globes, find many unique designs in our shop.
- The larger the globe the more care you can give your plant.
- Water your plant when you first receive it by soaking 20-30 minutes. Take note of the size and color and you should see how happy the plant is. Keep this “picture” in your mind.
- Allow your plant to dry almost completely before placing in the globe.
- Mist your plant every 4-5 days with one spray for tiny globes, 2-3 sprays for globes 3-5 inches, more if the plant is in a large open globe. The key is to judge the drying time, the smaller the globe, the less circulation, the longer the plant will hold the moisture. If you over water the plant will die.
- Remember what your plant looked like after soaking? If it has lost that happy healthy look, take it out and soak it for 30 minutes to an hour, shake, allow to almost completely dry and replace in globe.
- Do not place your globes directly in front of a window where they get direct sun. Remember the glass will intensify the sunlight and the heat. Indirect light is best and some will even grow in low to moderate light.
- Favorite Plants for Globes: Ionantha Guatemala, Ionantha Rubra, Ionantha Scaposa, Ionantha Mexican, Ionantha Fuego, Funkiana, Argentea, Bulbosa Guatemala and Butzii.
- The following care instructions are more specific, so feel free to really dive-in! I have added things over the last year as I have learned.
Bright filtered light is the general rule, and the higher the humidity of the air the higher light will be tolerated. Outdoors the silvery-leafed varieties (ex: Xerographica, Harissii) can usually be grown in full sun, but in an un-shaded greenhouse or close to un-shaded glass in a sunny room or conservatory the same plant will quickly burn because the air dries out like an oven. In a very sunny spot indoors they may need daily misting or weekly soaking depending on which method you prefer. For more information, read our detailed post about the effects of Summer Sun on your air plants.
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Full spectrum artificial light (fluorescent) is best. Plant should be no further than 36″ from the fluorescent tubes and can be as close as 6″. A four-tube 48″ fixture works well. Bulbs can be any full spectrum type Gro-Lux, Repta-Sun, Vita-Lite, etc. Light should be set with a timer, 12 hours per day.
Watering Your Air Plants
Thoroughly wet your Tillandsia 2-3 times per week; more often in a hot, dry environment; less often in a cool, humid one. In conditions of extreme drying, and consequent moisture loss, Tillandsia cannot get replacement water from their roots like a terrestrial plant, or draw on internal reserves like a succulent. You may notice that your new air plants appear to be fuzzy. These are trichomes, a coating of special cells which helps air plants absorb water and nutrients.
Type of Water
The Water you use is important. Never use distilled water! Softened Water is a not good either because of the salt content. Filtered water, tap water that has sat long enough for the chlorine to dissipate, and bottled water are all fine. Pond Water and aquarium water works well as long as they aren’t over crowded with fish and/or reptiles.
Outdoors you may never need to water Tillandsias if you live in humid Southeast or Florida. Indoors, the hotter and drier the air, the more you need to water. Plants should be given enough light and air circulation to dry in no longer than 3 hours after watering. Wind can be a detriment as the plant dries too quickly. Remember that inside with a window fan as well. If the plant dries within a very short period of time, it is not hydrating at all. Spray misting is insufficient as the sole means of watering but may be beneficial between regular waterings in dry climates to increase the humidity.
If the plant is in a shell, be sure to empty the water out. Tillandsias will not survive in standing water. Under-watering is evidenced by an exaggerating of the natural concave curve of each leaf. After wetting your plants thoroughly, turn them upside down and gently shake them. I have found that the water that collects near the base is detrimental if left to long. I have lost many plants that way while learning. One last thing about watering your air plant – It is much better to water in the morning than at night. Air plants absorb the Carbon Dioxide from the air at night instead of the day time. If the plant is wet, it does not breath therefore, unless it can dry quickly at night, plan on morning baths. Find out a little more about watering in this blog post.
Following each watering, Tillandsias should be given enough light and air circulation to dry in 4 hours or less. Do not keep plants constantly wet or moist. Do not allow them to dry too quickly though. 1-3 hours is optimum. Also if the air is hot, a breeze acts to cool the plant and keep it from becoming overheated.
