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Have you been wondering how an air plant survives? You’ve probably noticed this small indoor ornament hanging around a house and were instantly smitten by its charm. It’s one of the well-sought hanging indoor plants because of its uniqueness.
An air plant thrives without soil or potting mix making it easier to manage. It only needs a substrate to attach to and it’s good to go. However, as simple as it may seem, caring for an air plant is a lot more than just leaving it there hanging.
|Scientific Name||Tillandsia spp.|
|Similar to||Hechtia sp.|
|Native to||Southern U.S., Central, and South America|
|Shape||Small rosettes as the size of a teacup with slender, curl leaves|
|Maximum size||Depends on variety (3 ft or less)|
|Watering requirements||Moderate – high|
|Light requirements||Bright, indirect light placed in east or north window|
|Preferred humidity||Moderate – high|
|Preferred temperature||50 – 90 F (10 – 32 C)|
|Soil||No soil requirement|
|Fertilizer||Apply Bromeliad fertilizer (17-8-22) once a month except during winter|
|Propagation method||Cutting pups|
|Toxicity||Non-toxic to dogs and cats|
|Vulnerable to||Mealybug and scales|
Coming from the Bromeliad family, air plant (Tillandsia spp.) is considered an epiphyte which means that they grow in another plant. They make use of the surfaces of tree trunks and branches as places to anchor on. The good thing is that they don’t kill their host plant so they are not considered a threat.
Aside from living organisms, air plants can also utilize non-living materials as their substrate. Examples of these are rocks, woods, wires, and a lot more. That’s why there are numerous fancy ways one can think of to display an air plant indoors.
Air plants have subtle roots. They are barely visible that’s why you can’t expect it to absorb water using its roots. Its leaves, though, do the job by taking in moisture from its environment.
With such a unique ability, watering air plants is a bit different. The following are the various methods to provide water to it:
- Misting – The easiest way to provide moisture to an air plant is through misting. Using a spray bottle, mist the plant enough until water runs off from its leaves. You can do it daily when it’s hot or every other day when the weather is cool.
- Dunking or Rinsing – Another way to water an air plant is by dipping it to a basin with water and then allowing it to dry. Alternatively, you may rinse it under running water for a while. You can do this daily or every other day.
- Soaking – You can soak your air plants 3 to 4 hours every twice a week. Others do it weekly for 20 to 30 mins. The frequency would depend on how wet or dry the season is. After soaking, make sure to dry the air plant at least 4 hours before putting it back to its original place. This is to prevent the fungus from growing on the plant.
Read more: Learn more about watering your plants
The best light condition for an air plant is a bright, indirect light. In its natural habitat, air plants live under the shades of the host’s canopy. The same condition should be provided when it’s tended indoors.
Subjecting the air plant to direct light would scorch it. Remember they have limited moisture available in them. An east to west window orientation is perfect for the air plant’s needs. Just make sure to put a shade that’s going to filter the light.
Since the air plant absorbs water from the air, it’s highly dependent on the moisture available in its surrounding environment. Air plants love a place with high humidity. It makes it easy for the air plant to acquire water when it’s more available in the air.
During conditions of low humidity, misting can be done daily to provide moisture to the dry air. To keep the air moving, you can provide a humidifier. Arranging your plant in a way that allows good air circulation is also gonna help.
Plant Food and Soil
With its lack of soil as its media, the only way to provide nutrients to your air plant is by incorporating it to the water you spray on your air plants. You can use bromeliad liquid fertilizer (17-8-22). Dilute ¼ of the recommended amount to water then apply thoroughly.
You can add fertilizer once a month to keep your air plant healthy. However, if you want it to bloom and produce more pups, you can apply the fertilizer twice in a month. Make sure that the concentration is always diluted to avoid burning the leaves.
Once you’ve provided the basic elements for your air plant to grow, here are a few additional tips to bear in mind as part of its maintenance care. Your air plant would surely face new challenges in every growing stage so knowing how to handle them would bring ease.
Read more: Hard to kill indoor plants for beginners
Styling with Air Plants
There is a wide array of options you can do with your air plant when it comes to styling. The common thing to do is by hanging it on your wall, near your window, or somewhere you find it fit. You can start by using various forms of substrates to hold your air plant such as stones, woods, and wires.
