Air plants were “all the rage” in the ’60s and ’70s, and now, as gardening awareness flourishes, they’re experiencing a resurgence. Also known as “Tillandsia”, exotic air plants are spreading through flower shops and making their way into the homes of everyday plant enthusiasts, like me. (That’s my air plant in the photo above). Problem is, many people don’t seem to know how to care for an air plant.
I purchased mine at a boutique flower shop and the employees told me that all I had to do was mist the plant once each week. That seemed suspiciously simple for such a intricate-looking specimen, so I did some detective work. What I discovered is a seemingly widespread misconception that air plants require little to no attention and are thus, one of the easiest plants to grow. A more accurate statement is: air plants are easy to take care of, but they require regular maintenance.
Here are instructions for proper air plant care:
They enjoy lot’s of bright light, but can NOT handle hot, direct sun. Keeping them close to a sunny window that allows them to receive some filtered sunlight is ideal. Grow lights can be substituted for natural sunlight, if necessary.
Air plants require regular waterings. Water your air plant 2-3 times each week by submerging it entirely in room temperature water. Once it’s thoroughly wet, take it out of the water and gently shake away excess droplets.
Air plants also benefit from a bi-weekly bath. Every other week, soak your air plant in room temperature water for an hour or two. Afterwards, take it out, shake off the excess water, and allow it to dry out on a flat, dry surface for about four hours. Once completely dry, you can return it to its globe or enclosed area.
*It is important to keep the base of an air plant away from sitting water. If the base stays moist for too long it will start to rot.
In addition to regular watering, you can mist your air plant, as needed, to create humidity around it.
Air plants do not grow in soil. Never put an air plant in soil because it can actually harm them.
Instead of soil, nestle your air plant among mosses, stones, branches and/or other organic materials.
Air plants are a tropical species that require a temperature range of between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Occasional fertilizing is recommended. Bromeliad or orchid fertilizer, given in small amounts twice each month, is all that’s needed.
Over time, air plants plants grow new leaves and shed old ones. To keep your air plant looking its best, trim off any browning or dead leaves by snipping them at an angle. (This does not hurt the plant).
Air plants will eventually produce babies, known as “pups”. When a pup reaches 1/3 of the size of the “mother”, it can be removed. Alternatively, you can leave the pups attached and allow them to grow in a cluster around the original air plant.
Most air plants prefer slightly humid conditions and; therefore, benefit from being kept in a terrarium or globe. Air plant globes are available at many garden centers and flower shops. They have extra air holes to improve circulation:
*No matter what container you use, make sure it has enough of an opening for aeration. An air plant will suffer if it does not receive enough fresh air.
Air plants can also be placed on a flat surface or in a bowl and/or rested on a piece of moss or other organic material. These air plants are simply sitting on a ceramic plate:
Interesting facts about air plants …
- Tillandsia are a Bromeliad species native to the mountains, deserts and forests of South and Central America, Mexico and the southern United States.
- The thin-leaf varieties prefer moist conditions, while the thick-leaf types are more drought-resistant.
- Air plants are Epiphytes; meaning that they grow without soil, attaching themselves to other plants and matter, instead. They are not parasitic; however, in contrast to other epiphytes.
- Air plants absorb water and nutrients through their leaves. Their roots are solely used as anchors.
- One single air plant can produce up to 12 pups and many of them will flower regularly.
Inspirational air plant arrangements …
Globe terrarium using moss, gravel and common found objects:
Air plant “bonsai” tree (notice the dish of rocks and water, which provides humidity):
Latching onto tree bark, in true epiphyte fashion:
Simple, yet alluring globe conglomeration:
Upside-down hanging “squid” Tillandsia: