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Air Plant Care


What is an air plant?
When somebody says “air plant,” they are usually referring to a large, related group of plants (a “genus") called Tillandsia. There are over 700 species of Tillandsias and they are different from any other plant genus on Earth. These plants do not grow in soil, instead absorbing water and nutrients through their specialized leaves. They are easy to care-for, drought tolerant, adaptable, and there are many different shapes, sizes, and growing behaviors. Air plants make fantastic decoration pieces, because they need no soil.

• How do I take care of my air plant?
Air plants need three things for good health: water, light, and air circulation. Air plants should be fully immersed in water for 30 minutes to an hour once per week. Ideally you will submerge them completely in bottled water or rain water, but if these are not available then tap water will suffice. After watering, it is critical to allow air plants to dry to avoid rot, which is the biggest danger to air plants. Dry them upside down, especially bulbous-shaped ones. Most air plants prefer bright, indirect light such as light near a south-facing window. They can take a bit of direct sun, but too much is deadly. Always balance the amount of light and water to compliment each other. They prefer to be dry most of the time, and cannot survive sitting water. They like breezy conditions, if possible, so try to display them in such a way so that air circulation is maximized. Balancing water, light, and air circulation will keep your plants alive for many generations.

Can I plant my air plant?
Typically, no. Besides a few exceptions (T. cyanea and T. somnians, for example) planting an air plant will kill it. There are more creative ways to display them anyway!

How do I water my air plant?
If you live in an arid (dry and hot) environment, you should be watering your air plants 1-2 times per week. If you live in a cool, humid environment, you will be fine getting by watering once per week. To water your air plants, simply fill a container full enough of water to fully submerse your plants. Leave your plants submerged for about 30 minutes and then remove to dry. Plants should be given enough light and air circulation to dry no longer than 4 hours after watering.
If possible, always turn air plants upside down to dry. This ensures that there is no standing water at the base of the plant - which is something that can easily rot out their interior. This is why you should also remove plants from decorative fixtures before soaking. If you are in a dry climate, consider misting your plants between waterings. You will know if your plants are not getting enough water as the leaves will start to unnaturally curve and they will feel dry to the touch.

How much light does my air plant need?
In nature, most varieties of Tillandsia grow on trees and other plants, which mean that they are used to sunlight that is filtered through the canopy of leaves and branches. There are some species that do grow in direct sun, but the vast majority prefer bright, indirect light. Depending on the species and a particular plant’s tolerances, this pretty much ranges from “no direct sun" to “mild direct sunlight in the AM only.” In certain climates, some air plants can be acclimated to outdoor growing, of course, but Tillandsias are perfectly happy indoors under proper care. As a general instruction for all air plant species, provide plenty of indirect sun for your air plants. A bit (a couple of hours) of direct morning sun can also be beneficial. Window sills are perfect for air plants, and south or east facing ones are usually ideal. Fluorescent light is also acceptable to them, with a location of about 12 inches from the light source being ideal.

• Can I use artificial light to grow my air plants?
Florescent light is the ideal artificial light for air plants. Plants should be between 6" and 35" from the fluorescent tubes depending on the light strength. Give your air plants about 12 hours of light per day. If you are going to keep your air plants under artificial light, we would suggest using an automatic timer so that they receive the appropriate amount.

Will my air plant die after flowering?
Outside of a few exceptions, yes, but it is not a quick death. We like to refer to the plant as being "over the hill" at this point. For many Tillandsia, they can still have many years left after blooming. The reason they begin to "die" after flowering is because that is when they begin to produce offset pups (babies). The mother plant begins putting her energy into creating offspring and giving her nutrients to their growth as well. You will see the mother plant begin to wither and not look as healthy, but the pups will be vibrant and well formed as they grow older. When the offset pups are at least 1/3 the size of the mother plant, they can be removed and grown separately. 

Will my air plant grow roots?
If conditions are perfect, they might! Air plant roots are used in nature to attach the plant to a tree or rock. At home, they can serve the same purpose.

Should I fertilize my air plant?
Yes. Air Plant Hub Air Plant Food is perfectly formulated for Tillandsias, and it causes increased growth and better reproductive health. Mist Tillandsia with the Air Plant Food once a month, or spray it into soak water.

Why did my air plant fall apart?
It probably rotted. If air plants stay wet too long, or get water trapped in their center, they can easily rot. This will usually cause dark coloration, a squishy feel, and eventual disintegration. Drying between every watering is crucial.

Is my air plant dead?
If it became dark-colored and squishy, it probably has rotted and likely won’t survive. Gently tug on the innermost, newest growth- if it easily pops out and has black tips, the plant is most likely dead. On the other hand, if the plant is merely dehydrated, an overnight soak in water has a good chance of reviving it.

__________Article Author___________

J Hamlett, A.S. Horticulture Science
Tillandsia Enthusiast
Air Plant Hub Blogger