I was going about my business one Sunday morning, fully prepared to tend to my Air Plant collection when EEEWWWEEE! I’d discovered one of my Air Plants had gotten gross and squishy! “What the heck is going on?!?” I exclaimed. I picked up the plant, and six leaves dropped from my precious Air Plant to the ground. I knew immediately whatever it was, it was serious!
After some extensive research, I learned my beautiful and unique Air Plant was rotting before my very eyes! I’m here today to share exactly what I learned so that you don’t have to go through the same thing I did to “nurse” your Air Plant back to health. The combination of my research and my “hands-on” experience can save you time, frustration and even money!
Today I’ll go over:
- What Causes Air Plants to Rot
- The Signs of Rot on Air Plants
- Preventing Rot on Air Plants
- Curing Air Plant Rot
…and much, much more! First, let’s look at what Air Plant Rot actually is.
You may have heard of “Root Rot” in soil-dependant plants. This is a progressive event, beginning unseen beneath the soil at the plant’s roots. By the time this rot becomes visible in soil-dependant plants, it is often too late to cure, because the base of the plant has become rotten, and can no longer support the stems and leaves. A sad situation, to be sure!
Air Plant Rot differs from soil-dependant plants in that it can occur anywhere on the plant. Air Plants don’t assimilate water and nutrition through their roots. Rather, the entire surface of the Air Plant is covered in hair-like cells called trichomes which perform the function of gathering ambient moisture for hydration and particles from the air for nutrition.
Air Plants also have pores called stoma that remain closed during the day for water conservation and open at night to facilitate the process of photosynthesis.
When the conditions that promote plant rot in Air Plants are present, there are signs and symptoms you will notice immediately. This makes plant rot easier to resolve with Air Plants than with soil-dependant plants. And because no part of the Air Plant is hidden under soil, it is also easier to prevent this plant rot from occurring in the first place! Just like the old adage says “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
What Causes Air Plant Rot?
Fortunately, there aren’t many things that will cause an Air Plant to rot, making diagnosing relatively easy. I want to tell you right away that the least likely problem is:
- Disease or Parasites: If your Air Plant has a disease, you likely purchased it with one. Air Plants are especially resistant to both disease and a parasite infestation!
If you’d like to learn more about your Air Plant’s “pest resistance” I invite you to read “Can Air Plants get Bugs or Ants?” right here at Air Plant Central!
Now that we have the least likely out of the way, let’s take a look at the
Most Likely Causes for Air Plant Rot
- Improper Lighting
- Mis-Use of Fertilizer (or Using Wrong Fertilizer)
Signs of Rot on Your Air Plant
Air Plants can’t say a word, but as you become familiar with them, you will notice they are very “vocal”. Air plants “speak” through their leaves. This is why, if you’ve read through this site, you will see me repeatedly tell you to observe your Air Plant(s). All the problems it may encounter will be announced visually. Rot is no different.
If Air plant Rot has begun to occur, you will bein seeing the following signs:
- The Air Plant’s leaves will feel soft, even squishy.
- The color of the leaves on your Air Plant, generally a shade in the range of green, will begin yellowing.
- If the rot isn’t caught (and treated) in those two early stages, the Air Plant’s leaves will begin falling off. If this is currently happening, don’t give up on your Air Plant just yet! Instead, keep reading to learn how to treat Air Plant Rot.
Addressing Common Causes of Air Plant Rot Through Prevention
Because it’s easier to prevent Air Plant Rot than it is to cure it, let’s take a look at the things we can do to ensure rot isn’t something we’ll have to contend with, or contend with again, if it has already happened to your Air Plant, as with mine. We’ll go in order of the most likely reason for rot to occur, and see how we should be managing care in that area. Let’s tackle this ROT issue at its roots!
The Most Common Cause of Rot in Air Plants
Without question, indoor Air Plants will need a regular and frequent watering schedule, whereas outdoor Air Plants will rarely require any watering at all. Remember how I mentioned your Air Plants are “vocal” although they don’t speak? They will also “announce” their thirst!
