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
One good thing about air plants is that they are one of the easiest plants to grow. Air plants derive their name from the fact that they do not require soil to grow. All they do is take nutrients from the air. With a few tips and tricks, you will be well on your way to having the healthiest tillandsias on the block.
Use a spray bottle or plant mister to spritz air plants with water every day or two. Before putting it back in its decorative container or arrangement, place the damp air plant on a towel to dry for a few hours. If you overwater, the plant will die.
However, the assumption that air plants only need air to survive is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when caring for them. They still need water, additional nutrients, and enough light to survive and thrive. And when cared for properly, tillandsias can live for numerous years and give you “babies” or pups that you can continue enjoying for an extended period.
Tillandsias are native to Mexico, South America, Southern and Central U.S. and survive in various climates. However, no species of tillandsias can survive in areas with temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Air plants absorb moisture through their leaves, so they prefer warm and humid environments. This essence of humidity raises questions on how best to water air plants.
How to Water Air Plants
Some reasons why plants need water include facilitating germination, temperature regulation, transfer of nutrients across the plant, and photosynthesis and respiration process.
Having discussed some fundamental reasons plants generally need water, let’s learn how to water air plants specifically. The watering needs of an air plant vary with the location, which means that air plants in different locations may require different watering quantities. For this reason, understanding how best to water an air plant becomes a tricky affair.
Concerns arise about misting or soaking your tillandsias or combining both watering practices. Settling on misting might mean your air plant will get less water than it needs. Banking on occasional soaking might also mean that your plant will lack hydration on certain days. Therefore, it is safe to say that incorporating soaking and misting is an excellent strategy for watering tillandsias.
The first thing you need to do before watering your tillandsias is examined their location. To understand your air plant’s watering needs, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the space housing your tillandsias dry or humid?
- What is the current season of the year?
- What is the temperature of the space you’ve placed your tillandsias in?
Having answered these questions, you can derive a formula to water your tillandsias based on their location that directly dictates their watering needs. We have the following recommendations for you as you get started:
Soak your air plants in water once a week or once in two weeks.
After soaking your air plants, be sure to drain off excess water. You can do this by turning the plant upside down and placing it in a towel in a well-lit place because air plants will quickly rot if left with excess water. Your plant will dry in 1 to 3 hours after the soaking process.
To moisten the entire surface of your air plant, mist it thoroughly at least once a week or more. You must be careful not to overdo the misting and have water dripping.
Seasons influence how often you need to water your air plants. When the air is hot and dry during summer or early fall, you must water your tillandsias more. During winter and spring, when the air is cool and more humid, water your air plants less because their hydration needs to go slightly lower.
The location of your air plant also dictates your watering frequency. For instance, if your air plant is near the kitchen sink or in the bathroom, the air around it is humid, so that you can water it less frequently. In cases where your air plant is near a heater or fireplace, you may need to water it more.
It would be best if you watered your tillandsias in the morning. Misting or soaking the plant in the evening will interfere with its respiration process and delay drying.
Here is how to carry out the misting process for your air plants:
- Get a plant mister or spray bottle and fill it with water.
- Use it to spray your entire plant as often as needed.
- If your plant is too damp after misting, wipe it with a towel and allow it to dry before placing it back in its usual location.
- Misting may not be adequate for your air plants as the only water source. You can supplement it with soaking or dunking.
If done correctly, soaking is the best way to water your air plants. Here’s how to do it successfully:
- Fill a container or your sink with water.
- Place your air plants in the water for about 20 minutes to 1 hour.
- After soaking your plants, allow them to dry by following the procedure we shared in our recommendations for watering tillandsias.
- Once they are dry enough, you can put them back on display.
The quality of the water consumed by your air plants matters a lot. Several options are available regarding the type of water you can use to water your air plants. Here are the tips we have for you to keep in mind when choosing the type of water to use when watering your tillandsias:
- The temperature you use to water your air plants matters. The water you use should be lukewarm. This is because very cold or hot water will shock your air plants!
