Watering an air plant

The name “air plant” is actually a bit misleading. Members of the Tillandsia genus are so called not because they can thrive on air alone, but because they require no soil at all to grow. In fact, assuming that Tillandsia only need air to survive is one of the most common mistakes we see in air plant care.

In their natural habitat — the forests, mountains and deserts of South and Central America — air plants are epiphytic (growing on other plants without harming them), and emerge from the crooks and branches of trees.

Air plants are some of our very favorites; they are stunning as standalone pieces, and we feature them in many of our Living Art pieces, such as aeriums and mounts.

Here are the best practices we recommend for air plant care. First we’ll talk about how to care for air plants in general, and then we’ll talk about adaptations in air plant care for aeriums, terrariums and mounted tillandsia.

Light

How Much Light Does an Air Plant Need?

In order to thrive, air plants need bright, indirect light. Rooms with southern or eastern facing windows make good candidates, because these spaces will be brightly illuminated with sun for most of the day. Rooms with north-facing windows work well, too, as long as the plant is placed close to the window, and the window isn’t blocked by trees or a neighboring apartment complex. Western light tends to come late in the day, and can be very hot and intense. Careful – you don’t want to fry your air plant!

As a general rule of thumb, the higher the humidity in your space, the more light is tolerated by the air plant. This means that if you’re putting your air plant where it will receive loads of light, you should plan to mist it more often – twice a week or even daily. A sunny bathroom makes a happy home for an air plant, because the humidity from your shower will take care of most plant misting for you.

Air Plants and Artificial Light

Many people ask us if they can place their air plant in an office or basement room where it won’t get any natural light. The answer is yes, but there are a few specific rules to follow to ensure your plant’s success.

Full spectrum (fluorescent) light is a must. Regular incandescent bulbs don’t emit the quality of light these plants need to photosynthesize. Your Tillandsia should be placed no further than 3 feet from the light source. Also if you’re going to use fluorescent light, the plants will need, at minimum, 12 hours per day.

If you live in a basement or want to have an air plant in your office, we recommend buying a special bulb for your plant (such as a Gro-Lux, Repta-Sun or Vita-Lite) and setting it on a 12-hour timer, so your plant gets all the light it needs to survive.

Water

How to Water an Air Plant

Watering an air plant is the trickiest piece of the air plant care puzzle. Some people swear by misting, others by soaking, and still others use a combination of both misting and soaking in their air plant care regimen.

In our experience, watering air plants is tricky because the needs of the plant vary dramatically with the space in which it is placed. The first step to watering your air plant is to evaluate your space. How much light is your plant receiving? What is the temperature in your home at this particular time of year? Is the space very dry (is your plant near a heater or fireplace?) Or is it very humid?

After you answer these questions, you can adapt the air plant watering regimen to suit your particular needs. Here’s what we recommend as a starting point:

  • Every one to two weeks, soak your air plant in room temperature tap water (or rain/pond water if you can find it) for 5-10 minutes.
  • After soaking gently shake excess water from your plant. Turn it upside down and place it on a towel in a bright space. This is very important! Air plants will quickly rot if they are allowed to stand in excess water
  • From the time soaking ends, the plant should be able to dry fully in no more than 3 hours. If your plant stays wet longer than this, it may rot. Try placing it in a brighter place with more air circulation to facilitate faster drying.
  • 1-3 hours is the optimal drying time for your air plant after soaking.
  • Once a week, mist your plant thoroughly, so that the entire surface of the plant is moistened (but not so much that there is water dripping down into the plant).
  • The hotter and dryer the air (summer, early fall) the more you need to water. The cooler and more humid the air (winter and spring) the less water your air plant will need. Remember, though, that heaters and fireplaces dry the air!
  • Do all watering in the morning. Evening soaking or misting disrupts the plants ability to respire overnight, and extends drying time.

Is My Air Plant Getting Enough Water?

Signs of under-watering your air plant include the leaf tips turning brown or crispy. The natural concave shape of air plant leaves tends to become more exaggerated when under-watered.

Unfortunately, if your air plant has been over-watered, it’s often too late to save it. If the base of the plant turns brown or black, and leaves are falling out or off from the center, your plant has likely succumbed to rot.

Air plants are pretty easygoing when it comes to their temperature. They do best between 50-90 degrees F. Ideally, overnight temperatures will be about 10 degrees cooler than daytime temperature.

