These quirky plants don’t need soil, but they can’t live on air alone. Here’s what you need to know to keep them healthy.
Air plants are adorable – more like pets than plants. No matter whether a variety is fuzzy, furry, spiky or trailing, it’s irresistible. Air plants are usually tiny, easy to grow, and they don’t need soil. As the name implies, air plants absorb nutrients and water from the air through scales on their leaves. They’re having a moment as houseplants because they’re easy to care for and don’t need much light to thrive.
Native to the Andes, this air plant (Tillandsia tectorum) has unusually large white scales that create a fuzzy effect on leaves.
Photo by: Paul T. Isley III / Rainforest Flora, Inc.
Paul T. Isley III / Rainforest Flora, Inc.
What Are Air Plants?
Air plants look as if they came from another planet, but they’re native to the Americas, ranging from the southern United States to Argentina. In the wild, they use their roots to hang on the bark of trees, feeding on rainwater and bird poop they absorb through their leaves. There are more than 600 species and varieties of air plants, also called Tillandsias.
They usually have strap-like leaves that grow in a rosette pattern with new growth coming from the center of the plant. The foliage may be silver or green, spiky or fuzzy, and some produce flowers in shades of red, pink or purple that last from a few days to a few months. Most air plants are tiny, ranging from 2" to 12" tall.
12 Planter Ideas for Decorating With Air Plants 12 Photos
These little lovelies deserve a fabulous planter for being so wonderfully low-maintenance.
Air plants are hard to identify because of the multitude of types and because two plants of the same species can look completely different depending on climate. The same species of air plant grown in California will look completely different than one grown in Florida.
Botanical Name: Tillandsia spp.
Common Name: Air Plants
Hardiness Zones: 9 to 13
Planting Air Plants
- Don’t plant them in dirt. Ever. They’re epiphytes, which means they grow on other plants, not in the ground.
Air Plant Care
Air plants have a rep for being easy to care for, and they are, if you play by their rules. The first rule of air plants is they cannot live on air alone. They need lots of water. But the second rule? Give them too much water and they’ll die.
Confusing, we know. But here’s the secret to watering air plants: Don’t mist them. Dunk them in water. Here’s how to take care of an air plant.
- Once a week, submerge air plants in water and let them sit there for hours.
Blooms and Propagation of Air Plants
- Air plants may flower, but they bloom just once in their lifetime and then die.
Pests and Diseases
- Look out for mealybugs and scale insects on air plants. If your plant gets an infestation, treat it with a Tillandsia-safe pesticide.
‘Bulbosa’ looks like a sea creature, with a bulb-shaped base and tentacle-like leaves. Varieties include ‘Guatemala’ and ‘Belize.’
‘Inoantha,’ also called a sky plant, has spiky leaves that start out silver-hued and turn a deeper shade of green as the plant matures. Native to Mexico and Costa Rica, it shoots out a striking yellow or white flower. Common varieties include ‘Guatemala,’ ‘Mexican’ and ‘Rubra.’
‘Aeranthos’ is native to Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. This spiky little plant produces a pink bud that opens into a deep purple flower. Varieties include ‘Grey Ghost,’ ‘Bronze,’ ‘Black,’ and ‘Purple,’ after the colors of their leaves.
Air Plant Varieties 15 Photos
Discover the hidden beauty of exotic and easy to care for air plants.
‘Streptophylla,’ also know as Shirley Temple for its curly mane of leaves, likes drier conditions than other air plants.
‘Latifolia’ is one of the largest air plants, a spiky plant that grows up to 18 inches tall. It produces a tall, red bloom spike.
‘Xerographica,‘ known as Xeros, are everyone’s favorite. These natives of Mexico have silver leaves that curl and spiral around themselves as they grow.
Garden Design Suggestions
- Indoors, put air plants near a window facing east, south or west.
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The first thing to consider when determining air plant care is your environment. While we offer a general list of air plant care tips here, it is critical that you consider your environment when determining things like watering method and frequency. If you live in a drier climate, you might need to water more frequently or mist daily in between soaks, whereas if your air plants are in a place where they receive abundant humidity from the air, you may need to water less.
Air Plant Species
There are species of Tillandsia, all of the unique in shape, size, growth patterns, and care preferences. While some air plant care tips will apply to the majority of Tillandsia, it’s important to consider the air plant itself. In general, silver-leaved plants and those with a higher concentration of trichomes will do better with more light and a bit less water, whereas the darker green plants will want more water and could be more susceptible to sun damage.
Read our blog post on mesic vs. xeric air plants for more information on this. Also check out our blog for in-depth information on specific plant types. Questions on a specific air plant or not sure what plant is right for your environment? Email us!
