How To Care For Air Plants

How To Care For Air Plants

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Tyler C Rich
August 18, 2021
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The pandemic has caused many people to seek alternative ways to occupy their time.

As a result, discovering how to care for air plants has become a favorite occupation of many plant lovers.

The discovery of air plants has gained a spotlight for many gardeners thanks to their minimal maintenance and impressive displays. Just visit any plant nursery, and you’ll find all kinds of attractive collections of air plants.

From seashells to glass globes, all these lush displays reflect the appeal of these air plants. You can also test your skills by discovering how to care for air plants and take a new gardening journey.

What Is An Air Plant?

What Is An Air Plant?

Before going into the dos and don’ts of how to care for air plants, it’s essential to explain these plants. Once you grasp what these plants are, it becomes easier to understand how to care for them.

The tillandsia genius lives in the air but does not sustain itself this way. In fact, the name ‘air plants’ can be quite misleading, making you assume they solely survive on the air.

In agricultural science, air plants belong to the bromeliad family. Unlike regular plants, air plants don’t grow in the ground. Instead, they have roots for anchoring themselves to branches of trees, shrubs, or other sustainable plants.

They aren’t parasitic, as some may believe, because they don’t take any nutrients from their host. Instead, air plants only use hosts as a supportive, growing habitat.

Unlike conventional plants that absorb their water and nutrients through their roots, air plants absorb moisture and nutrients through their leaves.

Air plants have appendages known as trichomes, which enable them to absorb water and other nutrients. Trichomes do not only drink water but also protect water loss from the plants by deflecting sunlight.

There is a broad range of air plants, and their main differences are observable in terms of their size and the diverse types available. Some varieties can be large with broad, lush leaves, others have strap-like leaves, and others are small with thread-like leaves.

People who have air plants in their gardens often forget to care for their plants, thinking that air is their means of survival. The truth is that if you leave your air plants unattended for long, they will quickly wither and die.

Where Do They Grow In Nature?

Where Do They Grow In Nature?

Air plants are fascinating, with a little over six hundred species found in diverse regions across the globe. Although you can find these plants in urban gardens, they grow in their natural habitats far away from modern civilization and human view.

Air plants tend to favor humid rainforests as the climate provides them with premium growing conditions.

They attach themselves to trees, rocks, and on cliffs in tropical rainforests, and they grow in other extreme temperatures where you’ll find air plants like tillandsia growing on cacti.

Native regions such as Central America, South America, West Indies, and Mexico are some of the most common habitats of air plants.

Southern America has one of the best humid conditions that are ideal for the growth of these air plants. Places like the southern part of Florida host air plant species like the Bromeliads and the Tillandsia Fasciculata.

These species grow by naturally attaching themselves to trees. Other species such as the Tillandsia Usneoides, a type of Spanish moss, also dwell in the South of Florida, for example.

Air plants typically possess distinctive characteristics depending on the region in which they naturally grow. A closer look at areas where air plants grow naturally clarifies that many of these varieties enjoy habitats with high humidity levels.

You’ll note that most air plants growing in highly humid regions tend to have greener leaves. This is because they have a low number of trichomes and grow in places with plenty of shade that receive indirect sunlight. Such air plants are classified as mesic as they require plenty of moisture.

Alternatively, air plants growing in dry and less humid regions tend to have grey-green leaves. This is because they have more trichomes and withstand more sunlight.

This variety doesn’t require a lot of water and is classified as xeric. Again, this is because their high number of trichomes helps them absorb water and nutrients from the air, which is less humid.

Similarly, air plants cannot survive in winter temperatures. Since they absorb water and nutrients through their leaves, frosty conditions cannot allow efficient absorption making it impossible to stay in any temperatures below 400F.

All these conditions for the natural growth of air plants indicate the care they need to thrive outside their natural habitats.

Most Popular Air Plants

Most Popular Air Plants

While there are over six hundred species of air plants, not all enjoy equal levels of popularity among gardeners. Instead, people tend to choose these plants based on their versatile nature and how to care for air plants effortlessly.

Here you get to discover the five most popular species of air plants among gardeners. They have specific preferences depending on whether they are amateurs or avid growers of air plants.

Here’s a peek at the five most popular air plants:

  1. Brachycaulos: Most popular, especially for beginners, due to their high adaptability in different environmental conditions.
  2. Stricta: This is a favorite air plant in many gardens around the U.S. and is the perfect air plant for many beginners. You may easily recognize them due to their lush pink blooms, which are a beautiful, low-maintenance option for beautifying your garden.
  3. Capitata: This is another favorite variety for those collectors who want air plants with large leaves. You will find many of these hybrid varieties growing on trees or rocks with beautiful leaves in nature, so it is best to mimic these conditions to support their growth wherever possible.
  4. Caput Medusae: This variety is common in Central America. It is popular due to its high tolerance for sunlight and requires extraordinarily little water to thrive.
  5. Ionantha: Ionantha varieties are among the most popular air plants, thanks to their unique spiky leaves. 

These are just a few varieties of air plants that adapt easily to different care conditions and help beautify your garden. Learning which types are suitable for your region and how to care for air plants in your area is vital if you wish to add interest to your outdoor living space.

How Much Light Do They Need?

One of the most vital considerations in air plant care is light. While most varieties enjoy the outdoors, they don’t like direct light.

So if your air plants are outdoors, choose a shady location and receive dispersed, filtered sunlight. During hot summers, the natural light can burn these plants, which you want to avoid.