A thirsty Air Plants leaves will begin to curl toward the center of the plant when they are experiencing excessive thirst. Additionally, you’ll notice that the leaves are visibly drier, stiffer, more brittle.
Although under-watering won’t cause Air Plant Rot, it will prevent your plant from reaching its optimum health, which can delay (or even prevent) the reproductive cycle, during which those lovely blossoms appear!
Balance in watering your Air plant is key! Learning (through careful observation) how often your Air Plant needs to be watered is simple. Not all Air Plants thrive on the exact same watering schedule. And not all Air plants respond best to one of the two most common watering methods: These are:
- Submersion: Soaking the entire Air plant in a container of water large enough and deep enough to submerge the whole plant. A general rule of green thumbs is to soak for about 30 minutes, once a week.
- Misting from a Spray Bottle: Misting the entire plant surface with water. The standard for green thumbs is to mist about every 3 days.
Neither of these methods is harmful. In fact, they are quite necessary! So how do we ensure adequate hydration without over-watering?
The easiest way to promote Air plant Rot is to allow any “pooled” water to remain in the center of the plant. I’ve written an extensive guide for watering Air Plants, which also covers blooming Air plants and Air plants that are mounted to a display. You’ll find a helpful and informative article at the other end of this link.
You’ll discover over time that an Air Plant’s thirst will fluctuate in certain circumstances, as does our own thirst. During brighter and hotter times of the year, you may have to increase the frequency with which you water. During cooler months with less lighting, your Air Plant may require less frequent watering. Observe your Air plant(s) carefully to learn their watering “rhythm”.
The water you use for your Air Plants DOES matter!
- Hands down, rainwater is the BEST water for Air Plants. Rainwater contains elements and minerals found in nature, and nature is always the healthiest alternative. If collecting rainwater is an option for you, I highly recommend it!
- Of the bottled water choices, spring water comes closest to rainwater. You’ll want to keep a gallon on hand, at room temperature, just for your Air Plants.
Distilled or Purified Water
- Bottled water that has been distilled or purified isn’t recommended for your Air plants. No toxins have been added, but essential minerals have been removed that are beneficial to the plant.
Please continue to the next section covering toxins to discover why some waters could be doing more harm than good for your Air Plants.
Toxins can Cause Your Air Plant to Rot!
Make sure nothing toxic touches your Air Plants or is in the atmosphere they are breathing.
Since I just mentioned that which water you use when your Air Plants get thirsty matters, let’s start this section with water, and the fact that some are harmful to Air Plants.
Waters that can be TOXIC for Air Plants and Cause Rot:
- Does this surprise you? It surprised me until I gave it some thought. It does make sense! Municipalities have added ingredients to the water that flows from your tap. Chlorine and Fluoride are just two of many! Now, this may not KILL your Air Plants (although it has the potential to do so) but “city” tap water can certainly hinder them from reaching their fullest potential!
- In and of itself, well water isn’t necessarily toxic to your Air Plant(s). However, most home-owners who have their own well filter the water through a softening-system before the water flows out of the tap. The salt in the softener, as well as any other chemicals, can DEFINITELY prove toxic to your Air Plants.
Other Toxins that can Produce Rot in Air Plants
Rust and Copper:
- Both rust and copper will have a detrimental effect on your Air Plant, and can even kill it! Carefully inspect any containers or displays to ensure these two elements are not present.
- Air plants are “breathing” in the atmosphere around them just like we are! Smoke in all its forms will harm (or KILL) your Air Plant through rot. If you smoke, keep it away from your Air Plants. This also applies to vehicle exhaust, smog, candles, and even the smoke that comes from burning incense! Keep all your Air plants in a smoke-free zone!
Zinc or Boron
- These two elements can be found in most plant fertilizers and can cause your Air Plants to rot with a quickness until they are dead. Do NOT use “regular” plant food or fertilizer on your Air plant(s)! Instead, continue reading to learn more about the connection between fertilizer and Air Plant Rot, and discover which fertilizer you should be using.
YOU MAY ALSO WANT TO READ:
For a more complete guide to toxins and your Air Plants, I’ve outlined all you need to know RIGHT HERE for you.
