This blog post is contributed by Sarah Gerrard Jones, an expert on houseplants.

Let me start by dispelling the myth – that ‘you don’t need to water air plants – all they need is air’. If, like many people, you thought this to be true, I urge you to read my care guide before your air plant suffers a premature death.

The name ‘air plant’, given to Tillandsia, is a bit of a misnomer. They can’t survive on air alone, they need light, water and nutrients just like other plants. The misconception comes not only from their name but also from their unique appearance, specifically their apparent lack of normal roots. Instead of using roots to absorb water and food, air plants use their leaves.

Watering an air plant is as important as watering any other house plants, it’s just done in a different way. There are essentially three methods you can use to hydrate your air plant: misting, dunking or soaking

  • Misting – useful if your plant is fixed to something else or part of a display. Bear in mind that a light misting won’t suffice. You need to make sure the whole plant is drenched. Aim to do this a few times each week.
  • Dunking – many Tillandsia originate from humid, rainforest conditions and will spend most of their lives semi-moist. Dunking them goes one step beyond misting so they get a more thorough watering.
  • Soaking – this is my preferred method and has kept my air plants happy for years. I collect rainwater in a bucket for this purpose, and once or twice a week I toss them in and forget about them for an hour or two. Using this method allows the plant to withstand longer periods of drought and is recommended if your plant is especially dry or showing signs of stress.

Signs your air plant is unhappy

Overwatering

An underwatered air plant will have browning or crispy leaf tips. If you are only misting your air plants and you see browning leaves then I recommend using the soaking method to rehydrate them.

Overwatering air plants is hard to do, but if you’re using the dunking or soaking method it’s important to let them dry off afterwards to ensure no excess water is left in between the leaves. Rot can be a problem if they aren’t allowed to dry off after a bath. This can be done by placing them upside down on the edge of a cup or glass until they appear drier.

Lack of enough light

Another misconception is that air plants don’t need much exposure to light. Far from it! Tillandsia should receive bright light and even direct light for a few hours a day. Choose areas of your home that receive the most amount of light, but beware of south-facing windows in Summer as the intensity of the sun can cause plants to burn. If you get the light and watering right you might be rewarded with a bloom! Plants placed in low light areas won’t thrive and will weaken over time.

Overfeeding

Add a small amount of orchid or epiphytes fertiliser to water once a month and soak or mist the plant. Do not exceed the manufacturer’s suggested dosage as it is possible to cause damage to the leaves by over-fertilising.

Tip: A pond or a fish tank are a good place to dunk or soak your air plants. They can benefit from the nutrients found in fish waste.

Takeaways

  • Air plants need water and light just like any other plant.
  • You can use misting, dunking or soaking to water air plants.
  • Be careful not to overfeed your air plant, use only a small amount of fertiliser mixed with water.
  • Browning or crispy leaf tips are a sign of underwatering.
  • Last update: February 20, 2020

Posted in Garden Advice, Plants in the UK

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