4 Ways To Make Your Air Plants Thrive

You don't need a green thumb to help these magical, ethereal plants flourish.

August 5, 2016
air plants
Larell Scardelli

Air plants, or Tillandsias, are having a home design moment. You might have seen this fun member of the pineapple family on Instagram in hanging terrariums, colorful seashells, or secured to rocks. Their roots are strictly for anchoring to trees in their native habitats of southern U.S., Mexico, and Central and South America, explains Tillandsia International, the largest North American air plant grower. Instead of using roots, air plants get all of their nutrients and water through their leaves, which is appealing to even a brown-thumb gardener. While these beauties don’t need too much attention, they still require basic care to survive. Here's how to keep your air plant happy and flourishing: 

(Transform the ordinary into the extraordinary with Rodale's The Perennial Matchmaker, your foolproof one-plant-at-a-time approach to picking perfect plant partners and growing your most stunning garden ever!)

watering air plants
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Water

While you can forego paying the kid up the block to water your air plants during vacation, under-watering is one of the biggest mistakes air plant parents can make. “They are forgiving plants that can survive in droughts,” explains Christian Chorneyko, founder of Air Plant Supply Co., but to keep your air plant happy and growing, soak them in a bowl of room temperature water for 20-30 minutes each week. All air plant leaves have little fuzzy gray scales called trichomes, explain experts at Tillandsia International, which is where the plant receives all of their water. So it’s important to completely submerge your plants.

Try to use rainwater, spring water, or creek water, as the plants get lots of nutrients this way. After the bath, gently empty the base of the plant and shake off excess water—if water accumulates, it can rot the center leaves. You can rest your air plants upside-down to ensure they drain properly. Set your plants out to dry in a spot with circulating air and indirect sunlight (it should take no more than 3 hours for your plants to dry).

If you’re keeping your plants inside, like on a windowsill or in your office, think about getting a spritzer for between soaks. “Because indoor air is considerably drier than a tropical breeze, you’ll need to supply extra moisture two or three times a week,” suggests gardening expert Doug Hall. If you notice your air plant is softer in color than normal, has rolled or wrinkled leaves, or browning tips, it's in need of water. Make sure your plants are dry between waters.

Related: A Bold Bouquet Of Tillandsias

air plants
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Light

Air plants love bright, filtered sunlight in the summer, as they naturally live on the branches of trees. Keeping them in the direct, summer sun will cause sunburn. At home, set air plants in front of east, west, or south facing windows, and be mindful of any overhangs or trees that may block proper sunlight. Also, to the delight of many an office-worker, they do well under full spectrum artificial light like fluorescents.

Related: How To Make An Air Plant Terrarium From A Light Bulb

trimming air plants
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Grooming

Primping your air plants is aesthetic more than anything. Feel free to clip the browning bottom leaves off (and don't be concerned by them; this is normal behavior as your plant grows new life). If the tips of your plant dry out, clip them on an angle to maintain a pointy look. Roots are just for clinging, so clip them if you’re not looking to mount your plant.

If you’re interested in mounting your air plant, you’re in luck. You can use just about anything to mount, like driftwood or lava rocks. Non-water soluble adhesives like E-6000 or hot glue will work just fine (don’t forget the bottom of your plant doesn’t take in the nutrients). The organic way to go about mounting? Use some chicken wire or fishing line to secure them (copper wire will harm your plants). Keep in mind they still need to be watered, so either choose a mount that is waterproof, or secure your air plants in such a way that they can be removed. (Check out these gorgeous ideas for air plants.)

air plants
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Temperature

Optimum temperature for a tallandsia is 50-90°F, reports Tillandsia International, and 10-15 degrees less during the evening is ideal. If you’re growing your plant indoors with dry air conditioning, don’t forget to mist them to supply moisture.

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