Tillandsia air plants are becoming increasingly popular as decorative houseplants. Traditionally, plants require soil to grow their roots, but air plants lack working roots and instead grow each leaf directly.

Tillandsias need to anchor themselves on a surface, which leads some to falsely assume tillandsias only need air to thrive. However, they’re still living, breathing organisms that need nutrients after all. So, let’s look at proper air plant care and how to care for them.

How to Care for Air Plants so They Live Longer

So how much light does an air plant need? Well, it varies. Let me explain:

Bright Filtered Light

Filtered light refers to direct sunlight that passes through a surface (such as a window) that only allows certain hues to pass. Keep your plant about 3-5 feet from the window for 5-6 hours.

Indirect Light

A brightly illuminated room also works fine. If you can easily read a book in that spot, it’s good for your tillandsia.

Artificial Light

Fluorescent light is a good option, but ensure the plant gets at least 12 hours of it daily.

How to Water an Air Plant

Make sure you follow these steps carefully if you want to give your air plant the best chance of surviving.

How to Water an Air Plant

1. Every 1-2 Weeks

Watering is a vital part of air plant care. Optimally, your tillandsia needs showering every 1-2 weeks, depending on the weather. Hot air tends to dry the plant, so you’ll need to water it about once a week.

You can tell how much water is needed by the color: the greener the plant, the less water it can handle, and vice versa.

2. Dunk in Water, Leave to Soak (5-10 Minutes)

Avoid softened, or distilled water as these kill plants. Filtered or tap water is excellent, but if using tap water, let it sit for 15-30 minutes for the chlorine to dissipate. If you have access to spring or rainwater, they’re even better. Dunk your plant in a bowl of water for 5-10 minutes to soak.

3. Leave to Air Dry (1-3 Hours)

Get your tillandsia somewhere with adequate air circulation and lighting, flip it to avoid wetting the core, and let it sit on its leaves for 1-3 hours to dry.

Quick Tip: Signs of under watering are wilted or brown leaves.

4. Gently Shake Excess Water

After your plant has dried, give it a gentle upside-down shake to get any excess water droplets off it.

5. Mist Once per Week

When the plant is too dry, you can give it a few weekly sprays to moisturize it, but don’t over-mist and ensure it dries within an hour.

6. Hot Humid Weather Means More Water

Hot weather depletes water faster, meaning more thirst and more water.

7. Morning Watering Only

Morning is the best time for watering since it’ll last throughout the rest of the day.

Temperature

Tillandsias are native to the regions between southern U.S. and mid-Argentina, so they’re acclimated to warmth. They thrive in 50-90°F degrees (10-32°C). Once the weather dips to the 40s (5-10 °C), it becomes disruptive to air plant care. 

Fertilizer

While fertilizer isn’t essential for air plant care, it can help if made from bromeliads (i.e., Spanish moss). Adding a hint to your plant’s water once every 1-2 months gets the job done.

Note: Over-fertilization is a problem to avoid. Also, if you soak your plant in an aquarium or a pond, you’re already naturally fertilizing it and shouldn’t add more.

Circulation

Tillandsias need adequate air circulation to survive. It’s okay if you’re keeping yours in a globe. Open it up for misting now and then and let it dry before closing it back to maintain humidity.

Trimming & Aesthetic Maintenance

Over time, leaves turn brown and curl. You can cut these off at an angle to keep the neat, natural look.

Air Plant Life Cycle

Did you know?: Air plants live about 3-5 years, more with proper care. That’s pretty good considering the low upkeep needed.

Blooming

Blooming occurs once in their lifetimes. Blooms can last from days to months, depending on the species.

Pups

During blooming, pups are produced. These pups can be gently cut off or broken off the mother plant to start their life cycle as parent plants.

Clumping

If you leave pups on the mother plant, forming a clump. This is fine, and you can tug away a dead bit when needed.

Mounting

Air plants can be mounted to any surface, but remember they need watering and drying, so we recommend staying away from hydrophobic (i.e., wooden) or wet surfaces.

