The term “Air Plant” is actually a bit misleading. Members of the Tillandsia genus are so called not because they can thrive on air alone, but because they require no soil at all to grow. In fact, assuming that Tillandsia only need air to survive is one of the most common mistakes we see in air plant care.

In their natural habitat -- the forests, mountains, and deserts of South and Central America -- air plants are epiphytic (growing on other plants without harming them), and emerge from the crooks and branches of trees, rocks, cacti, and shrubs.

Air plants are some of our very favorites; they are stunning as standalone pieces, and we feature them in many of our Plant Craft pieces, such as aeriums and cork mounts.

Here are the best practices we recommend for air plant care. First we’ll talk about how to care for air plants in general, and then we’ll talk about adaptations in air plant care for aeriums, terrariums, and mounted Tillandsia.

Tillandsia Xerographica and Brass Plant Mister

Above: A brass mister makes a classy and classic companion for a Tillandsia Xerographica.

Light

How Much Light Does an Air Plant Need?

In order to thrive, air plants need bright, indirect light. Rooms with South- or East-facing windows make good candidates, because these spaces will be brightly illuminated with sun for most of the day. Rooms with North-facing windows work well, too, as long as the plant is placed close to the window, and the window isn’t blocked by trees or a neighboring apartment complex. Western light tends to come late in the day, and can be very hot and intense. Careful—you don’t want to fry your air plant!

As a general rule of thumb, the higher the humidity in your space, the more light is tolerated by the air plant. This means that if you’re putting your air plant where it will receive loads of light, you should plan to mist it more often - twice a week or even daily. A sunny bathroom or active kitchen makes a happy home for an air plant, because the humidity from your shower or boiling water will take care of most plant misting for you.

Air Plants and Artificial Light

Many people ask us if they can place their air plant in an office or basement room where it won’t get any natural light. The answer is yes, but there are a few specific rules to follow to ensure your plant’s success.

Full-spectrum (fluorescent) light is a must. Regular incandescent bulbs don’t emit the quality of light these plants need to photosynthesize. Your Tillandsia should be placed no further than 3 feet from the light source. Also if you’re going to use fluorescent light, the plants will need, at minimum, 12 hours per day.

If you live in a basement or want to have an air plant in your office, we recommend buying a special bulb for your plant (such as a Gro-Lux, Repta-Sun or Vita-Lite) and setting it on a 12-hour timer, so your plant gets all the light it needs to survive.

Air Plant Dish Display | Pistils Nursery
A shallow dish full of sand, rocks, and dried wood makes a great air plant display.

Water

How to Water an Air Plant

Watering an air plant is the trickiest piece of the air plant care puzzle. Some people swear by misting, others by soaking, and still others use a combination of both misting and soaking in their air plant care regimen.

In our experience, watering air plants is tricky because the needs of the plant vary dramatically with the space in which it is placed. Also, some species require specific care. The first step to watering your air plant is to evaluate your space. How much light is your plant receiving? What is the temperature in your home at this particular time of year? Is the space very dry (is your plant near a heater or fireplace?) Or is it very humid?

After you answer these questions, you can adapt the air plant watering regimen to suit your particular needs. Here’s what we recommend as a starting point:

  • How to water an air plantEvery one to two weeks, soak your air plant in room temperature tap water (or rain/pond water if you can find it) for 5-10 minutes.
  • After soaking gently shake excess water from your plant. Turn it upside down and place it on a towel in a bright space. This is very important! Air plants will quickly rot if they are allowed to stand in excess water.
  • From the time soaking ends, the plant should be able to dry fully within 3 hours. If your plant stays wet longer than this, it may rot. Try placing it in a brighter place with good air circulation to facilitate faster drying.
  • Once a week (separate from watering), mist your plant thoroughly, so that the entire surface of the plant is moistened (but not so much that there is water dripping down into the plant).
  • The hotter and dryer the air (summer, early fall), the more you need to water. The cooler and more humid the air (winter and spring) the less water your air plant will need. But remember that heaters and fireplaces dry the air, so just pay attention to your plant.
  • Do all watering in the morning. Evening soaking or misting disrupts the plants ability to respire overnight, and extends drying time.

