Air Plants Care
by Jesse Khong
Tillandsia (commonly known as air plant) is a genus of over 540 species from the family of Bromeliad. It is native to Mexico, Central and South America, and the southern United States. Tillandsia species are epiphytes and are not parasitic. They usually attach to tree trunks or branches for growing support without hurting the host plants. Tillandsia does not need soil to grow as it normally absorbs water and nutrients through its leaf structures (the roots only function as the anchoring system). For ideas of how to use Tillandsia for decoration, please see my post “7 Ways to Display Air Plants“.
Although Tillandsia can last for a long time without the need for water, it does go into dormancy, stops growing and eventually dies. The name “Air Plants” leads many people to think that their plants do not need water at all.
On the contrary, too much water also causes rot and death to your plants. Good circulation is crucial as air plants need to dry out completely within a few hours after watering. Most pre-mounted Tillandsias sold at nurseries have moss glued to the base of the plants for decoration and to cover the glue. This tends to cause plant rot as moss retains too much moisture. You can just simply yank out the moss to give your plants better circulation.
I usually soak my plants in a small plastic container once a week for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Just to make things more convenient, I keep a medium-sized food storage container full of water under my desk at work (I usually change the water once a month). If your plants have flowers, do not let the water touch the flowers as the petals will fall apart. If the leaves become lighter in color and start to wrinkle or curl, your plants are most likely dehydrated.
Before my two to three week vacation, I usually soaked my plants for four to five hours each day for three to four days prior to my trip. Make sure the plants dry out completely after each watering cycle. After my vacation, the plants always look sad and dehydrated. But with a good soaking of four to five hours and bright lighting, they bounce back very quickly.
For outdoor plants mounted on a tree, I usually give them a good shower once or twice a week. My Spanish moss is very happy with just misting twice a week.
Tillandsia needs bright and indirect light.
Indoors: place plants no further than 10 feet (three meters) from windows or skylight. I have very little natural lighting in my office, and my air plants seem to be very happy with the bright fluorescent lighting.
Outdoors: place plants under a tree, patio or some kind of canopy.
Tillandsia tolerates near freezing to very hot over 100°F (38°C) and will survive a light frost with some leaf damage, but a few hours of frost will kill the plants.
Fertilizing is not necessary although it might stimulate the plants to grow faster with more new growths and flowers. Use water soluble fertilizing (1/4 of the recommended strength; only once a month). I have never fertilized my plants, and they still produce flowers and new growths regularly.