Another option is to put it in a container along with other small plants to make a terrarium. Air plants easily blend in a landscape so it’s very easy to combine it with other plants. Just be creative and the possibilities are limitless.
Air plants would also look good as a table topper. If you have a cute base or holder, you can put an air plant on it and display it on the table.
Air plants would later develop brown leaves as part of its aging process. You can trim those off using a scissor to maintain the plant’s good appearance. Just be gentle not to damage the entire plant when doing it.
New pups will also appear when the air plant is mature enough. These baby plants can be cut off once they reach ⅓ of the size of the mother plant. Don’t throw away the pups as you can propagate them to new ones.
Mother air plants will start producing pups around 9 to 12 months of its maturity. If the conditions aren’t favorable, growing pups will be delayed. You just have to be patient and wait a little more time.
Air plants are also susceptible to various pests. Mealybugs and scales are its number one enemy. They attack the plant’s leaves and when they multiply to a huge number, they can ruin your entire air plant.
Mealybugs eat the sap of the leaves which creates lesions. Scales also attach to the leaves but are mostly found under the surface. Severely infected leaves are likely to turn yellow and die.
The good news though is that these pests are manageable using water spray, insect spray, insecticidal soap, or dish detergent that can be found at home. Neem oil is also an effective agent to control mealybugs and scales.
Caring for an air plant indoor is not much of a worry because they are not a threat to your dogs and cats. So, if you own these pets at home, they are safe to have contact with this plant. But, of course, we don’t want them messing around with our plants, do we?
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) doesn’t have air plants in its list of toxic plants for cats and dogs. This means that so far, air plants have not been observed to create threatening effects on the health of these animals.
Types of Air Plants
If you consider your air plant as fancy enough, wait until you discover the many other types that would make you “wow”. Air plants have an extensive list of varieties that it would be hard to put them here one by one. If you’re planning to acquire all 450 or more varieties, you’d have a whole store selling air plants alone.
However, there are two major classifications of air plants according to the type of environment where it is best suited. There are mesic air plants that prefer an environment with moderate humidity and filtered light. The other type is the xenic air plants who thrive in drier places such as desert.
How long do air plants last?
The lifespan of an air plant depends on which variety you are acquiring. Some can last 3 to 5 years or even more if it is well-taken care of. The first year is the growing and maturing stage and it happens at a slow rate.
Securing a good environment would help the plant last longer. You have to be faithful to its maintenance. And of course, make sure to propagate when pups appear.
What do air plants need to survive?
Light and water are the two most important things you need to provide to your air plants. Filtered light is always the best whether it’s from a natural or artificial source. Consistent watering would help the plant gain sufficient moisture, especially in less humid conditions.
Fertilizer is optional. You may or may not follow the month to month application of liquid fertilizer because air plants will survive even without those. If you do apply fertilizer, always remember to never ever over-fertilize.
How do air plants live?
Air plants have a unique way of acquiring nutrients and water. Since they don’t live in soil, they make use of their leaves to absorb moisture from the air. They utilize living or non-living substrates where they can attach themselves for support.
With the help of their tiny hairs called trichomes, they catch debris from the air and the rain. That’s where they get the nutrients that they utilize in order to survive
Do air plants attract bugs?
Yes, it does, particularly the mealybug which is a common pest of most indoor plants. They have a cotton-like appearance on the leaves. A warm climate is favorable to them so you have to watch out for your air plant during warm seasons.
These bugs can cost serious damage if the plant is left untreated. At the early stage of its appearance, you have to take immediate action by removing them manually. If that doesn’t work, you may need to use more potent solutions such as insecticidal soaps, dishwashing liquid, or pesticides to eliminate them completely.
Choosing an air plant to add to your indoor plant checklist is always a good decision. Not only does it bring a chic vibe inside your home, but it also enhances your creativity. Who wouldn’t have endless ideas when it comes to styling an air plant?
On top of that, its ability to thrive without soil would mean less work on your part. You don’t have to do repotting from time to time. There’s also no fear of developing root rot and other soil-borne diseases.
Having a plant that’s both unique and easy to care for is a blessing for every plant owner. After all, not all indoor plants have both qualities. So, break a leg with this one!