Air Plants grow wild in climates with high heat and high humidity. Namely, in tropical or subtropical environments. Knowing this, it may surprise you to learn that outdoor Air Plants can flourish for you even if you don’t live in a rain forest!
Today I’ll answer the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) Air Plant Central receives regarding growing outdoor Air Plants. I’ve done my research and combined it with my own “hands-on” experience so you can be armed with complete and accurate information.
We’ll go over everything you need to know about caring for outdoor Air Plants including:
- The Safe Temperature Range for Outdoor Air Plants
- How Much Light Outdoor Air Plants Need to Thrive
- Watering Outdoor Air Plants
- To Fertilize or Not to Fertilize Your Out Door Air Plants
- All About Bugs and Outdoor Air Plants
- Care for Blooming Air Plants
- All About Air Plant Pups
- Rescuing Wild Air Plants
- “Grooming” Air Plants
- A “Gallery” of Ideas for Displaying Outdoor Air Plants
As a bonus, I’ll include a troubleshooting section in case you’ve got concerns about the overall health of your Air Plant.
We’ve got a lot to cover today, so let’s begin.
It’s Good to Know! If you’re at level one when it comes to growing Air Plants, the most important advice I can offer is this: Get to “know” your plant through observation.
Air Plants “speak” to us using their leaves. We’ll come to recognize thirst, lighting issues or other potential problems with a glance if we’re paying close attention!
FAQ: Do Air Plants Grow Outside in the Cold?
Cold is a relative term. 55 degrees (f) is darn cold to a Floridian but quite pleasant for an Alaskan. Let’s take a look at the temperature range that allows outdoor Air Plants to thrive. I’ll leave it up to you to determine whether that’s cold or not.
Outdoor Air plants will live in the temperature range of 55-95 degrees (f). In Celsius, this is 12-35 degrees. This safe temperature range is only one element in keeping your plants alive and thriving. All elements of care must be addressed to have your outdoor Air Plants be at optimum health, which allows them to fully mature, blossom, and reproduce.
The elements for health Air Plants in totality are:
- Proper Temperatures
- Sufficient Lighting
- Adequate Nourishment and Hydration
- Protection from toxins
Extreme Cold and Outdoor Air Plants
When the thermometer dips below 55 degrees (f) (12 degrees Celsius) this is considered extreme for your outdoor Air plant(s). Because Florida does see cold (but not usually frigid) conditions, my “cold season” routine includes moving my outdoor plants closer to my house, where they will receive more shelter.
The winds in wintertime can amplify the colder temps with what’s called a “wind chill factor”. Moving my outdoor Air Plants closer to my house also helps to block them from this colder wind.
If the weatherman is calling for overnight temperatures in the 40s, I cover my Air Plants with a thin sheet, just like I do my soil-dependant plants. When the sun has sufficiently warmed the morning, I uncover them.
IMPORTANT INFO: A freeze will kill outdoor Air Plants, covered or not. If there is any indication freezing temperatures are rolling in, get those outdoor Air Plants inside! You likely will not be able to revive the plant if it has been frozen.
Extreme Heat and Outdoor Air Plants
Outdoor Air Plants will also need extra care when temperatures climb above the safe range. Extreme heat will leave Outdoor Air Plants parched and perhaps even scorched!
Help your plant escape this fate by making sure it has plenty of shade. In fact, during these extreme temperatures, you may want to provide complete shade during the hottest hours of the day.
Additionally, like you and I, an outdoor Air Plant’s thirst will increase in hot temperatures. If you don’t water them regularly, you’ll want to in the year’s hottest months. Early mornings and dusk are the best times for watering. If you do it during the heat of the day, you are actually increasing the risk of them being scorched by the sun.
FAQ: Where Can I Buy Outdoor Air Plants?
“In-Person” Depending on where you live, you may be able to find Air Plants at local nurseries or in the garden department of your favorite store. Pick plants that have supple leaves. Leaves that are brittle or falling off indicate an Air Plant in crisis. Avoid plants with yellowing on their leaves, or with leaves that feel “squishy”.
Brown spots on the leaves is also not a good sign. If the tips of the Air Plant are browning, they aren’t likely dying but will need some tender loving care to be brought back to a flourishing state. The last thing to check before deciding to purchase the Air Plant is whether there is evidence of an encounter with garden pests. Look near the base of the plant and under the leaves for bugs or damage from nibbling bugs.
“Online” I have had experiences with buying Air Plants online that have left me extremely satisfied, and experiences that have not. At the very end of this article, I will share the links to the purchases that thrilled me for your convenience in the “Air Plant Central Product Picks” section.