One of the most important things any living creature needs is light, and air plants are no exception. If you are keeping your plants indoors, you will want to make sure that they are near an adequate light source. This can be within 3-5 feet of a window, or near an artificial light source. Take care to not let your air plants get too much direct sun, as this can be harmful, even in an indoor environment. If you are keeping your plants outside, make sure they are in a shaded area that does not receive full sun. There are only a few varieties that can handle direct sun.
Air plants love being placed in a bathroom or kitchen window (indirect light), and the steam/moisture will keep them happy!
Artificial light can also be a sufficient source, as long as the plants are not too far from the light and receive adequate amounts per day.
How Much Light Do Air Plants Need?
One of the best things about air plants is that they require minimal maintenance as compared to many other house plants. However, this doesn’t mean that they are maintenance-free, and just like with most plants, the three main factors that can affect their health and life span are: air, water and light.
Place the plants face down in a bowl, sink, or container and lets soak for 10-20 minutes. Always take care to gently shake any excess water off the base of the plants, as sitting water can cause rot and damage/kill the plant. We recommend that you water the plants in the morning, and leave them out of their containers in an area that they can dry within 4 hours. Never let your air plant sit in water for a prolonged period of time. You can also water your plants using the “dunking” method, where you dunk the plants several times in the water, and gently shake off any excess.
If your plant is struggling and looks “thirsty” you can leave them in bowl for a longer soak of a few hours or even overnight. A healthy air plant will have wide open leaves while a dehydrated air plant will have closed and curled leaves! Never submerge the bloom or flower, as it can cause the flower to rot.
If you are using tap water, let the water stand for several hours to dissipate any chemicals prior to watering the plants. When possible its best to use pond, aquarium, or rain water. Bottled water and spring water are also ok to use, but never use distilled or artificially softened water!
Remember that each plant variety is different, and will require different watering schedules than others. Never put your air plants in soil, it will harm them!
Another important variable that is important to your Air Plant, is you guessed it. Air! The plants will need good clean air circulation to survive and live a healthy life. Its important that after watering the plants have enough air circulation to dry within 4 hours. While Air Plants will do well in containers, it is recommended that they do not be displayed in enclosed containers, and that they are completely dry before they are put back into a container that might restrict air circulation.
Plants located too close to A/C vents may dry out sooner and require more frequent hydrating.
Terrariums & Globes
If you are planning on keeping your air plants in a terrarium or globe, you will need to remove the plant for normal watering, and make sure to leave the plant out until is has had enough time to completely dry. Usually 4 hours will do. When the tillandsia is in the terrarium or globe, you can give it periodic mistings to create some humidity. The smaller and more compact the globe, the less mistings you will want to give your plants. If the terrarium is larger and has better air circulation, you can give it a few sprays from a water mister a few times a week. Just make sure to take care in ensuring the plant does not get over misted, and that it dries within a few hours while in the terrarium.
If you have purchased one of our amazing sea urchin kits, you will want to make sure to remove the air plant from the sea urchin when soaking. Leave the plant out from the sea urchin for several hours, until the plant is completely dry. You will damage the air plant if you return it to the sea urchin while still wet, as the base of the plant will be covered and will eventually rot. Feel free to mist lightly while still in the sea urchin!
All About Air Plant Roots & Why They Don't Need Soil
Air plants, or Tillandsia, are part of the family of plants known as epiphytes, which means that they anchor themselves to another plant but are not parasitic. Ferns, Tillandsia (and other Bromeliads), orchids, and most lichens and moss, all carry this epiphyte designation.
This article was co-authored by Harmony Corelitz. Harmony Corelitz is a Plant Specialist and the Operations Manager at Plants and Friends, a plant shop and nursery based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Harmony grew up helping her parents run their family business in plant maintenance and interior plantscaping. She holds a BA in Literature and Spanish from the University of San Francisco. Harmony specializes in indoor plant care and interior plant design. She started her pop-up plant and vintage home goods shop called Younger Child and has helped Plants and Friends grow and expand to two locations.
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Air plants, also known as Tillandsia, do not grow in soil. Instead, they survive by pulling nutrients from the air. They make great house plants because they require very little maintenance aside from 4-6 hours of indirect sunlight every day and weekly waterings. Since air plants don’t grow in soil, you can create all sorts of interesting displays with them! All you have to do is find them a stable, moisture-free surface to grow on.
