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How to Grow Tillandsias (Air Plants)

Airplant Care Sheet

(for tillandsias)


Airplants are Bromeliads that get their name from the fact that they grow not in soil, but instead attached to branches (epiphytically) and rocks (saxicolous). Their roots serve only to give the plants a firm anchor to whatever they are growing on. All of their moisture and nutrition is absorbed through their specialized leaves.

 

Air plant leaves possess tiny scales, properly called trichomes, that serve two major functions. First, they assist the plant in absorbing water and nutrients by holding greater amounts of water against the leaf surface for a longer period of time. Second, they help to reflect the intense sunlight off of the leaf surface that can be so common in their growing environment. These trichomes are what give many of the air plants their characteristic gray color. It is often easy to determine the growing requirements a given plant needs by the appearance of the plant itself. Those that have a dense covering of scales on their leaves are most probably from an area with bright light and little water. Whereas a plant with more glossy leaves is most likely from an area of lower light and higher humidity.

Air plants are familiar to most people as they are often sold as a variety of ornaments from refrigerator magnets to desk-top displays. Even though they are commonly encountered it is unfortunate that they are also widely misunderstood resulting in their very short lifespan in the house. Even though these plants are commonly called "air plants", they cannot survive on air alone. Like any living thing they require water and nutrients as well.  Different species will require varying conditions but most all of them have certain needs in common. Once the misconceptions are eliminated the plants are very rewarding to grow and collect. 

Water: Air plants grown under typical household conditions will require water 2-3 times a week on average. This is most easily accomplished by spraying the plants thoroughly until they drip with water. The plants must then be allowed to dry completely before being watered again. The humidity level of the home will determine how often the plants will need to be watered. Under drier conditions (humidity levels less than 50%) the plants may need to be watered more frequently. Distilled, reverse osmosis or rain water should be used as tap water can contain minerals and chemicals that can be damaging to the plants over long term usage. Once a week,  the plants should be thoroughly soaked in a sink or bucket of water for several hours to allow them to fully rehydrate. Suitable plant foods can be added to this soak water a couple times a month to ensure good growth.

 

Ventilation: Obviously, these plants are constantly bathed in fresh air up in the trees in nature and we should do whatever we can to provide similar conditions in cultivation. During the warm summer months they can be hung outside where breezes come naturally or indoors they can be placed where there is good air movement from fans. Never place the plants in the direct flow of air coming from central heating or A/C vents.

 

Light: Most types of air plants like bright light and will do well where they will recieve indirect sunlight near a window. Generally those species with grey, fuzzy leaves like brighter light than those with darker green leaves. Outdoors, gray leaved types will even tolerate some morning sun.

 

Mounting: Airplants can be mounted on a variety of  wood, rocks or logs using silicone sealant. Apply a small dab of the silicone on the branch where you would like to mount the plant then seat the plant into the silicone being sure to make firm contact. A small dab of hot glue can also be used to help hold the plant in place while the silicone cures. Let the glue cool for about 10 seconds to avoid burning the leaves. When mounting the plants, be sure to mount those with a bulbous or inflated base either horizontally or upside down to prevent water from collecting around the base of the leaves causing rot. Small pieces of dried moss can be glued around the base of the plants to help hide the glue or silicone but do not use too much that might hold water around the base of the plant which may cause rot. 


Have fun!