Friday, February 1, 2013

Join the Air Plant Revolution!!


Air Plants or Tillandsia are the largest genus in the bromeliad family. There are over 500 species of air plants and they are native to the southern United States, Mexico, Central and South America. Varieties are found from sea level to high mountain ranges in jungles and arid desert climates. Air plants are hardy and adaptable and tolerate a wide range of climate and require minimal care. The three most important requirements are bright, indirect sunlight, good air circulation and water.

Air plants are classified as epiphytes. This means they attach themselves to a host plant, tree or rock and absorb moisture and nutrients in the air through their leaves. The absorption occurs through small scales on their leaves called Trichomes. These Trichomes are what give many Tillandsia their silver or gray appearance.

There is enormous variety in size, shape, texture, bloom and color of air plants. Many of these unique plants undergo a dramatic color change as they prepare to bloom. A few provide unequaled fragrance.

Since Tillandsias are epiphytes the display you choose is limited only by your imagination. Air plants are hardy and adaptable and tolerate a wide range of climate and require minimal care. Below is a complete guide on caring for your Air Plant/Tillandsia.

Displaying your Tillandsia

NEVER “plant” your Tillandsia, putting a Tillandsia in soil is almost certain death to your plant. If you want it in a pot to look like a normal plant and you need to add some weight to stop it falling over, use gravel, pebbles or any other medium that drains rapidly. If your plant is placed in anything that holds water or moisture and doesn't dry out between waterings it will ROT!!! ................... This is not a good thing !!!

Another option is to purchase a Tillandsia that is already mounted or “planted.” There are many creative varieties and styles that you can choose from. Since each Tillandsia is unique, HIBISCUS arranges each one slightly different.

Many Tillandsia grow just hanging from a wooden peg or piece of fishing line will eventually form spheres in a few years, and look spectacular grown this way, and will only have to be separated when the center eventually falls apart. Tillandsias will grow in any direction, they do not need to be grown upright like most other plants, you want it hanging sideways fine, at an angle fine, you even see them growing naturally upside down, so whichever way you pick your plant will grow. The options are endless, all it requires is imagination.

If attaching to ocean driftwood, soak the wood for several weeks to remove the salt residue, too much salt will damage your plants and cause tip die back. Good woods resistant to decay are cedar, manzanita or grape. Cork bark and tree fern are also good choices. As Tillandsia tend to grow in colonies or clusters of plants, many look very nice just hanging with no mounting at all. Given time an exceptional specimen plant can develop.

Try not to put Tillandsias in containers that hold water, they need to dry out. If you do place your plant in something that holds water, empty out the excess after watering your plant. The same thing applies when mounting your plant on something, try to place your plant on a high point rather than in a hollow.

If your plant has roots on it and they are in your way, or they just look unsightly, you can cut them off. Tillandsias only use their roots as anchors to hold on with, you will not harm the plant in any way by removing them, it may or may not regrow them.

Just in case you haven't noticed there is one thing that keeps coming up in the tips on mounting your Tillandsia. Whatever you do with your plant make sure it is going to be able to dry out totally after you have watered it. Tillandsia hate to have wet feet all the time.

You can use glue, wire, fishing line, twisty ties, nails or staples.

We use E6000 glue as it is waterproof and dries clear, but you can use any kind of glue you like (except SUPERGLUE) a plumbers glue is generally better because it is waterproof and doesn't break down, hot glue and liquid nails tend to give way after a while because of constantly getting wet, Goop, Shoe Goo and Tilly Tacker are completely waterproof, and will not let go. When using glue, only use enough to hold the plant where you want it.

If using wire, make sure you don't use copper wire unless it's got a plastic coating (copper kills Tillandsia).

Nails and staples can only be used on plants with a woody stolon or with sufficient roots, nailing or stapling through the growing part of a plant would kill it.

Bright Light But Not Direct Sunlight

If your air plants are going to be in your home or office bright light or filtered sun is recommended. If these light conditions are not possible, a broad spectrum fluorescent light, such as an aquarium light will provide short term light requirements for your air plants.

Air plants do exceptionally well in outdoor environments. A backyard tree, screened porch or pool patio would be the most likely areas to find the bright filtered-light conditions air plants love. Even though many grow in full sun, as a rule we do not recommend it. Early morning or late afternoon sun should be fine under more humid conditions. In hotter, dryer conditions more shade and water should be provided.