Fertilizer and Air Plant Rot
Improper usage of fertilizer is a possible culprit for Air plant Rot. As I mentioned, some contain zinc or boron, which are more than harmful to Air plants, they’re lethal! Your indoor Air Plants are going to need to be fertilized on a regular schedule because there isn’t enough nutrition in the air around them to sustain them.
Outdoor Air Plants will generally not need fertilizer unless you want to use seasonal fertilizer as a “supplement” to encourage strong plants with fast growth and hearty flowers. The choice is yours.
The biggest problem concerning plant rot and fertilizers usually lies in not following manufacturer’s instructions completely and exactly. First, acquire fertilizer that is specially formulated for Tillandsia and/or Bromeliads.
I found a quality brand at an economical cost right on Amazon! Since many plant nurseries don’t carry it, and some plant nurseries don’t even know what you mean when you ask for it, so I decided to provide you with a convenient link to Amazon. Tillandsia Fertilizer
Fertilize your Air Plants on a regular basis. Again I stress the importance of following directions to a “T”. Both under-fertilizing and over-fertilizing are harmful, and may even be lethal for your Air plant!
Inadequate Lighting & Rot in Air Plants
It’s true, Air plants require shade. Too much shade, though, can promote Air Plant Rot! A daily supply of bright and indirect lighting is necessary for your Air plant to correctly photosynthesize.
There is a way to ascertain whether or not your Air plant is receiving adequate lighting. On a day that you’ll be home all day, observe the plant at these different times:
- 9:00 in the morning
- 3:00 in the afternoon
- 6:00 in the evening
The times I just listed cover a 9-hour period. Air Plants need a minimum of 6-8 hours of bright light daily that is not shining directly on them. If this is not the amount of good bright light you observed, you may want to move your Air Plant(s) to a brighter room, or to a brighter area in the room they’re in. Perhaps closer to the window.
If neither of these solutions is an option for your indoor Air plants, you may want to consider artificial lighting that promotes plant growth. You’ll find both, bulbs and lamps that perform this function in most stores with a gardening department. To save time and gasoline, you can follow the convenient link to a Grow Lamp on Amazon.
If your Air plants live outdoors, the same general rule of green thumb applies to light. If the area you’ve selected to display your Air Plant is too shady, you are risking allowing ROT to creep in! This is because the morning dew doesn’t get dried by sunlight, like the lawn or other outdoor plants in the sun. You want your Air plants to have plenty of sunlight, you just don’t want it shining directly on them.
What’s the Cure for Air Plant Rot?
Unless every single leaf falls off your Air Plant when you move it, or it was subject to a deep winter freeze, there is a chance that with some tender loving care, you can revive the plant to its original splendor! You can expect the process to take from 7-10 days, depending on how early you catch the onset of rot. I never give up before that 10-day mark, and have an 80% success rate at reviving sick Air plants. Not too shabby!
If you suspect Air Plant Rot is taking form on your plant, follow these
7 Steps to Treat Air Plant Rot
- Get the ailing Air Plant to a well-lit area, free from direct sunlight.
- Take a picture of the plant. This will help measure the progress it may make.
- Carefully observe all of the plant’s surfaces to rule out any pest infestations. As I mentioned earlier, this is most likely NOT the culprit.
- Make sure the plant has zero stress on it, no pinched leaves, with adequate support.
- Withhold water for 7 days, and take another picture. Hopefully, you will see at least some improvement!
- Water by submerging for 15 minutes. Also, fertilize your Air Plant according to label instructions. However, if you determined that over-fertilizing is what was rotting your Air Plant, wait a full 21 days before fertilizing again.
- At the end of the ten days, you will be left with two choices. Either (A) Move the plant to a new location from where you rescued it, or (B) add it to your mulch pile if your treatment was not successful.
I hope this article has armed you with everything you wanted to know about preventing Air Plant Rot and treating it should it ever become necessary! It is always my goal to save you some of the headaches that can come with the process of growing Air Plants that are lush, thriving, unique and beautiful. I’m happy to share my research with you, as well as what I’ve learned through the process we call “trial and error”. After all, the more we know, the “greener” our thumbs get!
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.