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Raising Air Plants

Air plants are fun, easy-to-grow plants that don’t need soil to grow or much light to thrive


How to Grow, Care For and Display Air Plants

Air plants are beautiful, exotic plants. Over the past few years, they have become quite popular. They are featured in design blogs, on social media sites and in trendy garden catalogs. This article provides a quick guide on their characteristics, how to care for them and creative ways to display them.

The scientific name for air plants is Tillandsia, which is a group of plants in the Bromeliad family that absorb their nutrients and moisture from the air around them. Almost all air plants are epiphytes (plants that grow harmlessly upon other plants). They use other plants or structures, such as bark, wood or rocks, for support. Rather than roots, these plants use tiny, hairlike growths on their leaves, called trichomes, to soak up the moisture and nutrients (from humidity, dust and debris in the air) that they need.

Air Plant Life Cycle

The life cycle of air plants is flower, offsets and seeds. When air plants reproduce, they bloom once and produce offsets (or pups) from the mother plant. If an air plant is pollinated, it will also produce seeds. Most air plants mature at the time of flowering and, depending on the species and growth conditions, their life expectancy is between two to five years.

Even though most air plants have a short life, they can be kept alive indefinitely. The pups that emerge from the base of the mother plant can be grown on their own, or they can be left on the mother plant and will form a clump.

Air Plant Care

Air plants need proper light, water and air circulation and some basic care.

Light: Air plants love bright, filtered light and should be placed near an east, south or west-facing window. Keep them away from direct sunlight so they won’t get burned.

Water: Soak air plants in lukewarm water for 30 to 60 minutes every seven to 10 days. Place the plants face down or submerge the entire plant in the water. If the plant has a bloom, you may wish to keep the bud above the water to not disturb it. After soaking, gently shake off any excess water and set them on their side or upside down to allow the excess water to drain and the plant to dry out to prevent rotting. Because air plants prefer a humid environment, you can also mist air plants once or twice a week. If the plants are not receiving enough water, the leaves will curl or roll, the foliage’s color will dull and the tips will turn brown.

Air Circulation: Good air circulation is important for the air plants to receive moisture and nutrients and to dry between waterings which helps prevent disease.

Fertilization: Though not necessary, air plants will be heartiest when fertilized monthly with a light application of fertilizer made especially for Bromeliads. Clemson Cooperative Extension recommends diluting the fertilizer to one-fourth the recommended rate.

Temperature: Since they are native to warm tropical environments, most air plants prefer warm days (60° to 80°F) and cooler nights (50° to 60°F).

Grooming: As air plants grow, some leaves near the base may die off. These can be trimmed back with shears along with any imperfect or damaged leaves.

Blooming: Air plants bloom once per lifetime. Snip off the blossom when it is spent and wait for the pup to grow and blossom.

Propagating: The easiest way to propagate air plants is by dividing the pups. Separate the pup from the main plant or use a knife or pruning shears.

Styling Tips: Because air plants don’t depend on soil, the sky’s the limit for decorating possibilities. You can place them in a terrarium, hang them in a glass globe, display them in dishes of decorative pebbles, hang them in a frame or perch them on a piece of driftwood or slab of bark.

Air plants are fun, easy-to-grow plants that don’t need soil to grow or much light to thrive. They are also available at garden shops in a variety of sizes and shapes. Add a few to your houseplant collection!

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Writer Biography

Elizabeth Lorentz gardens at Mears Park in downtown Saint Paul. She loves cooking and growing native perennial plants and herbs. She is a Master Gardener with the Ramsey County chapter of the U of M Extension Master Garden Volunteer Program.


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