Maybe “grow” is not the right word for an airplant, which needs no soil and grows very slowly. But airplants (Tillandsia) are just about as easy as it gets to add some live greenery to a room without worrying about how green your thumb might be. I consider them a “gateway” plant to get people excited about houseplants and gardening.
What Are Airplants?
The Tillandsia species represents about 650 plants, most of which are epiphytes. Epiphytes are plants that grow on another plant but get their moisture and nutrients (absorbed through their leaves) from the air or small pools of water that form on their host plants. That sounds like a plant that knows how to survive no matter how you treat it! That is true, but within reason. Here are some tips for caring for these fun little plants.
Even though airplants can handle their share of drought, they will look better if you water them at least once a week in the dry Southwest. And if they go long periods with no water, they can brown and die like any plant! The best advice is to get on a regular schedule. Every weekend, I try to gather my five air plants from their “homes” and place them in a shallow dish filled with reverse osmosis water. I prefer to just let the bottom (core) of the plant sit in water for about an hour. Some sources say to dunk the entire plant in water so the leaves can soak up moisture. It also can help to spray them with a mist of water every once in a while. I seldom do either because I don’t like water spots.
Be sure to let your air plant air dry! That’s especially true if you dunk leaves and all into water. You can shake off excess water and set them out in a bright area to dry. I set mine on a paper towel after they finish soaking and leave them there until next time I happen to stop by the kitchen counter. Then, I place them all back in their decorative containers. It is so easy.
Air plants need several hours per day or indirect sunlight – or even home and office lighting. They can take some direct sun, but prefer filtered sun. Leaving them in full sun too long dries them out faster.
These plants are native to areas like Mexico, Central and South America, and the West Indies. They like it hot. That means you can place them outside (try a big variety in a hanging basket) but not in direct, afternoon sun. They might prefer the outdoors to air conditioning, but just find a fairly warm spot for those you grow indoors.
Have Fun With Airplants
What I love most about airplants is that you can do so many fun arrangements or settings. I love how some have colorful leaves or unusual shapes. They can anchor to surfaces like pieces of driftwood, or you can set them on nearly anything you like. Just be sure not to choose a surface on which water pools, or your airplants will get root rot. And if you glue or otherwise anchor the plant, you will need to spray it with water at least once a week. I have placed them in glass terrariums, atop old wine glasses lined inside with decorative glass, and in other fun containers.
Get creative and get growing air plants!
Teresa Odle is the author of a blog on low-water gardening in the Southwest. Teresa trained as a Master Gardener in Albuquerque, N.M. She grew up in the Phoenix area, and has lived in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Teresa and her husband now attempt to manage four acres of land in zone 6B of southeastern New Mexico. The land includes a large xeric garden, herbs and vegetables, and a small orchard that borders the Rio Ruidoso in Lincoln County.
Teresa’s blog, Gardening in a Drought, won a 2016 national award for best writing in digital media from the Association for Garden Communicators. When she’s not outside, Teresa works as editor of African Violet Magazine and as a freelance editor and writer.