Incorporating orchid or Bromeliad fertilizer into your watering regimen once or twice a month is a great way to keep your air plant happy. Just add a pinch to your water and proceed as usual. Fertilizing your air plant encourages it to blossom and reproduce (or pup — more on this later)

Air Plant Life Cycle

Did you know that air plants flower once in their life? Depending on the species, these blossoms last from a few days to a few months, and can be a whole variety of beautiful bright colors, like pink, red and purple. Flowering is the peak of the air plant life cycle, but also marks the beginning of the plant’s old age – after it flowers, the plant will eventually die.

But don’t despair! Just before, during or after flowering, depending on the species, your air plant will reproduce by sending out 2-8 “pups”. These baby air plants, which start out very small, will eventually grow into their own mother plants. Pups can safely be separated from the mother plant when they’re about ⅓-½ its size. Careful not to remove them too early, as they’re actually receiving nutrients from the mother air plant!

Above: A brass mister makes a classy and classic companion for a Tillandsia Xerographica.

How to Care For Air Plants in Aeriums and Terrariums

While larger air plants standalone on a windowsill or tabletop, we love to include their smaller counterparts in our works of living art — in fact, our “aeriums” are a special kind of terrarium dedicated entirely to air plants! Here’s what you need to know about caring for air plants in glass.

If you can remove your air plant from it’s glass container:

  • Follow the care regimen outlined above – just remove your plant from the aerium, terrarium or glass in order to mist/soak it, and allow it to dry before replacing it in the glass
  • Keep in mind that keeping your air plant in glass will create a micro-climate: Glass vessels will be more humid and hotter than the surrounding area.
  • Take care not to put glass vessels too close to a window. Glass intensifies the rays of the sun. You don’t want to fry your plant!

If you cannot remove your air plant from it’s glass container:

  • Since your plant won’t come out of the glass, you won’t be able to soak it and so will have to rely solely on misting. This is totally fine.
  • Small glass = less air circulation = longer drying time for plant = less frequent misting.
  • Large glass = more air circulation = shorter drying time for plant = more frequent misting.
  • When misting your air plant, try to mist around the plant, rather than into the plant. You don’t want to over-water it, but rather to create a humid environment.
  • Depending on the vessel, we’d suggest starting by misting weekly, and adjusting as necessary.

How to Care for Mounted Air Plants

Like air plants in small glass vessels, you probably won’t be able to soak your mounted air plant. However, since they’re not contained to a humid, micro-climate like aeriums, mounted air plants will need even more frequent misting. We recommend starting with twice weekly misting, and adjusting as necessary, depending on how long it takes your plant to dry in your space.

Follow these air plant care guidelines, and you should see your Tillandsia thriving in no time! Have any questions or your own best practices for air plant care? Share with us in the comments!

How to Water Air Plants

Although air plants are generally very easy plants to care for, watering tends to be the make or break factor. Don’t worry though! We have some tips and tricks to make it easy and simple.

What type of water to use?

In their natural habitat, air plants get their nutrients from rain water, bird droppings, and dying bugs. If you can collect rainwater, this would be the best option, or if you have access to pond, creek, lake, or well water.

If not, the next best option is spring water.

You don’t want to use tap water or filtered water. City tap water tends to have less minerals and more chemicals. Filtered water has been stripped of many of the natural minerals and nutrients that are beneficial to air plants.

To soak or to mist?

It is best to soak your air plants for 20 minutes to an hour every week to 10 days, with a supplemental misting depending on current climate and time of year. The water should be lukewarm, as cold or hot water will shock the air plants. If you decide to solely mist your air plants, make sure to do this about once a day, less or more when needed. When you mist your plants, make sure to spray all of the leaves enough to wet them, but not to the point that they are dripping.

After a soaking or misting, it is extremely important to make sure your air plants can completely dry, especially before placing them back into a terrarium or container. To ensure your air plants dry, place them in some indirect sunlight. You can place them upside down on top of a towel to let the water drip down the leaves, similar to drying a cup. Allow a few hours for the plant to fully dry, as air plants are very susceptible to rotting if they are left wet too long.

The hardest part about watering is understanding that what your air plant needs depends largely on its environment, and we’re here to help!

What time of year is it? Are you running your heater often? Do you live in a humid or drier climate?

These are all factors that can help you better determine how much water your air plants need. If you live in a drier climate, your plant will need to be watered more frequently than if you live somewhere with more humidity.

Watering can also depend on the time of year. During summer, the air is hotter and dryer, so you will need to water more. During Winter, your air plants will need a little less water because it will be cooler and more humid. Although if you are running a heater or using a fireplace, this will dry the air a little bit as well.

