How to Grow and Care for Air Plants (No Soil Required)


Updated: 27 Oct, 2023

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If you’re eager to embark on the journey of nurturing house plants or introducing a distinctive addition to your collection, consider trying out an air plant. These beginner-friendly indoor plants thrive without the need for soil, offering a satisfying and straightforward experience. Renowned for their low-maintenance nature, they also bring a playful touch to your home decor.

While the term “air plant” is often linked to species within the Tillandsia genus, it’s worth noting that there exist numerous air plants across various plant families. Discover the essentials for keeping these tropical plants thriving indoors.

Read also: How To Grow And Care For Calla Lily Plant

GENUS NAMETillandsia
COMMON NAMEAir Plant
PLANT TYPEHouseplant, Perennial
LIGHTPart Sun, Sun
HEIGHT2 to 84 inches
WIDTH1 to 48 inches
FLOWER COLORBlue, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, White, Yellow
FOLIAGE COLORBlue/Green, Purple/Burgundy
SPECIAL FEATURESGood for Containers, Low Maintenance
PROBLEM SOLVERSDrought Tolerant

What Is an Air Plant?

An “air plant” is a term used to describe plants that don’t rely on soil for their survival. Instead, they grow on the surfaces of other plants like trees, without being parasitic. These plants draw their nutrients from the surrounding air, water, and debris, rather than the soil. The term “air plant” is interchangeable with the Greek term “epiphyte,” which translates to “on top of plant” (epi = on top of; phyte = plant).

Air Plant Care

There are some fundamental guidelines for caring for air plants that apply to any variety. While air plants are not particularly difficult to keep thriving, they do require a bit more attention compared to other houseplants. They are sensitive to light, have specific watering requirements, and prefer stable indoor temperatures. With proper care, air plants can typically thrive for several years.

Light:
Air plants are naturally accustomed to receiving bright to medium indirect light, as they are commonly found growing on trees and large plants beneath the forest canopy. It’s important to avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, as this can potentially harm their delicate leaves.

Water:
Caring for air plants in terms of watering requires a unique approach, as they grow without soil. Most air plants thrive with a soaking method, where they are placed in a bowl of distilled water for 20 to 40 minutes every 1 to 2 weeks. However, some varieties may prefer regular misting or a quick dunk instead of a longer soak. Understanding the specific type of air plant you have will guide you in determining the best watering method and frequency.

Temperature and Humidity:
Maintaining adequate moisture and humidity levels is crucial for the well-being of air plants indoors. They thrive in warm, humid conditions to prevent them from drying out. Typical household temperatures are suitable, but it’s important to shield them from cold drafts or extreme winter temperatures.

To optimize humidity, avoid placing air plants near heating or cooling vents, or in rooms with excessively dry conditions. Your plant will flourish if you introduce a humidifier nearby or cultivate them in naturally humid areas of your home, such as the bathroom, laundry room, or kitchen.

Do Air Plants Need Soil?

Air plants, also known as epiphytes, possess the distinctive trait of thriving without the need for soil. Nevertheless, certain air plants like staghorn ferns, bird nest ferns, select moss species, and particular philodendron species (among others) have the capacity to adapt and grow in soil. However, they necessitate extremely dry, well-draining soil mixes in order to thrive.

Displaying Your Air Plant

Given their independence from soil, there are countless creative and enjoyable ways to showcase your air plant within your living space. As long as you can easily access the plant for watering, feel free to let your imagination run wild. Consider these suggestions:

  • Mount them on an alternative surface like driftwood, a rock, or a wooden board.
  • Position them in unconventional spots where other plants wouldn’t typically thrive, such as on walls, mirrors, or headboards.
  • Use them as a centerpiece in a decorative terrarium (ideal for mesic air plants accustomed to humid environments, but avoid using xeric air plants in terrariums as they require drier conditions).
  • Hang air plant holders from the ceiling or a curtain rod.
  • Place one inside a dedicated air plant holder or planter and position it on any surface for decorative flair.

Types of Air Plants

Numerous plants, ranging from various plant families, can be categorized as air plants or epiphytes, numbering in the hundreds, if not thousands. Here are some of the most renowned and widely recognized varieties of air plants.

Bromeliads (Family: Bromeliaceae)
The Bromeliaceae family, commonly known as bromeliads, stands as the largest and most diverse group of air plants. While not all members of this family are epiphytic, a significant portion has evolved to thrive in epiphytic conditions. This family encompasses the renowned Tillandsia genus, as well as the Guzmania genus, among others. Epiphytic bromeliads primarily absorb water and nutrients through the trichomes on their leaves, reserving their roots mainly for support.

Orchids (Family: Orchidaceae)
The Orchidaceae family also boasts a substantial number of epiphytic plants, including the widely recognized and prevalent genus, Phalaenopsis orchids. Epiphytic species within the orchid family utilize their roots for both support and for extracting water and nutrients from their surroundings.

