We’ve only been bitten by the “plant bug” recently in the past years, but it’s been really fun discovering and learning about different types of plants and how to care for each variety. Some of the coolest kind out there are air plants and it very easy to care for. These small plants don’t need soil so you can use a wide variety of planters to display these air-loving friends unlike caring for Succulents.
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What are Air Plants?
Air plants are members of the bromeliad family. They’re a large group of plants in the genus Tillandsia, of which there are hundreds of different species. Air plants are epiphytes that use their small roots to attach themselves to the branches of trees and shrubs, rather than growing in the ground. Because they don’t rob nutrients from their host plant, air plants are not considered parasites. Instead, they just use their host as an anchor and a place to live.
Air plants (Tillandsia) are supposed to be some of the easiest plants to keep alive indoors. For starters, they don’t even need soil, absorbing water and nutrients through scales on their leaves. But just like succulents and orchids, some people have trouble keeping them alive.
Air plants should be kept where they’ll receive bright, indirect sunlight or under fluorescent home/office lighting. Periods of direct sunlight are just fine, but more than a few hours of hot sun will deplete the plants of their moisture. If your plant will be in a spot with some pretty direct light, try misting them every couple of days to keep them hydrated.
Tillandsias enjoy spending the summer outdoors, but be sure to put them in a location with filtered sunlight. Direct sun during the hot summer months can “fry” them. And be sure to move the plants back indoors before fall’s first frost.
Air Plants and Artificial Light
Full spectrum (fluorescent) light is a must. Regular incandescent bulbs don’t emit the quality of light these plants need to photosynthesize. Your Tillandsia should be placed no further than 3 feet from the light source. Also if you’re going to use fluorescent light, the plants will need, at minimum, 12 hours per day.
If you live in a basement or want to have an air plant in your office, we recommend buying a special bulb for your plant (such as a Gro-Lux, Repta-Sun or Vita-Lite) and setting it on a 12-hour timer, so your plant gets all the light it needs to survive.
Air plants live on air, right? Uh, not right! While air plants don’t grow in soil, they definitely NEED to be watered. While the plants can survive for long periods of drought, they will not grow or thrive and will eventually die off if water is too scarce. Follow the directions below for watering your plants on a regular basis and they will stay alive and well for quite some time. The good news is that since these plants are very forgiving, you shouldn’t stress over their care schedule. There’s certainly no need to get a babysitter when you go on vacation.
How do I Water my Air Plants?
As the main method of watering your plants, we recommend giving them a thorough rinsing under running water or letting them soak in a bath of water for 20-30 minutes. You can use a bowl, the sink or even the bathtub if you’ve got a family. After their shower or bath, gently shake the plants to remove any excess water from the base and the leaves, and set out to dry in an area with enough air circulation to dry them out in about 4 hours. If your plants need an in-between watering, misting them with a spray bottle is a great method. A plant in bloom should be rinsed rather than submerged in water, and take care when rinsing the delicate flowers. The first step of proper air plant care is to ensure the leaves receive the right amount of moisture. Many people think that air plants can live on air alone, hence their common name. But that’s definitely not the case. Instead, the name air plant comes from the fact that the plants don’t require soil to live, instead, deriving their moisture and nutrition from the air.
Watering Air Plants Via Misting
For this method, use a spray bottle or plant mister to spritz air plants with water every day or two. After spraying the entire plant, place the damp air plant on a towel to dry for a few hours before putting it back in its decorative container or arrangement.
Also Read: How to Water Succulents Properly
Watering Tips for Air Plants
- A daily misting is a great way to water air plants.
- How to water air plants in a bowl or sink of water: This is the best method of watering air plants as it really allows the water to soak into the plants. To water air plants this way, fill a bowl or sink with water and float the air plants in the water for 20 minutes to an hour every week. Then, take the plants out of the water, tip them upside down so any excess water can drain away, and then place them on a towel to dry before putting them back on display.
- Water air plants weekly by soaking them in the sink.
- There are several different kinds of water you can use to water air plants, regardless of whether you’re misting them or soaking them. Here are some tips for the type of water to use when watering air plants.