Follow these simple tips and tricks, and your air plants will thrive.

Here’s How to Keep Your Air Plants Alive for Years

You might have heard that air plant care is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be if you understand what conditions they need to thrive. After all, air plants have been one of the biggest horticultural trends in recent years—and for good reason.

Air plants bloom into vibrant colors, including shades of red, burgundy, deep violet, and even bright pink. Not only are they beautiful, air plants are often miniature in size, making them perfect options for decorating small spaces and apartments. They’re often sold in decorative containers like miniature terrariums or even in crystals, which can help brighten up a desk or elevate the look of a side table. Hanging air plants are another great way to incorporate an element of nature and color into a space.

Air plants can also be beneficial to your health. They reduce both dust and pollutants in the air, so they are an ideal plant for allergy sufferers. They also reduce carbon dioxide and increase levels of oxygen.

However, many people who buy air plants complain that they die quickly. Partially true, this often occurs because they don’t know the best way to take care of air plants to help them thrive. But given proper conditions and maintenance, they grow easily indoors. Here are some helpful air plant care tips to keep yours blooming for years.

Let’s start with the basics: What is an air plant exactly?

Native to warm, humid climates located in North and South America, the genus Tillandsia has over 600 different species of epiphytes—aka air plants. An epiphyte is a plant that grows above the ground on another plant in a non-parasitic way. Tillandsia are called air plants because the nutrients they need to survive come from the atmosphere (air) as opposed to soil. While air plants do have roots, they are only for clinging to the plants they grow on.

Are air plants hard to take care of?

Caring for air plants is only a challenge if you don’t start off on the right foot. According to NYBG Certified Horticulturist Bliss Bendall, it’s important to be very specific about the kind of air plant you choose because not all have the same requirements or grow under the same exact conditions. “It is vital to do your research on the variety of Tillandsia species you want way ahead of time,” she says. As long as you are meticulous, your air plants can grow and thrive.

Do air plants need soil?

Air plants do not need soil because they grow above ground. In fact, soil can be deadly to air plants. “They need nutrients that can only be supplied by the atmosphere, including circulation, humidity, and rain (water),” Bendall says. “Putting air plants in soil would be like burying a person alive. They need air to breathe and to live.”

How much sunlight do air plants need?

Do air plants need sun? Absolutely, because all plants need sun. “Almost all Tillandsia cannot live in climates below 60-65 degrees. Thus, air plants don’t stand a chance without sunlight,” Bendall says.

Air plants need bright, indirect, filtered light. So if you are growing them indoors, it is ideal to keep them in a room with either southern or northern exposure. “East or west is usually too dim or too direct,” Bendall says. “But temperature and humidity are just as important as proper light exposure is to this plant.” So make sure you aren’t keeping the window open in the winter or blasting air conditioning in the summer.

Do air plants need water?

Water is a topic that can cause much confusion when it comes to caring for air plants. A common misconception is that air plants don’t need water. They are called “air plants” after all. Many people are under the impression that they need minimal water to survive, but every species of air plant actually has specific water needs.

There is one method of watering that works for most types of air plants, however. As a general rule of thumb, Bendall suggests removing air plants from their container, then submerging the plant in room temperature tap water (or ideally, rainwater) for an hour. “After all, in their element, air plants would be watered sufficiently from bouts of heavy tropical rain and left to drip dry as the sun comes back out,” she says. “At home, the plant should be properly shaken and dripped dry to avoid any stagnate water collecting on its leaves or in its crevices to prevent rotting.”

Water air plants once a week. Try to avoid using soft water, which can have high levels of salt and cause your plant to die.

How to grow air plants from seeds

Growing this plant from seeds is something that only experts should really attempt. “There is no way to predict if most species are even viable to begin with,” Bendall says. “Then, you would need to have next to perfect atmospheric conditions not only for the plant to survive but to germinate in the first place.”

You are likely to have better results from buying an air plant and trying to maintain it than you would starting from the beginning of its life.

Do air plants grow fast?

Unfortunately, air plants are notoriously slow growing. “Most species take five years to mature,” Bendall says. This also explains why so many small air plants are sold. “On the other hand, they are always consistently going through growth cycles,” she adds.

Why is your air plant dying?

There are many reasons why air plants don’t last. Chances are, you either under- or over-watered it or accidentally used soft water.

Cold air can also lead to the demise of air plants. “If air plants get too cold for a consistent 24-hour period below its planting zone, that can also cause them to die,” says Bendall. Low air circulation and lack of humidity can also kill plants.

