Air Plants are the perfect solution for those of you who identify as self-professed houseplant killers. Not only are they resistant to pests and diseases, but they require no soil and are relatively small, making them easy to place in apartments, offices or condominiums. They also come in a range of foliage colours and forms, so there is bound to be one that suits your décor or aesthetic. With that in mind, here is everything you need to know about caring for them.
Air Plants are…known botanically as Tillandsia, a diverse group of 650 evergreen species native from the south-eastern US down to Argentina. They are members of the Bromeliad family (Bromeliaceae) and most are epiphytes, meaning that they attach themselves to trees and draw their nutrients from air and rainwater.
Light Requirements – All Air Plants require bright, indirect light but will tolerate stronger light levels with higher humidity. Some species, such as silver-leaved Tillandsia harrisii can endure a few hours of direct sun. They can also be grown under artificial light provided they are no further than 3’ from the source and the grow lights are full-spectrum, but make sure they get at least 12 hours a day.
Ideal Temperature – Tillandsia tolerate a wide range of temperatures, from 50-90F, with overnight temperatures dropping no more than 10F than daytime.
Watering – This is the important part because you don’t actually water your Air Plants, since there is no soil…you mist. The type of water you use is equally critical; as softened (too many salts) and distilled or filtered water (lacking both minerals and nutrients) are not ideal. Instead, use tap water that has sat overnight (to remove chlorine) or rain water. Mist in the morning, twice a week in the summer (when it’s drier) and once a week in winter; you can add an extra misting if your home is arid from forced air heating or a fireplace. Unmounted specimens should also be soaked by submerging in tepid water once a month for 30 minutes to one hour, after which you gently shake off the excess water and lay it upside down on a towel to dry. It should be fully dry in three hours, after which you can return it to its terrarium or mount. Dried leaf tips (which may also indicate too much sunlight) and leaves that are softer or lighter in colour may also indicate a lack of water.
Life Cycle – Tillandsia take an average of two years (longer for some species) to come into bloom, after which the parent plant declines. While in bloom, you will want to be careful not to get the flower stalk wet when soaking, as this will cause it to rot prematurely. Even though the parent plant eventually dies, it readily produces between 2-8 pups or offsets as replacements.