Air Plant Care: Answers You Need To Grow Vibrant Plants [Tillandsia Care]

tillandsia ionantha rubra placed inside citrine crystal

It’s important to preface this article with a note that this is a generalized air plant care guide which will get you started. However, you should research the specific air plant you own to determine what the best care for that plant is.

Air plants are unique looking plants that are often displayed in exotic or elegant spaces; something you’d see in Architectural Digest magazine. Their unique look often gives off the vibe as being expensive and requiring a high level of care.

But, actually, even though they look incredibly unusual and exotic, air plants are easy to care for and relatively inexpensive.

So, if you’re someone who impulsively bought some air plants and have no idea what to do with your new little friends, or if you’re still flirting with the idea or purchasing some, this air plant care guide will let you in on all the secrets to successfully growing air plants indoors.

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Air Plant Care At-A-Glance

  • Sunlight: bright, indirect light
  • Water: soak weekly, mist every 3 days
  • Growth: most varieties 2 inches to 12 inches
  • Propagation: when pup is 1/3 size of mother plant, gently remove
  • Temperature: 50 °F to 90 °F
  • Toxic: no, air plants are safe for cats and dogs
  • Price: $5 to $25 (avg. depending on variety and size, prices can be much higher for larger and uncommon types)

What Are Air Plants?

Although they look like something from outer space, air plants are native to the Americas.

Air plants are also known as tillandsia, which is a genus of over 600 evergreen perennial plants. Air plants were named by the botanist Linnaeus, after his friend Elias Tillands, a fellow botanist who hated water.

Their defining characteristic, and reason for their name, is that they get almost all the nutrients they need from the air around them; therefore, unlike most other indoor plants, tillandsias don’t need their roots to sit in soil.

Yes, you read that right, tillandsias do not require soil, making them a cleaner alternative to typical indoor tropical plants.

Do Air Plants Need Water?

Yes, air plants need water. While tillandsias may laugh in the face of convention when it comes to soil, they still need adequate water like every other plant.

It’s a good idea to research your air plants individually, as each one will have varying needs, but a good rule of thumb is to never use distilled water as part of your air plant care routine.

Tap water should also be avoided, as it has been treated with a lot of chemicals.

When it comes to what type of water air plants prefer, aim for filtered, spring or well water. Event better, if you can, store rain water and use that on your tillandsias.

How To Water An Air Plant

Many new air plant owners often ask “how do I water an air plant when there is no soil to pour water into?’. An excellent question!

As air plants don’t require soil, it can seem a little confusing as to how to ‘water’ your tillandsia, but don’t worry, it’s very simple.

There are commonly two methods for watering air plants:

  1. Soaking (Bathing)
  2. Misting

Give your air plants the best care by using both watering methods.

Keep reading to find out how.

Soaking (Bathing) Air Plants

This method requires more than a quick dip in water.

Your air plants will need time to absorb enough liquid, so a quick dip in water and then putting them back won’t be good enough.

Step 1: Place your air plant in a bowl of natural or mineral water deep enough to cover the plant for about 2 hours every one to two weeks.

Step 2: Give it light shake to remove any excess water

Step 3: Place upside down or on its side on a paper towel to finish drying

The trick here is to make sure it’s completely dry before putting it back in its usual spot, as trapped water can easily lead to root rot. Positioning the plant upside down is a great way to make sure your plant isn’t storing any water at its base.

Generally speaking, you should soak your air plants every 7 to 10 days. However, if you live in a particularly dry or hot area, this will need to be increased. Or, if you live in a cold place and run a heater regularly, be aware that this will have a drying effect on your plants and you may also need to water them a little more often.

Take note, there are some air plants that you should not soak. According to Air Plant Design Studio, air plants that should not be soaked include ones that have a bulbous base, an abundance of trichromes (what creates that fuzzy white look) and the xerographica.

If your air plants are not portable making it impossible to submerge them in water, you’ll need to rely on the misting method more frequently. 

Misting Air Plants

About every 3 days between bathing your air plants, give them a heavy misting.

If your plants are not portable and cannot take advantage of the bathing method above you’ll want to mist your plants more frequently.

Step 1: Place your air plant in a sink or lay a towel down below your air plant display

Step 2: Use a spray bottle that evenly disburses water

Step 3: Make sure to mist the entire plant

Step 4: Tip the plant upside down or on its side until its dry to prevent water from pooling in crevices

Misting your plants can be a good method of replacing lost moisture, but be careful to never let the water build up and sit on the leaves.

