Tillandsia (Air Plant) Care Guide
By Ophi Hodgman
Tillandsia, also known as the Air Plant, may be a commonly overlooked specimen and grouped into the easy-care category, but they are a genus of around 650 species of evergreen, flowering perennial in the Bromeliaceae family. This fascinating family of plants are native to the forests, mountains and deserts of Northern Mexico and South-Eastern regions of North America. You can often see them rooted and growing along the trunks and branches of trees in Florida!
Grown differently than most other houseplants, they can be a little confusing for the beginner plant parent. They are hardy, drought-tolerant and require much less attention than other common houseplants.
The following guide simplifies the care while maximizing our understanding of how to have these bizarre plants thrive in our homes!
Quick-n-Easy Care Tips
Want to get started right away with Air Plants? Follow these basic guidelines:
- Never plant in soil!
- Provide bright, filtered light
- Avoid extreme dry and frosty conditions
- Medium to High humidity
- Submerge these plants in water for 2-3 hours every two weeks and/or thoroughly mist 1-2 times a week.
- Fertilize by adding a pinch of Bromeliad fertilizer to your mister or use a Miracle-Gro Orchid Plant Mist every second or third watering.
Contrary to the common name, these plants don't live entirely on air. This part can be a little tricky. Tillandsia hail from hot and humid environments, and still require plenty of moisture to thrive. Unlike terrestrial growers, Tillandsia cannot pull water from their roots or draw from internal reserves like a succulent can. Depending on the spot your air plant is in, they may require more or less attention from you. If placed in a warm, dry spot, they will need more misting than one would in a cool/humid environment.
There are a variety of acceptable methods for watering your Tillandsia. You can give them a quick rinsing under running well water 1-2 times a week, soak them in a water bath for 2-3 hours once every two weeks and/or heavily mist them with a spray bottle every few days. Be sure to shake off any excess water from the base and leaves and set them in a place with enough air circulation that will allow them to dry fully in a few hours. Water trapped within the plant can cause leaf loss and rot.
Depending on where your plant is placed and what routine works for your lifestyle, a thorough misting should take place about two to three times per week, but Tillandsias are very forgiving so don't worry about their watering schedule. They'll be totally fine for a week or more if you're going on vacation or you simply forget. Just give them a longer soak when you return. These plants are perfect for a bathroom that gets a lot of bright indirect light. They won't be able to get enough of that daily shower steam!
When watering or misting, it is important to avoid any distilled or softened water due to the salt content. A filtered tap water that has sat out long enough for the chlorine to dissipate will do. Pond, rain and aquarium water will work well, too!
Does your air plant have a frosty, hairy or fuzzy appearance? You're looking at what is called Trichomes! This white fiber on your plant is a coating of cells that allows them to grow without soil and absorb moisture and nutrients from the air. These cells also provide a defense mechanism against pests! This is undoubtedly the most crucial part of the plant.
Fun Fact: The word "Trichome" is derived from the Greek word "Trikhoma" meaning to cover with hair.
Tillandsias love bright, filtered light and can even thrive under artificial fluorescent lighting. We recommend keeping them out of direct sunlight as it will cause them to lose moisture too quickly. Filtered light is the way to go!
Following each watering, Tillandsias should be given enough filtered light and air circulation to dry within 3-4 hours or less. Do not keep plants constantly wet or moist, or allow them to dry too quickly. A 1-3 hour period is optimum.
Growth Patterns & Blooms
Tillandsias have a life cycle of one plant growing to maturity and blooming. Before, during and after blooming, (depending on the species) your plant will start producing offsets or "pups." Most air plants will produce between 2-8 pups. Each plant will flower once in its lifetime. The best part - each pup is it own plant and they will all have a chance to bloom!
Tillandsia blooms can last from several days to many months, depending on the species. Air plant species bloom at many different times of the year, depending on its care and the environment they are living in. You can expect blooms from midwinter through midsummer.
If you leave your plant to clump, remove the leaves of the mother plant as she starts to dry up and transfer her nutrients to the pups. Be sure to pull the leaves out with a gentle sideways tug. If the leaf resists, its not dead yet, so instead, trim any clearly dead and dried areas. Once you've fully removed the mother plant, the gap that's left will quickly fill in with the new plants coming in.