An oil bath air filter is the type of air filter used on tractors to keep dust and dirt out of the engine. The filter is submerged in an oil bath and when the dirty air travels into the filter, it gets trapped in the oil so it can’t harm the engine. The oil in the oil bath filter needed to be changed every day or so, and the oil bath filter needs to be cleaned every few months as well.
Remove the oil bath filter from the tractor and dump the old oil in an oil disposal bin.
Fill a bucket full of kerosene and soak the filter in the bucket for 15 to 20 minutes. Agitate the filter every two to three minutes.
Fill a bucket full of hot water and 2 tbsp. of dish soap. Place the filter into the water and allow it to soak for 20 minutes.
- An oil bath air filter is the type of air filter used on tractors to keep dust and dirt out of the engine.
- Fill a bucket full of kerosene and soak the filter in the bucket for 15 to 20 minutes.
Empty the buckets of water and kerosene. Fill the water bucket with fresh water and soak the filter to rinse it off. Keep emptying and refilling the water bucket until the filter is clean.
Refill the other bucket with kerosene and place the filter into it one last time.
Allow the filter to air-dry and place new oil in the oil cup. Place the filter in the oil cup and place it back into your tractor.
Clean A Metal Air Filter
Over time, you can cut down on your home maintenance and heating costs by using washable metal air filters in your furnace. You’ll probably have to spend more for a very efficient filter. Run water over the air filter. A kitchen sprayer works well for this; if the weather is warm, you can use a garden hose to spray out any remaining particles. Use a mild detergent such as dish soap to wash both sides of the filter. Then let the filter air-dry until it is completely dry. Do not put the filter back in the furnace until it is completely dry.
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Need a quick and portable guide for taking care of tillandsias? Read our guide created by Jody James.
Air Plant Care Basics
Air plants are very hardy and easy to care for. We have seen them survive up to 2 weeks in a shipping box with no light or water (Do not try that at home). When your new air plants arrive you will want to open the box immediately. We ship our air plants via fast 2 to 3 day Priority Mail but like all plants they want light, air and water.
To lower the stress of the shipping you will want to soak your air plants in room temperature water for 20 to 60 minutes. Just fill a bowl with good water and submerge the plants completely. Municipal water often has some chemicals such as chlorine and/or fluoride. If you have well water, pond water, creek water or rain water, your air plants will love that. You can also use bottled spring water. Do not use distilled water as it has fewer natural minerals and nutrients that air plants like. As air plants do not live in soil they get all of their moisture, light and nutrients through their leaves.
You may notice that your air plants have a white, fuzzy, layer on their leaves, especially after a good watering. These are called Trichomes. Trichomes are small outgrowths on the leaves which absorb water and nutrients for the plants. They are not mold or a fungus.
After their soak, remove your air plants from the water, gently shake off the excess water and lay the plants out on their side or upside down so they can dry completely before placing them in a display. A nice sunny window sill is a perfect place to let them dry and soak up some sunlight. Do not place your air plants in direct sunlight. They like bright indirect sunlight. If you are planning on putting them in a glass terrarium, a wall hanging display, or any kind of enclosure (or in a hole to stand them up), it is important that you allow your air plants to dry completely. Letting the air plants dry completely reduces the risk of your plants rotting.
Your air plants should dry within one to two hours. Once they are dry you will want to display them in an area with plenty of bright, indirect sunlight. Do not place them in direct sunlight as this will dry them out very quickly. Typically, your air plants will only need a 30 minute soak in water once per week. If they are in a very dry or warm environment you may need to spritz them with water once a week in addition to the soak. You will know if they are getting too dry if their leaves begin to curl. Give them a good soak if you see this happening. Remember that despite their name, air plants need a little more than just air to live happily.
If you display your air plants in a manner that does not allow soaking them in a bowl of water you can spray them with water two or three times per week instead.
Yay, they've arrived! After you've unpacked your plants and spent sufficient time marveling at their unique beauty (and possibly giving them names), give them a good soak in a water bath (submerged in the water) for about 20-30 minutes. Shake gently to remove any excess water, and set in a spot with bright light and good air circulation to dry off. Follow the directions below for ongoing care of your plants.
Air plants should be kept where they'll receive bright, indirect sunlight or under fluorescent home/office lighting. Periods of direct sunlight are just fine, but more than a few hours of hot sun will deplete the plants of their moisture. If your plant will be in a spot with some pretty direct light, try misting them every couple of days to keep them hydrated.
Air plants live on air, right? Uh, not right! While air plants don't grow in soil, they definitely NEED to be watered. While the plants can survive for long periods of drought, they will not grow or thrive and will eventually die off if water is too scarce. Follow the directions below for watering your plants on a regular basis and they will stay alive and well for quite some time. The good news is that since these plants are very forgiving, you shouldn't stress over their care schedule. There's certainly no need to get a babysitter when you go on vacation.