When buying Air Plants online, shop around for great deals! Online Air Plants vary in price, just like any other product. Pay careful attention to the delivery details. Although Air Plants ship fairly well, you’ll want them to arrive as soon as they possibly can to avoid excess stress to the plant. Also, take note of the return and/or refund policy, should the plants arrive in a “worst-case scenario” condition.
Try to have the delivery scheduled on a day you’ll be home to receive it to eliminate the plants being in a box longer than they have to.
GREEN THUMB TIP: Have a camera on hand when unpacking a shipment of Air Plants. If any damage has occurred, record the evidence for a return and/or refund. The second benefit of photographs is for measuring your Air Plant’s progress (or growth) in the future. It thrills me to see the humble beginnings of my now blossoming beauties!
When You Get Your Outdoor Air Plant(s) Home
Whether your new outdoor Air Plant is being delivered or you’re walking it through the front door from a garden department, here are the steps to take when the plant gets home:
- Carefully remove all packaging (if applicable)
- Observe the plant closely for damage and for getting to know how it looks. As we discussed, almost any need your Outdoor Air Plant(s) will have will be visually evident later on. Get to know the look of your plant as soon as possible.
- Water your new Air Plant(s) by submersion for about 30 minutes. (or by misting thoroughly if the plant is mounted to a display). Both of these methods are explained in this article just a little further down.
- Position the Air Plant in the spot you’ve chosen to display it. Continue reading to learn some creative and imaginative ways to display outdoor Air Plants.
That’s it! Now sit back and enjoy watching them grow!
FAQ: Which Air Plants Grow Best Outside?
Since every one of the more than 400 varieties of Air Plants originated outdoors, ALL are capable of surviving outdoors, providing the temperatures stay in the safe range and the plants are monitored often and have their needs met. Some hybrid varieties may be more delicate, but will still be able to grow outdoors.
FUN AIR PLANT FACT: All varieties of Air Plants are epiphytes. This means they are a plant that will grow on another plant, but Air Plants are NOT parasites. Rather, they attach to other plants by their roots and use the host plant for structure and support alone.
Popular Varieties for Outdoor Air Plants
Your personal taste will be the determining factor in which Air Plants you’ll ultimately include in your outdoor collection. If you’re a beginner, you may want to purchase a variety of Air Plant varieties to see which ones thrive best where you live and which ones capture your eye with their beauty.
I was quite satisfied with my first variety pack and highly recommend it. You’ll find a time-saving link in the “Air Plant Central Product Picks” section at the end of this article.
5 popular Varieties of Outdoor Air Plants
- Xerographica: This beauty is most definitely considered large! With wide and hearty leaves that curl like ribbons as it grows, a Xerographica will certainly be a conversation starter in your outdoor living areas!
- Caput Medusae: Although this variety won’t grow much in diameter, it may achieve a height of up to 10 inches (and sometimes more!). The unique leaves look exotic, and the eventual blossom from a Caput Medusae is something to behold!
- Ionantha Rubra: Considered a smaller variety among Air Plants, the Ionantha Rubra sits well in displays and containers, and hangs well, too. The leaves will “blush” as the flowering time nears, and the flowers are dainty and vibrant!
- Tillandsia Houston: This hybrid was designed to withstand drought conditions, perfect for a person with a schedule that doesn’t allow for much time in the flower garden. It has long thin grayish-green leaves that will grow to be 6-10 inches in length (15-25 cm). It will have a large and vibrant blossom.
- Tillandsia Juncea: This variety looks akin to a clump of pine needles is readily found in the wild here in Central-Eastern Florida, where I live. The leaves will grow quite long and are hearty, despite their delicate appearance. Most enthusiasts who grow Tillandsia Juncea will allow a cluster to form from the plant. We’ll go over the details of clusters further along in this article, but for now, just know this small sprig of a plant can end of being one of the bigger items in your collection!
GREEN THUMB TIP: Air Plants have an extremely slow growth rate. For this reason, I recommend that if you want to “go big” with Air Plants, “buy big” rather than waiting (and waiting) for the larger varieties to grow. For reference, an Air Plant that will grow to more than 10 inches (25 cm) tall or ten inches in diameter is considered a large Air Plant. Many popular varieties will be between 2-6 inches tall.
FAQ: How Much Light do Outdoor Air Plants Need?
Optimal lighting for Outdoor Air Plants is 6-12 hours daily of bright but indirect sunlight.
Picking a Spot for Your Outdoor Air Plant
Consider good lighting when selecting a location to display your Air Plant. In nature, Air Plant attach themselves where they will receive a lot of sunlight (near the tops of the forest plants) but are still sheltered by shade. This should be your goal for them, too. This makes trees a great location to hang or nestle your Air Plants, as well as a roof over-hang or covered patio/porch/lanai. Like real estate, for outdoor Air Plants, it’s all about location, location, location!
