Easy Garden: How to Grow Air Plants

Air plants are the newest garden trend - they don't need soil or fertilizer and are the perfect easy garden choice for those who want to grow uniquely shaped plants indoors throughout the year.

A variety of air plants
A variety of air plants

Do you enjoy growing plants indoors?  If your answer is “no”, then you may want to rethink your answer once you learn about air plants.  Air plants don’t need soil or fertilizer – in fact, they absorb water and nutrients through their leaves. There are over 500 species of air plants, all of which, are native to the Americas in areas with warm, humid climates.   Want to learn more about these unique plants?

– Air plants are epiphytes, which means that they don’t absorb water or nutrients from their roots.  Any roots that they do have help to anchor them to a tree or rock.

– They bloom once and die after flowering.  However, before, during or after flowering, an air plant will produce several little plants, or ‘pups’.

– Air plants do need water in order to survive.

Tillandsia kolbii
Tillandsia kolbii

My first experience with air plants happened during a trip to Miami last winter, while walking through botanical gardens, where I noticed an air plant growing naturally on a tree.  Later in the year, I visited a shop in Madison, Wisconsin where you could create your own air plant terrarium.

I must admit that I was interested in learning more about air plants and even growing some myself.   The idea of being able to grow a plant without having to worry about potting soil, fertilizer and having it actually serve as a decorative element was compelling.

Tillandsia butzii
Tillandsia butzii

I was initially given several Tillandsia butzii and I was determined not to kill them (as a horticulturist, I have a shockingly apalling record when it comes to surviving houseplants).  I am happy to say that 3 months later, my air plants are still alive and doing well.

So how do you care for air plants?

Fuchsii gracilis
Fuchsii gracilis

While air plants are a great choice for an easy garden, they do need some care.

  • Water 2 – 3 times a week by dunking them into a sinkful or cupful of tap water.  The plants get nutrients from the minerals in tap water.  Twice a month, soak in water for 2 – 3 hours.  When in bloom, take care not to soak the flower.
  • Allow them to dry completely after watering – shake off any excess water.  If they stay wet for a few hours, they can form brown spots and die.
  • Place them by a sunny window, but avoid direct sun.
  • Good air circulation is important for their health.
  • The ideal temperature range for air plants is between 45 – 90 degrees.
  • Fertilizing is not necessary and there is a real danger of over-fertilizing, so it’s best just to leave them alone in regards to fertilizing.

It’s easy to see why air plants are a growing garden trend where their unique shapes and easy care makes them a perfect choice.  All they need beside water and a sunny window, is a place to rest upon.  Hanging terrariums filled with moss, colored rocks and an air plant make a great design statement.  Got a small container?  Leave the soil out and add an air plant.

Air plants can even rest on a decorative piece of wood…

Old, woody roots from a desert shrub.
Old, woody roots from a desert shrub.

I’ve been so happy with my success with growing air plants that I was inspired to create some indoor garden art using pieces of woody roots from an old desert shrub.  I can’t wait to show you what you can do with the air plants including placing them in terrariums, mounting them on driftwood and old roots in my next blog post on Monday!  I’ll show you how to mount air plants and get your opinion on which air plant combination looks best.

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Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.