Grow Air Plants Like a Pro—Here’s How

Air plants seem almost otherworldly the way they can grow, well, just in air. Yep, no soil at all required. Plus their leaves can look like a bit like alien tentacles or like the appendages of an exotic sea creature. These fascinating little plants have become quite popular over the last few years, appearing in just about any garden center or even in the checkout line at the grocery store. And there are plenty of online nurseries specializing in air plants, particularly the more unusual types. They’re a bit different to grow than most other houseplants so we’ve rounded up a few tips for caring for air plants and enjoying them in your home.

Image zoom Dean Schoeppner

About Air Plants

Air plants (Tillandsia spp.) are epiphytes, meaning that in nature they grow on other plants, usually on tree branches. There are hundreds of species and varieties of air plants. They usually have strap-shape or slender triangle-shape leaves that grow in a rosette pattern with new growth appearing from the center. Those with silver foliage tend to be the most drought-tolerant; greener types dry out faster. You can also find colorful species, like Tillandsia maxima that can have coral leaves. Most species produce attractive, tubular or funnel-shaped flowers, too.

Image zoom Jacob Fox

Air Plant Care

Don’t let the lack of soil scare you away—air plants are easy to care for once you know what they need. You may not have to worry about potting them, but they do still need a certain amount of water and light, plus the right temperatures, just like any other houseplant. You’ll know that an air plant is getting what it needs when it sends up flowers. Once the flower dries out, just snip it off and your air plant will keep on growing and eventually making more blooms.

Watering Air Plants

Air plants don’t have roots like other plants—they only have a few short ones which are meant to help hold it onto whatever surface it’s on. In their native habitats across the Southern US, Mexico, Central and South America, air plants get what they need from high humidity and plentiful rainfall. In your home, you’ll need to water your air plants about once a week—some varieties can go two weeks without being watered. Keep an eye on them to determine when your plants seems to need a drink.

Buy It: Home Botanicals Collection of 6 Air Plants, $14.99, Walmart

To water, place them in the sink with enough water to submerge your plants. Let them soak for about half an hour, then turn them upside down on a towel to let them drain. Once they are dry, return them to their designated spot. You can also mist them every other day between baths to keep them looking fresh, especially in winter when humidity in our homes tends to be lower.

Air Plant Light Requirements

As a general rule, keep your air plants out of direct sunlight. Remember, in the wild, many air plant species like to grow up in the sheltered, shady canopy of trees. They will do best if you can put them in a brightly lit spot out of the sun’s rays. A few species, such as T. cyanea or T. lindenii can handle some dappled shade or less intense morning sunlight.

Air Plant Temperature Requirements

Air plants love warm weather so it’s the other end of thermometer you need to watch. Protect your plants from anything colder than 45 degrees; they will die at those temperatures. If you live in Zone 9 or warmer, you can grow an air plant outdoors all year if you keep it dry during the winter.

Image zoom Peter Krumhardt

Styling Air Plants

Air plants look great all on their own or in groups where you can display several varieties together. They can be placed in terrariums or attached to anything from magnets to driftwood for creating your own interesting displays—just use a bit of hot glue or translucent fishing line to secure them. Tillandsia species also make fine companions on a branch with orchids because they like essentially the same conditions. You can also find glass or plastic globes that are made specifically for hanging them. For varieties that have colorful leaves such as Tillandsia aeranthos ‘Amethyst’, also called the rosy air plant, try using a container that complements or contrasts with their hues.

Buy It: Set of 3 Hanging Glass Terrariums, $34.95, Air Plant Supply Co.

Because they don’t need to grow in soil, air plants can be displayed in just about any way you can dream up. Try using them as an air plant wreath, hanging mobile, or even a beach-themed terrarium that plays off their resemblance to an octopus. Without much effort on your part, these plants can add fun, unique greenery to just about any space.

All About Air Plants

Have you adopted one of these spiky Tillandsias (air plants) just to have it turn brown and crunchy?

It’s not your fault, air plants just require a different kind of care than we are used to with our other houseplants. Once you know what to do, you will find that air plants are one of the easiest and most versatile indoor plants to take care of. Treat them right and they might even bloom!

Okay, so it’s time you are armed with the right information to end the abuse of air plants and treat them with love and respect. Read on air plant lovers, for this is All About Air Plants.

What’s in a Name?

The term ‘air plants’ is the common name for Tillandsias, a type of Bromeliad, because they don’t need to be planted in soil. Yup, no soil! In the wild, Tillandsias colonize objects such as rocks and trees by clinging onto them with their roots. Air plants are epiphytic, meaning they absorb moisture and nutrients through their leaves, while the roots are used primarily to provide support for the plant.