FUN AIR PLANT FACT: An Air Plant’s trichomes make the Air Plant the best air cleaner of ANY plant comparable in size!
FAQ: Do Outdoor Air Plants Need to be Watered?
Your outdoor Air Plants will likely receive all the moisture they’ll need from Mother Nature herself! However, a little common sense and a little recognition of your plant’s nonverbal communications will go a long way here. If your climate is arid and hot, or if there have been no recent rains, your outdoor Air Plants will benefit from the water you provide them.
Here in Florida, unless we have daily rain for a week, I give my outdoor Air Plants a good 30 minute soaking about every ten days with wonderful results!
Methods for Watering Outdoor Air Plants
You can water your outdoor Air Plants by submerging them underwater for about 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can mist them with a spray bottle until the entire surface is saturated every few days.
Hands down, rainwater is best for any Air Plants, with Bottled Spring Water being second best. For more detailed and complete information about watering Air Plants, I’ve got just the article for you right here.
GREEN-THUMB TIP: Whether rain waters your outdoor Air Plants or you do, check to ensure no water is pooling in the center of the plant. “Standing” water promotes plant to rot. Because prevention is always easier than a cure, after watering your Air Plant, tilt the plant to allow any excess water to drain off or lay the plant on a towel until dry.
If you live in an area with frequent rains, keep that fact in mind when choosing how you will display the plant. Please refer to the photo and take note of how I have my outdoor Air Plant arranged in a way to allow for rainwater drainage.
See how I have the seashell slanting downward? During rainy months here in Florida, this has proven helpful!
FAQ: Do Outdoor Air Plants Need to be Fertilized?
Generally, the answer to this question is a resounding “No”! In a natural outdoor environment, an Air Plant will receive all the food it needs from the environment. There are two instances where I’d recommend fertilizing your outdoor Air plants. These are:
- When the outdoor Air Plant is enclosed by patio, porch or lanai screening.
- When you want to “supplement” the Air Plant’s diet for the heartiest and most prolific blossoming possible.
How Air Plants Eat and Drink
Understanding how an Air Plant utilizes food and water can help us understand the need for our occasional interference with their “natural” life-cycle. Do you see the hair-like covering on your Air Plant(s)? This is not a mistake or some kind of fungus! These specialized cells are called trichomes.
The function of these trichomes is to collect ambient moisture from the air, as well as the “food” particles they will need to fully mature in a healthy fashion. Incidentally, decaying plants and insect matter is what’s on the menu!
When it’s dark outside, the collected food and water is utilized internally, photosynthesis occurs and the pores of the Air Plant (called stoma) open, releasing oxygen into the air.
Two ingredients found in most “regular” plant fertilizers, zinc and boron, are FATAL to Air Plants. For this reason, you’ll need to use a fertilizer formulated especially for tillandsia or bromeliads. This may not be an easy find in your local garden shop, so I’m including a link today for a high-quality and economical option on Amazon. You’ll find the link at the end of the article in the “Air Plant Central Picks” section!
FAQ: Do Outdoor Air Plants Get Bugs?
You’ll be happy to learn (I know I was!) that Air Plants, even outdoor Air Plants are HIGHLY resistant to bugs! In the wild, you may see ants using them for shelter, but generally, you won’t find bugs munching on the leaves. Should you ever encounter an insect infestation on or near your Air Plants, you’ll definitely want to read the article I prepared for you at the other end of this link.
FUN AIR PLANT FACT: Outdoor Air Plants have 3 natural pollinators. These are Moths, Hummingbirds, and Bats… yes, bats!
FAQ: Will Outdoor Air Plants Bloom & When?
A healthy Air plant that has had all its needs met on a consistent basis will reach its reproductive cycle near the second year of its life. This will most likely produce blossoms that can appear from mid-winter to mid-summer.
The whole process, from the first signs that blooms are on the way until the last flower turns to seed, can take from a month up to a whole year. The length of the blossoming phase will depend upon the variety of the Air Plant and on how healthy it is.
Caring for Blossoming Air Plants
If you provide supplemental waters for your outdoor Air Plants, take care to keep the blossom dry when doing so. You may even want to consider moving the plant out of rain’s way for the blossoming phase.
The reason we want to be careful with those beautiful blooms is that they’re so much more than beautiful! When allowed to run their natural course, the flower that looks like it has died holds the potential to grow a whole new Air Plant from the tiny seed it will form.
To recap, be cautious when watering a blossoming Air Plant to keep the flower dry. Better it should fulfill its full cycle and turn to seed than be prematurely knocked off the blossom tract.
IT’S GOOD TO KNOW! A baby Air Plant is called a pup.
