Air plants have been a favorite of indoor gardeners for decades and it’s easy to see why. With over 650 types of air plants (Tillandsia spp.) to choose from, you can find interesting shapes and colors to compliment your style. The fact that they grow without soil makes them very versatile and opens all kinds of possibilities for use.
Air plants, which are a type of bromeliad, take water and nutrients in through specialized leaves. Instead of pulling water in through their roots, they use them to attach to rocks, trees, shrubs, and the ground. These warm weather plants can thrive even with a bit of neglect, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need a little care to grow well.
Though the name implies they need only air to survive, they do need water. Give your plants a warm water soak for 5 to 10 minutes a week (this is my preferred method). Be sure to let your plants dry completely before putting them back in a terrarium or globe.
Never use distilled or soft water to water your air plants. Tap water or filtered water works best. If you use pond or aquarium water, you won’t need to fertilize your plants as the water will give them natural fertilizer.
Air circulation is key for keeping an tillandsia plant happy. Take this into consideration when choosing where your air plant will be. Some glass globes and terrariums may not be large enough to allow good air flow.
Filtered light indoors is preferred, as is partial shade if you are growing them outside (Zone 9 or warmer). Most homes will have enough natural light to make an air plant happy. especially if you have east or west facing rooms to put them in. Keep air plants out of direct, bright sunlight.
If your home doesn’t have enough natural light, full spectrum artificial light (fluorescent) will work well for your plant. Look for full spectrum tubes such as Gro-Lux, Repta-Sun, Vita-Lite, etc.
Air plants love warmer weather, so be sure to keep them someplace that doesn’t get cooler than 45 degrees F. Optimum temperature range for Tillandsias is 50 – 90 degrees F, they will die during a frost.
The tillandsia growth cycle lasts until they bloom, after which the plant (depending on type) will start to produce pups (small plants). Most plants produce between 2 – 8 pups. Air plants flower once in their lifetime, and the flowers can last several days to many months, depending on the species.
When the pups are growing, simply remove the dried leaves of the mother plant as needed. Pull them gently, but if the leaf resists, its not dead yet. Empty spots will fill quickly with the new plant growth.
There are many fun ways to use air plants. From hanging glass globes, to terrariums, and even gluing them onto logs! Because they don’t need soil the possibilities are almost endless. I remember an air plant I had as a child that was glued to a small log with a magnet on the back. It was so fun to see that on the fridge.
For more information and inspiration for growing air plants, we love this book: Air Plants.