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My Air Plant has Yellow Leaves! Why? What Can I Do?

Yellowing leaves on your Air Plant are a warning that something isn’t right. Healthy Air Plants have leaves that are anywhere from very light green in color to a deep and dark green. Like a traffic light, yellow leaves shout “CAUTION!” and their warning should be heeded immediately.

In this article, we’re going to learn all we can about those yellowing leaves, including:

  • What Causes Leaves to Turn Yellow on an Air Plant?
  • How to Revive an Air Plant that has Yellowing Leaves
  • How to Prevent Yellowing Leaves on an Air Plant
  • Proper Hydration and Nutrition for Air Plants
  • Proper Lighting for Air Plants

The culmination of this knowledge will leave our Air Plants thriving and flourishing, leaving us with more time to enjoy them. So let’s put on our sleuth hat and see what we can discover!

What Causes Leaves on Air plants to Turn Yellow?

Success with Air Plants is a lot like doing a math problem. Don’t worry, the solution is easy! If the leaves on your Air Plant are yellowing, the problem (and solution!) will fall into one of four categories. The yellowing plant is missing a component of care essential to its health.

There are 4 Factors that Make Air Plants Healthy:

  • Proper Lighting
  • Adequate Hydration
  • Enough Nutrition
  • Keeping them Toxin Free

And so, 1+2+3+4= 10 (on a scale of 1-10) for Full, Lush, and Thriving Air Plants! If any of those 4 factors aren’t in alignment, your Air Plant’s leaves may begin to turn yellow!

We are going to look closer at each factor for healthy Air Plants further along in this article, but I know if your Air Plant is yellowing TODAY, you’ll want to jump right to the solution and save that plant! So we will start there.

First Aid for Air Plants with Yellowing Leaves

HELPFUL HINT: If your Air Plant ever requires rehabilitation, it’s a good idea to snap a picture daily to help mark the plant’s progress. By day 3 of rehab, the picture should show whether there is an improvement in the plant’s condition, or deterioration is occurring.

#1-The first thing you will want to do with your yellowing Air Plant is to get it to a different location, ruling out lighting as the problem. Yellowing could be an indication of too much light that is scorching the plant, or too little light, inhibiting proper photosynthesis (the process of the Air Plant utilizing its nourishment). Move the Air Plant toward the other end of the lighting spectrum from its current location.

Find a spot with bright but indirect light to keep the Air Plant in during its rehabilitation.

#2- Remove the Air Plant from its container or display. Set the plant on a table or hang it, ensuring that no pressure is put on the Air Plant’s leaves or stock.

#3- Inspect the Air Plant to make sure no water is standing in its center. Standing water in the plant and over-watering can both cause yellowing of the leaves. If you are watering the plant more frequently than once a week, or if you are submerging the plant weekly for more than one hour, do not water the Air Plant during rehabilitation for at least three days.

#4- Check your Air Plant Fertilizer if you use one. Keep reading even if you don’t use fertilizer, this is for you, too.

~If you fertilized your Air Plant

  • Did you follow the directions EXACTLY the last time fertilizer was applied?
  • Could you have used too much? If you used too much, submerge your Air Plant in water for one hour. Allow the plant to drip dry completely, then observe for one week.
  • Could you have used too little fertilizer? Fertilize your Air Plant according to manufacturer’s directions and observe the plant for one week.

~If you DON’T use fertilizer on your Air Plants

It may be time to start! Air Plants are nourished by collecting bits of decaying leaves and insect matter from the air with their trichomes. Indoor plants especially struggle with inadequate nutrition, since the air has less tasty morsels to offer. This inadequate nutrition could manifest as yellowing leaves.

  • Pick up some fertilizer specially formulated for Tillandsia or Bromeliads. Apply according to directions, and observe the Air Plant for one week. To save you time and shopping headaches, here’s a convenient link to fertilizer on Amazon for you: 

#5 Toxin Check- Search the container, display and environment your yellowing Air Plant was in. Although Air Plants are non-toxic to humans and animals alike, many things are toxic for your Air Plant!

