There are over 600 species of perrenial, flowering Tillandsia plants. The genus comes from the Bromeliad family and is native to the tropical areas south of Mexico all the way to Argentina.
The Tillandsia plant is commonly known as air plant, and they add a low maintenance but exotic look to your indoor garden. The air plant is unique in that it does not require soil to grow. It is an epiphyte in nature, meaning the roots are used to attach the plant to trees and rocks, not to absorb nutrients from soil. The air plant receives it nutrition by absorbing water through the leaves.
There are so many types of Tillandsia that it can be difficult to identify your plant. Not only are there hundreds of species but many hybrids as well. Leaves can be spiky or ribbon-like, some are bulbous, and colours can vary from green to red to multi-coloured, plus sizes can vary. Equally variable are the ways in which air plants can be displayed – in vertical gardens, terrariums, attached to wood or stone – the possibilities are endless.
It is important to remember, however, that an air plant is a living thing, not just a decorative object. This is where the conditions of air plant care become important. Although it is easy to care for, air plants do require care. This article will review the critical elements in having healthy, thriving air plants.
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How to Care for Air Plants: Growing Requirements
Since air plants are tropical plants, they need bright, indirect sunlight. If the air in your home is humid, the air plant will tolerate more light than a plant grown in a dry home. A sunny bathroom is an ideal spot for all types of air plants. If you need to use artificial light for your air plants, be sure to use full spectrum fluorescent so the plant can photosynthesize, placing the plant three feet from the light source for about 12 hours per day.
Watering Air Plants
Since the air plant absorbs nutrition through the water on its leaves, proper watering is very important for air plant care. Again, the humidity in your home provides a clue to the watering regimen. In a dry house, air plants should be watered every 5 days or so; in a humid home, every ten days should be enough. Since the Tillandsia is not rooted in soil, it is easy to soak the entire plant in a basin or bowl of water for ten minutes. This is best done in the mornings.
If you have several air plants, they can all swim together! After ten minutes, shake off the excess water, and lay the plants upside down on a towel. It can take up to three hours to dry, but it is very important that the air plant dries completely or otherwise, the plant may rot. If plant tips turn brown and curl, your air plant is telling you that it needs more water. But if leaves turn brown, this may indicate overwatering. Black leaves mean the air plant is rotting and unfortunately belongs in the compost bin.
In between soakings, air plants should be lightly misted.
Again, as a tropical plant, all types of air plants prefer warm temperature. Unless you live in USDA zones 10 and above, the Tillandsia must be grown indoors, and your home must be warm (50F to 90F). It can tolerate a nighttime decrease in temperature of up to 10F degrees as this mimic’s desert climates.
Air Plant Fertilizer
Air plant fertilizer is the same as that used for orchids or bromeliads. A pinch of fertilizer should be added to the soaking water once per month.
How to Make Your Air Plant Bloom
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The slow-growing air plant will produce a bloom once in its lifetime.
The bloom may last several days to several months depending on the type of plant. Once the bloom appears, the plant has reached the peak of its life cycle and will begin to slowly die. But the appearance of the bloom coincides with the appearance of one or more “pups”, small baby air plants attached to the mother plant. In other words, the air plant propagates itself! The pup can be safely removed from the mother to be self-contained when it has reached half the size of the mother.
The size of the adult air plant can range from an inch or two in height to several feet, depending on type.
How to Display Your Air Plants
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As mentioned above, there is no limit to the creative ways of displaying air plants in your home. But there are a few things to know about displaying in a way that ensures proper care.
A display of Tillandsia in a terrarium or glass bowl can look stunning on a bookshelf or coffee table. If the mouth of the bowl allows you to remove the plant for soaking, continue with the method described above. Keep in mind that a bowl or terrarium creates a micro-climate with greater humidity and the plant may need less watering. It’s best not to place a glass container right on a windowsill as glass will intensify the sun’s heat and the plant will burn!
If air plants cannot be removed from their glass home because of size, then watering the air plant by misting only is appropriate. But because the plant needs air circulation, the smaller the container, the longer the drying out will be. Less frequent watering will be needed. Larger glass containers will provide greater air circulation so should be misted more often.
For air plants which are mounted on walls or glued to wood or other mediums, misting rather than soaking will be required. Remember to mist all around the plant, rather than on the plant, as this will create a humid environment.
For some great ideas on displaying air plants, check out this video:
Air Plants Pests
The air plant which has spent its life indoors is at very low risk of attracting the bugs we may find in other houseplants. Having no soil obviously means that pests who thrive in soil do not affect Tillandsia.
It isn’t impossible to see bugs like aphids or mealybugs on an air plant; in this case, a good soak or, if needed, a sprinkle of Diatomaceous Earth should resolve the problem.
Are Air Plants Toxic to Humans and Pets?
Air plants are non-toxic to humans and pets.
Their spiky shape may be attractive to some animals, however, so it is always recommended that plants be kept out of reach of pets and young children.
Air plants are known to remove more particulates from the air than any other houseplant! They are easy-care, exotic looking examples of living art. Not requiring soil makes these plants versatile in their display; they have become popular in recent years for their unusual beauty.
What is your experience with air plants? Have you found them forgiving or difficult to care for? We would love to hear from you!