Caring for your Air Plants

By Jennifer Hagaman

 

Air plants refer to a wide range of epiphytic plants.  This article is written for Tillandsia, most commonly known as air plants.

If you are like me, who managed to kill $120 worth of air plants on my first go round, you need good instructions to care for your plants.  Even “easy” ones such as air plants.  With these simple instructions, I now grow thousands of healthy beautiful Tillandsia.  Below you will find most everything you need to know to not only care for your air plants but watch them thrive.

Every type of air plant is a little different, with over 600 in its genus there are a few exceptions, but the vast majority will be cared for in the same way with these basic instructions.  Let’s jump right in!

 

PLANTING: 

Tillandsia are Epiphytes, which essentially means, they grow on rocks, trees, and other plant life without being parasitic or taking nutrients from the host. Tillandsia do not grow in soil. They have an underdeveloped root system that is used solely for attaching to previously mentioned rocks, trees etc.

Rule #1 -  Tillandsia are not to be planted in soil.  They simply do not need it.  It is a hinderance and most surely will cause rot. They should only be placed or “planted” on materials that wick away moisture, such as sand or orchid bark or nothing at all! This rule goes for all Tillandsia.

 

WATERING:

Tillandsia take all their nutrients in through their leaves using these nifty little things called Trichomes. Trichomes are essentially hairs that grow on the surface of the leaves. Some are denser and easier to see than others while some you can’t see at all unless looking through a magnifying glass.  Important to note, Tillandsia need water. Because they are commonly known as Air Plants there is a misunderstanding that they do not need any care at all. Most Tillandsia need a full dunk, heavy mist, or running under the faucet, one to two times per week.  

Never, ever leave your air plant sitting in water.  They will rot!  Air plants should dry within 3-4 hours of watering to avoid rot.

A room with a lot of humidity such as a bathroom is not enough water for your plants.  You still need to water them regularly.

Note:  Bulbous plants such as:  Bulbosa, Caput, Butzii and Pruinosa are prone to rot at the bottom.  This goes for the grassy style of air plant as well such as:  Tricolor, Juncea and Juncifolia.  To avoid this, while still making sure they are getting enough water, try not to completely soak the bottoms of these plants while really getting their tops nice and wet.

Rule #2 - Your air plant does need water.  However, never, ever leave your air plant sitting in water.  You can mist, dunk or run your plant under the faucet to water it and then shake off the excess water.  Determine how much water your specific plant needs and put it on a watering schedule accordingly.  One to two times per week is typical.

 

AIR CIRCULATION:

It is a good idea to make sure your plants have good air circulation, avoiding containers or terrariums with lids.  Remember Tillandsia use their Trichomes to grab particles out of the air for their nutrients.  If they don’t have access to good air circulation, they essentially can’t feed themselves, which is oh so sad.  Having enough air circulation also aids in their drying time.  As I mentioned above air plants should dry within 3-4 hours of watering to avoid rot.

Rule #3 - Give your plant good air circulation.  Avoid containers that don’t allow much air to pass through. 

 

LIGHT:

Air plants love bright filtered light.  In their natural growing conditions, they tend to attach themselves and thrive in areas that have good shade to protect them from direct sun while still also getting a lot of light.  For example, under the cover of trees.  While some Tillandsia do fine in direct sun the vast majority do not.  When in doubt provide shade.  Tillandsia that are lighter in color do better in brighter light and Tillandsia that are darker in color do fine in less light.  Keep that in mind when choosing where your plants will live.

Rule #4 - Provide regular, bright, filtered light for your plant.

 

WEATHER AND TEMPERATURE:

Tillandsia do great indoors or outdoors.  If housing your plants indoors, you can keep them on a good watering schedule in generally the same growing environment year-round.  If growing them outdoors, you do need to keep in mind some things for keeping your plants healthy.  Read on to find out more about this. 

Tillandsia can live most of the year, if not all of the year, outside depending on where you live.  They prefer the 70’s just like most of us!  Avoid extreme heat and extreme cold.  While a lot of the research says that Tillandsia can withstand a short freeze, I have never tested this theory.  I always turn the heat on in the greenhouse and bring my personal plants inside if temps will fall below 40 degrees.  Even if your air plants do survive a short freeze, they will likely have cold damage and it will take a long time for them to bounce back from that and look beautiful and healthy again.  The same thing goes for shipping plants.  I always recommend that if temperatures in your area will fall below 40 degrees it is a good idea to add a heat pack to your order. 

If you have extreme rainy seasons or hot spells in your area you should also bring your plants in during this time so that you can prevent heat damage and keep them on a regular watering schedule.  If air plants stay wet for too long, they will surely rot.

Rule #5 - Avoid extreme temperatures.  If your temperatures fall below 40 degrees bring your plants indoors.  If it is a an extremely hot or rainy season also bring your plants indoors.

 

FERTILIZING:

This is a personal choice.  Many people choose not to fertilize.  As long as your plants are getting plenty of air circulation and regular watering, they will gather nutrients, especially if they are outside.  We fertilize our plants regularly.  The benefit to fertilizing is that your plants will grow larger, more beautiful and they will be healthier.  Fertilizing can also encourage blooms.  We fertilize every other watering.  If you are interested in purchasing fertilizer, we sell it on our site premixed and ready to use. 

If you do choose to fertilize be very careful choosing the correct type.  While some standard fertilizers can be used, they have to be significantly diluted or they will burn your plants.  I have made this mistake and burned an entire batch of mothering plants, ugh!  Tillandsia are very sensitive to this.  I would encourage you to use only fertilizers that are formulated for Tillandsia.  These come in several forms:  powdered/crystalized concentrated, liquid concentrated, and liquid ready to use.

Rule #6 - Using fertilizer is a personal choice, but if you choose to do so, use fertilizer that is formulated for air plants.

 

RECAP:

Let’s recap with a quick reference of easy to remember rules.

 

Rule #1:  Do not place your air plants in soil.

Rule #2:  Your air plant does need water.  However, never, ever leave your air plant sitting in water.  You can mist, dunk or run your plant under the faucet to water it and then shake off the excess water.  Determine how much water your specific plant needs and put it on a watering schedule accordingly.  One to two times per week is typical.

Rule #3:  Give your plant good air circulation.  Avoid containers that don’t allow much air to pass through.

Rule #4:  Provide regular, bright, filtered light for your plant.

Rule #5:  Avoid extreme temperatures.  If your temperatures fall below 40 degrees bring your plants indoors.  If it is a an extremely hot or rainy season also bring your plants indoors.

Rule #6:  Using fertilizer is a personal choice, but if you choose to do so, use fertilizer that is formulated for air plants.

 

If you have any questions that we have not answered here please reach out to us through our contact form on the site or you can email us as info@theartizanway.com.

 

Happy Growing!

 

Jennifer