Water your Tillandsia one to three times per week

Indoor air plants should stay healthy with a watering schedule of 1 to 2 times a week. However, it may be necessary to water three times per week due to dryer, less humid air caused by air-conditioning or heating. Plants grown in humid outdoor environments should be watered once a week. In dryer climates more frequent watering may be necessary. Saturate the air plants completely until water runs off the plant - light misting is normally insufficient. Allow to dry completely between waterings. If your plant's leaves start to curl or roll it could be an indication of dehydration. This can be corrected by completely submerging your plant in water overnight; then resume normal watering schedule. Softer, greener-leaved air plants will require more frequent watering and a bit less sun than stiff, gray or silver-leaved plants. If totally confused about whether or not to water, pull at an outside leaf, if it comes off easily it doesn't need water, if its tough to pull off it needs watering. ( NOTE :- Please don't do this too often or you won’t have much of a plant left. )

They will tolerate city water, but will bloom sooner and give more offset (new plants) without chemicals. Use rain, spring or bottled water for the best results. Well water is excellent, as long as it is not going through a softener.

Reviving a neglected plant

If you have a plant that's been neglected, don't throw it away if there's any green left anywhere on the plant. Instead immerse your plant in water up to a maximum of 12 hours and for another 4 hours 2 or 3 days later, then resume a GOOD watering cycle, quite often the plant will recover, and even though you will have leaf damage your plant should still produce pups for you. Look after the pups better.


If you are going on a short vacation (under one month). Soak your plant for 4 hours 3 days before you go then soak again for 12 hours immediately before you leave, place the plant in a shady (not dark) spot and go ENJOY your vacation. Upon returning your plant will show a little leaf damage and will look dehydrated, immediately soak for 12 hours and for another 4 hours 2 or 3 days later, then resume normal watering, your plant should start to revive several hours after immersion. Your plant just went dormant while you were on vacation, given good water and light it will wake up again.

Give Your Tillandsia Some Air

Locate your air plants in a well ventilated area as they love fresh moving air. The breeze dries air plants between waterings which helps to avoid any disease due to over watering.

Fertilizing Your Tillandsia

If you wish to make your air plants extra happy you should fertilize about once a month. Because they have the ability to capture and hold nutrients with their trichomes, they have a tendency to be sensitive to over fertilization and can burn tillandsia plants. With most liquid fertilizers 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. per gallon of water applied once a month will keep your air plants happy and healthy. Use a good quality liquid or water soluble fertilizer with a formulation low in copper. High amounts of copper are toxic to tillandsia. We recommend a 10-5-5 plant food. Do not use Miracle-Grow on airplants. You can use any orchid food or Peters All Purpose. Fertilizing is not absolutely necessary to survival, but will increase the growth and vigor of your air plants and their blooms.

Tillandsia Temperature

Very tolerant of a wide range of temperatures, most air plants can withstand near freezing temperatures. Although preferring temperatures in the seventies (Fahrenheit), with increased water, air circulation and shade, air plants can do quite well in temperatures well into the nineties.

Tillandsia Blooms

Air plant blooms are as diverse and beautiful as any in the plant world and can last from a few days to as long as a year in some of the slow growing species. Color can vary from white, orange, bright yellow, red, pink, blue, purple and many shades in between. A wide variety of air plants bloom naturally in late winter through mid-summer. Many, but not all, can be induced to bloom using a solution of plant growth regulator sprayed lightly over the entire plant. This treatment will compel the blooming cycle within 4 to 8 weeks. Many air plants are too sensitive and can be damaged by this process or the bloom they may produce is a disappointment compared to the plant's natural blossom. If your plant loses its color after blooming, this is natural, all its energy is now going into producing pups. If your plant (especially Ionanthas) loses its color before blooming it’s not getting sufficient light, move to a lighter location.

Tillandsia Reproduction

Air plants reproduce by offset (pup) or by seed. Many send out pups from the base or between the leaves of the mother plant. This is one characteristic that endears Tillandsias to plant enthusiasts. In some air plants it is not unusual to see 4 to 8 offsets appear before, during or after bloom. Young air plants can be separated from the mother when they are 1/3 to 1/2 the parent's size, and will mature in about a year. Reproduction by seed is a rewarding process, however growth of a seedling can be very slow, taking years before the Tillandsia is mature.

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1 comment:

  1. this is a great little blog post! some good tips here especially the fertilizing one, i personally dont bother but its good to know!