Growers of successful and flourishing Air Plants will tell you one of their most frequently asked questions from friends, customers, etc is:
“Why are my Air Plants Drying Out?”
followed closely by:
“Ugh! My Air Plants always die!”
If you’ve uttered either phrase, take heart! With a little patience and perseverance, you can master the art of growing beautiful Air Plants, inside and out (climate permitting)!
So why do Air Plants dry out to the point of dying?
4 Possible Causes for Air Plants Drying Out
Today we will look at each of these things, and tell you how to address each of them. In no time, your Air Plants will be flourishing!
How Dry is too Dry for Your Air Plants?
Air Plants grow naturally in tropical or subtropical conditions. This means the relative humidity is always high, the temperature is generally warm, and rainfall is frequent. The further removed an Air Plant is from these conditions, the more problems it will have thriving.
Think “tropical” in all aspects of caring for your Air Plant, and watch how quickly your Air Plant issues are resolved!
Your Air Plant is too dry if it displays any of these signs:
- Brittle Leaves
- Browning Leaf Tips
First Aid for a Dried Out Air Plant
There are two methods for watering Air Plants. Submersion or a Spray Bottle. We’ll go over each in more detail a little further along in this article, but if your Air Plant is too dry and on the verge of death, it needs to be submerged in water immediately!
Reviving an Overly-Dry Air Plant with Water
Fill a clean container with tepid rain or well-water.
Submerge the overly-dried Air Plant in the water from 1-4 hours, depending on the severity of dryness.
Remove the Air Plant and allow excess water to drip off before returning the plant to its container or display. Any water collected in the center of the plant promotes the plant to rot.
Repeat submersion method weekly until your Air Plant is clearly thriving again. If more than two weeks pass without any clear signs of revival in the plant, the help may have come too late.
Watering Your Air Plant: Which Method is Best?
As mentioned above, there are two methods for watering Air Plants. Let’s take a look at each one, and see the benefits and drawbacks of each method.
Using a Spray-Bottle to Water Your Air Plants
A spray-bottle is quick and convenient for watering Air Plants. It is especially handy for Air Plants that are mounted to wood, or that live in more elaborate displays. If you opt for the spray-bottle watering method, you’ll want to spritz the Air Plants about every third day.
The downfall to using the spray-bottle method is that the Air Plant cannot “drink in” all the water before the mist dries. For this reason, if you see any signs of distress in your Air Plant, you may want to consider using the submersion method once a month or so.
Watering Your Air Plants by Submersion
Watering Air Plants by submersion is an effective method. You simply fill a container with tepid rain or well-water and drop the plant in! If you submerge the Air Plant weekly, a 30-minute soak will usually be sufficient. If your Air Plant is showing signs of over-drying (brittle leaves, brown tips, etc) let it soak for 1-4 hours. Always allow the Air Plant to drip dry upside down several hours to prevent water from gathering in the center of the plant. This will prevent any rot issues.
The downside to the submersion method is that it takes more time and effort than the spray-bottle method. Any good gardener will tell you, though, that your time is a key ingredient for a successful garden. Even if you prefer the spray-method bottle method for watering, occasionally your Air Plant(s) will benefit from a submersion watering.
Can Improper Lighting Kill Your Air Plant?
Adequate lighting is essential to the health (and the life) of your Air Plant! Too much or too little light is a recipe for disaster! Air Plants need A LOT of indirect light. In their natural environment, you’ll find them near the top of a shaded area.
Too much sunlight will scorch an Air Plant and too much shade won’t allow it to grow to its fullest potential.
For outdoor Air Plants, Find a shady spot in a well-lit area for display. Under a porch roof or hanging from a tree branch works well. I have a couple of Air Plants tucked up in the “crotches” of my Crepe Myrtle Trees (see illustration).
Indoor Air Plants should be near a window that has sunlight for at least 6 hours a day on it. At my house, that would be any window that faces east. Keep a close eye on any Air Plant directly in a window, because the window works to magnify the sunlight, and it just might be too much of a good thing!
If you use artificial lighting for your Air Plant, you can keep it safely lit for up to 18 hours a day, although 12 hours should be your target. I found a great “grow lamp” right on Amazon! You can check it out right here.
