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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
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.
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.
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.