Inside Out Blog

28 Nov

Air Plants Care and Growth

Another houseplant trend of 2018 could fill the Christmas stocking of your favorite plant lover. Although hardly new as novelty plant specimens, tillandsias, or air plants, are appearing more frequently in commercial installations. Plantscape professionals, interior designers and florists have all embraced these intriguing bromeliads this year.

Air plants are making appearances in green walls and hanging displays, on conference room tables, and in floral arrangements. Their complex and unusual curvilinear forms make them ideal accent plants in interior environments, either alone or in groups. Seemingly sculptural, stylish, or perhaps even “other worldly”, they definitely command attention.

Primarily natives of subtropical North and South America, air plants are a group of over 500 species of flowering plants that belong to the bromeliad family. The family Bromeliaceae also includes the pineapple and Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides).

Air plants in the wild

Great ways to display air plants

Because air plants require no soil or pot and have minimal roots, they are easy to display in some atypical ways. They can be suspended, attached to objects, or simply placed on a bed of gravel, shells, or glass.

Interesting air plant uses include:

  • Interior landscape accent plants
  • Wall displays
  • Terrariums
  • Driftwood centerpieces
  • Wreaths
  • Hanging baskets
  • Fairy gardens
  • Bridal bouquets

While some crafting instructions may say otherwise, beware of using copper, rusty surfaces, pressure treated wood, hot glue, or silicone caulk in air plant display projects. These can damage the plants. Also avoid sitting air plants on absorbent materials like soil or moss, as they can promote rot.

How to take care of air plants

Even though they require relatively easy maintenance, air plants are considered moderately difficult to care for. Some air plant requirements can seem counterintuitive to the novice. Air plants prefer conditions most like their native habitat: the treetops of the rainforest. They can be particular about watering, lighting and air conditions.

Potted air plant

Air plants absorb the water and nutrients they need through scales in their leaves. When watering at home, tepid non-chlorinated or rain water is preferred.

A suggested air plant watering schedule is:

  • Mist heavily 3-7 times per week
  • Submerge completely 2-4 times per week
  • Soak 1-2 hours 1 time per week

Air plants also require good air circulation, as subtropical breezes are the norm in the rain forest. A visit outdoors during warmer weather is recommended. But in the winter, avoid placement near drafts or home heating vents.

Bright indirect lighting suits air plants best and they can only withstand a low light situation temporarily. They will tolerate a few hours of direct early morning or late afternoon sun, but keep them at least a few feet from the window.

Do air plants need fertilizer?

While plenty of vendors sell it, air plants do not necessarily need fertilizer. Some experts recommend it just once a month. Others only recommend it in order to force bloom. In any case, regular houseplant fertilizer should be avoided. Look for a fertilizer free of copper, boron, and zinc, with a non-urea-based nitrogen (20-10-20).

How to handle air plant problems

Most air plant problems relate to watering. Root rot is a common problem caused by overwatering or improper drying or draining. It is characterized by black or purple coloration at the base of the plant. It can be avoided by turning air plants sideways or upside down to dry thoroughly. Also make sure that the display surface is completely dry.

Another problem to watch out for with air plants is fertilizer burn. This manifests as a brown or “crispy” appearance to the plant and is caused by too much or incorrect fertilizer type.

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