Caring for Air Plants Is a Breeze

Dina Cheney
Written by Dina Cheney
Updated February 23, 2022
man watering air plants at home
Photo: Westend61/ Getty Images

Highlights

  • Purchase healthy plants from florists, garden centers, or air plant suppliers.

  • Make sure air plants get some sun and ample air circulation and are never exposed to temperatures 45 degrees F or below.

  • Water most air plants weekly.

  • Dry plants thoroughly after hydrating.

  • Fertilize each month.

  • Learn how to prune air plants avoid removing plant bottoms or inside leaves.

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Hanging from wreaths, outfitting terraria, or filling shells, trendy air plants (Tillandsia) straddle the line between houseplants and décor. Since they don’t need soil, these plants can grow anywhere, like in glass globes and on driftwood—no pots required. Although you won’t get your hands dirty caring for them, you still need to give them some TLC. Read on as we get to the root of how to help them thrive.

Buy Healthy Plants

woman holding a plant pot with air plants
Photo: Mint Images/ Getty Images

Purchase air plants from florist shops, garden centers, or online florists specializing in air plants. Look for specimens without brown or yellow leaves or dry tips. Ideally, they should feel cool to the touch. These are all signs that plants are hydrated and healthy. If you order air plants online, you should be able to perk them up with a 24-hour soak.

Set Plants Up for Success

Make sure your air plants get the air, light, and heat they need.

  • Air: Lots of air circulation is essential. So, if you place them in a terrarium or other container, choose one with a very wide opening.

  • Light: Make sure plants are exposed to bright filtered or indirect light—intense sunshine can burn them.

  • Heat: Keep air plants in rooms between 50–90 degrees F. These tropical and semitropical plants native to the Southern U.S., Mexico, and Central and South America thrive in rainforest-like conditions and will die at 45 degrees or colder.

Water Weekly

In nature, air plants derive moisture from humidity and rainwater. Inside our homes, they need regular watering. Although several hundred varieties are unique, most should be watered weekly. The exact amount depends on their variety and the humidity of your home.

Be sure to use tap water that you left out overnight in an open container (so the chlorine dissipates) or rainwater, pond water, or aquarium water. (Never use soft water, whose salts can damage the leaves.) The water should always be at room temperature.

Fill a basin or sink with enough water to submerge your plants. Then soak for about one hour.

If your air plants are glued onto decorative supports and are impossible to submerge, you can still water them. Either submerge only the leaves when soaking, spray them with water daily or every other day, or hold their leaves under gently running water two to four times a week. Whichever method you choose, never wet the flowers. Along with leading to rot, doing so shortens their blooming periods.

Mist Sometimes

In the winter, when indoor air is dryer, you can mist your air plants every other day in addition to soaking weekly. If you have Spanish moss, skip the soaking entirely and instead hydrate by misting daily.

Dry Thoroughly

Never skip this critical step. After removing each plant from the water, shake a few times. Then turn upside down and let sit out on a clean cloth or paper towel for a few hours—until completely dry. To help this process along, you can place plants in front of a small fan on a low setting. Only after they’re completely dry, return plants to their original location. Never put them back if they’re at all wet—the water can cause rot.

Fertilize Monthly

To provide the nutrients that air plants would get in nature, fertilize your air plants with a product intended for air plants, orchids, or other bromeliads. Once a month, add fertilizer to the soaking water or spray your plants with fertilizer after soaking. Don’t use too much, as an excess can burn air plants.

Prune Carefully

Learning how to prune air plants is essential to their overall health. When the bottom leaves begin to look yellow or limp, you can peel them off. You can also use scissors to trim brown tips off leaves and remove any dried-out flowers. Never cut the bottom or inside leaves of air plants.

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