How to Care for Air Plants

Air plants (Tillandsia species) get their name because they don’t need any soil to grow. Air plants are very easy to care for, as long as you know a few basic tips.

They come from a very specific environment that can be recreated in your home or garden. The majority of air plants are native to Central and South America, where they live in warm, humid jungles. Air plants anchor themselves to trees with their roots, and they absorb water and nutrients from the air with small, silvery scales that cover their leaves.

Most air plants are naturally small, growing to a maximum size of 12 inches (30 centimeters) wide. It makes them perfect for small spaces and livening up empty corners of your home or greenhouse.

Many air plant varieties

WHERE TO START

The genus Tillandsia has over 650 different species in the wild. Of course, not all of these are available commercially, but you definitely have many different colors and shapes of air plants to choose from. They’re generally hardy to USDA zone 9 and will die at temperatures less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius). If you live in a colder climate, it’s best to keep your air plants indoors.

Your local garden center, home store, florist or supermarket may carry air plants. Many air plant nurseries also sell plants online. Air plants can be grown from seed, but this can be a fairly long process. Your easiest option is to look for plants.

Air plant in bottle

HOW TO DISPLAY YOUR AIR PLANTS

Air plants can be an interior designer’s dream. You can put an air plant almost anywhere because you don’t need to fuss with soil and pots. These are just a few ideas of what to do with your air plants:

  • Hang them on wires or in small containers
  • Place them directly on furniture
  • Include them in a terrarium
  • Create air plant gardens in containers around your home or office

Whichever surface your air plant lives on, make sure it doesn’t hold water. Never put your air plant on soil, sand or other surface that retains water. They need air circulation to survive and can rot when kept wet for too long. Keep air plants on rocks, wood, gravel, glass beads, wicker or other dry materials.

Related: 12 Houseplants for Small Spaces

Blooming air plant

HOW TO WATER AN AIR PLANT

The easiest way to water an air plant is to take it to a sink, and either mist the plant with a mister or hold it under gently running water for about a minute. Make sure the water isn’t too hot or cold and rinse the entire plant, including all the leaves and leaf tips. Let it drip off in the sink for awhile before putting it back in its usual spot.

Another way to water air plants is to submerge them for one to two hours in tepid water. This is especially good if you live in a dry climate or if your plants are looking shriveled or dried out. If you have fairly hard water, you may want to use bottled, rain or filtered water for submerging your plants. The calcium in hard water can clog up an air plant’s pores over time, making it difficult to absorb water and nutrients.

How often you need to water your air plants depends on the current light, humidity and temperature. If they’re in a bright, warm location with low humidity, they’ll likely need watering every few days. But you can go at least a week between watering if they’re in an area with lower light, cooler temperatures and high humidity.

Chunky air plant

LIGHT

Air plants grow best in bright, indirect light. This can be from a bright window, or you can grow your air plants under a full-spectrum grow light. Try to avoid windows with too much full sun as it can burn the leaves.

In general, the higher the humidity in your home, the more light an air plant can tolerate. So, if you live in a dry climate, consider watering or misting your air plant more regularly if it’s in an especially bright window. Bathrooms are also excellent for air plants because of the naturally higher humidity.

Hanging air plants

DO AIR PLANTS NEED FERTILIZER?

In the jungle, air plants can get all the nutrients they need out of the air. But in most of our homes, which are far from the misty tropics, your air plants will benefit from additional fertilizer.

Fertilizers specifically formulated for air plants are available in specialty stores and online. These fertilizers tend to be low in nitrogen because too much nitrogen can easily burn an air plant’s leaves. Most fertilizers recommend only using them once per month to prevent over-fertilizing. You can gently spray a fertilizer directly on your air plants, or add a small amount to their submersion water.

Pink flowered air plant
WILL YOUR AIR PLANT BLOOM?

Each species of air plant is different, but they will usually bloom at some time. Most will have fairly small blooms that are less than two inches (5 centimeters) long, but the flowers can be very attractive in a range of reds, pinks and purples.

Be aware that if your air plant blooms, the “mother” plant will die afterwards. But any offshoots, also known as pups, will continue growing. You can simply break these off and continue growing them as individual plants.

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85 comments

Hui S
Hui S3 days ago

fascinating read. air plants can contribute to healthier home and office spaces! thanks for sharing!

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Leo C
Leo Custer3 days ago

Thank you for posting!

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Daniel N
Daniel N4 days ago

Thank you

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Leo C
Leo Custer5 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Carla G
Carla G5 days ago

thanks for posting

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Debbi W
Debbi W5 days ago

I was just given some air plants so this information is much appreciated.

I'm starring people in hopes that someone will fix the 'Past Member' problem.

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Hannah A
Hannah A6 days ago

Thank you

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Leo Custer
Leo Custer6 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Vincent T
William T7 days ago

thank you

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Anna R
Anna R7 days ago

thanks very much

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