Optimum temperature range for Tillandsias is 50 – 90 degrees F. I have kept my plants outside during 40 degree F. weather but only for a night or two knowing it would be warm during the day. Most tillandsia will die with frost. Learn here how to acclimate your plants to the outdoors after their indoor winter holiday.
Use Bromeliad fertilizer (17-8-22) twice a month. It is great for blooming and reproduction! We offer our specially tested air plant fertilizer right on our website. Other water-soluble fertilizers can be used at 1/4 strength (Rapid Grow, Miracle-Grow, etc.) if Bromeliad fertilizer is not available. Note Here: If you use pond water or aquarium water, don’t use fertilizer. Soaking the plants in these waters is a natural fertilizer and can help revive plants that are in distress. Learn more about air plant nutritional needs and how it varies across this unique genus.
Bromeliad Tillandsia have a life cycle of one plant growing to maturity and blooming. Before, during or after blooming (depending on the species) your plant will start producing offsets (Pups), most plants will produce between 2 – 8 pups. Each plant will flower once in its lifetime, remember that each pup is a plant and it will bloom. Flowers can last from several days to many months, depending on the species, and different species bloom at different times depending also on its care and environment. You can expect blooms from mid winter through mid summer depending on the plant.
If you leave your plant to clump just remove the leaves of the mother plant as she starts to dry up, just pull the leaves out with a gentle sideways tug, if the leaf resists, its not dead yet, so just trim any dried areas instead. Once you’ve fully removed the mother plant, the gap that’s left will quickly be filled in by the other plants growing & spreading.
Removing Air Plant Pups
To remove the pups, they should be at least 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the mother plant. Hold both mother and pup at their bases and gently twist in a downward motion. If this does not happen easily, you may need to remove the pup by cutting downward as close to the mother as possible. Do not discard the mother plant yet, as long as she is still alive she will continue to produce more pups for you. Often taking several years after blooming before she finally dies. Learn about about separating air plant pups on our blog.
Mounting Your Tillandsia
Tillandsias can be grown basically anywhere, on rocks, in a seashell or on coral, in ceramic or pottery, attached to wood (not pressure treated wood this is impregnated with copper, and copper will kill your plant). When considering what you are going to do with your plant don’t forget that you have to be able to water it and it has to be placed somewhere that it will get sufficient light.
Try not to put Tillandsias in containers that hold water, they need to dry out. If you do place your plant in something that holds water, empty out the excess after watering your plant. The same thing applies when mounting your plant. Do not surround your plant with Moss. It will hold too much water and will rot your plant.
Attaching Your Air Plant
You can use glue, wire, fishing line, twisty ties, nails or staples. Nails and staples can only be used on plants with a woody stolon or with sufficient roots. DO NOT staple your plant on its fleshy parts as it will kill it. Try to use a waterproof glue such as E-6000 (available on our site) or hot glue, allowing the glue to cool for 5 seconds. Do not not use superglue or copper wire as these will kill your plant.
Caring For Your New Plants After Shipping
When you receive our plants, please remove from the shipping package and soak for 30 minutes to 1 hour, submerge upside down. Shake gently to remove excess water, Place in bright light and allow to dry. Do not fertilize plants for 3 weeks following their arrival but be sure to follow directions for light and water. Did you receive your plants as a gift? Find out here about what to do with your new friends.
DIY Plant Food
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Did you ever wonder if you could make homemade plant food? Over the years our readers have submitted some of their tips for making their favorite homemade plant food. One of my personal favorites is to use Epsom salts. Did you know you can use Epsom salts in the garden too?
After you pick out the homemade plant food of your choice make sure to check out these amazing water globes that you can place in your houseplants and they will self water for up to 2 weeks! I need to get me some of these.
Epsom salt is a common fertilizer that can be used in your yard and garden. Right on the bag it says that you can sprinkle 2 tbsp. of Epsom salts around the base of tomatoes, roses, evergreens, azaleas, rhododendrons, and trees. It is also great for fertilizing indoor plants.
