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Air plants don’t need a lot, but they need a little

November 25, 2018

Years ago I had a cute little air plant mounted to a magnet displayed on my refrigerator. Air plants were very popular back then, but mine didn’t live very long. Come to think of it, few other air plants from that era survived, either.

So what happened? Aren’t air plants supposed to get everything they need right out of the air?

Well, yes, for a short while. But good care for an air plant requires a tiny bit more effort than I originally thought. Nevertheless, air plants (Tillandsia, sometimes called tillys for short) don’t ask for much. You won’t even need a pot or soil to grow some of these interesting plants with their varied architectural shapes.

You can mount air plants to a piece of bark, suspend them in glass balls, or simply set them on your desktop or on the windowsill as is, without any container. You can also find an array of small artistic stands designed especially for displaying tillys.

Air plants are related to pineapples and other bromeliads. You can see the resemblance in the leaf structure. They come in a range of sizes, from tiny up to a foot wide or more. Most have curvy leaves of green or silver, sometimes touched with red or pink. No wonder air plants are enjoying new popularity!

So just what is it air plants need to thrive? They want bright light, but no more than an hour or two of direct sunlight per day. About once a week, they’d like to be submerged in water for a few minutes, then turned upside down to thoroughly drain. Alternatively, you can mist an air plant with water instead of submerging it.

Every home or office is different with varying humidity, temperature, and light. But don’t worry: Your air plants will tell you what they need. Browning leaf tips mean more moisture, please. If you see signs of rot, supply less water and more time upside-down to drain away any water that might have collected between the leaves.

Air plants have roots, but they are used only for anchoring to another plant, to bark, or to some other object, not for absorbing water and nutrients. To supply an indoor air plant with the nutrients it needs, add a tiny bit of fertilizer to the water in which you periodically submerge your plant. You can use the houseplant fertilizer you have on hand unless its source of nitrogen is urea, in which case an air plant can’t make use of the nutrients. A fertilizer called Epiphytes Delight is particularly good for both air plants and for orchids.

An air plant would make a nice gift for anyone who wants a bit of living greenery that doesn’t require much care. Just be sure to include a little card with the simple steps to success.

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