    Is My Air Plant Getting Enough Water?

    Signs of under-watering your air plant include the leaf tips turning brown or crispy. The natural concave shape of air plant leaves tends to become more exaggerated when under-watered.

    Unfortunately, if your air plant has been over-watered, it’s often too late to save it. If the base of the plant turns brown or black, and leaves are falling out or off from the center, your plant has likely succumbed to rot.

    Air plants are pretty easygoing when it comes to their temperature. They do best between 50-90 degrees F. Ideally, overnight temperatures will be about 10 degrees cooler than daytime temperature.

    Incorporating orchid or special Air Plant Fertilizer into your watering regimen once or twice a month is a great way to keep your air plant happy. Just add a pinch to your water and proceed as usual. Fertilizing your air plant encourages it to blossom and reproduce (or pup -- more on this later)

    Blooming Tillandsia | Pistils Nursery

    Tillandsia have some of the most colorful blooms of any plant family!

    Air Plant Life Cycle

    Did you know that air plants only flower once in their life? Depending on the species, these blossoms last from a few days to a few months, and can be a whole variety of beautiful bright colors, like pink, red and purple. Flowering is the peak of the air plant life cycle, but also marks the beginning of the plant’s old age - after it flowers, the plant will eventually die.

    But don’t despair! Just before, during or after flowering, your air plant will reproduce by sending out 2-8 “pups”. These baby air plants, which start out very small, will eventually grow into their own mother plants. Pups can safely be separated from the mother plant when they’re about ⅓-½ the size of the original plant. Careful not to remove them too early, as they’re actually receiving nutrients from the mother air plant!

    Air Plant with Pups | Pistils Journal
    Tillandsia clone themselves by growing "pups" that form a clump over time.

     

    How to Care For Air Plants in Aeriums and Terrariums

    While larger air plants standalone on a windowsill or tabletop, we love to include their smaller counterparts in our works of living art -- in fact, our “aeriums” are a special kind of terrarium dedicated entirely to air plants! Here’s what you need to know about caring for air plants in glass.

    Aeriums and Terrariums at Pistils Nursery

    If you can remove your air plant from its glass container:

    • Follow the care regimen outlined above - just remove your plant from the aerium, terrarium or glass in order to mist/soak it, and allow it to dry before replacing it in the glass
    • Keep in mind that keeping your air plant in glass will create a micro-climate: Glass vessels will be more humid and hotter than the surrounding area.
    • Take care not to put glass vessels too close to a window. Glass intensifies the rays of the sun. Too much direct light will burn your air plant!

    If you cannot remove your air plant from its glass container:

    • Since your plant won’t come out of the glass, you won’t be able to soak it and so will have to rely solely on misting. This is totally fine.
    • Small glass = less air circulation = longer drying time for plant = less frequent misting.
    • Large glass = more air circulation = shorter drying time for plant = more frequent misting.
    • When misting your air plant, try to mist around the plant, rather than into the plant. You don’t want to over-water it, but rather to create a humid environment.
    • Depending on the vessel, we’d suggest starting by misting weekly, and adjusting as necessary.
    Tillandsia in Aeriums Terrariums | Pistils Nursery
    Aerium displays are out favorite ways to grow air plants. These glass vessels elevate Tillandsia and make them even easier to care for.

    How to Care for Mounted Air Plants

    Like air plants in small glass vessels, you probably won’t be able to soak your mounted air plant. However, since they’re not contained to a humid, micro-climate like aeriums, mounted air plants will need frequent misting. We recommend starting with twice weekly misting, and adjusting as necessary, depending on how long it takes your plant to dry in your space.

    Tillandsia Cork Mounts | Pistils Nursery

     

    Follow these air plant care guidelines, and you should see your Tillandsia thriving in no time! View our current selection of Tillandsia on our web shop. Have any questions or your own best practices for air plant care? Share with us in the comments!

