Tillandsia - Air Plant Care Guide
WHAT ARE AIR PLANTS
Air plant is the common name for what are normally called Tillandsia. They are epiphytic plants, meaning they grow symbiotically among other plant hosts in forests, mountains and deserts, mostly in South and Central America. However, they do not steal nutrients from their host, only using it as a home to grow on. We call them air plants because they do not need soil and because of their natural inclination to thrive wherever conditions permit: on telephone wires, tree branches, barks, bare rocks and more.
Air plants are among the easiest plants to care for, making them popular decorative plants for homes and offices. They have tiny vessels located throughout their leaves called trichomes that capture nutrients and moisture from the air. While air plants are known for being easy to care for, they still need a bit of attention. With proper care, they can live for several years and will even give birth to little offspring for added years of growing pleasure!
Here are some common recommendations for proper air plant care.
HOW MUCH LIGHT DOES AN AIR PLANT NEED?
Air plants do best in bright, indirect light. Placing them in rooms with windows facing south or east is perfect since these rooms will be bright with sunlight for most of the day. Windows facing north also work well, as long as the plant is placed close to the window, and the sunlight isn’t blocked by trees or other objects.
As a general rule of thumb, the more sunlight the air plant receives, the more humidity it should get. So, if your air plant is getting lots of light, mist it at least twice a week. A sunny bathroom is actually a great place for an air plant, since the humidity from the shower will take care of misting it for you!
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I WATER MY AIR PLANT?
The watering needs of an air plant can vary depending on its environment and, as explained above, the amount of light and ambient humidity it gets. Before determining the watering regimen, consider how much light the air plant is receiving, the ambient temperature at a given time of year and the relative humidity levels in its space.
After thinking about the above points, you can adapt the watering routine to suit the plant’s particular environment. Here are some recommendations, as a good 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. It is very important that the air plant dry quickly or it may rot if wet for too long. The plant should be completely dry in 1 to 3 hours. If necessary, put it in a brighter place with more air circulation to speed up the drying process.
- Once a week, mist your plant until its entire surface is moist but not so much that there is water dripping from it.
- 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.
- It is best to soak or mist your air plant in the morning. Watering in the evening disrupts the plant’s ability to breath overnight and it may also take more time to dry.
If the tips of the leaves begin to turn brown or crispy, your air plant may be underwatered. The curvature of air plant leaves tends to become more exaggerated when under-watered.
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 off from the center, your plant has likely begun to rot.
Using orchid or Bromeliad fertilizer in your watering regimen once 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.
The video below illustrates the recommended sun light needs and watering techniques.
CARING FOR AIR PLANTS IN TERRARIUMS
Air plants are often used as part of decorative live-art terrarium projects. If you can remove your air plant from its glass container, simply follow the regimen outlined above and be sure to allow the plant to dry thoroughly before putting it back in its glass enclosure. Keep in mind that glass terrariums will contain more humidity and be hotter than the surrounding area. Don’t put the terrarium too close to a bright window as the glass intensifies the sun’s rays.
If you can’t remove your air plant from its glass container, you’ll need to rely on only misting it. That’s OK, as long as you consider that it’l take longer to dry since it’s inside a container. Considering this, mist it less often than an open-air air plant. Try to mist around the plant rather than directly on it since the idea is to create humidity in the environment. Start by misting once per week and then monitor the plant to see if you need to adjust the regimen.
CARING FOR AIR PLANTS IN MOUNTED DISPLAYS
You probably won’t be able to remove and soak your mounted air plant. You can generally follow the standard regimen described above using mist only. Start with misting twice per week and adjusting as necessary, depending on how long it takes your plant to dry.
Air plants flower only once in their life! Depending on the species, the blossom can last from one day to a few months. The flowers are usually a beautiful pink, red or purple. Flowering is the peak of the air plant life cycle. 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!
Air plants are gorgeous little plants that can be displayed in many creative ways. They are generally easy to care for, requiring bright filtered light and occasional humidity. Follow the above guidelines, keep an eye on them to adjust the watering regimen, and your Tillandsia will give you its gorgeous companionship for a long time!
Shop our air plant product collection here.