- The best options available for you are spring water and rainwater. Why? Reliable studies indicate that spring and rainwater carry beneficial natural minerals to help your tillandsias do well.
- You can also use an aquarium, lake, creek, well, or pond water for your tillandsias. This water is good since it has some dissolved nutrients. Don’t add fertilizer to the water.
- Do not use distilled or filtered water because many of the natural minerals beneficial to your air plants have been removed from this type of water. Using such water means, therefore, means that your air plants will be missing out on beneficial nutrients.
- Using tap water is discouraged as it contains more chemicals and less minerals. But if you must use tap water, allow it to settle for 24 hours at room temperature for the chlorine to disperse.
- Softened water isn’t good for watering tillandsias because the salt used in eliminating the minerals from initially hard water can accumulate in the leaves of your air plant.
Is Your Tillandsia Getting Enough Water?
It is essential to know whether your tillandsia is getting all the water it needs or excess. You can tell that your air plant is under-watered or thirsty when you observe the following signs:
- The tips of the leaves turn brown or become crispy.
- The leaves may begin to curl.
- The plant appears generally shriveled.
- The concave shape of the air plant’s leaves might also seem exaggerated.
An indication that your air plant is overwatered is when you notice rotting or browning at the plant’s base bottom. Leaves may also begin to fall off from the center of the plant as it starts to rot. Luckily, solutions are available for underwatering and overwatering cases to ensure you can nurture your tillandsia back to good health.
In the case of under-watering, you will need to immediately quench your tillandsia’s thirst by soaking it in water for one hour or more. After soaking, allow your air plant to dry before returning it to its original spot. After this sort of “first aid” for your air plant, maintain a consistent watering schedule. You can include extra soaking or misting to ensure your plant stays moisturized.
If you notice that your tillandsia is overwatered, save it from rot by regulating the amount of water it gets. You can do this by reducing the times you mist it or increasing the days you skip before soaking it. It is an excellent idea to keenly check your tillandsia to ensure no water is trapped in it. And always allow the plant to dry completely after watering before returning it to its usual spot.
Also, remember to remove the rotting leaves from your overwatered air plant. This way, new healthy ones will grow back, and you’ll save the rest of the plant from continued rot.
Also, read this informative post I wrote on 12 easy-to-care-for air plants
Frequently Asked Questions
What is unique about air plants?
Air plants are named as such because they are epiphytes, meaning they live in trees instead of anchoring their roots in the ground. Instead, they absorb rainwater and nutrients through their leaves and small roots.
What do air plants need to survive?
As their name states, “air plants” do not require soil and take their nutrients from the air; they still need water, nutrients, and light to survive. Air Plants are technically epiphytes, meaning they grow in nature on another tree, host, or object.
Can air plants survive without air?
Air plants cannot live on air alone. Air plants get nutrition by absorbing water through their leaves. However, if the air in your home is dry, water more often (every five days), and in a humid environment, water tillandsias every ten days.
How long do air plants last?
Air plant blooms have a different lifespan – some lasting only a few days to 2 to 4 weeks. However, for around a year, some larger air plants’ blooms can last much longer.
How do I know if my air plant is healthy?
Check your plants’ leaves for clues on whether they are thirsty. Dry curl leaves and a healthy white fuzz mean your plant is healthy, not necessarily drying out. Brown leaf tips and a general shriveled appearance are other clues you are under-watering.
Understanding the seasons of the year and the conditions in your tillandsia’s location are critical factors that inform you how to water your air plants. Remember, people living in drier climates or placing their tillandsias near a fireplace must water it more.
Additionally, during summer, you may need to water your plant more than you would during the winter season. Be sure to utilize all the tips and secrets we have shared here, and your tillandsias will flourish. It’s good practice to create and adhere to the proper watering schedule. Also, use the correct type of water for your air plants.