Healthy rewards from small spaces
Air Plants are a revitalized tropical gardening trend as both interior and outdoor plants. The trick for successful air plant care is to duplicate the humidity in their natural growing environment. Find out what home gardeners need to know about caring for air plants.
Tales of air plant success and failure stores vary
There are over 550 native species of Tillandsia plants which are classified under the Bromeliad family and originate from tropical climates in Mexico, South America, and Central America. In the United States, environments like the state of Florida provide the warm and humid climate necessary for air plants to thrive. In a home environment, I would not classify air plants as a high maintenance house plant, however they do need regular attention. Success and failure stories from our market customers range from, “I killed it within two weeks”, “my cat ate the air plant”, or “I’ve had my air plant for years sitting on a window shelf.”
My own experiences caring for air plants from a commercial and home gardener perspective vary. When I first started carrying air plants at our market booth I read all the information I could find from the supplier and instructions for home care on the internet. The instructions were always the same. Mist two or three times a week or soak the air plant in a bowl of water for 20 minutes and return to its container when it has dried on a towel for a few hours. Water baths will supply enough nutrients to the plant for about two weeks. These suggestions for care brought mixed results. Some air plants died within a week after the soaking water bath, and some did not like the constant misting.
Last winter when the market season ended I had a few dozen air plants of various sizes left over from the Christmas season. I decided to try an experiment and test the validity of the statements that air plant consumers are told how air plants do not need water in order to survive. They take in water from the air around them. I knew I might be sacrificing my left over plant inventory, but the test would be worth the risk if I could prove that no water myth to be true. So I arranged the air plants on a serving tray and placed the tray on a bakers rack located just outside our bathroom in front of a sunny window. And then I ignored them. If air plants truly thrive off of humidity, I hypothesized that the abundant humidity created from daily showers would feed the air plants.
I patiently waited for six weeks before I watered any of the air plants. During this time I did not even apply any direct misting either. To my surprise, they were all doing just fine.
I tested the theory again and placed a few small air plants in magnetic corks and attached them to my refrigerator. Our kitchen receives regular humidity from dish washing and cooking, so I thought this room would simulate the same environmental conditions as the shower humidity did. I patiently ignored them for the next month and once again, they were doing just fine.
So the lessons I have learned from caring for air plants is to avoid direct moisture on the plant itself. Add humidity to the air around the plant. If the air plant is not in a naturally humid rooms such as a kitchen or bath, mist the air around the plant with a spray bottle of water.
The occasional water bath is recommended to clean the leaves and give the air plant an extra boost of nutrients.
Addition care tips for air plants
Lighting: Avoid placing the air plant in all day direct sun to avoid sunburn. Filtered sunlight is best from up to 8’ away from a direct sunlight source. Overhead fluorescent lighting found in an office environment can be sufficient. Air plant can be placed under full spectrum artificial lights (fluorescent is best). In this case, plant should be no further than 36" from the fluorescent tubes and can be as close as 6".
Air: Avoid using completely enclosed containers to display an air plant. Open containers, or terrariums or globes with vent holes and openings are better suited for air plants. Position the plant so it can benefit from openings and be easily removed for maintenance care.
Temperature & Fertilizer: Optimum temperature range for Tillandsias is 50 - 90 degrees F. Bromeliad fertilizer (17-8-22) can be used once a month in small quantities. You can also use orchid or any other indoor plant fertilizer that has low copper contents at 1/4 strength (Rapid Grow, Miracle-Grow, etc.).
Troubleshooting: If leaves start to curl or roll (nature's way of conserving moisture), this could indicate dehydration. Ideally, the air plant should be completely immersed in water in a bowl for 20 minutes about every two or three weeks (or as needed depending on the size). Shake off any excess water and replace in growing container. Water air plants sparingly for the first week after the water bath.
Monitor the quality of humidity in your home to keep your air plant happy
Hello gardeners. We are James LeValley and Cathy LeValley, owners of New Earth Micro Farm and passionate gardeners of fast and easy growing using small spaces. Waiting 3 or 4 months for a vegetable to grow - not for us. Growing micro and mini vegetables in 10 to 60 days provides a quick turnaround to support organic growing methods for greater nutrition.