Most varieties of tillandsias are drought-resistant and very tough, so as long as they ‘have a bath’ once a week, they should remain hydrated.

tillandsia laying on white table beside glass water mister

Is It Possible To Over-water An Air Plant?

Yes, it is possible to over water an air plant.

Like with most plants, over-watering can be deadly. It’s natural to want to take care of the greenery in our homes, and most of us kill our plants by caring a little too much!

While you might need to water your air plants more frequently because you live in a hot area, be careful not to fall into the over-watering trap!

Here’s a few things to watch for to know if you have over-watered your air plant:

  • the base is turning dark brown
  • leaves are starting to fall out
  • yellow tips on the leaves
  • mushy-feeling roots

If you think you may have over-watered your air plant, take the following steps to dry it out immediately.

Place your plant on a dry, absorbent surface, such as a paper towel, and let it dry. Do not water it again for at least 3 days and at this point only mist it, do not soak it. Return to your regular bathing cycle after one week.

Putting it in a place where it receives bright, indirect light will also speed up the drying process.

Do Air Plants Need Light?

Air plants are a fairly low maintenance plant but as with all house plants, light is an important factor to consider when deciding where to place your new air plant.

Some varieties of tillandsias can tolerate direct sun, but most air plants are happiest in bright, indirect light; such as on a table or bookcase near a south or north facing window.

Alternatively, if you’re planning on livening up your office with an air plant, they enjoy bright fluorescent lighting as well. Just make sure the lights are on all day; as your air plant will ideally want to receive up to 12 hours a day, if artificial bulbs are its only source of light.

Although air plants will tolerate low light for a short period of time, they should not always be kept in low light conditions. If the area you want to display them in has low light conditions, consider rotating them around to bright indirect lighting areas every few weeks.

Your air plants will last longer if you keep them in bright, indirect light.

Can my air plant get too much light?

It is absolutely possible that your air plant could be getting too much light.

While they are very resilient, air plants can be badly damaged by too much light exposure….a bit like us, really.

Signs that your air plant is receiving too much light are:

  • brown spots
  • blotches on the leaves

If your tillandsia is showing signs of ‘sunburn’, remove it from its usual place and take off any damaged leaves. If they don’t pull off easily, use a small pair of scissors to cut off the discolored parts. Then, let your plant have a big drink by soaking it for up to 1 hour. Let the tillandsia dry for at least 4 hours and find an alternative home for it somewhere out of the sun.

Ionantha air plants sitting on sand inside glass bowl

What Is The Best Temperature For Air Plants?

The best temperature for air plants is between 50F and 90F.

Tillandsias generally do best in temperatures of between 50F and 90F, so should have no problem in most people’s homes. Another check for what makes air plant care easy.

However, if you like to blast your heating in winter, or have a fireplace, just keep in mind that taking care of your air plants may require an extra soak or misting each week to avoid drying out.

Another important air plant care tip is that they hate drafts so, while a windowsill is usually the ideal place to put them, they won’t like being kept by an open window in a cold environment.

Placing your air plant in a bright spot away from any drafts will ensure it stays happy all year round.

Do Air Plants Flower?

The good news is yes, air plants do flower – and the flowers tend to be absolutely incredible!

Not to mention that, depending on the variety, some air plants can continue to bloom for months.

The bad news is, they only usually flower once in their lifetime.

While this sounds sad, there is something good about this process. That is that as your air plant is nearing the end of its life, tillandsias produce smaller plants, which are known as “pups”. These “pups” will then go on to be adult plants themselves and produce their own flower; thus, you don’t need to keep buying air plants regularly.

array of flowering air plants sitting in bowl shaped driftwood

Do Air Plants Reproduce?

Yes, air plants will produce pups either just before, during or after flowering.

Simply put, a pup is a new, small version of the mother plant that will appear around the base around her blooming period.

Also known as “offsets”, you’ll see them growing out of the sides and, once they’re 1/3 of the size of the mother plant, it’s safe to remove the pups, allowing them to continue growing on their own.

Most varieties of tillandsias will produce between 1 to 3 pups, but some will make many more!

So, once your air plant has flowered, don’t get rid of it just yet. Watch the base of the plant for pups to form.

Air plants are the plant that keep on giving.

tillandisa ionantha rubra with pup
Tillandsia Ionantha Rubra with Pups

How To Remove Air Plant Pup (Propagating An Air Plant)

Once your air plant pup has grown to about 1/3 of the size of its mother, it’s time to separate it from its mom.