    Shop Tillandsia

    January 19, 2015 — Pistils Nursery
    Tags: Plant Care

    Comments

    Sylvia Swartz said:

    Actually, I have a question. I’m doing a petite 12" underwater design for a flower show. I’d like to use tillandsia. They would need to be underwater for three days. Will they last under water for 3 days? I am not worried about losing them – merely that they continue to look good during the flower show. Thanks for any help you can give me with this.

    Heather R Barrett said:

    Sarah those are pups you can Propagate and make your own Air Plants. How exciting I can’t wait for mine to have pups.

    knottyrope said:

    The white stuff is normal, its not mold.
    my house is set to 58 in winter and no AC in summer near Boston and i keep many in my north facing kitchen window
    spray/dip with water once a week and they have lived over 2 years
    fetilize a lil bit once a month and good to go
    Dont let them stay wet, they rot fast

    Adrianne said:

    My poor airplant, I don’t know if I’m over or under watering her. She also has this white fuzz on her that I don’t know what it is, the lady I bought her from told me to most her every other day, I think I’m going to go back to soaking her every other week though, because she seems to be browning, but is still light, and moist. After reading this article, I’m going to try to keep her in the sun more, but I’m not sure if I should. Please advise,

    Sue said:

    A friend just gave me some ir plants. They have white powder looking stuff on them. Is this mold and what should I do? Thanks

    Edward English said:

    How do I see the replies to the questions so I don’t have to repeat them here?

    Tony said:

    Hi, I’m moving to San Tan Valley Arizona, have several mature Air Plant of different varieties. That are thriving outside Thousand Oaks CA I would love to take them with me to Arizona but not sure if the will survive the relocation. Any suggestions?
    Thanks
    Tony

    Leigh said:

    I’m in Florida and see lots of air plants growing on trees. Is it safe to cut one off a tree and take it home (Ohio)?

    Simone Cifuentes said:

    I hung my aerophyte in the bathroom assuming the steam would keep it hydrated. It’s been several months and it seems dry and the leaves are curled up and I don’t know what to do. I can’t find trouble shooting advice online please help.

    Andre said:

    Beautifully written and excellent photography, very instructive and pertinent details, the best plant guide that I have seen so far.
    Thanks

    Megan Nixon said:

    Love this article, very informative and well written. Thank you!

    Ted Blythe said:

    Just bought 2 plants and wondered how can make survive?

    Sarah said:

    Question: I’ve had several air plants for many years and they have done well. About 6 months ago one of them flowered. The flowers have recently lost their color and look dry but I didn’t remove them. Today I went to soak them and notice the flowers have seeds, they look similar to dandelion seeds. Can I plant these seeds somehow? What would be the best way to do that? Thanks for your time!

    Marley said:

    Wow this is so well written. So much interesting information. My partner and I have a few of these around our home. I didn’t know this was such an awesome plant, beyond appearances of course. I was sending this article to a friend that just got her first air plant and decided to give it a read as well. Glad I did!

    Janice said:

    Enjoyed this read. Great information I’m considering adding air plants to my lil plant family. Thanks.

    Daphne said:

    very informative article! thank you!
    i understand you are not supposed to wet the blooms when you’re soaking or misting. how about when there’s a pup attached? just to be sure, can you soak the whole thing in water?
    also when the flowers die, should we cut off the dead flowers or let it be?
    there’s not much care info on air plants during the blooming and post-blooming stage. thank you!

    DENISE said:

    I’ve learned that I can rely on your posts for timely , relevant, USEFUL information with practical applications. Very cool. Thank you.

    Begum said:

    Thanks for the great info. My Tillandsia itself is doing well but the flower lost its bright pink color and it gets darker everyday. I’ve heard the flower will bloom again but I am not sure if I have to remove the flower from the plant or keep it. Thank you!

    Lilly said:

    My plant is darker on the root side compared to it’s tips and it’s a little soft there is there anything I can do for it?

    Leave a comment

    Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.