Tony O’Neill, gardener and author of the popular “Composting Masterclass” and “Your First Vegetable Garden,” combines lifelong passion and expert knowledge to simplify the art of gardening. His mission? Helping you cultivate a thriving garden. More on Tony O’Neill
Tillandsias can decorate our living spaces with several varieties and make stunning exhibits, especially when they bloom. They have gained immense popularity among home gardeners in recent years.
Fertilizing Air plants are complimentary as it helps the plant reach optimum growth. Tillandsias need fertilizers throughout their growing season, maximizing the plant’s growth and producing vibrant blooms and multiple healthy offsets.
Some growers find it challenging to fertilize an Air plant because they are sensitive to several ingredients and don’t have the typical growth pattern to fertilize them via the soil. This article will break down all the information needed to fertilize Tillandsia safely.
Why Should You Fertilize Tillandsia?
Air plants do not depend heavily on the supply of nutrients from soil because they don’t grow in soil. However, houseplants need chemical or organic fertilizers to provide essential nutrients.
If you are curious why Air plants can survive with very little fertilization, you should focus on how they grow naturally. In nature, these weird-looking plants will gather everything they need, whether water or atmospheric nutrients, including trees, plant debris, and rainwater.
Fertilizing at the right time with the right type will keep your Tillandsia attractive and thriving throughout the growth cycle. This is a significant step in caring for the Tillandsia plants.
Air plants or Tillandsia are adaptive houseplants since they belong to different habitats. Xeric and Mesic Tillandsias grow in different conditions, but both have the necessary plant structure to store moisture and nutrients.
The Xeric varieties have more trichomes that help them absorb and store nutrients. However, the Mesic types capture moisture mainly using axils because they have fewer trichomes.
The trichomes are simply the fuzziness you see on the Air plant leaves. These tiny cup-like structures will open and close to store nutrients. Mesic Air plants might not look fuzzy because they have fewer trichomes.
Eventually, the nutrients are transported to Mesic and Xeric plants via the vascular system. Like other plants, Tillandsia will use photosynthesis to convert minerals and nutrients into valuable energy.
All the nutrients from fertilizers are used to maintain and create new plant cells.
Initially, the energy grows new leaves and maintains the plant’s vigor. The energy is used for reproduction and blooms as the plant matures and progresses towards blooming. The right fertilizer will help your Tillandsia grow more flowers and pups.
Fertilizers for Tillandsia Plants
Air plants belong to the Bromeliaceae family to use a fertilizer designed specifically for Air plants or a bromeliad fertilizer. Tillandsias are low maintenance in fertilizer because they do not need any particular nutrients, and the three main macronutrients are enough for these plants. Any fertilizer you see in the market or online has three numbers, the NPK. These numbers represent the mix’s nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium percentage.
- Nitrogen – helps in growing the green parts of the Air plants
- Phosphorus – helps the plant in growing all those colorful flowers
- Potassium – this contributes to several cellular functions within the plant
Non-urea-based fertilizers should be used for Air plants to ensure they get all the nitrogen needed for growth; it should be supplied on Tillandsias in the form of ammonium and nitrates. Similarly, avoid using fish emulsion fertilizers because these require the bacteria in the soil to break down the nutrients.
Granular or powdered form fertilizers can feed Air plants after diluting them in water. Remember that the fertilizer cannot replace the regular watering and other requirements for Tillandsia care. You can fertilize the Air plant once a month in the growing season, but make sure you water it regularly, at least once a week.
The three main criteria for Air plant fertilizer are the NPK ratio, the source of nutrients, and the solubility of the product in water.
The most crucial step in fertilizer care for Tillandsia is diluting the fertilizer. Air plants are sensitive to overdose, and certain nutrients are dangerous. You can grow a burned plant if you feed them with undiluted fertilizer.
Dilute the fertilizer to ¼ of the ratio recommended by the manufacturer to prevent damage. When choosing your fertilizer, closely examine the ingredients printed on the back of the package.
Fertilizers with zinc, boron, and copper can damage the Air plant, so avoid using these. The toxicity of these nutrients is difficult to detect and treat; therefore, precaution is better than cure. Almost every typical houseplant fertilizer includes these trace elements, so make sure you choose the right Tillandsia fertilizer.
Always choose a fertilizer with a gentle formula because there are lower chances of plant damage.
You can also prepare a homemade Tillandsia fertilizer, fresh moss, a blood meal, and a plastic bag to use for store-bought moss or grow your moss. Cut and chop the moss to a fine granular texture. Combine the blood meal (20%) and the chopped moss (80%) in a plastic bag.
