Without a doubt, Air Plants are exotic, unique, lovely, and a bit mysterious! And unless you live in a climate where they grow wild prolifically, they are even a little rare! Have you seen an Air Plant (or a photo of one) that ignited a desire in you to have your own? Have you hesitated though, thinking the care might be too complicated because they’re so different than soil-dependant plants? Fear no more! You’ve landed on the right site!
Although Air Plants do vary greatly from traditional potted plants, caring for them is extremely simple! In this article, we will uncover the “mystery” of Air plants and discover how to grow a beautiful and unique collection of your own!
Today we’ll cover everything a beginner needs to know to become an expert Air Plant Enthusiast! We’ll go over:
- What Makes Air Plants Unique
- Where to Buy Air Plants
- What You’ll Need to Grow Air Plants
- What to do When You Get Your Air Plant Home
- How to Keep Air plants Alive (Sub Light) Sub Water (sub toxins)
- The Benefits of Air Plants
- Creative Ideas for Air Plants
So let’s skip that bag of potting soil, and get started on this Easy-Peasy Air Plant Guide! I’ll provide the answers to the most common questions about Air plants. Chances are, your own questions will be among them!
What Makes Air Plants Unique and Easy to Grow?
- The most obviously unique feature about Air Plants is that they require no soil to grow. Incidentally, they don’t even need a container to grow in! As long as the Air Plant has a means of support to anchor itself to, you can display it with imagination and flair!
- There are more than 400 varieties of Air Plants, plus hybrids out there to choose from! This makes it rare for us to see two identical Air Plants in a collection. If there are “twins or triplets” it’s because the healthy parent plant produced pups, which we will go over today.
- Air Plants have leaves that can change color, that’s pretty unique, too! This is called a “blush” and happens when the plant matures and is ready to reproduce. These color changes can range from a subtle deepening or lightening in color to turning into incredibly rich and vibrant colors.
- Air Plants will blossom only one in their life-span. This process can take from a couple of weeks up to a full year, depending on the variety of Air Plant in question. The general rule of (green) thumb is the larger the Air Plant, the longer it will stay in the blossom stage.
What Variety of Air Plants is Best for a Beginner?
Variety is certainly the keyword in that sentence! Since I wasn’t too sure which Air Plants I would love, I began with a variety pack. Guess what? I love them all! They are small and were inexpensive, so I didn’t risk much at all to try my hand at growing them!
If pressed to retreat to a deserted island with only one Air Plant from my collection though, I think I might grab my Caput Medusae. Have a gander at this uniqueness!
Why not begin with a variety “starter kit”, and see what best catches your eye and suits your taste? Of course, this is just my suggestion, and you can begin with any Air Plant that pleases you!
The variety pack I began with can be found at the end of this article in the “Recommended Products” section, along with a few more Air Plant Links to choose from.
The 5 Most Common Air Plant Varieties for Beginners
- Tillandsia Lonantha Scaposa
- Tillandsia Lonantha Guatemalan
- Tillandsia Lonantha Fuego
- Tillandsia Argentea Thin
- Tillandsia Funkiana
What Supplies Will I Need to Successfully
(and Easily) Grow Air Plants?
Forget about soil, pots for plants, trowels or any other thing you use with soil-dependant plants! With Air Plants, you’ll need your imagination and the following things:
- A Spray Bottle for Watering, a Bowl, or Both: We will go over the two most common methods for watering a little further along. You can buy a fancy spray bottle, but you can also pick one up in the bargain bin at the market for about a dollar. That’s what I did! The bowl doesn’t have to be special, either. I just grab one out of my cabinet to use.
- A Fertilizer Formulated for Air Plants (which we’ll cover here today}
- A Sharp Pair of Scissors: Because you’ll occasionally need to snip the plant’s roots to keep it tidy, an ailing leaf… or a brand new pup from the parent plant.
- A Material for Mounting or Hanging the Air Plant: Toward the end of this article, I will be providing some ideas on displaying your Air plants for you to think on. At the very end of the article, you’ll find convenient links for anything you might need to get started!
Is it Easy to Buy Air Plants?