This is good news for crafty gardeners! It means that you can place an air plant in just about any spot in your house. Terrariums and seashells are some great ideas for air plants displays, and there are many more. Just check out this Pinterest board:

Follow Stephanie @ Garden Therapy’s board GARDEN: Air Plants and Terrariums on Pinterest.

Related:

Crafting with Air Plants and Wire

Over 500 species of Tillandsia grow in a broad variety of habitats in the USA (southern part) to Central and South America. Some Tillandsia varieties such as Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usenoides) can be invasive, taking over phone lines and climbing buildings.

Air Plant Care Instructions

Air plants are easy to care for, as long as you are sure to give them the basics.

Air

Yup, as the name indicates, you must provide lots of air for your air plant. Do you need to give it a fan or blow dryer? No. Just make sure that it’s not sealed up in a closed container so that fresh air can circulate freely around the plant.

Water

Since they don’t grow in soil, air plants need to absorb moisture through their leaves. I have heard many, many times that garden centers have recommended spritzing them a few times a week. I find that this is just not enough water and that it is often the reason why air plants die. I never found that misting was very helpful or consistent.

Personally, I give air plants an hour-long bath to meet their water requirements. In the summer they need a weekly soak, whereas in the winter it’s once every 3 weeks or so. I like to use rainwater whenever I can, and this is pretty simple given I live in a rainforest! You can use tap water as well, just leave it out for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate or use filtered water.

To give your air plant a bath, simply remove it from the shell, bowl, or whatever else you have it displayed in and set it in a bowl that is large enough to submerge the plant in water. After an hour, take the plant out and give it a good shake upside down to remove any water pooling inside the leaves. Put the plant back in place and just enjoy its beauty for another 1-3 weeks before it needs another bath.

For even more detailed instructions on watering air plants, see this post:

How to Properly Water Air Plants

Air plants prefer bright, indirect light. A sunny window may be too much light and a dark room will be too little. Find a bright spot in your home where the sun doesn’t directly beam right at the plant, which can burn it.

How to Get Your Air Plant to Bloom

Did you know that air plants flower? If you want to see your air plant bloom, then you may have your work cut out for you! These are so many different varieties that it is hard to generalize instructions that can work for them all as different species bloom at different times and flowering can also depend on care and environment.

It’s best to look at the life cycle of an air plant to determine blooming. Tillandsia flower at maturity and will only bloom once in their life. The mother plant will start producing baby plants (or pups) when they are nearing maturity. She will then die off, but each pup will grow into a mature plant and flower, although this could take years. Blooms can last from days to months, depending on the species.

If you really want to see a Tillandsia bloom, look for plants that are starting to grow pups when you buy them. Follow the care procedures closely and add a bit of orchid / Bromeliad fertilizer once a month in the bath to help move along the life cycle.

When the blooms start to show, keep them out of the water. You can still give your air plant a bath, but the delicate petals won’t last submerged in water.

Reviving a Sick Air Plant

Check out Growing Air Plants in Seashells

Now go out and adopt another air plant. You won’t be sorry!

Air Plant Care

Caring For Your Brand New Air Plants

Yay, they’ve arrived! After you’ve unpacked your plants and spent sufficient time marveling at their unique beauty (and possibly giving them names), give them a good soak in a water bath (submerged in the water) for about 20-30 minutes. Shake gently to remove any excess water, and set in a spot with bright light and good air circulation to dry off. Follow the directions below for ongoing care of your plants.

Light

Air plants should be kept where they’ll receive bright, indirect sunlight or under fluorescent home/office lighting. Periods of direct sunlight are just fine, but more than a few hours of hot sun will deplete the plants of their moisture. If your plant will be in a spot with some pretty direct light, try misting them every couple of days to keep them hydrated.

Water

Air plants live on air, right? Uh, not right! While air plants don’t grow in soil, they definitely NEED to be watered. While the plants can survive for long periods of drought, they will not grow or thrive and will eventually die off if water is too scarce. Follow the directions below for watering your plants on a regular basis and they will stay alive and well for quite some time. The good news is that since these plants are very forgiving, you shouldn’t stress over their care schedule. There’s certainly no need to get a babysitter when you go on vacation.

How do I water my air plants?

