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Air Plant Watering Guide: How to Water-How Much-When

It’s certainly true that Air Plants don’t require soil to thrive, but it is absolutely false that they survive on air alone. Whether you want to grow indoor or outdoor Air Plants, whether you want big ones or small, and whether your Air Plants are young or old, ALL Air Plants will require water to survive, and you’ll have to provide (at least some of) that water.

If you want to know everything that pertains to hydrating your Air Plants for optimum health, growth rate and vibrant blossoms, you’ve landed in the right place!

Today I’ll separate fact from fiction for you when it comes to the proper ways to water your Air Plants. In this article you’ll discover:

  • How Air Plants “Drink” Water
  • Why the Kind of Water You Use Matters
  • What Equipment You’ll Need for Watering Air Plants
  • Ways to Know Your Air Plant is “Thirsty”
  • Different Ways to Water Your Air Plants
  • How to Water Air Plants Mounted to Displays
  • The Procedure for Watering Air Plants in a Terrarium
  • What You Need to Know About Watering Blossoming Air Plants
  • The Differences in Watering Indoor and Outdoor Air Plants 
  • Whether You can Over/Under Water an Air Plant

That, my friends, is a lot of watering knowledge! I’ll tell you what. I’m going to throw in some cool and helpful facts about Air Plants along the way to keep things interesting! “So let’s get our feet wet” and get you on your way to having the most beautiful Air Plant collection you can have… even if it’s just one Air Plant!

DID YOU KNOW? There are more than 400 varieties of Air Plants plus a plethora of hybrid varieties! Some varieties are almost indistinguishable from others.

How do Air Plants “Drink” Water?

That’s exactly what I asked when I saw an Air Plant for the first time! I know plants that grow in the soil absorb water through their roots, but Air Plants don’t go in soil. In fact, if we tried planting an Air Plant in soil, it would die with a quickness! So how the heck do they drink water?

I put on my thinking cap, dug into the science of it all and found me some answers! I know you’re a busy person who wants to get on with growing some healthy Air Plants, so I’ll share what I learned to save you some time digging for answers! It’s what I do here. Sharing my knowledge and experience with you is the heart of Air Plant Central.

The entire surface of an Air Plant is covered with hairy-looking cells called trichomes. Their function is to collect moisture from the atmosphere of their environment. Incidentally, this is also how Air Plants gather their nutrition, but that’s for another article altogether. Today we’re looking solely at water as it pertains to Air Plants. 

Working closely with these trichomes, an Air Plant also has pores called stoma. During the day these stomata (plural) remain closed for water and energy conservation while the trichomes are busy collecting what the plants need to survive and prosper. When it’s dark, the stoma open and photosynthesis occurs, strengthening the plant and releasing oxygen into the air.

This is why, if your Air Plants are under artificial lighting, they will need a period of darkness every night. 

COOL AIR PLANT FACT: Studies have proven that the trichomes on Air Plants clean the air in their environment more efficiently than any other plant of comparable size!

Water Air Plants With the Right Kind of Water!

I’ve had different people tell me they use “this kind of water” or “that kind of water” and their Air Plants don’t die. I get that, I do. It is true water won’t likely kill an Air Plant! BUT. There’s usually a “but” isn’t there?!? A season or so later, the same people call on me, wondering why their Air Plants haven’t blossomed. 

See where I’m going with this? Just because something doesn’t directly kill an Air Plant doesn’t mean it’s good for the plant. An Air Plant must be healthy in its maturity to achieve its reproduction cycle. The right water is a key element in making those blooms happen!  

Let’s take a look at the RIGHT kinds of water, and the wrong kinds, as well.

What Water is BEST for Air Plants?

Anytime we want to learn how to duplicate something that happens naturally in the “wild” we take a look at that natural environment to learn. No one knows exactly how long Air Plants have been around, but I think we can safely assume they were present in the very first rain forest, don’t you? How do you suppose they flourished there (and still flourish there) without any interference from mankind at all? Yep, you’ve got it! They flourish(ed) in nature with…

Rainwater: I simply can’t stress enough how good rainwater is for Air Plants! As a side note, rainwater is hands down, the best water for any vegetation. Collect some for watering your Air Plants if you are able.

  • How to Collect Rainwater: Collecting rainwater involves 3 simple steps. (1) Set a container outside. (2) Wait for rain. (3) Skim any debris or particles that may have inadvertently been collected with the rain, and transfer the rainwater into a container with a lid. That’s it!

