caring for air plants

Caring for Air Plants

They cannot live on air alone! Caring for air plants is simple!

The misconception that tillandsias survive on air alone is probably the biggest reason for these plants dying or people not having success with them. Caring for air plants is fairly easy if the correct growing conditions and care is provided. As with all plants, how much light, water and air they receive are most important, along with what the temperature range is.


Most air plants require very high light conditions to grow well, which is why most air plants will not do well indoors. Placing them in your bathroom is therefore not the best idea, and the plants will not survive for long. Bright light is needed for optimal growth, but the amount of light needed and what the plants can handle is also dependent on humidity and air movement. If the plants are grown in a garden along the coast with constant high humidity and good air movement, air plants may be grown in full sun. In the interior, where humidity is lower for most of the year and temperatures can be fairly high in summer, it is advisable to grow these plants in bright light or morning sun but not full day sun. If grown under low-light conditions the plants will often lose their grey colour and grow to be lanky and soft. In most cases they will eventually die.


Water is important for any living thing and, as explained in the first article of this series, caring for air plants does require watering. The amount of water will depend greatly on the type of tillandsia, but in general the greener the leaf, the more water is required to keep the plant happy. Those plants with more silvery/grey leaves will be able to survive on less water. When watering the plants give them a good spray with the hosepipe or dunk them in water for a short while. The frequency of watering will depend on temperatures and humidity. In colder times once a week should be sufficient. Plants grown in areas with high humidity will probably only need to be watered once a week in summer. Those grown in warmer, drier climates will need more frequent watering, as often as every second or third day. The colour of the leaves will go slightly greener when properly watered.


Air and air movement is important for these plants as this is something they have in ample quantities where they come from. The lack of air movement is often one of the factors that contributes to the death of these plants when grown indoors. Try and place your plants in a well-ventilated spot for best results. The varieties with bulbous bases and lots of grey scales also prefer to dry out a little and not stay moist all the time. Proper air movement will assist in this and prevent water accumulating in the crown, which can cause rot in some varieties.

Climate Temperature ranges in which the plants are able to grow depend on the species. There are some species that can handle colder conditions in winter, while some will fare better in the hot dry summers. Almost none of the tillandsias will be able to handle frost so be sure to protect them from the cold. In warmer climates, protect these plants from the worst of the heat by ensuring they are grown in a spot that is sheltered from midday sun and has proper air movement. Where should you grow your air plants? Having said that they will not survive for long periods indoors, they can be placed in the home for display for a few weeks and then returned to the outside growing area without too much damage to the plants.

In cold climates these plants might also be brought indoors during the coldest part of winter to protect from the worst of the cold. Grow your air plants on trees and shrubs or dead branches in the garden, on the patio or, if you have one, a shade house or greenhouse. They are very adaptable and will fare well in a range of conditions. When you grow them in the garden, these plants can be tied to a branch or a wooden trellis with stockings cut into thin strips. The elastic stockings will firmly hold the plant in place until the roots have grown onto the mount/ host, and will eventually just disintegrate, unlike wire, fishing line or twine, which can also damage the plants.

Some growers even attach their plants to the host with a quick-drying glue. Be creative and make a feature of your air plants by creating a tree made up of a dry tree stump covered in Spanish moss, wooden hanging baskets filled with air plants all over your garden, or even using wind chimes and dreamcatchers as mounts. Use your imagination…. You could create a curtain of Spanish moss or by suspending lots of other air plants from a rope, or grow them on a trellis for an interesting alternative to a creeper-clad trellis.

There are lots of ways in which to display your air plants to look their best and make your garden and home look great. www.plantae.co.za

The Gardener