Homemade Fertilizer for Houseplants
Try this DIY recipe: Once a month, you can water your houseplants with a mixture of: 1 tablespoon Epsom Salts, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. household ammonia, 1 gallon of water.
You can store the plant food solution in an empty gallon sized container and then pour as needed into your watering can.
* One reader suggested giving houseplants your leftover cold coffee. This works particularly well for ivy plants.
* Another method is to collect eggshells after baking and place them in a glass jar covered with water. Don’t put the lid on tight.
Let the eggshells sit for about a month and keep adding additional egg shells as you acquire them. Add more water if necessary.
Homemade Indoor Plant Food
When you are ready to fertilize, dilute it (1 cup egg shell solution to 1 gallon plain water) and use it to water all of your plants. Your plants will love it!
* According to another reader, Knox unflavored gelatin is really good for houseplants. They agreed that mixing finely crushed rinsed eggshells into your potting soil would give your houseplants a good boost. The eggshells are a good substitute for bonemeal
* If you have a fish tank, when you change the water in the tank, use the water you take out to water your plants. Your plants will love fish fertilizer!
* One reader once a month pours a can of room temperature beer into each of her plants. She has had one plant for over 15 years.
* A wonderful plant food is regular green tea. Dilute the tea with two gallons of water. You can use this every time you water. Plants love it.
* Another homemade plant food recipe featuring beer is: 1 cup beer, 1 cup epsom salts, 1/2 cup ammonia, and 2 cups water. Use 1/2 oz. on each plant every two weeks. Great for all houseplants, especially orchids.
Stir together until well mixed. You can spoon this mixture around the base of most flowering plants, except for African Violets. Don’t mix it into the soil, just let is sit on top if the soil. Apply this mixture monthly.
Don’t forget to check out these glass water globes, they’ll make your watering chores much easier!
Related Gardening Hacks
- homemade bug sprays
- homemade African Violet fertilizer
- using epsom salt to fertilize houseplants
- natural garden fertilizers
- getting rid of gnats in houseplants
- how to use banana peels to fertilize houseplants
- natural fertilizers for indoor plants
- how to care for african violets
- lucky bamboo care
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As someone so infatuated with living a life surrounded by plants, one would think my thumb would be a littttttle bit greener.
The truth is: I’m still learning how to keep these beauties thriving, and I can use all the help I can get.
Luckily, there are tons of simple, natural ways to keep houseplants healthy. Here are a few I’ve found out about – and if you have any ideas to add, leave a comment!
Eggshells. Eggshells are filled with calcium, which is essential for plants to develop a strong cellular structure. You can make a fertilizer tea by crushing up a bunch of eggshells, adding them to boiling water, and allowing to steep overnight. In the morning, pour the tea right onto the soil to give your babies some love. Another way you can use eggshells is to create a powder by placing a bunch of clean and dry eggshells into your food processor. The powder can be mixed into the soil right before potting a new plant.
Coffee. Many gardeners add coffee grounds to their compost piles to help nourish plants and kill weeds and pathogens – but you can used brewed coffee on plants, too! Brewed coffee contains a good amount of potassium and magnesium, which are excellent for plant growth. Use equal parts cooled plain coffee and water, and water your plants as you normally would. Because of the acidic nature of coffee, this technique should be reserved for plants that do well in acidic conditions, like ferns, roses, and aloe.
Green tea. The tannic acid in green tea will slightly raise the acidity of soil, just like coffee. Green tea also increases nutrient levels in soil and improves oxygenation, which helps roots thrive. You can add tea leaves right into your soil or water your plants with brewed tea after it has cooled. Again, be sure to use this on plants that thrive in more acidic conditions.
Epsom salt. High quality Epsom salt is rich in magnesium and sulfate, two minerals that together provide incredible nourishment for plants, allowing them to grow fuller and greener, and live longer lives. You can water plants twice a month with 1 tablespoon of high quality Epsom salt dissolved in 1 gallon of water, or mist their leaves with a mixture twice as concentrated. You can also add Epsom salt granules directly to soil when repotting.
+ How do you keep your houseplants thriving? Do share!
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