It’s important that I add one fact when it comes to collecting and storing rainwater. Do NOT use containers made of copper or made from metal that can rust. Both copper and rust are toxic to Air Plants. The second-best water to use if rainwater is low or not an option for you is… 

Spring Water: Bottled spring water has received little interference from man. No helpful elements have been removed, and no harmful elements have been added. Even if rainwater is your primary water for your plants, you’d do well to keep a couple of gallons of spring water in your pantry for back-up. Just remember when you replenish your supply to use the oldest gallon before the newest. “First in, first to go out”. 

What Kind of Water is BAD for Air Plants?

Tap Water: Water flows through your tap from one of two sources. (1) From a city’s reservoir and (2) from a well on your property. 

I assure you the city has added chemicals to the water supply, and most well water is run through a water-softening system before it reaches the tap. This water softener uses salt (and other chemicals) in the filtration process that will NOT benefit your Air Plants at all. 

Additionally, the water lines themselves can have build up on the inside and can harbor bacterias that are harmful to humans and plants alike. It’s really kinda gross when you think about it!

If what’s lurking in water pipes doesn’t daunt you, then I would recommend tap water from a well ONLY if it isn’t run through a softening system on its way to the tap.

Distilled or Purified Water: Water in its natural form contains mineral and elements that promote plant growth. Your garden, lawn, and all trees attest to that fact. 

Water that has been distilled or purified will lack these essentials because they are removed throughout the bottling process. If you are in a pinch, go ahead and use them to prevent your Air Plant(s) from becoming dehydrated if you MUST, but get you some rainwater or spring water at your first opportunity!

To recap: “Wrong” water will not likely kill your Air Plant, but it has the potential to interfere with proper growth and will definitely have an adverse effect on the blossoming and reproductive cycles of the plant.

FUN AIR PLANT FACT: Rainwater is highly oxygenated, which helps prevent Air Plants from becoming water-logged. Additionally, rainwater contains nitrates and ammonium, helping Air Plants achieve vibrant colors in varying shades of green.

What Equipment You’ll Need to Water Air Plants

Fear not, fellow Air Plant enthusiasts! You’ll need  Zero expensive equipment to water your Air Plants, and likely already have exactly what you’ll need to get the job done right! Are you ready for the list? Here it is! 

  1. spray bottle
  2. container big enough to submerge your Air Plants

That’s it! Just ensure neither will expose the Air Plant(s) to copper or rust, two toxins that WILL kill the plant(s) over time.

INTERESTING AIR PLANT FACT: Outdoor Air Plants are most commonly pollinated by moth, hummingbirds, and bats. 

How Often do Air Plants Need to be Watered?

I promise I am not being flippant when I answer this question with “When they need it!”. That’s the most honest answer I can give! The frequency with which your Air plant(s) will need to be watered will vary, depending on climate, where they are located (indoors or out) and even vary according to plant variety! 

I’ll give you the general rule of (green) thumb now, and further along in this article, I explain the specific watering methods. Generally, Air Plants that are watered by submersion will benefit from a 30-minute soak about every 10 days. Plants that receive water through misting will require water about every third day and will benefit best from a monthly submersion, if possible.

During summer months, when temperatures are higher, you may need to water your Air Plants more frequently. During cooler temperatures, their need for water may decrease. Fortunately for us, although they cannot speak, Air Plants are “vocal” regarding their needs. 

From the moment you receive your Air Plant, make it a point to become familiar with how it looks. In no time, you’ll notice when a subtle change occurs in its appearance. Each change is making a statement. Each statement will be announcing one of two things. “I am thriving and growing” or “Help! I have a problem!”

The sooner you “get to know” your Air Plant’s unique nuances in appearance, the sooner you’ll be able to catch (and FIX!) a problem. Please continue reading to learn how you can see that your Air Plant is thirsty.

DID YOU KNOW? No variety of Air plants is toxic to humans or pets.

How You’ll Know Your Air Plant is “Thirsty”

An overly-thirsty Air Plant will display one (or more) of the following symptoms:

  • Once supple leaves will begin to feel brittle and stiff.
  • The leaves will begin to curl inward, toward the stem.
  • The tips of the leaves will begin to turn brown.
  • The Air Plant(s) will exhibit an overall “limpness” or lackluster appearance.

If you’re following the general rule of (green) thumb we’ve gone over already, try increasing the length of submersion watering, or the frequency with which you are misting to water if your Air Plant is still exhibiting signs of thirst after watering.  

You’ll see an overall improvement in any of the above-mentioned conditions within 24 hours if the Air Plant was, indeed, “telling” you that it was still thirsty! 

If you don’t see improvement, or you “misread” the plant, don’t despair! I’ve got you covered, right here at Air Plant Central! If you have genuine concerns that your Air Plant may be dying before your eyes, you’ll find extensive and complete information about what you can do by following this link.