To remove the pup safely, gently pull it away from the mother plant at its base. If the pup is ready to detach, it will come away easily. If it’s resisting, leave it for another couple of days before trying again, as you don’t want to damage either the offset or the main plant.

Once you’ve removed all of the pups you can discard the mother plant.

Place your baby air plants in a similar area as to where they were grown and carry on with your regular watering schedule.

Why Does My Air Plant Look Fuzzy?

All tillandsias’ leaves are covered in tiny hairs called trichomes, which help the plant to absorb nutrients and regulate temperatures. Because of these trichomes, air plants don’t rely on their roots for these functions, like their soil-loving companions do.

Depending on the variety, the trichomes can be barely visible, or can give the appearance of “fuzz” on your plant. Usually, the presence of these tiny little hairs means your air plant will be very soft to the touch.

trichomes on caput-medusae air plant

Air Plant Display Ideas

So, now you know how to take care of your gorgeous new plants, where are you going to put them if it’s not in a pot?

The great thing about tillandsias is that, if they are soaked regularly and kept in the right light conditions, they’re pretty happy chilling out in most situations.

Decorative driftwood and terrariums are very popular at the moment, but feel free to get creative with your new greenery!

Check out this sleek minimalist design.

Related Reading: 11 Creative Air Plant Holders

Common Varieties Of Air Plants

Now that we’ve covered how to care for your air plant, it helps to know which air plant varieties you have. Though air plant care is pretty standard across the different varieties, there may be some slight differences you need to be aware of.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular and easy-to-get-hold-of air plants available now:

  1. Tillandsia Ionantha (Sky Plant): this type of air plant is almost impossible to kill, making it one of the most purchased air plants around.

    With its long, thin, silvery-green leaves and hardy temperament, it certainly is a striking addition to your collection. Its leaves will turn red or pink just before it blooms – stunning!
  1. Tillandsia aeranthos bergeri (Mad Pupper):a crazy little plant, it would look at home at the bottom of the sea, or nestled in a reef somewhere tropical. Characterized by its unruly leaves, it produces gorgeous magenta-coloured flowers during its long blooming season.

  2. Tillandsia brachycaulos: this air plant is one of the few that can stand strong, direct sunlight for hours at a time. Defined by its hardy, thick bright green leaves which turn pink or red just before blooming, it will gift you the most magnificent purple flowers in bloom.

  3. Tillandsia cacticola: native to Peru, this lovely air plant has long, pastel green pointed leaves that are soft to the touch. More drought-tolerant than other varieties of tillandsias, it will bloom whote or lavender flowers.

  4. Tillandsia stricta x T. recurvifolia: thankfully someone came up with the cute and shorter name of ‘Cotton Candy’ for this plant! So called for the pretty pale pink and white flowers it produces, this air plant will wow any visitors to your home.

  5. Tillandsia dyeriana: distinguishable by its reddy-orange bracts, this striking plant is native to Ecuador and will bring a splash of color to your home. While classified as an air plant, this is also another tillandsia that enjoys living in soil, if you prefer to showcase it that way.

  6. Tillandsia fasciculata: also known as the “giant” air plant, this is one show-stopping addition to your home. Its long, slim pastel green leaves will hang down like a creature from another planet, and it will sprout beautiful yellow and orange bracts.

  7. Tillandsia xerographica: deriving its name from the Greek for “dry” and “writing”, this squigly plant looks like something from another dimension. Incredible, long leaves that twirl around, giving the impression of ringlets; this plant is incredibly unique-looking.

  8. Tillandsia gardneri: another hardy air plant that can survive almost anything! Native to South America, this tillandsia has long bladed leaves that are covered in a very soft, barely-there fur and produces very unusual funnel-shaped flowers; from pale purple to bright red, depending on the variety.

One of our favorite places to purchase air plants online is Succulents Box. They have a large variety of healthy air plants to choose from, ship in a secure and timely fashion and you can opt to pick your own, or get a variety box.

different types of air plants spread out on wooden table

Conclusion

Hopefully by now you’ve realized that air plants are neither expensive to buy, nor difficult to take care of.

Like with most plants, simply making sure they are in the right place and getting the correct attention will ensure that they will live happily ever after in your home.

Get yourself a few unique, easy to care for air plants today and bring an exotic, yet elegant, look to your living space.

General Air Plant Care Guide

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