As a main method of watering your plants, we recommend giving them a thorough rinsing under running water or letting them soak in a bath of water for 20-30 minutes. You can use a bowl, the sink or even the bathtub if you’ve got a family. After their shower or bath, gently shake the plants to remove any excess water from the base and the leaves, and set out to dry in an area with enough air circulation to dry them out in about 4 hours. If your plants need an in-between watering, misting them with a spray bottle is a great method. A plant in bloom should be rinsed rather than submerged in water, and take care when rinsing the delicate flowers.

How Often do I water my air plants?

Your plants should be watered once per week, and 2-3 times is recommended for optimal care. A longer, 2-hour soak is recommended every 2-3 weeks. If you are in a drier, hotter climate, more frequent watering or misting will be needed. You’ll begin to notice that after watering, your plant’s leaves will feel stiffer and full of water and they’ll be softer and lighter in color when they’re in need of water. Wrinkled or rolled leaves can be a sign of dehydration.

Temperature

Air plants will do best in generally warm conditions (a good range is 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit). In frost-free or nearly frost-free climates they can live outside for the entire year. Like most house plants, they can be taken outside on a porch or balcony for the warm season, just don’t expose them to temperature or sun extremes.

Grooming & Aesthetic Maintenance

Everyone needs a little grooming once in a while! It is normal for some of the lower leaves of your tillandsias to dry out as the plant grows or acclimates to a new environment, and those leaves can be gently pulled right off of the plant. If the leaf tips have dried out, you can snip the dried tip off (try trimming at an angle to leave a natural-looking pointy tip), and the same can be done for the plant’s roots. Don’t worry about harming your plants during grooming–they’ll regrow.

Fertilizer

Fertilizing your plants is not necessary, but will keep them in top shape and should promote blooming and reproduction. We recommend using our Grow More Air Plants and Bromeliad Fertilizer once per month. One small packet will make over 10 gallons of fertilizer and water mixture. You can save the diluted fertilizer mixture in an old milk jug for reuse.

Life Cycle

Blooming

Tillandsias are tropical plants that usually live for several years and will bloom and produce flowers only one time during their lifetime. The flowers are striking and brilliantly colored, and the bloom period will last several days to many months, depending on the species. Different species bloom at different times, also depending on their care and environment. A plant will most likely go into bloom sometime between mid-winter and mid-summer.

Pups

Around a plant’s bloom time, they’ll produce offshoots, or “pups.” You’ll notice the pups have a separate and distinct center of their own, distinguishing them from the other leaves. Once the pup reaches at least one-third the size of the parent plant, the pup can be removed by gently pulling it apart from the parent. Hold both the parent and the pup at their bases and gently twist in a downward motion. You can also cut the plants apart using a clean razor blade, slicing as far down the pup stem as possible. Each pup will follow the life cycle by growing into a parent plant, blooming and producing pups of it’s own.

Clumping

Tillandsias can grow into clumps if the pups are left to grow on the parent plant. Clumps can also be created by wiring multiple plants together, as they’ll begin to grow into and around each other.

Mounting

Since air plants are very unique in that they do not require soil to grow and thrive, they can be mounted to almost any different surface for display. We recommend using the base of the plant as the mounting area. Adhesives like E-6000, Liquid Nails, Goop or a hot glue gun will work great, as well as fishing line or any non-copper wire. When choosing your mounting surface, remember that your plant will still need to be watered, so something waterproof or water-resistant will be the best choice for a long-term display method.

Air Plant FAQs

Can I Keep My Air Plants in a Container?

Of course! Almost any vessel will do just fine as a home for your air plant. They’ll do best with some air circulation, so they really shouldn’t live in an enclosed container for long durations. Otherwise, anything goes… and be creative!

Can My Air Plants Live Outdoors?

Sure! Can’t you imagine admiring a beautiful hanging Stricta clump while sitting out on the porch enjoying an evening cocktail? The most important need for the plant will be bright, filtered light, so a patio or deck spot where they’ll get indirect sunlight would be the best spot. They’ll need to be watered more often than plants kept inside, especially in dry periods, so grab the garden hose or dunk them in the pond, whatever is easiest. Make sure the plants are drying out within about 4 hours after being watered, especially after any long, soaking rains.

Tillandsia, AKA air plants, are so much fun. Their spiky tendrils are oh-so-cool looking and because they don’t need soil to survive, there are endless creative ways to display them, from terrariums to popping them inside seashells. You can even make them into jewelry! They are hardy and easy to care for if you know what to do, and the most common problems that people have with air plants are due to incorrect watering. Follow these steps to water air plants the right way and keep them hydrated and happy all year long.