COOL AIR PLANT FACT: Although Air Plants are native to tropical and sub-tropical climates, they can thrive in temperatures as cool as 55 degrees (f) (about 12 degrees Celsius).

Different Ways to Water Your Air Plant(s)

I mentioned the two most popular methods for watering your Air Plants already, now here’s how to implement each:

Submersion: Fill your preferred container 2/3 full of room-temperature rainwater or spring water. Gently press the plant under the water. Yes, you may fit as many Air Plants in the container as will fit. If any part of the plant is still above the waterline, simply reposition it (them) half-way through the soak time so all plant parts have been submerged. 

30 minutes is usually sufficient time for soaking, but up to an hour is sometimes beneficial in hotter temperatures and more arid conditions. An Air plant that is suffering from extreme thirst (like a rescue or neglected plant) can be left submerged for up to four hours.

Misting: Fill your spray bottle with room-temperature rainwater or spring water. Select the “mist” option on the nozzle. Holding the bottle 6-12 inches away from the Air Plant(s) spray all areas of the plant’s leaves until they are saturated. That’s it! Watering your Air Plant(s) about every 3 days with a mist should be sufficient. Occasionally though, plants that are primarily misted for watering will benefit from a full submersion. Often, the mist dissipates before the Air Plant has assimilated the moisture.

As important as the watering itself is allowing the process of the Air Plant(s) to drip dry after submersion or being sprayed with a mist. We don’t want those trichomes to be left saturated, and allowing water to pool in the center of the plant will certainly facilitate plant rot to occur. 

You can either just tilt the plant and give it a gentle shake to remove excess water, or you can lay the Air Plant(s) on their side on a towel to allow for air drying. Your preference.

As I mentioned, I prefer a combination of the two watering methods. Misting is quick and convenient, but that mist can dry before the Air Plant has had a chance to assimilate the moisture. Monthly submersions assure me that my Air Plants are assimilating all the water they could possibly need in the “bigger picture” of their total lifespan.

FUN AIR PLANT FACT: Air Plants are a great project to undertake with children! They aren’t messy, Air Plants are forgiving and self-sufficient if a watering day is forgotten. Additionally, it is simple and fun to create imaginative displays!

Are Indoor & Outdoor Air Plants Watered the Same?

Outdoor Air Plants that are exposed to regular rains will rarely require your aide in their watering process at all. Of course, there are more arid seasons, when your help will be needed, as well as hotter seasons when extra water will prove extremely beneficial for Air Plants.

Even if your outdoor Air Plant is displayed where rain won’t reach it, like on a covered lanai, porch or patio, chances are it is still acquiring more ambient moisture than your indoor Air Plants. For this reason, it will need to be watered with less frequency than those indoor plants, but will still need that occasional watering. 

The method for watering outdoor Air Plants is identical to the method you use for your indoor plants. Only the frequency with which you water will need to be adjusted. Don’t forget to allow any excess water to drain off the plant after watering (or even after heavy rains)!

INTERESTING  AIR PLANT FACT: An Air Plant is considered large if it measures more than 10 inches (25cm) in diameter at maturity or is more than 10 inches long. 

Is There a Wrong Way to Water Air Plants?

As long as your Air Plant is being watered on a regular basis and is allowed to drip-dry after watering to prevent water from pooling in its center, there really isn’t a “wrong way” to water them.

However, there’s always a “however” isn’t there? There ARE things can be wrong about the watering process! These things are:

  • Using the wrong water
  • Watering too often.
  • Not watering often enough.
  • Neglecting to ensure no water is left “standing” anywhere on the Air Plant.

DID YOU KNOW? Tap water coming from a city water-treatment plant can contain liquified chlorine, fluorosilicic acid, aluminum sulfate, calcium hydroxide, and sodium silicofluoride. Thirsty yet?

Watering an Air Plant Mounted to a Display

It is always best to remove an Air Plant from display if possible for watering. This allows you the opportunity to closely inspect the plant’s condition on a regular basis. As with any living thing, the sooner any potential issues are recognized and addressed, the better! 

With mounted displays though, removal isn’t always an option. In this case, I recommend you mist the mounted Air Plant every few days, and once every ten days or so, haul the whole display over to your sink for a thorough and lengthy saturation. I have found a simple dish drainer, like the one pictured, to be a useful tool in doing this. Simply set the dish drainer in your sink and carefully set your mounted Air Plant display in it. Next, saturate all surfaces of the plant by misting. Repeat the misting every ten minutes or so for about an hour. After that, make sure the Air Plant is arranged in a way to allow for drainage and let it drip dry. 

