How To Care For Air Plants

Sculptural and stylish, air plants thrive indoors with a minimum of care.

December 12, 2017
air plant bouquet
Thomas MacDonald

Amazing air plants live their lives without ever touching soil, often high in the treetops. As indoor plants, they don’t really live on “nothing but air”—even air plants need a regular dunking to stay hydrated. But care is minimal, and because they are not tethered to a pot of soil, air plants (also called tillandsias) can be displayed in countless creative ways.

(Brag your love of gardening with the Organic Life 2018 Wall Calendar, featuring gorgeous photographs, cooking tips and recipes, plus how to eat more—and waste less—of what's in season.)

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Air plants, or tillandsias, are a diverse group (more than 400 species) of flowering plants, mostly from tropical and subtropical regions of North and South America. At least one tillandsia is native to parts of the United States: Spanish moss (T. usneoides), which drapes the live oaks and cypresses of the deep South in wispy veils.

Try some air plants in a terrarium:

Tree-dwelling air plants are epiphytes, not parasites, clinging to tree branches for support but not for sustenance. They get the moisture they need from the humidity in the atmosphere and an occasional rainfall, absorbing water and dissolved nutrients through the silvery scales on their leaves. In their native environments, tillandsias grow in bright, leaf-filtered light.

Related: 4 Ways To Make Your Air Plants Thrive

To keep tillandsias healthy indoors, try to mimic those outdoor conditions. Keep the plants in bright light but not direct sunlight. Because indoor air is considerably drier than a tropical breeze, you’ll need to supply extra moisture two or three times a week. Either dunk the entire air plant in tepid water for up to an hour, or mist the air plant until it is dripping wet. The finer the leaves, the more frequently you’ll need to mist. Green-leafed types also need more moisture than those with silvery foliage. Leaves that curl or shrivel are a sign that the plant is too dry. Give tillandsias a nutrient boost every month or so by misting them with compost tea.