How to Care for Air Plants

Three Methods:Giving Your Plants Water and LightFeeding Your Plant and Promoting Air CirculationDisplaying Air Plants

Air plants,known as Tillandsia (Tillandsia spp.), cannot live on air alone. They are epiphytes that grow naturally in cracks in rocks and on trees and they do not need soil. They grow best in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 11, so they can survive temperatures that dip to 10 degrees F (-9.4 degrees C). They require a bright, sunny location but that requirement is easily met, even in a house that does not have a sunny window. These are fun, easy-to-grow houseplants but you have to know how to water and feed them.

Method 1
Giving Your Plants Water and Light

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    Find your plant’s discs. Air plants have tiny silver discs or scales all over their leaves. If you look closely at an air plant in bright light, you will see the discs shimmering. These discs absorb moisture and nutrients for the plant.
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    Water air plants every two to three days during spring, summer and fall. Spray a fine mist until the water drips from the leaves. Use room-temperature water to avoid stress that would be caused by cold tap water. Cold stress could cause the leaves to turn brown and brittle.[1]
    • Mist them in the morning so they will be dry or nearly dry by the end of the day.
    • Water them less often in the winter during their dormant season.
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    Give your plant a heavy soak once a week, instead of watering it lightly every 2 to 3 days. They can also be watered by soaking the entire air plant in a sink or bowl of water for 30 minutes once a week. With this method, the air plants should be shaken gently after soaking to remove excess water.[2]
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    Help your plant out if it is not getting enough water. If the air plant’s leaves curl or roll up, it is not being watered often enough and has become too dry. Soak it in a bowl of room-temperature water overnight. Take it out of the water the next morning, shake it off and put it back in its place.
    • Mist it or soak it more often to prevent it from drying out again.
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    Set the air plant near an east-, west- or south-facing window if possible but not in direct sunlight. It can be set directly in front of the window if a sheer curtain is hung between the plant and window.[3]
    • The optimum amount of light will result in a vigorous air plant with healthy green or gray-green leaves. Inadequate light will cause slow growth and pale leaves. Excessive light will turn the leaves tan, dry and brittle.
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    Use a fluorescent lamp to provide additional light. This is particularly helpful if there isn't a bright, sunny window in the house. Use a special fluorescent bulb designed for plants that provides full spectrum light. Set the light up so that the bulb is 6 to 8 inches (15.2 to 20.3 cm) above the air plant and leave it on for 12 to 18 hours each day, depending on how much natural light it receives.
    • The light should be turned on in the morning around sunrise and turned off 12 to 18 hours later.

Method 2
Feeding Your Plant and Promoting Air Circulation

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    Feed air plants a dose of fertilizer every four weeks. Liquid, water-soluble fertilizer with a 10-5-5 ratio is fine.[4]
    • Dilute the fertilizer to one-fourth the recommended strength and mist the air plant with the solution in the morning.
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    Know when your plant needs more fertilizer. An air plant that is receiving adequate fertilizer will grow vigorously and have a healthy color, usually bright gray-green but this varies.
    • Inadequate fertilizer will result in slow growth, but excessive fertilizer will turn the leaves brown and brittle.
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    Make sure your plant gets plenty of air. Air plants require healthy air circulation. Although they need to get their leaves wet, if they do not dry quickly the air plant could develop crown rot. Do not place them too close to other plants, walls or furniture.
    • If air circulation is a problem in the house, set up a fan so that it blows away from the plant and turn it on for an hour or so once or twice a day. Make sure the fan doesn't blow directly on the plant. That would cause it to dry quickly before it has a chance to absorb any moisture.
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    Recognize rot. If the crown or roots develop rot, they will turn brown or gray and slimy. If the rot is only on the roots, trim off the rotten roots. Crown rot is usually fatal. The plant should be thrown away and replaced with a new air plant.

Method 3
Displaying Air Plants

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    Tie the air plant to another object. Air plants can be displayed by tying them to a piece of driftwood, cork or rock with nylon fishing line.
    • They can also be glued to the wood or rock with hot glue or construction glue.
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    Consider placing your air plant in a bowl. A decorative bowl filled with interesting rocks can be a fitting home for an air plant. Simply nestle the air plant on the rocks or glue it to a rock and set it in the center. They can be nestled in a decorative seashell for an interesting display.
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    Do not cover the base of the plant with soil or moss, regardless of how you decide to display your air plant. Covering the base of the plant will keep it too wet and can make it rot.


  • Despite popular belief, these plants do not pull nutrients from trees or rocks. They actually get moisture and nutrients they need from rain that falls on their leaves and debris that accumulates around the roots and base of the plant.

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Categories: Planting and Growing | Gardening