How to Care for Air Plants: 11 Easy Pointers

Air plants are fantastic for an easy-going option with minimal maintenance needs and varying looks. And because they don’t need dirt to grow, you can use them in infinite ways. 

As the name implies, air plants do not grow in dirt. All these species fall into two categories, which can help you determine the appropriate air plant care – mesic and xeric. 

Mesic plants have a shiny green appearance and require bright, indirect sunlight and more water. Xeric plants have a furry, silver exterior and need less sunlight and water, but it has to be direct light. Keep reading to learn all you need to know about how to care for air plants.

how to care for air plants

Table of Contents

What Are The Top Tips for Air Plant Care?

Despite the name air plants, Bromeliad needs more than just oxygen to thrive. Air plants need the right environment, preferably replicating the species’ native growing conditions. Most plants grow natively in South America, Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. There are some native to parts of the US like California or the southern states. 

But general air plant care is easy, making air plants perfect for incorporating into your home decor for low-maintenance live greenery. So focus on these areas for the best way on how to take care of air plants.

Air Plants Love INDIRECT Bright Light

How to Care for Air Plants

A common air plant care question is, do air plants need sun? Of course, your plants will require lots of bright, indirect lighting. However, they can also tolerate filtered sunlight. You can use sheer curtains, mostly closed blinds, or grow lights pointed away from the plants. 

But they are sensitive to the amount of direct sunlight they can tolerate. Too much sunlight can cause your plants to get sunburnt. Green or red leaves will have a higher vulnerability than peach or silver leaves.

Choose an indoor location where they can get filtered, bright light from the windows for four to six hours each day. They do best in windows facing south, west, or east; never north. 

Supplement your plants with fluorescent lights if your home doesn’t get adequate light exposure. When it’s warm outside, you can even move them outdoors to a sheltered area that gets filtered bright light.

Soak Your Air Plants in Water

Water is crucial for air plants since they don’t need dirt to absorb nutrients. But how much and how often you’ll need to provide liquidation to your air plants will depend on the species. 

Rainforest plants do best with a long, submerged soak of the entire plant underwater two times a week. But, of course, you should also give them in-between mistings. But air plants from arid American climates can get by with a few heavy weekly mistings. 

Usually, your home atmosphere won’t provide adequate moisture to keep your plants healthy. And it won’t be enough to only mist the leaves. Most air plants also require submersion in water because the leaves contain trichomes – scales – which absorb nutrients and water. 

And if you can dunk your plants in water, use a container full of room temperature liquid that you’ve let set out for twelve to 24 hours. Then, once or twice a week, soak your plants for 20 minutes to one hour. The plants will only absorb as much water as they need. However, some plants may require being tied to a heavy item so they don’t float on the water.

Tell-Tale Signs That Your Air Plants Need Water

You can tell when your plants need water by appearance. One sign will be leaves that start to curl and roll. You’ll also spot the leaf tips turning brown. 

The color can also be a useful indicator of your plant’s watering needs. For example, when your plants have a rich, green color, they’re hydrated. But if the plants look lighter or turn a grayish color, they’re starting to dry out and need water.

The leaf texture is a great way to remember when to water your plants. The finer the leaves look, the more often they will need water. And the color of the leaves can also affect watering needs. For example, peach and silver leaves will require more water than red or green. 

After you water your plant, shake it gently to shed all excess water out of the center. You can also flip it upside down and let it drain onto a towel. Letting water sit in the plant’s crown can cause it to rot.

Home Temperatures Are the Perfect Temperature

Air plants do best in 50 to 90-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. But their ideal temperature range is within the typical household range in the 70s. 

air plants on kitchen table

Keep your plants protected in the shade if they’re enjoying some quality summertime outdoors. Unfortunately, the hotter the temperature, the more often you’ll need to water your plants. And you’ll need to increase the amount of watering. 

Your plants will need to come indoors once the outside temperatures start to turn cooler and fall into the mid-40s.

And most species of air plants will require humid conditions to retain enough moisture to survive. So adding a humidifier to the room can also keep your air plants happy with humidity. But, of course, the hotter the temperature, the more humidity your plants will crave. 

You must also keep your air plants away from heating and air cooling units, doors, and drafty windows. Air plants will dry out when put too close to a heater. But they are also sensitive to cold drafts.

Air Plants Don’t Always Need to Be Fertilized

Air plants don’t need to be fertilized to grow. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be happy if you occasionally give them a healthy dose of a pick-me-up. 

Feeding your air plants with an appropriate fertilizer can boost your plant’s growth and the vigor of their blooms. It can also increase the health and vitality of your blooms and their offspring. 

Air plants do best with a water-soluble or liquid fertilizer versus a granulated or powder form. Choose a formula designed for the needs of bromeliads, like a 13-13-13 mixture. 

This NPK ratio means the fertilizer contains equal portions of potassium (K), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P). Be sure to dilute your mixture to ¼ strength before applying. 

The best method of fertilizer application is the bowl soak method. This method consists of putting the entire plant into a bowl of water to soak for 20 to 60 minutes. Air plants only need feeding with a specialized formula once a month. 

But do not over-fertilize your air plants, which can cause your foliage to burn. And it can lead to rot and faded color vibrancy. 

Air Plants Don’t Need Soil!

The most common question people have about air plant care is if they need soil to grow. Air plants do not require dirt because they don’t have traditional roots. 

The trichome appendages on the leaves of air plants absorb everything the plant needs – water, air nutrients, and light. But these sensors also reflect sunlight which helps to protect the water they retain. 

How Do I Display My Air Plant?