- Do not use softened water as the salt present in it can build up in the plant leaves.
- Do not use distilled water. Use chlorine-free water to irrigate air plants
- If using tap water, allow it to sit at room temperature for 24 hours for the chlorine to dissipate.
- Spring water or rainwater is the best choice.
- You can also use aquarium or pond water to water air plants as it contains several dissolved nutrients, but do not apply any other fertilizers if you water with aquarium or pond water.
How Often to Water Your Air Plant
How often to water air plants depends on how dry your house is. It also depends on the conditions of the room your air plants are kept in. Bathrooms and kitchen make great air plant homes due to their high moisture levels after showers, dish washing, and other humidity-generating activities. Rooms where fans are left constantly running are poor choices for air plants. The moving air causes the plant to dry out more quickly.
Signs that your air plant needs to be watered more frequently include curling or rolling leaves, leaves that fold together, or browning of the outermost leaves. Typically the green-leaved air plant varieties need to be watered more frequently than the gray-leaved ones.
If you keep your air plant inside a vessel, such as a terrarium or glass globe, take it out prior to watering. Then allow the air plant to fully dry before returning it to its decorative setting.
Your plants should be watered once per week, and 2-3 times is recommended for optimal care. A longer, 2-hour soak is recommended every 2-3 weeks. If you are in a drier, hotter climate, more frequent watering or misting will be needed. You’ll begin to notice that after watering, your plant’s leaves will feel stiffer and full of water and they’ll be softer and lighter in colour when they’re in need of water. Wrinkled or rolled leaves can be a sign of dehydration.
Air plants are pretty easygoing when it comes to their temperature. They do best between 50-90 degrees F. Ideally, overnight temperatures will be about 10 degrees cooler than daytime temperature. Air plants will do best in generally warm conditions.
Everyone needs a little grooming once in a while! It is normal for some of the lower leaves of your tillandsias to dry out as the plant grows or acclimates to a new environment, and those leaves can be gently pulled right off of the plant. If the leaf tips have dried out, you can snip the dried tip off (try trimming at an angle to leave a natural-looking pointy tip), and the same can be done for the plant’s roots. Don’t worry about harming your plants during grooming — they’ll regrow.
Fertilizing your plants is not necessary, but will keep them in top shape and should promote blooming and reproduction. Fertilizing air plants isn’t a difficult task, nor is it an essential one. Though a monthly or quarterly application of fertilizer helps air plants thrive, if you skip this step, it’s not the end of the world, especially if you water air plants with rainwater or water from an aquarium or pond.
To fertilize air plants, use an air plant-specific fertilizer or a bromeliad fertilizer a few times a year. Another option is to use a regular, water-soluble houseplant fertilizer at 1/4 of the recommended strength.
Add the diluted fertilizer to your irrigation water, and the plants are fed and watered at the same time. Do this regardless of whether you water via misting or by soaking the plants in water.
Fertilizing Tillandsia isn’t difficult, but you must use the right type of fertilizer.
Also Read How To Care for Roses: 10 Easy ways 2019
Additional Tips for Caring for Air plants
- Once a week, I dunk them in a container large enough to fully submerge them and let them sit there.
- After they soak, they need to dry out fully. Fully! Shake off any excess water and put them in a bright spot for at least 4 hours. This is key, as dampness is the main foe of an air plant.
- Bright filtered or indirect light is ideal for indoor air plants. Some direct sun works, too (morning is better), but they shouldn’t be baking all day.
- For amazing looking plants that earn you bragging rights, feed your plants once a month by adding fertilizer to the water mix. Use a bromeliad mix (air plants are in the bromeliad family), and don’t overdo it—plants can burn from too much fertilizer.
- The good news here is that you have to work pretty hard to mess this one up. Air plants are happy with a wide range of temps, from the 50s to the 90s. Just know that the hotter and drier the air, the more often you’ll have to water. Also—they’ll bite the dust in freezing temps.
- Air plants need air circulation. An enclosed vessel encourages wet, stagnant conditions, and this spells disaster. If you just can’t get over the glass, choose a vessel with as wide a hole as possible, and be sure to let plants dry fully before you place them back inside.