Absolutely! If you happen to live where Air plants are abundant, you’ll likely find them in any garden department of a store, at Farmer’s Markets, Flea Markets, and even from road-side stands! When buying Air Plants from a market or nursery, observe the potential Air Plant for the following traits:
- Supple (and Attached) Leaves
- Unbroken and/or Unpinched Leaves and Stem
- No Brown Tips on Leaves
- No Yellowing on the Plant
- No Visible Bugs or Evidence that Bugs Have been Nibbling on Leaves
If Air Plants are not available in stores or nurseries where you live, buying them online is a breeze! They ship well and aren’t generally over-stressed by the shipping process. I have purchase Air Plants online and been EXTREMELY satisfied upon opening the shipping container, and have also had the exact opposite experience. For this reason, here are some things to note about shopping for Air Plants online:
- Pay Close Attention to the Return Policy
- Arrange for Delivery on a Day You will be Home to Receive your Air Plants
- Compare Prices (Different Sites Vary Greatly)
- Save Money by Buying the Air Plant Minus the Display (Unless you LOVE it) Creating your own display is less expensive, better suited to your own individuality AND way more fun! I am not what you’d call “crafty” at all, but have made some awesome displays for my Air plants!
Where Should I Begin Once my Air Plant is Home?
When your Air Plant comes through your front door, you’ll want to immediately remove it from its packaging. I repeatedly suggest you have a camera on hand for two reasons. The first is to record any possible damage done in shipping (if applicable) and the second is that you’ll want pictures of your amazing Air Plant journey!
The next thing your Air Plant will need is a drink of water, which you’ll learn how to give in this article. Lastly, you’ll position the Air Plant in an area that is brightly lit with indirect light. Pretty easy, huh?
PLEASE NOTE: Your Air Plant will also require fertilizer to grow, but I recommend you wait at least two weeks before applying any. This is because you don’t know when the plant was last “fed”, and over-fertilization can be toxic.
Is it Easy to Keep Air Plants Alive?
It sure is! It is a myth that Air Plants live on “air alone” though. Like all living things, Air Plants need light, water, food, and protection from toxins in order to thrive. This is easy-peasy to accomplish!
Easy-Peasy Air plant Care
- Sunlight: Place your Air Plant in a location where it will receive bright and indirect sunlight.
- Watering: While outdoor Air Plants will only require occasional watering, depending on climate, Indoor Air Plants depend on us for all their watering needs. Generally, the (green) rule of thumb is to water weekly if you use the submersion method, twice weekly if you use the misting method.
2 Easy Methods for Watering Air Plants (& a 3rd)
- By Submersion: Exactly as it sounds, this method is submerging your Air Plants underwater in a container big enough for the plant to be completely underwater. If you follow the recommended weekly watering schedule, a 15-30 minute soak will suffice. This method is considered best by most Air Plant growers and enthusiasts.
- By Misting with a Spray Bottle: Sometimes misting is your only option for Air Plants mounted to displays. Additionally, misting can be handy between submerging if your plant is looking thirsty or the temperatures have been high. Simply saturate all surfaces of the plant about twice a week.
There is a third watering method and it is the one I have had tremendous success with! This method is a combination of the first two methods. I mist my Air Plants about twice weekly and submerge them about once a month. The reason behind this method is that a misting can dry up before the Air Plant has had a chance to assimilate all the water. Soaking monthly ensure that they are receiving adequate hydration year-round.
TAKE NOTE: A vital part of the watering process is making sure the Air Dries after watering! Any water left pooled in the plant’s center will promote Air Plant Rot, one of the more difficult conditions to cure.
Tips for Watering Air Plans for Beginners
- Use Rainwater or Bottled Spring Water
- Water should be room temperature.
- Removed Air Plants from their container, display, terrarium, or mounting (if possible)
- Allow the plant to drip dry before returning it to its “home”
At the end of this article, you’ll find a section for “Additional Information” This is a place where I have gathered more extensive coverage of pertinent topics right here from Air Plant Central. You’ll find an article there that covers all the details of watering Air Plants, no matter the medium you use for display!
Easy Toxins Guide for Air Plants
Although no variety of Air Plants is toxic to humans or pets, there are a plethora of things that are toxin TO Air Plants. You will want to ensure that your Air Plant’s containers, displays or terrariums do not contain any copper or metal that can rust. Both of these are toxic to the plant!
We already covered the common toxins that “regular” plant fertilizers can include. To recap, these two toxins are Zinc and Boron.
Please refer to this handy (and savable) infographic for more toxins to be aware of.
There’s a link for you, as well, in the “Additional Information” section at the end of this article. I highly recommend you read it at your leisure to be fully aware of anything your Air Plant touches or “breathes” that could be harmful, or even deadly!
