By Teri Olcott
Air plants, also known as Tillandsias, are tiny, tropical, plants that almost anyone can grow successfully. As the name implies, these plants need air, not soil, to thrive and do well. Their small roots are strictly for attaching to trees and rocks. The plants get all the nutrients they need through their leaves and require minimal watering. Because these plants don’t need to be “planted,” they can sit almost anywhere. You can place them in decorative hanging terrariums, on driftwood, inside seashells, or any place that needs a little greenery. Although these unique plants don’t need much care, you do need to give them a little attention to ensure their survival.
How and When to Water
Although there is water in the air, indoor air is dryer than the tropical location from where these plants originate. Depending on how dry the air is, you will need to give your air plant a bath at least once a week. For non-rooted plants, you can simply pick them up and submerge them in a cup or bowl of water for 20 to 30 minutes. If you forget about your plant and leave it in the water longer, it will still be fine. It takes a lot to kill an air plant. Use room temperature rainwater, spring water, or tap water that does not have chlorine. Chlorine is not good for air plants.
After its bath, gently shake the plant to remove the water and then rest the plant upside down to allow all the water to drain. When dry, return the plant to its home.
For plants that are rooted to wood or rock, you will need to submerge the entire object or be able to turn it upside-down so you can put the plant in water. Make sure anything you attach your plant to is waterproof.
If you notice the color of the leaves changing, brown tips forming, or rolled and wrinkled leaves, it’s time to give your plant a bath. It should emerge plump and happy. You can also mist the plant in between baths if necessary.
Where to Put Your Air Plant
Air plants prefer filtered sunlight. Direct, bright sunlight can actually give them sunburn. If the tips of the leaves keep turning brown, the plant is probably getting too much sunlight. Place your air plant on a windowsill or shelf that is fairly bright, but does not get hit directly by the sun. Air plants do well under fluorescent lights which make them great for offices and work cubicles.
Bottom leaves that curl up and don't respond to water can be removed. Like any plant, air plants will sprout new leaves. If the tips of the leaves stay brown and dry, you can trim them off.
Try to trim or clip the leaves at an angle to keep a natural pointed look. Use nail clippers or very sharp scissors to trim the leaves. If your plant has roots, you can cut them off if desired. The roots are strictly for clinging, and if you don’t plan on mounting the plant, you can safely cut them off. It will not hurt the plant.
Air plants prefer a temperature between 50° to 90°F. They cannot tolerate cold temperatures. If your air plants are outside, you will need to bring them inside when the weather turns cold. Avoid placing air plants near an air conditioner or a drafty window that gets cold in the winter.
Blooms and Pups
Air plants occasionally sprout colorful blooms. The blooms don't last long so enjoy them while you can. Once your plant blooms, it may then produce offspring called “pups.” The pups start off as new leaves at the base of the plant. The pups will grow and resemble the mother air plant. You can remove the pup once it is approximately ⅓ the size of the mother and allow it to mature into a new air plant. You can also let the pup to remain attached for a unique look.
Benefits of Air Plants
Although small, air plants can help clean the air, reduce carbon dioxide, and increase oxygen. They are resistant to diseases and are fairly hardy. With proper minimal care, they will last for many years. Because they are so tiny, they can fit in tight spaces, and be placed in just about anything you can think of, from plain and simple to trendy designer containers. You can be creative in their arrangement or just enjoy them as-is. Because they are easy to care for and move about, air plants are just fun.
If you have a history of killing house plants due to neglect or over-watering, consider an air plant or two. These exotic little plants require no soil and are fun to decorate a house with. They do require a little bit of attention to thrive, but even the busiest person can give them a dunk once a week to keep them alive and well.
Images used with permission, courtesy of Teri Olcott and www.shutterstock.com