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A Crash Course in Air Plant Care
A Crash Course in Air Plant Care
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Air plants or tillandsia are non-parasitic organisms that grow upon the woody surfaces of other plants. A wide variety of air plants can be found growing wild in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Spanish moss, common in the American south, is a well-known type. Today, air plants are a symbol of modernity and style, but a lot of people don't understand how to properly care for their soilless houseplants. Got an air plant as a gift? Better reach for a spray bottle.

01

How to plant

Air plants grafted to tree. Karin de Mamiel / Getty Images

Do not. Air plants are non-terrestrial, meaning they cannot be planted in soil like a traditional plant. As epiphytes, they exist atop other plant material so long as the medium doesn't retain too much moisture. Show off your air plants in pieces of driftwood or dehydrated cork. Alternatively, tie air plants to tree branches to graft.

02

Countless containers to use

Air plants in hanging containers. seven75 / Getty Images

Since air plants do not require a potting medium, you can pretty much stick them anywhere you like so long as you keep an eye on them and make sure they remain happy. Rather than using conventional pots, consider glass terrariums or shaped wire to create an art piece out of your tillandsia. Be sure that your display allows proper air circulation and light exposure for your air plants.

03

Supportive substrates

Air plants displayed on stone. Irrenoph / Getty Images

A substrate is what plants grow in or upon; for most plants, that's soil. However, air plants require a bit more specialized care. Good substrates to graft your air plants to include tree bark, porous stone like lava rock, and even seashells. Employ a bit of creativity when looking for something to graft your plant to.

04

How to water an air plant

Misting an air plant. vaitekune / Getty Images

Air plants are unique in that their root system is not how they absorb the bulk of their water. Instead, the roots are used to attach the plant to various surfaces. When it comes time to water, it is recommended to mist your air plants thoroughly with rainwater once a week. An additional monthly soaking for 10 minutes will ensure proper hydration.

05

Keep the lights soft

Air plants under filtered light. Crystal Bolin Photography / Getty Images

Like most houseplants, air plants prefer to be kept in filtered light, shade, or under artificial lighting. A bit of sunlight here and there won't hurt, but allowing your air plant to bake in the sun all day is detrimental to its well-being. Try placing air plants in decorative vases on window sills or in the office under fluorescent lights.

06

A favorite of mealybugs

Close-up shot of a mealybug. HHelene / Getty Images

A mealybug is a small biting insect that saps nutrients from a plant, slowly killing it. Their presence is marked by silk-like webbing and yellowed leaves, and upon closer inspection, their little bodies are visible. Caring for your air plant also means defending it from pests. A topical application of neem oil is effective at treating mealybugs, scale, mites, and more.

07

Preventing rot and fungus

Hanging air plants allows proper aeration. Mumemories / Getty Images

In caring for your air plant, you must ensure that the ambient temperature remains roughly the same. These plants don't tolerate sudden shifts in temperature very well, especially when the humidity fluctuates along with it. Rapid changes cause opportunistic fungal infections that lead to rotting. Rot is incurable and irreversible for air plants.

08

Fertilizing does an air plant good

Fertilizing Spanish moss air plant. patpitchaya / Getty Images

Look for a fertilizer made specifically for air plants or bromeliads when choosing a preparation for your collection. A water-soluble fertilizer is ideal as these can be mixed with water for a handy spray. Look for a fertilizer with high nitrogen and potassium levels but low phosphorous — something like a 20-10-20 ratio is ideal. Apply once monthly after the air plant has soaked.

09

Propagating your air plant

Grooming to separate pups. SEE D JAN / Getty Images

The reproduction of air plants can be quite temperamental but is mostly predictable. After blooming, a air plant will typically produce a pup or baby plant from its base. These pups should be allowed to grow until they are big enough to be carefully removed from the mother plant. Optionally, allowing the pups to grow on top of themselves creates a very rare and attractive tillandsia ball.

10

Getting an air plant to flower

Air plants in bloom. 15691199 / Getty Images

Few things are more picturesque than the thought of strange plants producing otherworldly blooms from their nooks and crannies high in the trees. Bring a bit of exotic beauty to your indoor space by following a watering, feeding, and lighting schedule for your air plants. They will thank you with surprising blooms almost every time.

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