Select Ferns
While not all ferns are epiphytic, specific varieties can thrive either terrestrially (in soil) or epiphytically (without soil). This category includes the Staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) and the Bird’s Nest fern (Asplenium nidus), among others.

Epiphytic Cacti (Family: Cactaceae)
Contrary to the desert-dwelling cacti, epiphytic cacti belong to the Cactaceae family and are native to the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. This group encompasses popular species like the Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, Easter cactus, Rhipsalis, Fishbone cactus, and more.

How to Propagate Air Plants by Stem Cuttings

With a pair of sharp, sterilized scissors or pruning shears, take stem cuttings that measure approximately 4 to 5 inches in length.

Allow the cuttings to rest in a cool, dry spot for at least 24 hours, enabling the cut edge to develop a callus.

Next, fill a small glass or vase with distilled or filtered water and immerse the bottom of the cutting in the water.

Place the cuttings in an area that receives bright, indirect light, and remember to change the water once a week. After a few weeks, you should observe new roots emerging below the water level.

Propagating Air Plants

Given the broad scope of plants encompassed by the term “air plant,” there are several common methods used for their propagation. In most cases, epiphytic plants propagate most effectively through the division of pups from the “mother plant.” However, certain species, like tropical cacti, can also be propagated via stem cuttings. Prior to attempting either of these methods, it’s essential to conduct research on the most suitable approach for propagating the specific type of air plant you have.

How to Propagate Air Plants by Division

Healthy and mature air plants will eventually produce pups, or offshoots, which can be detached and grown as separate individuals.

Gently grasp the base of the plants and carefully wiggle the pup away from the mother plant to separate them. If they resist separation, you may use a sterilized, sharp knife or a pair of disinfected scissors.

After separation, start caring for your new offspring just as you would for the original mother plant.

Common Problems With Air Plants

The typical challenges faced in indoor air plant cultivation often stem from incorrect watering or humidity levels. Early identification of these issues is crucial to rescuing your plant before it reaches a critical state!

Browning Tips:
When you notice brown, crispy tips on your air plant’s leaves, it’s a sign that the plant lacks sufficient moisture. Begin by trying to enhance the humidity around the plant before adjusting your watering routine. You can achieve this by placing a small humidifier nearby or relocating the plant to a more humid room in your home. If the issue persists with new growth after this adjustment, consider slightly increasing the frequency of watering to prevent excessive drying out.

Mushy Stems:
Conversely, if you observe brown, mushy stems, it’s an indication of overwatering. Unfortunately, rescuing an overwatered air plant can be challenging, especially if not caught early. Remove the affected mushy stems and abstain from watering for at least one cycle to allow the plant to dry out. When you resume watering, scale back slightly from your previous watering schedule.

How do I water air plants?

Air plants can be watered by misting, soaking, or dunking. They should be watered 1-3 times a week, depending on factors like humidity and light exposure.

Where should I place my air plants?

Air plants thrive in bright, indirect light. They can be displayed on shelves, in terrariums, or attached to surfaces using wire or glue.

Can air plants survive outside?

Yes, air plants can thrive outdoors in mild climates. They can be attached to trees or rocks, as long as they receive adequate light and are protected from extreme weather conditions.

How do I propagate air plants?

Air plants can be propagated by separating pups (offshoots) from the parent plant. These pups can be replanted to grow into independent plants.

What temperature is best for air plants?

Air plants prefer temperatures between 50°F and 90°F (10°C – 32°C). They should be protected from freezing temperatures.

Do air plants bloom?

Yes, air plants do bloom! They produce colorful flowers, usually once in their lifetime. After blooming, the parent plant may produce pups before eventually declining.

Do air plants need fertilizers?

While air plants can survive without fertilizers, they can benefit from occasional fertilization. Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer at a diluted concentration once a month during the growing season.

Conclusion

Air plants, also known as Tillandsia, are fascinating and unique plants that thrive without the need for soil. Their ability to absorb nutrients and moisture from the air makes them a versatile addition to any indoor garden. Proper care, including attention to light, watering, and humidity, is essential for their well-being.

Browning tips can signal insufficient moisture, while mushy stems indicate overwatering. Recognizing and addressing these issues promptly is crucial for the plant’s health. Additionally, knowing how to propagate and display air plants allows for their continued growth and enjoyment.


Mary Lloyster

Mary Lloyster

Mary, the ultimate oracle of indoor gardening! With years of experience and a flourishing indoor expo, Mary has become our go-to expert for all things related to house plants and indoor gardening. Despite her background in Political Science, Mary has discovered a delightful way to blend her full-time job with a touch of relaxation through indoor gardening. Now, she eagerly shares her wisdom and experiences with our readers on a daily basis. If you have any inquiries about house plants, indoor gardening techniques, or caring tips, don't hesitate to leave a comment for Mary in the designated section below!

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