FAQ: Where do Baby Air Plants Come From?
We just took a look at the fact that an Air Plant blossom that has turned to seed can produce a pup. Although this is, hands down, the slowest growth process you can watch in the plant kingdom, a pup from a seed that is protected and has its needs met can produce a robust and viable pup!
The second place you’ll find Air Plant Pups is on the parent plant, itself. This will likely occur near the base of the parent plant or from an “off-shoot” during the blooming process.
Be aware that a browning (dying) leaf could be hiding a tiny pup. Take caution when snipping the brown leaf off.
What to Do with Those Air Plant Pups
A pup formed from seed will need a safe environment to grow larger in. I wouldn’t recommend you leave it outside where birds or other animals might mistake it for a tasty morsel. Rather, protect the pup until it is well over an inch long before leaving it on its own outdoors. A window sill is a great place to allow the pup to grow to a “safer” size. I nestled mine in a bowl of moss (also an Air Plant!)
There are two things you can do with an Air Plant pup growing from the parent plant. The first is to remove the pup when it reaches about a third of its parent’s size. You can do this with a quick pinch or with sharp scissors. The pup is now viable and can live independent of the parent.
Please continue reading to discover the second option for growing an Air Plant pup!
AIR PLANT MYTH BUSTER: It is a myth that the parent Air Plant will die immediately after blossoming. Although the reproductive cycle marks the “peak” of the plant’s existence, the parent plant can stay alive for years after it reproduces. So do not give up on the parent plant and do not neglect to provide its needs.
FAQ: What is an Air Plant Cluster (or Clump)?
The second option for growing an Air Plant pup is to leave it attached to the parent plant. This is the beginning of what is called an Air Plant Cluster (or Clump). This method is what can make a tiny Air Plant turn into something much, much bigger, depending on how many times you let this event occur. A sizable cluster or clump is considered a valuable addition to an Air Plant enthusiast’s collection!
Caring for an Air Plant Cluster
You’ll want to care for an Air Plant Cluster EXACTLY the same way you tended to the parent plant. The only difference you may notice is that you may have to “groom” the cluster more often than you will with single Air Plants. This is not daunting at all, takes only a few minutes per season, and you’ll find the exact instructions right here in this article. Let’s continue.
FAQ: Can I Take an Air Plant that is Growing Wild?
I will explain my ethics when it comes to rescuing wild Air Plants, but the ultimate decision should be based on your ethics and not my own.
Rescuing Wild Air Plants:
I use the word “rescuing” in all seriousness. Respect for the environment dictates that we should let Air Plants that are healthy and prosperous continue growing right where they are. However, many wild Air Plants can be found clinging to felled trees, almost dead, and in need of rescue. Likewise for the Air Plants “marked for death” by the clearing of land to mark mankind’s “progress”. I WILL rescue them if I see them!
Should you be fortunate enough to be able to rescue a wild Air Plant, I recommend these 2 Tips:
- Wear gloves and long sleeves while “harvesting” the plant.
- Soak the Wild Air Plant by submersion for a full hour when you get it home.
Both of these tips are to protect you or your rescued Air Plant(s) from the common bugs you’ll likely encounter in nature near or on the plants.
Outdoor Air Plant “Grooming”
It’s common for the root area of Air Plants to get a little “wiry”. It’s also common for plant debris to get caught up in the leaves of “bushier” Air Plants (and certainly in the leaves of rescued wild Air Plants!).
For these reasons, I have one “gardening tool” for my Air Plants. A long pair of sharp scissors! I snip dead leaves and brown tips right off! Then, I use the closed scissors to “comb” the plant from the base upward. This method takes a little practice but will pull away entangled debris from the center of the plant, giving it an overall cleaner look.
A Gallery of Ideas for Displaying Outdoor Air Plants
Your imagination (and proper lighting) are your only limits to how you can display your outdoor Air Plants! Please enjoy these photographs, I hope you’ll be inspired by them.
See any you like?
BONUS SECTION: Quick Reference
Troubleshooting Air Plant Problems (with Solutions)
Problem: Brown Tips
Solution: More water, less light.
Problem: Yellowing Leaves
Solution: Less Water, more light.
Problem: Stalled Growth
Solution: Increase light, fertilize
If these quick fixes didn’t fix the issue, you’ll find an extensive guide with complete instructions by referring to this article.
I truly hope you have learned everything you wanted to know about outdoor Air plants in today’s article. Armed with this knowledge, you can be confident in growing unique, lovely and blossoming Air Plants in all your outdoor living areas! I hope you’ll stop by again soon! Here at Air Plant Central, we’ve learned THE MORE WE KNOW THE BETTER AIR PLANTS GROW!
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.