You have different methods for displaying your air plant. For example, many people like to put their air plants in glass containers. But don’t pick a terrarium that’s closed. 

You get the best growth with open dish gardens, free of materials that will hold water like soil or moss. Other than glass, you can also use baskets or macramé.

But do not use anything that has copper, which is toxic to air plants. You’ll also want to avoid pressure-treated wood, which contains copper chemicals. 

You can display your plants alone or mix and match different species. You can also create an arrangement with stones, lichen, and moss. 

They’re also suitable for placing on tables, shelving, hung up or displayed on the wall. Have you ever heard of a vertical garden? 

Give it a shot for a dimensional way to have a textured flower display. All it takes is layering plants vertically rather than spreading them out horizontally. Then, use a ladder, a garment rack, or wire to mount the air plants to your wall. 

Or you can suspend the plants from the ceiling using hemp, wire, twine, or decorative hangers and pots. Your room will feel very conservatory and feng shui. 

Colorful flowering air plants are great ways to add an exotic flare to brighten indoor gardens full of bland green herb plants.  

You can even attach your air plants to bulletin boards with tacks, weaved into baskets, or put on pottery, stones, cork, rocks, tree limbs, driftwood, and other surfaces using staples, glue, or by tying them.

How Can I Propagate My Air Plant?

Propagation of air plants isn’t difficult. You can use two methods to create new air plant specimens from a single parent plant. 

How to Propagate Air Plants by Division

Around the time that your air plants are ready to bloom, you’ll notice your adult plants producing offsets. These offspring – pups – are clones of the parent plant. They form small nodes around the bottom of the plant.

air plant pup growing off mother plant

They will be quite small when they first emerge. So, it’s best to wait until the nodes grow to ¼” to 1” before you clip them off the mother plant. Then, once your pups are free, care for them like adult plants. 

How to Propagate Air Plants by Stem Cuttings

Another way to propagate air plants is from cuttings. But you cannot take cuttings from the leaf or stem, as you can with succulents. 

Use sterile, sharp pruning shears to make stem cuttings of 4” to 5” long pieces. Put these away in a dry, cool area for 24 hours to let the edges be callous. 

Then put the cuttings into a small container filled with room temperature water. Place your trim pieces in an area with indirect, bright light. Once a week, refresh the water content. It will take a few weeks for roots to form.

What Are Common Problems With Air Plants?

Air plants are typically hardy species with minimal care needs and fewer problems. However, the biggest issue with air plants is improper watering.

Browning Tips

If your Tillandsia plants start experiencing brown tips, it’s a sign that your plants require liquid substance. In other words, your plants are thirsty!

Soaking your entire plant in lukewarm water can hopefully rejuvenate your species. But do not put the entire plant underwater if it is in the flowering stage.

Mushy Stems

Another common issue with air plants is mushy stems that turn brown. Once your plants experience squishy limbs, there’s little hope of recovery. 

Mushy stems mean that your air plants have been overwatered. If you catch it early enough, you might be able to take off the squishy limbs without it damaging the entire plant. 

Skip your next scheduled watering to give the plants time to dry out. And when you resume watering, cut back on how much you use.

FAQ About How to Care for Air Plants  

How do you keep air plants alive?

You can keep air plants alive by providing the proper soilless growing environment and giving the right care – watering, fertilizing, lighting, humidity, and temperature.

How often should you water an air plant?

Air plants can thrive with a weekly hour-long soak (based on your climate). For example, high humidity climates may only need 20 minutes, while dry climates can take up to four hours. When in doubt, wait longer than planned to pull your plants out. They will not absorb more water than they can hold, so there’s no risk of overwatering.

How do you take care of air plants for beginners?

Air plants can be the perfect starter plant for beginner botanists. The low care needs and unusual growing medium means little work is necessary – water once weekly and give your plants the right bright, indirect lighting.

Do you soak air plants upside down?

Air plants do best with a thorough soak. First, place your plant in the water until it is submerged. After giving your plants an ideal watering, you can flip them upside down to drain and dry.

What is the lifespan of an air plant?

Air plants produce short-lived blooms that can last a day to four weeks. The right growing conditions can encourage flower bloom at any time of year. But most air plants only flower once in their lifetime. However, the plant itself can survive 3 to 15 years. 

How often should I mist my air plant?

Air plants prefer humid climates and lots of water (depending on the species). Therefore, most air plants prefer a series of waterings. Once a week, air plants need submerged watering. And between submersions, treat your air plants with regular mistings – repeated full pumps until water runs off the plant – two to three times a week, depending on your room’s humidity. 

Ready to Care for Your Air Plant? 

We hope you enjoyed learning about what is an air plant and you’re ready to try your hand at growing your own. Air plants are perfect for anyone to grow due to the simple needs of weekly waterings, monthly fertilizer feedings, and no soil. 

Be sure to share photos of your plant babies with us, and let us know what growing tips you found the most helpful!

Air Plants Are Awesome – Looking for More?

Check out more of our useful houseplant guides & gear reviews below and fill your home with all sorts of green! Leave a comment or let us know your thoughts and feedback here. We love to talk plants! 

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Sara Trimble
Sara Trimble was the lady who could kill a cactus. Today, she’s the fun and fabulous expert plant mom who rocks at growing the coolest, trickiest plants. Her favorites to grow are orchids, roses, succulents, and luscious vines. Sara has grown – and killed – hundreds of plants and she shares her green-thumb successes and failures to help other plant murderers discover correct plant care. In her spare time, she raises four kids, two dogs, and a husband.

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