Types of Air Plant Species

Tillandsia

Tillandsia species are epiphytes that anchor themselves on an object and grow suspended off it. There are two main types: mesic and xeric air plants, native to humid and sandy regions.

Aeriums

A recent word, aerium, is derived from a terrarium, a glass container used to house plants in soil. 

Frequently Asked Questions

If you can’t find an answer to your question below, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.

Can My Air Plants Live Outdoors?

Provided the temperature outside isn’t too cold or too hot, then absolutely! They’ve been living out for as long as they’ve existed, so they’re well adapted to particular climates. Humidity in the air isn’t always a reliable source of water, so make sure to supplement your plant as per its water cycle.

How Often Do You Water an Air Plant?

Watering periods will differ depending on the climate. Generally, you can set your reminders according to these periods:

Soaking: once per 1 to 2 weeks in typical weather, once a week in hot and dry weather

Misting: once a week in typical weather, twice a week in hot and dry weather

Can You Overwater an Air Plant?

Definitely. Too much water will eliminate space for the air plant to store the oxygen necessary for its breathing. Overwatering also makes a suitable environment for fungus to grow on your plant, causing rot. Be careful because this irreversibly damages the plant!

Where Do You Put Air Plants?

You can place air plants anywhere! They anchor onto a surface and grow out from there, so you can place them on any surface and let them do their thing. Because air plants need frequent watering and drying, we recommend avoiding hydrophobic surfaces, such as wood and wet surfaces.

Do Air Plants Grow Bigger?

Yes. Air plants are still living organisms after all and will grow as they age. Their sizes vary significantly from one species to another since some will be as small as 2 inches in leaf length while others grow as big as 7 feet, though these are rare as houseplants.

How Long Can Air Plants Go Without Water?

Depending on the environment the air plant is in, the answer will vary greatly. Hot air will dry the plant quicker, depleting whatever water it has stored, killing an air plant in 2 or 3 days. On the other hand, some people have reported theirs going weeks without water.

What Does an Overwatered Air Plant Look Like?

As they near dehydration, they’ll start to look duller and lose their green color, tending to a shade of grey. The leaves, which are typically erect, will curl to form a U shape facing downwards. As you quench its thirst, you’ll see these symptoms reverse, and that’s how you’ll know it’s getting better.

Is Coca-Cola Good for Plants?

Salt and sugar are bad for plants since they drastically prevent water from being absorbed by the plant. Although Coca-Cola and other soda drinks may contain a large amount of water, about 9% of them will almost certainly kill a plant. Besides, they’re much more expensive than water, so there’s no good in them.

Do Air Plants Need Pots?

They can be grown in pots or aeriums. Their relatively small size allows them to be placed virtually anywhere that supports their living conditions. If you want to keep them in a pot with or without soil, that’s perfectly fine. If a hanging succulent aerium is more your thing, also great!

How Long Do Air Plants Take to Flower?

The flowering process happens only once in an air plant’s lifetime and is relatively slow.  It can be 1 or 2 years before a tillandsia starts to flower, especially in slower species like the tillandsia xerographica, in which flowering can go on for months while emitting plenty of colorful spikes!

What Liquid Makes Plants Grow Faster?

Carbonated water could actually boost plant growth because the bubbles in it contain carbon dioxide, which is necessary for a plant’s photosynthesis. However, we don’t recommend frequenting this option as it hasn’t been thoroughly tested. Fertilizer is what certainly speeds up plant growth, as it has been produced to do.

Is Milk Good for Plants?

Fresh, powdered, and even expired milk have positive effects on plants both as a fertilizer and an antifungal, but the catch here is that the milk should be diluted, room temperature, and low-fat (1%). You can mix milk with water at a 50-50 ratio to give your plant these benefits.

Quick Recap

  • Tillandsias need about 6 to 8 hours of bright filtered sunlight or indirect sunlight.
  • If using artificial light, put a fluorescent lamp near the plant for 12 hours minimum.
  • Once every 1-2 weeks: soak for 5-10 minutes, air dry for 1-3 hours, then gently shake off water.
  • 1-2 times a week: mist to humidify.

Featured photo by Jonathan Harford.