Add the mixture to the water used for Tillandsia, just like a regular fertilizer.
How to Fertilize a Tillandsia Plant?
Air plants do not have the typical root system; therefore, applying fertilizer is essential to ensure the plant absorbs all the nutrients. You cannot directly use a granular fertilizer or spikes for the same reason. Based on how these plants grow and absorb moisture and nutrients, there are two standard methods to fertilize the Tillandsia plant:
- Through misting or spraying
- By soaking the plant in the fertilizer solution during the usual watering routine
You will need a misting bottle and lukewarm water for the first method. Fill the bottle with the fertilizer solution and spray your plant when needed. Only the required should be misted, and make sure you mist until water starts dripping from the leaves.
If you water your Air plants using the dunking method, you can mix the liquid plant food directly in the soaking container. Don’t forget to dilute the fertilizer according to the recommended rate. If you have more than one Tillandsia, you can soak and fertilize them simultaneously. Use the water within 24 hours to fertilize the plants one by one.
Preparing a new fertilizer solution is the best option, so avoid storing the mix for several days because as the water evaporates, the salinity increases. And a high salinity fertilizer solution can burn or kill the Tillandsia plant.
Fertilize the plant carefully without soaking the blooms in fertilizer because this is one factor that impacts your Tillandsia’s lifespan. Let the plant dry and remove all the excess water before moving your Tillandsia back to the container.
When to Fertilize Tillandsia?
One of the top questions among new growers because these plants are famous for low nutrient needs. So, how exactly can feeding help them? Your Air plants need food during the growing season but avoid adding anything to these fertilizer-sensitive plants in the winter season. Most growers agree that fertilizing once a month is enough.
If your plant has a slight blush on the leaf tips, it’s beginning to enter the blooming phase—the best time to fertilize the Tillandsia because your plant will grow some flowers and reproduce offsets. Fertilizer will strengthen the mother plant and is necessary for the health of the new pups.
You can always test the fertilizer ratio before the next application. Fertilize and leave the plant alone for a few days to see how it reacts. If the ratio is strong, you can dilute it further; otherwise, continue with the same dilution rate.
Overfertilizing will burn the leaves and reduce the life span of your Air plants, which you don’t want, especially after spending a lot of time caring for and waiting for the Tillandsia blooms. Avoid fertilizing the Tillandsia if it looks thirsty. First, water the plant and fertilize it after a day or two.
Instead of fertilizing the plant regularly, as you would for other green plants in your house, you can infrequently feed Tillandsia plants.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why can’t you use a urea-based fertilizer for your Tillandsia?
Urea-based fertilizers require the bacteria living in the soil to provide nitrogen for your Air plants. In most cases, Air plants are not planted in a soil-based growing medium; therefore, using a urea-based fertilizer means your plant cannot take up the nitrogen.
What type of fertilizer is best for Tillandsia?
Low nitrogen fertilizer is an excellent option for almost all varieties of Air plants because high amounts of nitrogen can burn the foliage. This fertilizer will also encourage blooming on the plant instead of green growth.
Should you dilute the liquid fertilizer before feeding the Tillandsia?
Tillandsia or Air plants are sensitive; therefore, even if you use a liquid formula, mix it in water to prevent fertilizer burns.
Can I fertilize Tillandsia without using any commercial fertilizers?
Commercial fertilizers are easily accessible, but finding the one that won’t harm your Tillandsia is difficult. An alternative for Tillandsia is using pond or aquarium water. We know that Tillandsia needs minimal feeding; water from these sources is rich in minerals and essential nutrients that can fulfill your Tillandsia plants’ needs.
Can you use Epsom salt for Tillandsia (Air plants)?
Epsom salt has several benefits, including helping your Tillandsia plant absorb nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. It’s a trace element used after dissolving in water, and it can even break dormancy for Air plants.
Is Orchid fertilizer safe for Tillandsia plants?
You can use an Orchid fertilizer for Tillandsia if it’s non-urea-based and has no zinc, copper, or boron, and this will protect the Tillandsia plant from toxicity.
My final thoughts are that providing the proper growing environment for your Air plant is way more important than fertilizing. Air plants usually receive nutrients from the tree or plant they are attached to, but in a minimal amount, they can survive with little feeding.
Fertilization for Air plants begins with watering your plant at the right time, giving it the light needed, and maintaining the required temperature. Only fertilizers for Epiphytic plants are suitable for Tillandsia. If you are confused about which varieties are the easiest to grow, you can check our top 12 Air plants recommendations.