Air plants are called that because they grow without soil, in the air. This means that they need to absorb moisture through their leaves and they need consistent moisture, either from very high humidity (as in a greenhouse) or from regular soaking.

Skip the Spritz

Often when you buy Tillandsia at the store, the label recommends spritzing them with water from a misting bottle a few times each week. We wouldn’t recommend this, though, as spritzing is just too inconsistent and doesn’t provide the air plant with enough moisture. When Tillys grow in the wild, they absorb moisture from the air which is much more humid than it is indoors, and that is usually where we keep them, so we have to soak them to rehydrate.

That being said, greenhouses and garden centers just mist them, because it is already humid inside a greenhouse. And if you live in a humid climate (or a greenhouse) you can also get away with spritzing them. For air plants adopted as houseplants for the rest of us, the key is soaking them in a bath.

Air Plant Bath

To water air plants, remove them from wherever you have them displayed and submerge in a bowl or sink full of enough water to completely cover them. Parts of the plants will float up above the water—this is okay, just make sure that the majority of each air plant is submerged in the water. Leave them in the bath for one hour. Remove each plant, hold facing upside down, and shake well to get rid of any excess water that may be pooling at the base of the inner leaves. Return your air plants to their regular spot until it is time to bathe them again.

Use the Right Water

Don’t use chlorinated water for your air plants as it can harm them. Instead, use rainwater or filtered water if possible. If you want to use tap water, allow it to sit out in a bowl for 24 hours first so that the chlorine evaporates. Chlorine can turn the tips of the leaves brown.

Change Your Watering Schedule Seasonally

Depending on the season, air plants need to be bathed at different frequencies. In the summer when it is hot, they like to be bathed once a week, but in the cool winter months, once every three weeks or so will do. Pay attention to the changing of the seasons and the health of your air plant and water accordingly.

Are you as crazy about air plants as we are? You might like these posts:

  • How to Keep Air Plants Alive and Healthy (they Might Even Bloom!)
  • This Lush Living Air Plant Wreath has a Secret
  • How to Revive a Sick Air Plant
  • Air Plants in Seashells
  • Plant Geeks Be Warned: This Living Jewelry Will Feed Your Obsession

Air plant care: Tending, fertilizing, and watering Tillandsia

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Air plants have stepped into the houseplant spotlight for both their ease of care and the many creative ways they can be displayed. Head to your favorite local nursery and you’re sure to find sea shells, glass globes, and wooden frames filled with air plants on display. These free-living plants are fairly unique in the plant world, but just because they don’t need to be planted in a pot of soil, doesn’t mean they don’t have care requirements. Though it isn’t difficult, air plant care is surprisingly specific.

What are air plants?

Before we discuss air plant care, let’s take a quick look at what air plants actually are. When you know a little more about how and where these plants naturally grow, the following air plant care tips make a lot more sense.

There are many different varieties of air plants available to indoor gardeners.

Air plants are members of the bromeliad family. They’re a large group of plants in the genus Tillandsia, of which there are hundreds of different species. Air plants are epiphytes that use their small roots to attach themselves to the branches of trees and shrubs, rather than growing in the ground. Because they don’t rob nutrients from their host plant, air plants are not considered parasites. Instead, they just use their host as an anchor and a place to live.

Air plants absorb moisture and nutrients through their leaves, instead of through their roots. Any roots present on members of the Tillandsia genus are used for securing the plant to the tree on which it lives. Some varieties of air plants are large with broad, strap-like leaves, while others are tiny with thread-like leaves.

Native to the southern U.S., Central and South America, and Mexico, air plants live in a wide range of climates. But, no species survive winters where temperatures dip much below 40 degrees F. Since air plants absorb moisture through their leaves, they prefer warm, humid conditions. Most homes are not humid enough for air plants, especially in the winter months. So, caring for air plants means keeping the plants regularly watered.

The diversity of air plants is amazing!

How to water air plants

The first step of proper air plant care is to ensure the leaves receive the right amount of moisture. Many people think that air plants can live on air alone, hence their common name. But that’s definitely not the case. Instead, the name air plant comes from the fact that the plants don’t require soil to live, instead deriving their moisture and nutrition from the air.

Since your home probably isn’t a humid forest where air plant watering occurs via the rain and the relative humidity, you’ll have to water your air plants in one of two ways.

  • Watering air plants via misting: For this method, use a spray bottle or plant mister to spritz air plants with water every day or two. After spraying the entire plant, place the damp air plant on a towel to dry for a few hours before putting it back in its decorative container or arrangement.