Toxins that  Turn Leaves Yellow Your Air Plant

  • Copper
  • Rust
  • Chemicals
  • Zinc
  • Boron
  • Chlorine
  • Soaps
  • Certain Dyes, Perfumes, and Colognes
  • Air Fresheners
  • Grease and Heat (if Air Plant is Near Stove)
  • Vehicle Exhaust
  • Insecticides
  • Weed Killer
  • Fertilizer for Soil-Potted Plants

Rehabilitating Air Plants With Yellowing Leaves

Okay, we’ve addressed every possible event that could be occurring to make your Air Plant’s leaves turn yellow. We have the plant in a safe place, well lit by indirect light. We’ve addressed standing water and any over-watering that could have occurred. We’ve made sure the Air Plant’s nutrition is balanced, and that no toxins are assaulting it by touch or by an air attack. Now What?

We wait! Rehabilitation in plants works just like rehabilitation in humans. We make sure all the immediate dangers have been handled, and then we observe and nurture. This takes time. At the beginning of this session, I mentioned utilizing a camera to help you mark your progress. The rehabilitation process is a time when you’ll rely on those photos!

When a plant is under-watered, the results of the treatment, watering it, are almost immediate! Yellowing leaves, however, are rarely a symptom of under-watering. Yellow leaves have a much longer rehabilitation time than a thirsty Air Plant!

You may begin to see improvement on day three of rehabilitation when it comes to yellowing leaves, but it more commonly takes up to a week to see the first positive signs that healing is occurring.

When is it Too Late to Save an Air Plant?

If the yellowing leaves on your Air Plant fall off when you touch them, chances are it is already too late to begin first aid or rehabilitation. I am a little more stubborn than that and will give any dying plant two weeks of my time, but I’m being honest here. If yellowing leaves are falling off, even “critical intensive care” will only yield about a 2% success rate for revival.

With anything less than leaves falling off, I have about a 75% success rate reviving Air Plants with yellowing leaves. Not too shabby!

We’ve been through the steps for emergency first aid for yellowing Air Plants. We know that rehabilitation takes time. But…

How Long Before Giving Up on an Air Plant?

If two weeks have passed since you applied first aid to your Air Plant, observe it carefully. Use your rehabilitation photos, if you have them. How does the plant look on day fourteen in comparison to the first day? What about day seven? Can you note any improvement at all? If yes, continue in rehabilitation mode until full recovery is achieved. If no improvement can be noted, or if the plant’s condition has deteriorated, most likely it cannot be saved.

Are Certain Air Plants More Susceptible to Yellowing Leaves?

No variety of Air Plants have a specific issue with yellowing leaves. However, you will find that each variety has its own specific needs. Some need a little more light. Some, a little less. Some will need more water than others, and some will need water more frequently. The same is true for fertilizer, the Air Plant’s nutritional supplement. Some Air Plants thrive on more feedings, some on less.

Toxins are toxic to all Air-Plants without prejudice, but bigger and stronger plants will have a higher resistance to them. For a time. All toxins we covered here today will eventually be fatal to your Air Plants.

Preventing Yellowing of Your Air Plant’s Leaves

Without question, the easiest solution to yellowing leaves on an Air Plant is preventing them! As you discovered in this article, 4 Factors are vital to the long life and well-being of your Air Plant. This includes preventing yellowing leaves! Here are the ideals for each factor:

  • Ideal Lighting: Air Plants require up to twelve hours daily of bright and indirect light
  • Ideal Hydration: Air Plants should be submerged in water for 1-4 hours weekly. If you prefer to water with a spray bottle, you should aim for a monthly submerging, because the water mist drys before the Air Plant can fully collect the moisture.
  • Ideal Nourishment (Fertilization) Outdoor Air Plants may never need fertilizer, but you can feed them a dose once per season as a supplement if you desire. Indoor plants should be fertilized according to package instructions. REMEMBER: Use ONLY Tillandsia or Bromeliad fertilizer!
  • Toxin Check: Keep any Air Plant container or display free of materials that are toxic to them. Additional, be sure nothing toxic is floating in the air your plants will be “breathing”.

When you “do the math”, your Air Plants will be looking their best in no time at all!