Beginner’s Guide for Air Plant Fertilization
As I mentioned in the “Supplies You’ll Need” section above, fertilizer is how your indoor Air Plants will need to be “fed’. Outdoor Air Plants will collect their nutrients from the air around them, but can also be supplemented for strength and beautiful blossoming from a monthly (or seasonal) fertilizing. I do recommend it, because who doesn’t want the most robust and beautiful Air plants possible, right?
You MUST use a fertilizer formulated for Tillandsia or Bromeliads. Most ”regular” plant fertilizers will contain Zinc or Boron, both DEADLY to your Air Plant!
I have a link at the bottom of this article in the “Recommended Products” section to the brand I recommend for your convenience. Whatever brand you end up using, follow the directions EXACTLY. Some brands call for monthly use, some for weekly, and some are gentle enough to apply every few days. Too little (or too much) fertilizer can harm your Air plant, and prevent it from achieving optimum health.
A Guide for How Fast (and Big) Air Plants Grow
Air Plant growth can be summed up in two words. Slow and slow. Pups from the plant stem or a seed are a fraction of an inch when they begin developing. The most common varieties of Air Plants will never get bigger than a “handful” and when bought young, this will take between one and two years to happen. Some varieties will never outgrow the palm of your hand.
Although I always recommend a small variety pack for beginners, I understand that you may eventually want to take on a larger plant in the future. An Air Plant that is considered “Large” means that it is either more than ten inches tall or measures ten inches in diameter. A Xerographica is a perfect example.
If you are looking to “go big” I highly suggest that you “buy big” rather than wait months (or years!) for the plant to grow into your expectations.
You’ll find complete information about an Air Plant’s growth rate and when you can expect to see those lovely blossoms at the end of this article in the “Additional Information” section.
How Do Air Plants Reproduce?
Somewhere near your healthy Air Plant’s second year of life, it will enter its reproduction cycle. I stress the word healthy because an Air plant that hasn’t received adequate lighting, proper hydration or nutrition, or that has been exposed to toxins may have its reproductive cycle delayed or even eliminated.
You’ll notice your Air Plant is reaching its reproductive cycle because the leaves may begin to change color, or what looks like a new leaf forming that will instead turn into a blossom within a couple of days.
Is it Easy to Care for Blossoming Air Plants?
Those beautiful blooms won’t be difficult for you to manage, at all. Nature has this process handled! Your first duty will be ensuring the Air Plant has proper support for staying upright, as some blooms can be quite large!
The next thing you’ll do is be cautious in routine watering. Do NOT submerge a blooming Air Plant. If submersion is your preferred watering method, do it with the blossom remaining above the water-line. If misting is your thing, mist the leaves while missing the blossom. We want those gorgeous blooms to last as long as possible before they turn to seed!
To be extra safe, I also wouldn’t recommend fertilizing a flowering Air Plant, although you may want to after the flower(s) fall off because a lot will be happening then.
A Guide for Those New Air Plant PUPS
During the onset of the blooming process, begin carefully examining your Air Plant(s) frequently for signs of a new pup. There may be one, or there may be several! On a healthy plant, you can expect from 1-3 pups to form.
You might find a pup hidden behind a leaf at the base of your Air plant. This leaf will likely look like it’s dying, so be extra careful when you snip it off to prevent harming a pup that might be hiding.
Pups will generally develop near the base of the parent plant, but they also can form from two other places:
- The parent Air Plant may produce “off-shoot” leaves where new pups will form.
- New pups will also form from the seeds a blossom will eventually form and drop.
I got to experience a truly unique event! The seed from a blossom fell and “grabbed on” to the plant! Check it out!
A pup is ready to be separated from the parent plant when it reaches about a third the size of the said parent. You can gently “pinch” the pup free, or snip it at its base with a sharp pair of scissors. The pup is now ready to begin its life independent of the parent.
Alternately, you can leave the pups attached to the parent. This will, in time, form what is known as am Air Plant Cluster (or clump). Collectors of Air plants consider a cluster a valuable addition to their collection because the cluster can grow quite large and it looks really cool!
It’s true that after blossoming, the beginning of the end of the parent plant’s life-cycle is at hand. This isn’t immediate, and can even take years to happen. So don’t neglect the parent after the pups have been removed! Continue caring for the parent just as you did before it bloomed.
