Air Plant Care

Up until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of air plants. Really, I mean plants that grow without one end being planted in dirt or soaked in a hydroponic system? Air plants are just that, plants that get their nutrients from photosynthesis and water absorbed from the air. I don’t have a naturally green thumb and raising plants is more a matter of luck for me, but I figure I can grow plants I don’t need to water or feed regularly, right? Air plant care is actually pretty simple. Here’s what you need to know about raising the Tillandsia genus and how you can best display them in your home.

What makes air plants so simple to raise and care for?

Most plants take some sort of medium to grow in. Even a cactus that takes very little water, has a root system that soaks water from the sand or soil it’s located in. Hydroponic systems have a regular water nutrient rinse that runs over the roots and everyday house plants get their nutrients from regular feeding or tinted air plant

Air plant care is quite different as they have no medium for roots and, in a humid environment with enough air movement, they require no watering. These monocot flowering plants get all of the water and nutrients they need through their uniquely designed leaves. Air plants use their roots only for securing themselves to boulders, trees, shrubs, the ground or other surrounding materials. Each of the leaves on an air plant is topped in specialized scales that are called trichomes, and these scales have the ability to absorb water and nutrients. Some of the trichomes are smooth; others appear hairy. Air plants are warm-weather lovers that can thrive despite neglect. Many air plants grow with strap-shape or elongated triangle-shape leaves, and most have beautiful tube-shape or funneled flowers.

Air plants are native to the southern United States, the West Indies as well as South and Central America, naturally humid environments. In these humid environments, if they don’t get enough air movement they may mold from staying wet. Watering is probably one of the most intricate part of growing these unusual plants that don’t require soil. In an interior room, air plants can often die from lack of water because their owners mistakenly assume the plants absorb all of their moisture from the air. On a mountaintop in South America or in a dense rainforest, that scenario works out. In the drier air of an artificially heated or air-conditioned room, air plants need some additional water. A lack of water is usually evidenced by an exaggeration of the natural concave curve of each leaf. Watch for this over-exaggerated curve as a sign you should provide a little more water.

Tillandsia fasciculata - Cardinal Air Plant

Tillandsia fasciculata – Cardinal Air Plant

The best tips to care for your air plant:

  • As indicated by the name, constant air circulation is the most important method of keeping your air plant happy.
  • Although air plants thrive in warm weather, proper air plant care requires protection from full sunlight.
  • Air plants do require some moisture; from late in the spring to mid-autumn, you’ll need to mist them with water daily. In the winter time, you’ll need to mist only once or twice a week.
  • In the spring and summer months, you can fertilize them monthly but only using a liquid fertilizer that’s low in nitrogen and diluted to about 20-25% strength.
  • If it’s a type of air plant that grows naturally wild attached onto trees, keep it in a moistened, ventilated container, and partially shaded.
  • If it is a normally ground dwelling type of air plant, such as Tillandsia cyanea or Tillandsia lindenii, you can grow it indoors in bright, filtered light or outdoors in a partially or mildly shaded area.

Be sure to keep your air plant sit in a location colder than 45 or 50 degrees; it won’t grow and will eventually die at lower temperatures in that range. If you live in climate zone 9 or warmer, you can let your air plant grow outdoors all year as long as it’s kept dry during the winter months. (this will keep it from growing mold)

How to display your air plant:

One of the more popular methods of potting air plants is to place them in a teardrop air plant globe. The specially designed teardrop globes are typically glass and can be placed on a counter or shelf or even suspended by wire from a plant hook in your ceiling. The globes have circular holes to allow you to access the plant and mist it as needed.

If you buy an air plant that typically is growing in trees, it can be trussed to a piece of terrarium driftwood using some clear fishing line and a small patch of peat moss to hold a small amount of extra moisture. You can even use a bit of craft glue (use E6000) to adhere the plant to the driftwood. Most of the Tillandsia species of air plants also partner well on a planted branch with orchids since they grow well in the same conditions.

Air plants look impressive by themselves as hanging architectural accents or in a specially-designed air plant terrarium. You can set certain varieties such as the Amethyst air plant, sometimes called the “rosy air plant”, into a small ceramic pot or into container that will complement or contrast with its bright pink flower spike petals.

The plant that gives you more:

Air plants will sprout “pups” that are actually new plants you can remove and place elsewhere to continue your line of plants. After producing these pups, the producing plant will usually die within a year or two. To remove the pups so they can be restarted elsewhere, they should be at least 1/3 the size of the mother plant, but be sure to remove them prior to them reaching half the mother’s size. Gently grasp both mother and the pup at their bases and gently twist them in a downward motion. If this does not happen easily, you may need to cut downward at the base as close to the mother as possible. As said before, don’t pitch out the mother plant yet, as long as it is still alive it will continue to produce more pups. Often it will take several years after blooming to die.




Cardinal plant picture by Hans Hilleweart
By | 2016-10-03T13:03:24+00:00 October 2nd, 2016|household|0 Comments

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