How do I Water my Plants?
As a main method of watering your plants, we recommend giving them a thorough rinsing under running water or letting them soak in a bath of water for 20-30 minutes. You can use a bowl, the sink or even the bathtub if you’ve got a family. After their shower or bath, gently shake the plants to remove any excess water from the base and the leaves, and set out to dry in an area with enough air circulation to dry them out in about 4 hours. If your plants need an in-between watering, misting them with a spray bottle is a great method. A plant in bloom should be rinsed rather than submerged in water, and take care when rinsing the delicate flowers.
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Spread cheer this holiday season with a one-of-a-kind, handmade, living Christmas Tree featuring dozens of living tillandsias. Every tree will be a little different and feature a mixture of Ionantha, Capitata, Brachycaulos Abdita and Caput Medusae air plants. The tree is accented with holiday globes. Choose from 10 and 12 inch sizes.
Caring for Tillandsias can be quite tricky compared to other houseplants. But they are very hardy and don’t need much intervention to thrive, making the ideal plant to care for, especially to beginner gardeners or busy office workers.
But no matter how resilient Tillandsias are, they too still need some tender, love, and care. So below, we have shared some tips and tricks that could help you properly take care of them.
Once you receive your Tillandsias, give them a good 2-3 hours soak in a water bath. This would help them recover from the stressful journey they have experienced and easily cope up with their new growing environment.
Once you are done giving them a water bath, place your Tillandsias in a spot with bright light and good air circulation to dry off. Make sure to remove any excess water by shaking them gently before doing so.
After this step, you may proceed in following the care instructions below to properly grow your Air Plant.
In general, air plants need bright, indirect, or filtered light from April to October to thrive. However, this still depends on the variety of what air plant you have and as well as the humidity of its growing environment. For example, in a mild environment, they can tolerate periods of direct sunlight in the morning, but more than a few hours of hot sun can fry them. If you live in a more humid environment, which usually happens from November through March, air plants can typically handle more direct sunlight, as they are not to dry out quickly during these times.
Watering air plants is the trickiest part of taking good care of them. But as a rule of thumb, water your air plant thoroughly at least 2 to 3 times a week. However, in a dry, hot climate, on the other hand, you may need to water them as much as 2 times a day, or once or twice a week in a cool, humid environment.
In case your Tillandsias become too dry or desiccated, they will benefit from an occasional soaking in a bucket of water overnight (do not do this with Tillandsia Xerographica , Streptophylla, or Magnusiana , as this may result in leaf damage). However, for routine watering, they should be able to dry out in 4 hours or less to avoid rotting. We prefer to use reverse osmosis water with a dilute solution of fertilizer every time we water.
J ust make sure to keep an eye on your air plant. If you see that they begin to show signs of Wrinkled or rolled leaves, or suddenly become lighter in color, then it means that they are in need of water. But if you notice that the base of your air plant start to turn dark then the leaves fall out from the middle, then you are already overwatering your air plant. You can learn how to save an over or underwatered airplant in our other blog here .
For what watering techniques and types of water you can use with your air plants, read our WATERING AIR PLANT 101 blog.
When it comes to temperature, air plants are pretty much easygoing. They can be kept outdoors all year-round as long as they are protected from frost. Just keep in mind that the optimum temperature range for Tillandsias is 50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and about 10 degrees cooler during night time.
Tillandsias do not require fertilizing. In fact, they can survive without one, though it is a great way to keep them happy, and as well as encourage them to bloom and produce offsets (pups) more vigorously.
To feed your air plant, just add a pinch of Bromeliad fertilizer or an air plant-specific fertilizer to your water and apply it into your watering regiment at least once or twice a month. You can also use a regular water-soluble houseplant fertilizer at 1/4 of the recommended strength.
Good air circulation also plays an important role when caring for air plants. How? Well, unlike any other houseplants, air plants have small hairs on the leaves called trichomes, which helps them absorb as much nutrients from the air as possible, and needs a good airflow for them to use it and as well as helps them dry out after being watered.
Furthermore, lack of air circulation may lead your air plant to rot and die. So avoid displaying your air plants in a closed container, and as much as possible, do not place them near fans or air vents. But if you do, just don’t forget to keep an eye on them and ensure that they are getting enough moisture.
To know if you have air circulation good enough for your air plants is to monitor how long they take to dry out. Keep in mind that an air plant should be able to dry out within 4 hours after being watered.
