How to Care for Air Plants Like the Pros - A Definitive Guide

Air plants differ from regular household plants in that they get most, or all of their moisture from their leaves rather than their root system. This enables you a lot more flexibility with their placement of them throughout your home, apartment or garden.

Air plants are popular as they allow for a fresh take on household plant decoration. They can add an air of sophistication and contemporary design to a space due to their uniqueness but how does one take care of an air plant?

The Basics

The technical name for the genus species that embodies air plants is Tillandsias. Naturally Tillandsias grow throughout America although they can be grown, in the right conditions, anywhere in the world. So what are these conditions? Well, like most plants, there are a few conditions Tillandsias need to be grown in in order to flourish.

One of these is light.

Lighting for Tillandsias can either be artificial or natural. For artificial lighting one would do best to use fluorescent light and place the plant not closer than 6 inches and not further away than 48 inches from the source. You should place them in lighting for around 12 hours a day to achieve the maximum benefit. For natural sunlight, depending on your location, there are a few restrictions.

From April-October and November-March it is best to expose them to light that is bright, but filtered. In the summer months it is advisable to not leave them in direct sunlight as they may become burned.

How to Care for Air Plants Like the Pros-A Definitive Guide
Tillandsias need light and artificial light and natural both work as long as you make sure your plant isn't suffering any adverse effects by being exposed for too long within the summer months. Tillandsias, depending on humidity, may also require minimal watering.

The amount and quantity of watering you should apply to your Tillandsias is dependent on the humidity of the space within which you grow them. An air plant that is in a home that is hot and dry, for example, should garner more watering than one that is in a cooler and more humid environment.

The base standard, however, is watering 2-3 times a week. Post-watering it is important that you allow enough light and air for the plant to cool in less than 4 hours.

To ensure optimum growth and health of your plants you should also ensure the temperature of the environment in which they are placed is at a constant temperature of 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit. If your plant is placed in an environment in which these conditions are met, you should see the maintenance of the health of your air plants.

Individual results may vary due to the unknown nature of external factors. When growing any plants there always should be the consideration of possible failure.

So, Do I Put my Air Plants in a pot?

As previously stated, air plants, unlike other vegetation, have very little use for their roots, absorbing most of their nutrients and water through their leaves. So what does this mean for the air plant owner? Do they have to put these plants in a regular pot or are there other avenues that one can explore?

The answer to this is that part of what makes air plants so popular is their versatility. You can mount them almost anywhere. But without roots and soils, how do you get them to stick?

One of the ways you can ensure your air plants remain on their prospective mount is to use a non-water soluble glue. Yes, with air plants, once you have decided on a fitting location, you can just glue them on. What about fertilizer though, don't plants require fertilizer in order to remain healthy?

The response is that you don't have to fertilize your air plants, but you can if you want to and it may ensure faster growth and better flowering. So which fertilizer do you use and how do you go about implementing it? With air plants it is recommended you use a water soluble fertilizer at a ¼ strength and apply it once a month.

The fertilizer should also fulfil a few other characteristics if you want to ensure optimum effectiveness. Nitrogen within the product should not be of the form Urea. Phosphorus is good in all amounts and can actually help offset an excess of nitrogen and the same goes with Potassium. There should be no Copper, Boron or Zinc or they should be in very minimal quantities (>0.5%). Once you find a fertilizer that you believe fulfils these categories you can happily fertilize your plants.

Air plants are highly susceptible to over-fertilization. Be careful to ensure you have the right fertilizer and the right amount to ensure plant health.

Damaged or Sick Air Plants, is There Any Hope?

So let's say the worst has happened. You've made a mistake in the upkeep of your Air Plants and they have become sick. Is there any use in trying to remedy the situation? The answer to this depends on whether there is any green left on the plant. If there isn't, then throw it away, but if it is, the plant can still be saved. So how does one go about reviving a sick or damaged air plant?

The first thing you want to do when you notice your plant has become sick is to submerge it in water. This will allow it to recover as long as you keep it in their up to a maximum of twelve hours. Following this process you can re-submerge it for 4 more hours a few days later. Your plant may never repair its leaf damage but more often than not it will recover. You can then use its offspring to try again with a new air plant.

You now have the skills and knowledge to successfully care for an air plant. Not only will they make for a great talking piece at dinner parties or gatherings but they will also add a naturalistic design component to your living space. As long as you follow the necessary steps you should end up with a happy, healthy air plant that should stay with you for many years.

Essential Aspects of Care for Your Plants

Plant Essentials Amount Frequency Notes
Water Thoroughly Wet. 2-3 times a week (depending on temperature/humidity). In hotter, drier climates an air plant requires more watering. The plant should be allowed to dry out in no less than 4 hours after watering has occurred.
Fertilizer ¼ the recommended strength. Once a month (optional). Although Fertilizing your air plants will make them grow faster and flower better the process is completely optional.
Sunlight Artificial light (full spectrum preferably fluorescent); Natural light - Bright and filtered in non-summer months. 12 hours a day Air plants need sunlight and this can be achieved either through artificial or natural light. One must be careful, however, in the summer months that the natural light does not cause sunburn damage to the leaves.

Do you fertilize your air plants?
  1. Yes, and I see a noticeable improvement
  2. Yes, but it doesn't seem to work
  3. No, they seem to grow fine without it