Air Plant Care: Help Your Tillandsia Survive

 

Just bought some air plants for your home? Good choice. Also known as tillandsia, these spiky, ball-shaped plants are both charming and incredibly low-maintenance because they can survive without soil! They’re also a lovely addition to any home because of their natural ability to clear air toxins. However, your air plants have to survive in the first place if you want to reap this benefit. For one, air plants actually need more than just air!

Here’s a guide to air plant care, covering everything from lighting to watering to unusual changes in color. Be sure to take note of all the tips for happy air plants in this article!

 

Tillandsia 101: Your Guide to Air Plant Care

 

These quirky plants can sit pretty in open glass balls or seashells. But as hardy as they are, it’s still possible to end up with withered air plants if you don’t know how to care for them. 

How Much Light Does My Air Plant Need?

Air plants basically need to sit in bright, indirect light. Prime locations include windows that face either south or east, the sun shines through most of the day. North-facing windows are also great if they provide unobstructed sunlight. 

On the other hand, western-facing windows can fry your plant because afternoon sunlight can be surprisingly hot.

Lighting Tips for a Happy Air Plant

  • A sunny bathroom is another great place to put an air plant. It naturally takes care of both lighting and watering for you, thanks to sunlight and the humidity from your shower.
  • Generally, a more humid space can help your plant tolerate more light. So if you’re placing your air plant in an especially sunny spot, you’ll need to care for it by misting it more!
  • Want to bring your air plant into your office or basement? Be sure to keep it within 3 feet of a full spectrum (fluorescent) light source so that it can still photosynthesize. Special bulbs like Gro-Lux or Vita-Lite are also suitable here. Also note that your plants will need 12+ hours of light daily.

How Should I Water My Air Plant?

Watering an air plant can admittedly be tricky. Some plant owners even find themselves doing trial-and-error for this aspect of air plant care. But amazingly, your air plant’s leaves can give you hints on the best watering routine!

  • Fuzzy leaves are a sign that your air plant is of the xeric type. These plants can collect and hold a lot of water, as well as tolerate more sun. You’ll only need to water them once or twice a week.
  • Smooth and glossy leaves indicate that your air plant is mesic. That means it’s comfortable with the moisture and shade of a cloud forest. You’ll need to water it a bit more frequently.

After figuring out what kind of air plant you have, you can choose a watering method that works for you and your plants. There are 3 ways to water your air plant, which you can mix and match according to your preferences:

  • Misting – great for plants inside globes or other interesting displays. This method lets you interact a lot with your beloved air plants, too! Depending on the type of air plant you have, you’ll be misting it 3-7 times a week. Try to wet the entire plant.
  • Dunking – ideal for plants that are either freestanding or attached to wood. You can also use this with air plants with dense or curly leaves if you’re having a hard time misting them well. Either briefly dip the whole plant into water or place it under a running faucet. Mesic air plants need to be dunked 2-4 times weekly while xeric plants just need to be dunked once a week.
  • Soaking – best for dry plants that need to be revived after a period of neglect. Submerge the plant in water for 1 to 3 hours. You can do this once a week until the plant is okay again.

Shake out the excess water afterwards and let the plant sit in a well-ventilated place. This ensures that the center of the plant will dry well, preventing rot. 

More Tips for Watering Your Air Plant

  • Water your plants in the morning. This lets your air plants breathe during the evening and dry well in less time.
  • Use room temperature tap water or rainwater on your plants. Do not use softened water, which can hurt your plants with its salt content.
  • Water more frequently if your plant is subject to hot weather, desert climates, air conditioning, or the atmosphere near a heater or fireplace. Water less frequently if you live in cool, cloudy weather.
  • Once a month, you can add a pinch of fertilizer to your water to round out your watering regimen. Use water-soluble fertilizer specified for orchids or tillandsias. Then, either mist or dunk your air plant (soaking it can lead to fertilizer burn). This monthly treat for your air plant can help it blossom and produce pups later on!
  • Thinking of “planting” your tillandsia? Don’t put it in soil or in moss that tends to hold moisture, otherwise it may rot.

Why is My Air Plant Changing Colors?

You may wake up one day and notice that your air plant has begun to take on a different color. It can be worrying at first, because a change of color can easily indicate watering issues. But depending on the color itself, your plant might not be as sick as you thought. Here are a few common colors that air plants can take on:

  • White or Gray. Xeric air plants are naturally whitish or grayish thanks to a coat of trichomes, or little leaf hairs which help your plant retain water. However, if your air plant is supposed to be naturally green, graying can be an early sign of underwatering. This is because its trichomes are becoming more pronounced now that your plant needs water.
  • Yellow. If your air plant’s leaves are yellowing, chances are the plant has been overwatered. Let the air plant dry thoroughly to help it recover. 
  • Brown. This either indicates underwatering or overwatering based on the appearance of the plant’s leaves.
    • Brown and curled: Underwatered
    • Brown and soggy: Overwatered
  • Black. Unfortunately, a black base is a sure indicator of air plant rot.
  • Red, Pink, Violet. If your air plant is taking on these interesting colors, you’ve done a great job! These happy colors indicate a maturing air plant. You may soon see a few vibrant flowers and even little pups or baby plants growing on the sides.

Wait, Air Plants Produce Pups?

That’s right, a mature air plant will produce little pups sooner or later! These baby plants start out tiny but eventually grow into mother plants as well. 

If your air plant is putting out pups, you can safely pull them off the mother plant if they’re ⅓-½ its size. They should come off easily, without too much force. Otherwise it may still be to early for the pups to be removed! It’s also perfectly fine to let the pup mature while still attached to its mother plant, creating an adorable clump.

Keep this guide on hand, and you’ll get the hang of air plant care in no time. You might even end up with a whole bunch of air plants if you’re able to take good care of the pups as well! Enjoy having greener living spaces with the help of these hardy but beautiful plants.

Looking for more indoor plants that you can easily take care of? Take a look at these 18 low maintenance plants and trees for your home.

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