Indoor care for air plants is very much similar to the ones grown outdoors. In fact, they would make a wonderful houseplant, as long as they get some light, either from a window or grow lights. But if you are wondering what’s the best course to make sure that your Tillandsia is getting enough light it needs, place it at least 3 feet away from the south or east-facing window. However, we still recommend that you position them in different locations to see where they thrive most.
In addition to that, growing air plants indoors would require more watering, as it is usually dryer compared outdoors. And again, air plants should dry out within a span of 4 hours after being watered unless you are rehydrating them with an overnight soaking. It is easiest to water indoor plants by dunking or run them under the faucet.
Tillandsias are a fun way to add a touch of nature to just any living space without too much effort on your part. And since they don’t need soil to grow, they can be displayed in just about any way you want, either in hanging baskets or terrarium.
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You totally need some of these amazing plants that don’t require soil!
You’ve filled your house with every kind of gorgeous house plant you can find from snake plants to rubber plants to spider plants and even a money tree. But you might be missing the most amazing house plant of all: Air plants, also known by their botanical name Tillandsia. “Air plants are a type of bromeliad and an epiphyte, which means they attach themselves to a host plant for anchoring, but not for nutrients,” says Ryan Lesseig, co-owner of Air Plant Design Studio. “They absorb what they need through trichomes, which are like little hairs on their leaves, but they’re actually tiny cups.”
Native to Central and South America, the West Indies, and the Southern U.S., there are more than 600 varieties. In fact, Spanish moss, which drapes itself from live oaks, actually is a type of Tillandsia. Air plants have become increasingly popular in recent years because they’re generally low-maintenance plants. Plus, they’re not super-pricey and are fun to display in creative ways.
Here’s how to care for these amazing plants.
Air plants need lots of light.
The kind of tillandsia you have will determine exactly what kind of light they require, says Lesseig. There are two main categories: “Mesic” air plants typically have dark green leaves that may be curled or cupped; they thrive in humid habitats, such under the canopy of a forest. They like bright indirect light and will burn in direct sunlight.
“Xeric” air plants, which usually have silver, flat leaves with lots of fuzzy-looking trichomes, grow in desert climates. They like bright light, even direct sunlight. Both types can thrive indoors year-round with the right conditions; in warm climates, such as Florida, many types also survive outdoors, too.
How do I water my air plant?
It depends on the type you have and how dry your environment is; generally, air plants need watered about once or twice a week. Soak mesic types for 20-30 minutes in a sink or bowl of water. Use filtered, spring or rain water, or tap water that has been allowed to sit for a few hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate, says Lesseig. Avoid using softened water.
After a soak, shake it out, and place the plant upside down to dry completely before replacing it in its display container (you don’t want it to stay wet or it may develop disease). Pay attention to how your plant looks after a bath; that’s how a hydrated, healthy tillandsia should appear, says Lesseig. This will help you cue into the next time it needs watered.
On the other hand, xeric air plants are used to the desert climate, so they’ll only need dunked a few times in water, shaken out, then let to dry. If you water either type too much, it will rot and fall apart. “One of the most common reason air plants die is overwatering,” says Lesseig.
Should I feed my air plant?
Air plants definitely benefit from fertilizer. “In the wild, many types grow in the nooks of limbs and under trees, so they get a lot of organic material that breaks down,” says Lesseig. Look for a fertilizer that’s formulated especially for orchids or bromeliads and contains non-urea-based nitrogen. Urea based nitrogen, found in standard house plant food, uses bacteria in the soil to convert the nitrogen to usable forms for plants. But because Tillandsia are not planted in soil, they’re not able to process this type of nitrogen. Follow the instructions, and feed about once a month during the spring and summer growing season. It’s not necessary to feed them in winter.
Air plants can be displayed in creative ways.
You can display your air plant in many kinds of vessels, including a hanging terrarium, ceramic vessels, or even mounted to a piece of decorative wood. No matter what you use, make sure there’s good air circulation around the plants to prevent fungal diseases, says Lesseig.
And if you’re looking for a fun new way to decorate tables, air plants are incredible for parties or weddings. Air plants also make great (long-lasting!) bouquets, boutonnieres, place settings, or favors. You’re only limited by your imagination!
Do air plants get flowers?
In a word, yes! But don’t be impatient. Many plants, especially if grown from seed, take years and years to flower—and they only bloom once! After they bloom, they may produce offsets, called “pups” (how cute is that!) which you can gently twist and pull off to make new baby air plants when they’re about 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the mother plant (which, sadly, eventually will die). Or you can leave the babies in place and they may form a clump in time.