COOL AIR PLANT FACT: Hemp cord is a wonderful and all-natural way to hang Air Plants or tie them onto a display. Since it’s not available in many gardening shops, I’ve done the research and found a high-quality and economical option for you to purchase from Amazon. At the end of this article, you’ll find the convenient link for Hemp Twine in the “Air Plant Central Product Picks” section.

Watering Air Plants in a Terrarium

Traditional terrariums are an attractive way to display many living things and are popular for their ability to create a high-moisture environment, beneficial to most things that commonly live in them. Here comes our “however” though. However, too much moisture will over-saturate the trichomes on Air Plants, interfering with their natural process of assimilating moisture and nutrition. 

It’s okay to stick the nozzle of your spray bottle in the terrarium for a quick misting between waterings (providing the terrarium is adequately ventilated), but I would highly recommend you remove the Air Plants about every two weeks or so for a thorough submersion watering. 

Carefully inspect the plant before submerging to catch any potential issues it may be encountering. Additionally, while the plant is submerged, check the terrarium itself for any evidence of collected or pooled water. Plant Rot is one of the more difficult issues to resolve with Air Plants. Prevention is your number one line of defense against it occurring. 

After you have submerged your terrarium Air Plant(s) please allow adequate time for them to dry (while tilted) before returning them to their beautiful home. Also be aware as you do return them, that all sides of the plant need adequate sunlight to achieve optimum health. You can ensure this adequate lighting by rotating the Air Plant after every watering, or rotating the whole terrarium if the former isn’t possible.

Again I want to reiterate the importance of making sure there is nothing toxic to the Air Plants inside the terrarium. Please utilize this handy reference chart to learn more about Air Plant toxins and remember, the toxins enter the plant through direct contact or via the air your Air plant “breathes”.

FUN AIR PLANT FACT: Air Plants are closely related to pineapples! There are both in the Bromeliad family.

What to Know About Watering Air Plants in Bloom

Like when it’s thirsty, your Air Plant will clearly communicate when it is entering its reproductive cycle through subtle (and not so subtle!) changes in appearance. You’ll notice first the leaves toward the center will begin to change color. This is called blushing” and it’s quite enjoyable to witness! 

Usually, within a week or so, you’ll notice that what, at first,  resembled a new leaf forming will begin to take the shape of a flower bud. This is when you’ll start to be careful during watering sessions.

Although it’s true that these buds and subsequent blossoms DO get rained on in nature, you should know that submerging the flowers or misting them could cut the length of the blooming cycle short. We want those vibrant and exotic blooms to last as long as possible, don’t we? 

In facilitating a longer bloom cycle, we are also encouraging our healthy Air Plants to be prolific in producing healthy pups! And who wouldn’t want more Air plants, right?!? Especially free ones!

No matter what watering method you prefer to use, protect your Air Plant’s flowers from it during the entire bloom phase! When the last blossom has turned to seed as nature dictates, resume watering your plant in the usual way(s).

To learn everything you’d like to know about your Air Plant’s reproductive cycle, its blooming and the pups it will produce, when you’re through enjoying this article, you’ll also want to read this one!

INTERESTING AIR PLANT FACT: An Air Plant will only blossom once in its lifespan. The bloom tract will produce flowers for about a week in most varieties, but there are some bloom tracts that will produce flowers for up to a year!

Can You Over/Under Water Air Plants?

Like any living thing, it is possible for your Air Plant to die of thirst. It is also possible for it to be overcome with water and “drown”. As we’ve gone over, the frequency with which your Air Plant will need water can change, depending on certain conditions. 

With Air Plants, a little “trial and error” will be common in watering, and much careful observation after watering will be exceedingly revealing as to the efficiency of your watering technique and frequency. 

Up in the “How to Know When Your Air Plant is Thirsty”  section, I added a helpful link for when Air Plants are ailing, even after proper waterings. To save you the bother of hunting the link down, here it is again. Most watering issues can be quickly and easily resolved when caught in time and when the Air Plant receives a little “tender loving care.” If your plant isn’t thriving, please refer to the Air Plant Central’s article at the other end of that link.

DID YOU KNOW? We have only touched on a few of the cool and interesting things about Air Plants today! If these unique beauties intrigue you as much as they do me, you won’t want to miss the article I wrote highlighting the many, many interesting things I’ve learned on my Air Plant journey! You’ll find it right on the other end of this link.

I hope today’s article answered every single question you had about watering your Air Plant(s)! When combined with sufficient lighting, adequate nutrition, and protection from toxins, your Air Plants will mature with every advantage they can possibly have. This will promote vibrant and hearty blossoms, as well as facilitate the parent plant to produce the healthiest pups possible, propelling your Air Plant into the future.

Now it’s time for you and me to get growing… Let’s do this!