This Month in the Garden: Growing Air Plants

Growing and Maintaining Air Plants 
Air plants, known as Tillandsia, have become a preferred plant for those leading a busy lifestyle, while looking for a low maintenance houseplant to enjoy. Tillandsia is the largest genus in the bromeliad family, consisting of approximately 650 species of flowering evergreen plants, native to the forests, mountains and deserts of Central and South America, southern United States and the West Indies. Tillandsia are ephiphytes, meaning that they grow without soil. In their native environment, air plants find footing on tree branches, where their roots act as an anchor to give the plant support. The leaves of Tillandsia are covered with specialized scales known as trichomes, which are responsible for absorbing moisture and nutrients from the atmosphere, decaying bark and insect matter. All healthy Tillandsias have the potential to bloom with flowers that are as interesting as the plants themselves. 

Air Plant  Terrarium Garden

LOCATION: Tillandsia prefer temperatures somewhere between 60-90 degrees with high humidity and bright, filtered sunlight, as in an east or west-facing window, or beneath a skylight. When growing air plants indoors, many homeowners take advantage of the moisture in a bathroom setting to locate their humidity loving plants. If growing Tillandsia outdoors, a screened porch or lanai can provide the filtered sunlight they prefer. These plants are often grown in a terrarium-like setting, as in a glass vase or ball, which is specifically designed with openings for air circulation. For a decorative look, Tillandsia are also grown attached to a piece of driftwood, in a rock bed or inside a sea shell. You can enjoy creating an arrangement for your plants and the design possibilities are endless!

Tillandsia Bloom

WATERING: Proper watering is very important with these plants. While they are very low maintenance, it is important to provide moisture to prevent drying out. The most successful practice has been to completely submerge your plant in a dish of water for several hours every 7-10 days. During this time, the plant will only absorb the amount of water that it needs. When removing the plant from its soaking, gently shake off excess water from the center of the plant to prevent rotting. Daily misting provides moisture as well, but not enough for survival, and excess water lying on the foliage can rot out the plant. When watering, use rain water, bottled or distilled water. Hard water from the tap contains elements that can eventually clog the trichomes on air plant leaves. When you first get your plant, develop a watering schedule by monitoring the plant’s color and appearance before and after watering and be observant of changes. Leaves on a drought-stressed plant may curl under, fade in color or turn brown, while browning on the bottom of a plant indicates over-watering. Rinse plants verses soaking when flowering to protect their delicate blooms.

Tillandsia Foliage 
FERTILIZING: To fertilize your Tillandsia, use a water-soluble fertilizer that is meant for ephiphytes, bromeliads or air plants and fertilize once or twice monthly. These fertilizers contain nitrogen in a form that air plant leaves can absorb. Before submerging your air plant, add the fertilizer to the water first following the dosage amount on the packaging. Generally, air plants with smooth, glossy leaves are “mesic” types that originate from shaded rain and cloud forests, where water is abundant. They have less pronounced trichomes to protect them from drying and require more frequent watering and fertilization. Leaves appearing “fuzzy” with feathery white, silvery or dusty coatings indicate “xeric” types that come from sunny, dry climates. Their more pronounced trichomes collect maximum water and hold it for use during dry periods; therefore, less watering and fertilization are required. Through basic observation, you will get to know your plants. Next time you are seeking something different, with no soil involved, try some air plants. By following these simple guidelines, Tillandsia can be an interesting, low maintenance and fun plant addition for your indoor or outdoor space.

As Always…Happy Gardening!

Author: [email protected] Guide to Northeastern Gardening, © Copyright 2018. All rights reserved