Tillandsia - How to Care for Air Plants
Tillandsia - Commonly known as air plants, these botanical curiosities can be found in jungles, rain forests or deserts - from sea level to high mountain regions, and increasingly in homes and offices where their low-maintenance and intriguing shapes are hugely appealing. Although these are low care plants, that is not the same as no care at all. Provide your tillandsia with the light, water and air circulation they need, and they will thrive for you!
Proper Care for Tillandsia Air Plants
Tillandsia is the largest genus of the bromeliad family (which includes pineapples!) and all are native to the new world. Though prized for their general structure, air plants do bloom, and frequently change coloring throughout the year in response to biological cues. Apart from the astonishing array of forms and colors, what sets air plants apart is their reliance on water and food that can be absorbed through their leaves - tillandsia roots are used only to anchor themselves in place. This characteristic qualifies them as epiphytes, and lends them to creative mounting for spectacular display.
Light Requirements for Tillandsia
While air plants can be happy in a wide range of settings, they do need good lighting. Your tillandsia should received bright, indirect sunlight or indoor lighting (like from fluorescent bulbs). They can tolerate a couple hours of direct sun, but this is very drying, so plan to supplement their water if they do get direct sun. While air plants can handle short periods of darkness, like when they are shipped, or if they are temporarily displayed in a dark corner, they do need good lighting to grow their best. Indoors or out, tillandsia are very versatile.
Tillandsia are commonly known as air plants, for their ability to live entirely off of nutrients and moisture in the air in their native habitats. Tillandsia are often found in trees, nestled in the fork of a branch where humidity and dew collects to form moist pockets. Each leaf has a texture designed to collect as much moisture from the air as possible.The many leaves of the plant then funnel water droplets to the base of the plant for its use. Unless you live in a hot and humid rain forest, you will need to provide the water your air plants need.
Plan to water your tillandsia with a couple of methods used in concert. Although rain water is best, tap water is usually fine for air plants, as is well water. Do not use distilled water or softened water. If you are using tap water, set a bowl of water on the counter for a few hours prior to using it for your plants. This way, the chlorine can evaporate before you add the air plants. Submerge your air plants in the water, and leave them soaking for an hour. After their bath, gently shake the excess water from the plants and set them out in good air circulation to air dry upside down, to let all the trapped water run out and dry. Check the plants after four hours. If they are fully dry, return them to their display. It is important not to let the plants remain wet, or they will rot.
Weekly soakings will keep your tillandsia happy in most locations. Supplement (do not replace) the soaking with misting your air plants a couple times each week. If you are in a very dry location or are going through a heat spell, mist more frequently, and consider adding a second bath each week. Or try bringing your air plants into the bathroom before a long hot shower - they will love the steamy humidity!
Pay attention to the look and feel of your air plants before their bath and after. You will see the difference being well hydrated makes for your plants. The leaves are more open and more flexible, and the color is clearer. Although air plants can survive with far less water, they will will grow and reproduce and flower far better with proper watering. In short, they will thrive.
Air plants in bloom should be rinsed under running water instead of submerged, with care taken for the delicate flower. Increase misting for the air plants while in bloom.
Temperatures for Tillandsia
Your air plants will do best in a range of temperatures between 50° and 90° Fahrenheit.
Fertilizing your air plants is not strictly necessary, but it does lead to better health, better growing and better blooming. Well fed air plants also are better able to adapt to challenging conditions, like a 2 week vacation without watering, a heat wave, etc. Use a fertilizer specifically formulated for bromeliads or air plants once a month, or dilute Miracle-Grow or similar water soluble plant foods to 1/4 strength. Add the fertilizer water to a spray bottle, and mist thoroughly with the food water once a month.
Mounting Tillandsia for Display
Air plants grow in an astonishing array of shapes and sizes. Their low maintenance needs and the ability to grow without being rooted into soil makes them so versatile in the way they can be displayed. Air plants can be mounted on drift wood, vine wreaths, coral, shells, stones, wood plaques, crystals or set into terrariums, glass globes, small vases - your creativity is the only limit! I prefer to use floral wire to mount my air plants, as it makes them easy to remove for their water bath. But if you want to glue your tillandsia in place, use one that is not water soluble but also non-toxic like E-6000 or Goop. If using hot glue, use the lower setting to avoid scorching the leaves.
Copper wire or pipes can be toxic to air plants, especially when the copper is repeatedly exposed to moisture. If you just love the look of copper, as I do, be sure to seal it thoroughly with a clear coating like Flex Clear before using it with your air plants.
Whether you are an experience gardener or are brand baby new to the concept, tillandsia air plants are a simple and exciting way to enjoy plants in a wide range of settings - bringing living décor into your home or office. Will you be experimenting with air plants? I'd love to know! Please take a moment to leave a comment about your favorite tillandsia!
- Kathleen McCarthy