There are as many types of air plants as ways to display them – vertical gardens, terrariums, attached to wood or stone. However, when it comes to air plant care, a lot of people get it wrong.
Air plants, also known as Tillandsias, are epiphytes in nature, which means they use their roots to attach to trees and rocks, and not to absorb nutrients from soil. The nutrients and water required for growth are then absorbed through their leaves, as they are covered in specialized scales called trichomes.
Caring for an air plant is super easy, as they are very forgiving. All you need to know is that they need nutrients and moisture, and they can’t survive only on air, even if their name says so.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about air plant care – from growing requirements to possible pests and diseases.
Air Plant Care Guide
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 can’t provide enough light, you can always supplement it with some artificial lighting options. Make sure to use a full-spectrum fluorescent light, so your air plant can photosynthesize. Placing it about three feet from the light source for about 12 hours per day should do the magic.
Watering Air Plants
Since air plants absorb nutrients and water through their leaves, proper watering is very important.
Again, the humidity in your home provides a clue on how much water your air plant will need.
If placed in a dry room, your air plants should be watered every five days or so. In a humid home though, watering 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 your air plant’s tips turn brown and curl, it means that it needs more water. However, if the 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.
All types of air plants prefer warm temperatures. Unless you live in USDA zones 10 and above, the Tillandsia must be grown indoors, and your home must be warm (50F to 90F).
Air plants can also tolerate a nighttime decrease in temperature of up to 10F degrees as this mimics desert climates.
When it comes to fertilizing your air plants, the best options are the ones used for orchids or bromeliads.
All you have to do is add a pinch of fertilizer to the soaking water once per month.
How to Make Your Air Plant Bloom
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Air plants usually bloom once in their lifetime and that happens when they have reached their maturity.
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.
That’s the bad news, but there is also good news! When an air plant is close to maturity, it starts producing pups or baby air plants. This means your air plant is propagating itself.
The pups can be safely removed from the mother to be self-contained when they have reached half the size of the mother.
Tip: When watering air plants, make sure to keep the blooms out of water.
How to Display Your Air Plants
There is no limit to the creative ways of displaying air plants in your home. However, there are a few things you need to know about displaying in a way that ensures proper care.
A Tillandsia (or more) placed in a terrarium or glass bowl can look stunning on a bookshelf or coffee table, as long as the mouth of the bowl allows you to remove the plant for soaking.
Tip: 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 the air plants cannot be removed from their glass home because of their size, then you should only water the air plant by misting.
Tip: The plant needs air circulation, which means that 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 your air plants should be misted more often.
For air plants that are mounted on walls or glued to wood or other mediums, misting rather than soaking will be required.
Tip: Remember to mist all around the plant, rather than on its front, as this will create a humid environment.
Another great way of displaying is by using an air plant holder. There are so many fabulous and cheap air plant holders like this one on Amazon.
For some great ideas on displaying air plants, check out this video:
Air Plant Care: Pests & Diseases
An air plant that has spent its entire life indoors has a very low risk of attracting the bugs we may find in other houseplants.
Also, having no soil obviously means that pests who thrive in soil do not affect Tillandsia. (Amazing, isn’t it?)
However, it isn’t impossible to see bugs like aphids or mealybugs on your air plants; in this case, a good soak or, if needed, a sprinkle of Diatomaceous Earth should solve 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 to keep your air plant out of your pets and children’s reach.
Air plants are known to remove more particulates from the air than any other houseplant!
They are easy to care for, exotic-looking examples of living art. Not requiring soil makes these plants versatile in their display, as 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!