For indoor planting, you can place them in a south or east-facing window to receive low levels of sunlight. However, if your home does not have windows that face east, west, or south, you can use supplemental lighting such as grow lights. Consider table-top LED grow lights as they offer the best performance.

You can also use fluorescent light, but at times, they generate too much heat and may burn your delicate air plants.

How To Water Air Plants

Air plants do not grow in dirt, but they require water to live like any other plant. So if you happen to be growing these stunning plants in your home or garden, regular watering is essential.

I must prepare you through as everything seems easy when you think of how to care for air plants. But, besides their weird, alien-like appearance, things become even stranger when it comes to watering.

If you want air plants in your home or garden, you’ll need to put in a little more effort with watering them than potted plants.

The plants in your garden mostly absorb water through their roots. Air plants’ behavior is the complete opposite. Most of their moisture is taken in via the leaves.

Air plants do not require watering in the wild as they derive all their moisture and nutrients from the air. But then, why water your plants anyway?

Well, the reason is simple. In the wild, air plants grow on trees and other mediums to receive a steady dose of rainfall. The forest environment is also quite humid, so the massive air, water content gives these plants all the water they need to survive.

However, these conditions change drastically indoors. Because the humidity indoors is low, your air plants stand the risk of dehydrating if you don’t water them.

Now that’s clear, let’s delve into the best ways you can water your air plants.

1. Dipping them in water

Experts recommend soaking air plants as the best watering method. It is also quite a simple method that shouldn’t give you any hiccups.

First, you need to fill the bowl or basin with water. Then, remove your air plants from wherever you display or hang them and soak them for an hour.

Air plants are lightweight and buoyant. You’ll quickly notice the plants won’t submerge fully. This is okay, but it is best to turn them after half an hour just to ensure they receive even watering.

Remove them after an hour and hold them upside down so that the leafy part is facing downwards. In this position, shake them thoroughly to get rid of excess water. You can use a towel to lightly dab excess water. Be gentle.

Place your plants in a dry spot where they’ll sit anywhere from one to three hours to dry completely. You can now put them back on display. Repeat the procedure every seven to ten days.

2. Misting

The second method on how to take care of air plants’ moisture needs is known as misting. This is an excellent method to care for air plants, especially if you do not want to disturb them unnecessarily.

Also, if you’re the kind that doesn’t like getting their hands wet, this is for you. Get a spray bottle or plant mister, and you’re set to care for your air plant’s water needs.

Mist your air plants with water, and then dry them off gently using a towel. Repeat this routine 2 to 3 times weekly or 4 to 5 times in hot weather.

However, you will still need to complement misting with a good, regular soaking occasionally to prevent your air plants from dehydrating.

Remember not to use softened, distilled, or chlorinated water for any watering exercise.

Use aquarium water or pond water. The best choice, however, is spring or rainwater.

If you only have faucet water, put it in a bowl and let it sit for a full day to dechlorinate before giving it to your air plants.

Optimal Humidity

Optimal Humidity

It’s no secret; moisture is a crucial factor in the growth of your air plants. The daunting task is knowing the optimal humidity your plants thrive in when it comes to moisture. Here’s all you need on how to take care of air plants.

Air plants love humidity. They love to be engulfed in it because it’s their happy place.

So, high humidity of around 65 percent is the optimal growing condition for these plants. In addition, high humidity prevents them from dehydrating and dying off, and you won’t need to worry about watering them in these conditions.

In addition to bathing your plants, you’ll want to regulate the humidity around their display. One way to increase indoor humidity is by using a humidifier. When you’re rearing sophisticated plants, you need a sophisticated plan.

If you can’t find a humidifier, try hanging wet clothes inside to increase air moisture levels.

Alternatively, hang your air plants in your bathroom or kitchen where the humidity levels are higher than the rest of the home. You might want to avoid rooms with fans and heating systems as they reduce air moisture significantly.

Should I Use Fertilizer?

Air plants are not your average kind of plants. To begin, they grow in the air. So that’s weird enough already.

But, as aforementioned, just like any other plant, air plants need optimal care. So, even though it’s not necessary, they appreciate a good dose of fertilizer on occasion.

However, they’re pretty fussy. They only feed on air plant-specific fertilizer or a bromeliad fertilizer.

Still, you get to choose when to apply the fertilizer. You can do it once a month or a couple of times a year.

So, how to apply the fertilizer?

You guessed it, through a bath.

By mixing the fertilizer with soaking or misting water, the plants get to absorb the nutrients through their foliage.

Conclusion

Air plants are ideal for many urban gardeners. You won’t face continuous headaches of looking for suitable soil for your plants.

Caring for air plants is simple. First, you just need to ensure that three things are always available: air, water, and light. Then, consider adjusting the lighting or humidity depending on the immediate environment for optimal growing conditions.

Besides, ensure that you closely monitor the condition of your air plants to identify what they require. A promising sign to check is the increased display of trichomes–these signify reduced air and water intake.

That’s the end of the lesson on how to care for air plants. Take a step in a new gardening direction with these intriguing plants.

Resources:

Tyler C Rich

Tyler C Rich is the founder and chief editor at TopsyGardening.com. An experienced gardener and a professionally trained agriculture development expert, Rich has worked in the gardening and landscaping industry for more than a few decades. Although he has retired, his spark for developing the best urban and indoor gardens has not faded a bit. He uses TopsyGardening.com as a platform to come across enthusiastic gardeners and share the unique insights he has acquired through years of experience. Rich is interested in aquaponics and technology apart from conventional gardening techniques.