Since Air Plants keep their pores closed during the day for water conservation and open at night for photosynthesis to occur, darkness is as important to them as daylight. Ensure that your Air Plants have no less than 6 hours of darkness daily to allow them their natural growth cycle.
Fertilizing Your Air Plant
Outdoor Air Plants will rarely require the use of fertilizer. Air Plants are comprised of special cells called trichomes that collect ambient humidity, decaying plant particles and small bits of insect matter which will all be utilized by the Air Plant as food and hydration. Since indoor Air Plants can’t find their food in the air, they will require regular fertilization to thrive.
What is the Best Fertilizer for Air Plants?
Not just any fertilizer will do for your Air Plants. In fact, many fertilizers contain Zinc, Boron or Copper, which are all toxic to Air Plants! Rather, find a fertilizer that has been specially formulated for Tillandsia or Bromeliads. You can grab yours from Amazon by following this link.
How Often do Air Plants Need To Be Fertilized?
As I mentioned above, outdoor Air Plants often won’t require fertilizer at all. If you do want to use it as a supplement, or to encourage blossoming, once fertilizing per season is all they’ll likely need.
On the other hand, indoor Air Plants won’t find bits of decaying plants or insects in the air. These plants will benefit from a monthly fertilizing at a minimum. Check the labels carefully.
So much of success with Air Plants boils down to trial and error, fertilizing included! Shop around, try more than one variety of fertilizer, and experiment with the frequency of use. You will find the product that best meets your Air Plant’s needs when considering sunlight exposure, climate, humidity and watering method.
Toxins That Kill Air Plants
We’ve covered the toxins in fertilizers that can kill Air Plants (Zinc, Boron, and Copper) but there are other things that are deadly to those delicate plants, too! Make sure there is nothing in or on your Air Plant display or container that can rust, as rust is also a toxin. Additionally, no copper containers or copper components should be used for Air Plant displays. The copper will kill the plant.
What Other Toxins will Kill Air Plants?
For outdoor Air Plants, insecticides and weed killers are fatal. Here in Florida, trucks run up and down the roads spraying for mosquito control. In other areas, gardeners may use insecticides or weed-killers around their lawn and garden. If any of these things apply to where you live, be sure that your Air plants are well-protected from these toxins, which can travel through the air.
Exhaust from vehicles is also toxic to Air Plants. Keep them away from the street, and away from where your own vehicle gets started and idles daily. The carbon monoxide will shrivel an Air Plant with a quickness!
Indoor Air Plants don’t have as many pollutants to concern yourself with as outdoor plants, but there are a few toxins in your home that might surprise you! Never have an Air Plant next to an automatic air-freshener! The fumes are toxic enough to kill a bird, which I found out in the hardest way possible! This includes the air-fresheners that can be placed in your heating and air conditioner vents for circulation when the unit blows.
Furniture polishes can be toxic to Air Plants, too. Use caution with all cleaning products, too! If you love the freshness Air Plants bring to a kitchen, make sure they’re not close to the stove, where invisible grease is released into the air. This grease will be collected by the Air Plant, but will not be utilized. Instead, the grease particles will gather on the leave of the plant, essentially smothering it.
Perfumes and cologne, hair spray, and cigarette smoke are not only toxic for you to breathe, but they are also toxic for your Air Plant! When adding an Ar Plant to your yard, garden or home, always consider what will touch the leaves, and what the Air Plant will gather in its trichomes from mid-air.
What Temperatures are Best for Air Plants?
The safe range for Air Plants temperature-wise is 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit (10-32 degrees Celcius). The higher the humidity, the happier the Air Plant! Misting plants will help with humidity in their immediate area, but won’t always provide the total hydration the Air Plant will require. Occasional submersion for 1-4 hours will.
Now that you know the reasons and solutions for over-dried and dying Air Plants, you’ll be able to quickly revive them and raise them to thrive and flourish! Often the solution is a simple one, and will “boil down” to adequate water, sunlight, feeding and toxin elimination.
Samantha Taylor is the Senior Editor of airplantcentral.com. Her love for plants goes back to her childhood when she spent hours in the garden with her dear grandfather. As an aspiring botanist, she started her own business specializing in air plants.