What are Air Plants? (And How to Care for Them)

What are Air Plants? (And How to Care for Them)

By Michael Jenkins

This time of year there’s a real focus on outdoor gardening—spring is approaching and many of us are excited to be back outside in our garden spaces. However, let’s not forget that indoor gardening is an equally wonderful approach to gardening, and that for many folks it’s the best option for having a plant-filled space. With that in mind we’re going to devote this blog to discussing air plants. This marvelous, perhaps counterintuitive plants can be delightful additions to many indoor gardens. Their popularity comes and goes over time, but to us they’re classic decorative additions to an inside garden space and well worth exploring. Let’s dig in!

What are Air Plants?

Air plants are a collection of species—the most common home garden air plants are of the species Tillandsia spp from the Bromeliaceae family. This means that Tillandsia species are closely related to Spanish moss and (weirdly) distantly related to pineapple.

Tillandsia spp are epiphytes, which means that they are plants that live harmlessly on other plants. So unlike parasitic plants, they don’t steal nutrition or water from the host plant; it’s simply a place for them to sit. These plants live without soil, feeding instead on the nutrition and hydration they absorb from the air. Their roots are used only to anchor them to the growing surface, and they are thus able to grow without soil.

This growth without soil is what makes them so interesting, and also what makes them such fun additions to an indoor garden space. Air plants don’t take up much space generally, are easy to care for, and can fit into most indoor garden schemes. They’re also among the best plant for purifying indoor air by removing particulate matter—an important consideration for some apartment dwellers or small-house residents.

Caring for Air Plants

As we mentioned previously, air plants can be easy to care for—and that is where so many of the problems with air plants start! Because they’re so easy to care for and require so little attention, it’s very easy for gardeners to overdo it and give their air plants too much attention. This in turn can cause problems, so let’s go over some basic guidelines for maintaining and caring for air plants:

  • In general, air plants prefer indirect sunlight and/or partial shade. These plants evolved to live withing the tree canopy, so direct bright sunshine isn’t really something with which they thrive. This gives indoor gardeners a bit of flexibility as to where to locate their air plants; a bright spot out of direct sun is likely just fine.
  • Watering air plants requires care and attentionin order to keep your plants thriving. In their native habitat, high humidity provides all the water they need. Your home is likely quite a bit drier, so they’ll need a bit of help staying hydrated. The procedure for watering your air plant goes something like this: 1) Place your air plant in a container with enough fresh, room temperature water to submerge the plant. 2) Let your air plant soak for roughly 30 minutes. 3) remove the plant from water, shake off the excess, and turn them upside down on a towel or kitchen cloth to drain. 5) When dry, return the plant to its container. Air plants generally need a watering every week or so, though they may benefit from misting with a spray bottle of fresh water in between.

  • Again speaking generally, air plants don’t often need fertilizer. When additional nutrition is necessary, buy a purpose-made air plant fertilizer and follow the manufacture's instructions closely.
  • Temperatureis important as well—air plants like to be warm, so put them in a place that’s balmy. This can be one of many locations inside your home—as long as they get some bright indirect light, they’ll most likely be fine.
  • Avoid over-watering your air plantsin order to prevent rot from setting in. After watering ensure that you dry your plant thoroughly per the instructions above in order to prevent rot and other health issues.

This is a very brief introduction to air plants and how to care for them. We’ll be following up with future blogs as we’re still learning ourselves. Like we said at the beginning, gardening is always an adventure so stay tuned and we’ll explore this together!

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