What’s in a Name?
The term ‘air plants’ is the common name for Tillandsias, a type of Bromeliad, because they don’t need to be planted in soil. Yup, no soil! In the wild, Tillandsias colonize objects such as rocks and trees by clinging onto them with their roots. Air plants are epiphytic, meaning they absorb moisture and nutrients through their leaves, while the roots are used primarily to provide support for the plant. This is good news for crafty gardeners! It means that you can place an air plant in just about any spot in your house. Terrariums and seashells are some great ideas for air plants displays, and there are many more. Over 500 species of Tillandsia grow in a broad variety of habitats in the USA (southern part) to Central and South America. Some Tillandsia varieties such as Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usenoides) can be invasive, taking over phone lines and climbing buildings. Air plants are easy to care for, as long as you are sure to give them the basics.
Yup, as the name indicates, you must provide lots of air for your air plant. Do you need to give it a fan or blow dryer? No. Just make sure that it’s not sealed up in a closed container so that fresh air can circulate freely around the plant.
Since they don’t grow in soil, air plants need to absorb moisture through their leaves. I have heard many, many times that garden centers have recommended spritzing them a few times a week. I find that this is just not enough water and that it is often the reason why air plants die. I never found that misting was very helpful or consistent.
We give air plants an hour-long bath to meet their water requirements. In the summer they need a weekly soak, whereas in the winter it’s once every 3 weeks or so. We like to use rainwater whenever I can, and this is pretty simple given I live in a rainforest! You can use tap water as well, just leave it out for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate or use filtered water.
To give your air plant a bath, simply remove it from the shell, bowl, or whatever else you have it displayed in and set it in a bowl that is large enough to submerge the plant in water. After an hour, take the plant out and give it a good shake upside down to remove any water pooling inside the leaves. Put the plant back in place and just enjoy its beauty for another 1-3 weeks before it needs another bath.
Air plants prefer bright, indirect light. A sunny window may be too much light and a dark room will be too little. Find a bright spot in your home where the sun doesn’t directly beam right at the plant, which can burn it.