Do health reasons, kids or pets keep you from owning a houseplant because having containers of potting soil sitting around is problematic? Keeping small children and pets from digging around soil and making a mess can be a part-time job for an indoor gardener.
Then, there is the dust that settles on plants with leaves. Who has time for more dusting? Fortunately, air plants are just as interesting as any potted plant you can find at your garden center, but they require no soil and are easier to care for than most plants. And they’re so trendy these days, so finding them is easier than ever.
Air plants growing on driftwood by Ryan Somma via Flickr Creative Commons
What is an air plant?
Tillandsia is a genus of plants commonly referred to as air plants. These plants are epiphytic, meaning they grow attached to larger plants, trees, shrubs and even rocks. Air plants draw their moisture and nutrient requirements from the surrounding environments, and do not need any soil or pots.
How to grow an air plant
Like with most plants, the first step in learning how to grow an air plant is learning about their natural habitats. These plants are native to forests and mountains in Central and South America, and the southern United States. Ever been to the south and observed large trees covered in Spanish moss? Then you have seen an air plant.
Air plant terrarium by Amy Gizienski via Flickr Creative Commons
How to water an air plant
From late-summer to mid-spring, water your air plants by misting them daily. Unlike potted houseplants, you can’t really over-water an air plant. When I have owned air plants in the past, I preferred to gather my plants and just submerge them in a bowl or bucket of water for about an hour once a week.
Keep in mind that these plants primarily come from warm and humid environments. If you live in a dry climate or have forced air, you will need to provided adequate humidity by regularly misting your air plants.
Sunlight requirement for air plants indoors
A bright, sunny window, alcove or porch where the air plant gets some protection from full sun is ideal for these plants. Remember, they grow in tree canopies and mountains where they get dabbled light and some shade. Too much direct sunlight will lead to your plant drying out or the leaves burning. Yes, plants can get sunburns just like we do.
Air plants in pipes by Bookfinch via Flickr Creative Commons
Displaying your air plants
Because the roots of air plants are primarily used to anchor themselves to something else, there’s no need for “potting” an air plant. Use this unique growing characteristic to get creative. Some air plant growers will attach their plants to a large, decorative piece of driftwood, a magnet to allow it to “hang” on a fridge, or simply tie it to a larger plant. In recent years air plant terrariums have become really popular. There is no wrong way to display the air plants in your indoor garden.
While air plants are mostly grown for their exotic and alien shapes, these plants bloom when they are grown right. The flowers can be small but they are very colorful. In nature, air plants get their nutrients from decaying leaves and bugs and absorbed through their leaves. You can fertilize your air plant by mixing water-soluble houseplant fertilizer that is low in nitrogen into a spray bottle where it is diluted with water. Spray this fertilizer mix on the leaves of the plant once a week during spring and summer. Growing an air plant is easy when you learn a little about where they come from and what they need to grow healthy.