A daily misting is a great way to water air plants.

  • How to water air plants in a bowl or sink of water: This is the best method of watering air plants as it really allows the water to soak into the plants. To water air plants this way, fill a bowl or sink with water and float the air plants in the water for 20 minutes to an hour every week. Then, take the plants out of the water, tip them upside down so any excess water can drain away, and then place them on a towel to dry before putting them back on display.

Water air plants weekly by soaking them in the sink.

What is the best water to use to water air plants?

There are several different kinds of water you can use to water air plants, regardless of whether you’re misting them or soaking them. Here are some tips for the type of water to use when watering air plants.

  1. Do not use softened water as the salt present in it can build up in the plant leaves.
  2. Do not use distilled water.
  3. If using tap water, allow it to sit at room temperature for 24 hours for the chlorine to dissipate.
  4. Spring water or rain water is the best choice.
  5. You can also use aquarium or pond water to water air plants as it contains several dissolved nutrients, but do not apply any other fertilizers if you water with aquarium or pond water.

Use chlorine-free water to irrigate air plants.

How often to water air plants depends on how dry your house is. It also depends on the conditions of the room your air plants are kept in. Bathrooms and kitchen make great air plant homes due to their high moisture levels after showers, dish washing, and other humidity-generating activities. Rooms where fans are left constantly running are poor choices for air plants. The moving air causes the plant to dry out more quickly.

Signs that your air plant needs to be watered more frequently include curling or rolling leaves, leaves that fold together, or browning of the outermost leaves. Typically the green-leaved air plant varieties need to be watered more frequently than the gray-leaved ones.

If you keep your air plant inside a vessel, such as a terrarium or glass globe, take it out prior to watering. Then allow the air plant to fully dry before returning it to its decorative setting.

Use your creativity and display air plants in many fun ways.

How much light do air plants need?

The next step in air plant care is to consider how much light to give your plant. For air plants, bright but filtered light is best. A west, east, or south-facing window will do. If you don’t think your air plant is getting enough light, supplemental lighting via a fluorescent light or a table-top grow light helps.

Tillandsias enjoy spending the summer outdoors, but be sure to put them in a location with filtered sunlight. Direct sun during the hot summer months can “fry” them. And be sure to move the plants back indoors before fall’s first frost.

How to fertilize air plants

Fertilizing air plants isn’t a difficult task, nor is it an essential one. Though a monthly or quarterly application of fertilizer helps air plants thrive, if you skip this step, it’s not the end of the world, especially if you water air plants with rain water or water from an aquarium or pond.

To fertilize air plants, use an air plant-specific fertilizer or a bromeliad fertilizer a few times a year. Another option is to use a regular, water soluble houseplant fertilizer at 1/4 of the recommended strength.

Add the diluted fertilizer to your irrigation water, and the plants are fed and watered at the same time. Do this regardless of whether you water via misting or by soaking the plants in water.

Fertilizing Tillandsia isn’t difficult, but you must use the right type of fertilizer.

More air plant care tips

Other than choosing the correct location, and properly watering and fertilizing air plants, there are only a few other air plant care tips to consider.

  • If any leaves at the base of the plant die, simply pull them off with your fingers or cut them off with a sharp pair of plant grooming shears.
  • If any leaves turn brown at the tips, cut the brown, dead growth off with the grooming shears. Do it at an angle, so the trimmed leaf blends in with the healthy ones.
  • Keep air plants away from both cold and hot drafts that dry them out.
  • The ideal temperature for air plants is between 50 and 90 degrees F.

Remove dead or dying leaves from air plants by twisting them off or using a pair of plant shears.

Do air plants bloom?

Lucky houseplant lovers who learn how to care for air plants properly are often gifted with blooms from their air plants. Most species of Tillandsia bloom only once in their life. Blooms spikes can be pink, purple, white, orange, red, or yellow, and typically occur in late winter or spring.

Sometime around the time of bloom, air plants also produce offsets, or young daughter plants. Separate these offsets from the mother plant by twisting or cutting them off. Move the young offset to a new location when it’s about half the size of the mother plant.

As you now see, just because air plants are considered low maintenance doesn’t mean you can completely ignore them. Proper air plant care is essential to enjoying these unique little plants for many years to come.

For more on growing great houseplants check out the following posts:
Types of houseplant bugs: Who they are and what to do about them
Instructions for repotting an orchid
Easy projects for mini holiday houseplants
Houseplant fertilization tips and schedule
Make your own potting soil for houseplants

Do you grow air plants? Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.

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