What are the Benefits of Air Plants for Beginners?
I shied away from plants for many years, believing myself to not have “a green thumb”. Air Plants turned that around for me! Now, both my thumbs are “green” and my collection of Air Plants is becoming quite extensive! Some of the benefits of Air Plants include (but are certainly not limited to!) the following things:
- Ease of Care
- No Soil Needed
- Fun (and forgiving) Project to do With Children
- Air Plants Help Lower Stress Levels
- Air Plant Clean the Air in their Environment Better than any Othe Plant (Scientific Studies have Shown)
- Air Plants are Unique
- Easy to Display
What if my Air Plant Looks “Sick”?
Air Plants are HIGHLY resistant to bugs and fungal diseases! Although Outdoor plants run a slightly higher risk, it is still closer to nil. If by chance the rare event occurs with your outdoor Air Plants, some Diatimetrious Earth (food grade only) dissolved in water and applied to the plant(s) will likely remedy the situation.
Most Common Ailments for Air Plants & Solutions
- Browning Tips on Air Plant Leaves: Snip those brown tips off with sharp scissors. Make sure the tips aren’t touching anything in their container or display. If browning tips are paired with leaves that are “curling” inward (toward the stem) increase watering frequency. If not, try moving the Air Plant to a location with less direct light.
- Air Plant Appears Limp or Listless: When this occurs, the plant may need a good submersion soak (up to an hour) or a feeding with a fertilizer formulated for Tillandsia or Bromeliads.
- Leaves on Air Plant are Yellowing: This usually indicates too little sunlight, too much water, or too much fertilizer. To resolve, observe and adjust the plant’s lighting (for a sunnier spot). Withhold water for about ten days. And to be sure over-fertilization isn’t the culprit, re-read the package instructions, making sure you have been following them exactly.
You’ll find more extensive research about the issues Air Plants can face at the end of this article in the “Additional Information” section.
Creative Air Plant Ideas and Designs
You may have noticed I mentioned Air Plants for Children today. Teaching children to nurture living things is as important to the child as it is the living thing! Air Plants are a great place to start, and don’t require walks, like a puppy, LOL! Air Plants are resilient and forgiving, should your child miss a scheduled watering day. Your child can display them in fun and creative ways, even using toys for containers, or having no container at all! I’ve seen Air Plants clinging to a window curtain and flourishing there. And Air Plants clean the air in a child’s room, an added bonus for sure!
Easy Outdoor Air Plant Displays
You can display Air plants in your outdoor living areas (provided they are protected from direct sunlight) with as much simplicity or design that pleases you. Check out the simple “Air Plant chain” I have on my lanai!
And here is a design that expanded on the simplistic idea:
Cool, aren’t they? There’s more! Check these two ideas out!
Easy Indoor Air plant Display Ideas
Dressing up my kitchen window was as simple as using some clear string and a few shot glasses out of my cabinet:
You can also dress up your home office, or your office away from home! Air plants aren’t intrusive to an office, and add a splash of color and life to your workspace!
Air Plants are versatile for displaying! Set one (or more!) on a table Hang some from the ceiling or mount them on a display to hang on a wall!
Really, as long as you have adequate lighting, your imagination is your only limit! If indoor lighting is an issue for you, or you want to display some Air plants in a room without windows, artificial lighting is useful and inexpensive. Your find what I would use for a “grow light” just below in the “Recommended Products” section.
This Easy-Peasy Guide has provided all the essential information a Beginner needs to know to grow vibrant and health Air Plants! But we all know that knowing more is better! I’ve gathered the best and most pertinent articles right here from Air Plant Central for your convenience. Any subject we covered here today is expanded and more extensive in the following articles. Simply click on the link for the subject you’d enjoy learning more about! Now, Let’s get growing!
EVERYTHING About Watering Air Plants
How Long Does it Take for Air Plants to Grow and Bloom?
Does Your Air Plant Look Like it’s Dying?
What you MUST know about Air Plants and Toxins
Recommended Products from this Article
My method in recommending products is not willy-nilly, I assure you. I’ve done the research so you don’t have to, and added the products I have used, as well. My goal is to for you (and me!) to have the healthiest, heartiest, longest-living and most beautiful Air Plants possible! All links will take you to Amazon, where you can see ratings, prices, and delivery schedules, as well. Happy Air Plant growing to you!
The Assortment that began my Collection
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.