Plants

Guide to Air Plants: How to Grow & Care for “Tillandsia”

Read our complete guide to air plants for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for planting & caring for Tillandsia
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Numerous species of evergreen and perennial flowering epiphytes are referred to as air plants. With their native habitat being the south-eastern United States and northern Mexico, these fascinating plants belong to the Bromeliaceae family and can be found in mountainous, forest, and desert regions.

Carl Linnaeus named the Tillandsia genus after the Swedish botanist and physician Dr. Elias Tillandz. This genus comprises around 650 different species, where the majority of 635 grow on the surface of other plants and derive their nutrients and moisture from the surrounding environment, be it rain, air, and even debris.

These plants make for great ornamental houseplants. They are very popular among gardeners due to their peculiar slender tentacles and their overall easy-to-grow nature. If you are the kind of person who loves to experiment with plants and to try your hand at growing something different, air plants are a perfect choice.

About Air Plants

  • Air plants love bright, indirect sunlight. They will thrive as long as they get a few hours of sunlight every day. However, keep in mind that the glass can intensify the sunlight, which can damage the delicate foliage of the air plants.
  • Air plants will tolerate higher levels of sunlight as long as they are grown in a humid environment. The best way to keep the humidity at ideal levels is to mist your plants every 4-5 days using a water spray.
  • Under-watering your air plant can cause brown leaf tips or rolled leaves, while over-watering may affect your plant’s health irreversibly, resulting in leaves fall and brown or black root.
  • Air plants need to breathe overnight, so you should water them only in the morning, as evening watering or misting may extend the drying time.
  • When you get an air plant for the first time, you should soak it in the water for about 20-30 minutes and allow it to dry almost thoroughly before moving it in the container.
  • These plants will feel like home in glass containers like transparent globes or terrariums. Make sure you provide them with a large terrarium, as they need plenty of space to grow healthy.
Tillandsia is often grown in Terrariums
Tillandsia is often grown in Terrariums

Air Plants Features: An Overview

  • The air plants that belong to the Tillandsia genus are divided into seven subgenera. While these species are not necessarily threatened by extinction, four of them are protected: Tillandsia Harrisii, Tillandsia Kammii, Tillandsia Mauryana, and Tillandsia Xerographica.
  • Some species photosynthesize through closing their stomata in the daytime to prevent water loss, then opening them during the night to release oxygen and fix the carbon dioxide level.
  • Epiphytes species of Tillandsia absorb water through their leaves using their trichomes and preserve it. They can also get nutrients from dust or leavings in the air.
  • Most air plants have a compressed stem axis and their leaves grow in rosettes, allowing them to collect water.
  • Their leaves are shaped like slender triangles or strap tentacles. Generally, air plants have silver and green foliage, but some species can be very colorful, such as Tillandsia Maxima.
  • Tillandsia genus is a suitable example of diversity, as it contains herbs which exhibit various morphological and physiological characteristics. Usually, these plants’ flowers have vibrant colors, such as red, pink, purple, yellow, or multicolored.
  • They are monocarpic, so they bloom once in their lifetime, indicating that the plant’s approaching old age. Their flowers can last up to a few months. Usually, the plant will die after blooming.
  • Depending on the species, air plants reproduce by sending out 3 to 8 offsets (pups) before, during, or right after blooming. These offsets need to spend some time on the mother plant, as they receive a lot of nutrients.
Tillandsia genus
Tillandsia genus

Growing Air Plants

Do not be intimidated by these unique weird-looking plants, as they can be very friendly when they receive proper care. No soil needed for growing? Fewer problems for both parties!

Air plants thrive in bright and indirect sunlight, so you should place them in a room with east or south-facing windows. These spots will allow your plants to receive enough light most of the day. If you cannot provide them with natural light, they will grow just fine under fluorescent lighting or no further than 3 feet (0.9 m) from it for a minimum of 12 hours per day.

Their natural habitat conditions are fluctuant, as they can be found in tropical rainforests, high mountain altitudes, deserts, and swamps. Generally, air plants prefer temperatures between 50 and 90 °F (10-32 °C). If you live in a warm region, you can leave them outdoors throughout the year. Make sure you do not expose them to extreme sunlight, heat, and drought.

No soil needed for growing
No soil needed for growing

Air plants do not necessarily need to be fertilized, but they will do not mind if you spoil them once in a while. You can use water-soluble fertilizers at ¼ strength or a bromeliad fertilizer once or twice a month, as it will help your plant to bloom and reproduce easier.

They can grow healthy and happy almost anywhere as long as they can receive the amount of light and water they demand. Usually, air plants are grown in terrariums or glass containers, but they can also enjoy some time on rocks, attached to natural wood, ceramic pots, or even seashells. It is better to choose a container with good drainage, as these plants need to dry out completely. However, if you place them in a pot that holds water, get rid of the excess after watering.

Every plant wants some special care from time to time, so your air plant will benefit from regular pruning. During the growing process, it is common for both the leaf tips and the lower leaves of the plant to dry out. These can be gently pulled off or trimmed and you do not need to worry about damaging the plant in the process, as it will grow back.

Although they do not grow in soil, air plants can be infested with scale insects and mealybugs. If you notice shell-like bumps or a waxy, cotton-like coating on your plant’s leaves, you need to quarantine the plant and spray it with a pesticide. Also, you might consider adding some ladybugs into your garden, as they can prevent these pests from getting close to your air plants.

Watering Air Plants

Watering air plants is the most important part of healthy growth, as they cannot live only on air. While some people soak their air plants or just mist them, many others choose a combination of both soaking and misting in their care routine.

Air plants are pretty tolerant of long periods of drought, but they will stop growing and may die if you forget to water them frequently. The safest way to water your plant is to let it completely soak in a container full of water for about half an hour. Once your plant has had its bath time, you need to remove the excess water by gently shaking it, then place it on a towel to dry for a couple of hours.

For optimal care, watering your air plant 2-3 times per week should be enough. If you live in a warmer and drier area, you may repeat this process more often. During the blooming time, it is recommended you rinse your plant under running water, as their flowers need special care.

There are some cases when air plants need in-between watering. You can maintain the humidity around your plant at preferred levels using a water spray to mist them. Also, they will be more than happy if you soak them for about two hours every 2-3 weeks.

Air plants are pretty tolerant of long periods of drought
Air plants are pretty tolerant of long periods of drought

Propagating Air Plants       

The quickest way to propagate your air plants is by removing their pups. The offsets grow at the base of the mother plant and should be at least one-third to one-half the size of it to propagate. If the pup is ready to be independent, it should come off easily.

Hold both the mother plant and the offset, then gently twist and pull the offset’s base until it is detached. Make sure you do not grab the leaves too, as this can result in breakage. However, if the process is taking longer than it should, you can cut the offset as close to the mother plant as possible using a sharp knife or garden shears.

Once the pup has been successfully separated, it needs to be placed in a spot with bright and indirect sunlight. Give it the usual care for an air plant and you will start to notice a better overall look after a couple of months.

In Conclusion

 Air plants are pretty different to grow than most indoor plants, but they do not need special care. They are low-maintenance houseplants and will not get angry if you leave them home alone for a while or forget about them.

The secret to a happy and healthy air plant is offering it a warm and humid environment, bright and indirect light, regular soaking and misting, and a suitable container. Also, even if these plants have only one life cycle, you do not need to panic! They are very easy to propagate, so you will always be surrounded by weird-looking slender tentacles.

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Miruna Secuianu

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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