- Other than choosing the correct location, and proper watering and fertilizing air plants, there are only a few other air plant care tips to consider.
- If any leaves at the base of the plant die, simply pull them off with your fingers or cut them off with a sharp pair of plant grooming shears.
- If any leaves turn brown at the tips, cut the brown, dead growth off with the grooming shears. Do it at an angle, so the trimmed leaf blends in with the healthy ones.
- Keep air plants away from both cold and hot drafts that dry them out.
- The ideal temperature for air plants is between 50 and 90 degrees F.
How to know if My Air Plant Isn’t Getting Enough Water
Signs of under-watering your air plant include the leaf tips turning brown or crispy. The natural concave shape of air plant leaves tends to become more exaggerated when under-watered.
Unfortunately, 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 out or off from the centre, your plant has likely succumbed to rot.
Simple Steps to Caring for Your Air Plant
Watering Your Air Plant
Choose a container that is deep enough to hold your air plants when completely submerged. Rainwater is best, but room temperature tap water, left standing for at least an hour to allow the chlorine to disperse is acceptable for watering your plants. Never use distilled or soft water which contains salts.
Carefully lower your air plant into the water, swishing gently to remove any dust or debris. Leave your Airplant submerged for at least 30 minutes, preferably 2 to 4 hours, once every other week.
Carefully remove your plant from the container once the watering interval is complete. Shake carefully to remove as much of the water as possible. Place your plan carefully on an elevated surface so that the plant can dry gradually without standing in water. If your plant dries too quickly, it is not absorbing the necessary moisture. Ideally, your plant will dry within four hours but if it dries in under an hour it will not be sufficiently hydrated. Proper air circulation without drafts is ideal for drying.
Once your air plant is nearly dry or almost completely dry you may put it back where it lives. Check on your plant later to make sure water hasn’t collected and your container. Your plant will die if left standing water.
Remember what your air plant looks like when freshly hydrated and if it begins to look dry or dull, mist it just a bit to raise the humidity. Do not mist it to the point where it is soaking.
Choosing a Spot for Your Air Plant
Your air plant generally needs bright but indirect light. In the house, choose the brightest room and place your plant outside of the direct rays of the sun. If you’re placing your air plant in one of the glass bubbles that are so popular right now, remember that sunlight is intensified by glass.
You may rest your plant in a bowl or mount it on a piece of softwood or bark. I lay mine in a bowl filled with marbles to support the plant in the desired position without damaging the leaves. If you mount your plant on wood, I do not recommend that you glue it or wire it in place. I recommend that you form a supporting structure by placing nails at the sides and bottom of the plant. Do not staple or nail through the living tissue of the plant or it very likely will die.
Air plants are not frost-hardy but thrive in bright shade and humid summer days. I have seen dozens of air plants hung on a wide net, like a trellis made of fishing line. The place your air plant in an outdoor location, they will need to be misted every day.
Balls made of air plants have become popular. If you choose to construct a living ball, use a glue that is not water-soluble such as Liquid Nails or Weld Bond. Do not use superglue or copper wire as they will damage your plant.
Do not surround your air plant with Moss or anything that causes moisture to collect. Where you place or mount your airplane, remember soaking it every two weeks.
Once a month, use an orchid or bromeliads fertilizer to encourage blooming.
Your plant will only bloom once and then it will die. Now, how long that takes and what happens in the meantime depends upon you. Enjoy your bloom and once it has faded, carefully pinch and pull down to remove the bloom. If it’s too tough, cut in a downward direction to remove the bloom.
Your Plant should form, “pups”. Once the pup is roughly 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the mother plant, carefully pinch to remove it, but don’t rush the pup The mother plant will continue to make additional pups until it dies (as long as two years from bloom time) if you remove them.
When the mother plant is getting ready to put out a pup, leaves at the bottom may begin to brown. Resist the urge to remove them. Trim them for a tidy appearance. As the mother plant begins to die leaves will turn brown.
Pull gently to remove brown leaves and if they are dead, they will come away easily. If they resist, they’re not truly dead yet, so do not pull them.