When it comes to growing and nurturing most plants, using good quality soil is usually the top priority. But tillandsia, also known as air plants, make plant care even simpler with their unique ability to thrive soil-free! That’s right, the one thing you thought every single plant needed—this one doesn’t. Instead, this houseplant is happy to latch onto almost anything, sourcing nutrients from the atmosphere rather than the ground. And although they aren’t named for this ability, they’re also effective air-cleaning plants, great for improving the air quality of your home!
Choosing an Air Plant
As the broadest genus of the bromeliad family, there are hundreds of different tillandsia to choose from. In fact, that number is always growing as we’re constantly discovering more and more of these fascinating plants growing in the depths of South and Central American jungles and forests. Characteristically, they’re known for their long, whimsical leaves, but they come in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors.
Curly tillandsia bring an interesting structural accent to your home with their curved foliage. Some varieties display intriguing wavy leaves, while the leaves of others, like the appropriately named Curly Slim, are full-on ringlets! If you’re looking for a more sophisticated-looking plant, there are also some available with very thin, delicate, and gracefully arching leaves.
Like succulents, tillandsia are often characterized as small, cute, and collectible. However, some can grow quite large, like Xerographica, which is commonly referred to as the “king” of tillandsia because it grows so big compared to other varieties. Its pale, mossy green color and unique, rounded outline also set it apart from other air plants.
While varying shades of green are common, you may notice some varieties that display fun patterns and colors. Some tillandsia produce a bloom spike, which not only adds structural interest but also causes the foliage to change color. Their fresh, green color fades to beautiful shades of deep red or bright pink at the tips when they’re ready to bloom, providing a bright, eye-catching accent to your home. In addition to unique colors, some air plants display funky patterns, with neat variegations and bold stripes.
How to Display Your Air Plant
In their native habitat, these epiphytic organisms grow on the surface of other plants, but in our homes and offices, they need something else to latch onto. With no need for soil, there are so many more interesting things you can work with to display them. The possibilities are endless, but we’ve got a few ideas for you:
Mounts: Because they’re so light, lots of people mount air plants to objects, like stones or rocks, driftwood, seashells, or lattice displays. Just use some plant ties, twist ties, wire, or clear fishing line to fasten their leaves in place. You can even use a small bit of hot glue to secure it, but place the glue on the object first, and then let it cool for about 10 seconds before attaching the plant, so it doesn’t scorch the leaf. Avoid copper wire and treated woods (which contain copper), as they can be toxic to your plant.
Terrariums: Glass globes, terrariums, and terrarium frames are also common for displaying tillandsia— simply lay the plant inside and let it do its thing. Be careful to choose terrariums that have large openings so your air plant can get plenty of air! Speaking of getting air, you can place your plants in suspended terrariums for a mesmerizing floating display. You can even add a few different varieties or accents to the display—just be careful not to surround it with sand, moss, or soil that will hold water as this may encourage rot.
Containers: Just because they don’t need to sit in a pot, doesn’t mean they can’t! Some people really like the traditional aesthetic of containers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just remember to choose a rather shallow container because you won’t have to fill it with soil, and you don’t want the foliage to drown in it. You can also fill your favorite pot with little decorative stones to lay your plant on if it’s too deep.
How to Care for Air Plants
The biggest mistake people make when caring for tillandsia is believing that all these guys need to survive is air alone. While their name might be a little misleading, it merely means that they don’t need soil—not that they don’t need anything else! Like other houseplants, you still need to give your tillandsia sunlight and water for them to thrive.
Since they’re used to the sheltered canopies of the rainforest, tillandsia typically don’t do well outside in direct sunlight, but they will often thrive near a sunny window. Their tolerance to high temperatures doesn’t mean they need to be sheltered from cold drafts; in fact cool (but not freezing) temperatures from a window in winter can help trigger them to flower! They definitely won’t fare well with our unpredictable weather and cold winters in Virginia and Maryland, so they’re best kept as houseplants in our neck of the woods. While the light requirements of your tillandsia will vary based on the variety, most will do fine in bright indirect light or, if your office has no windows, fluorescent lighting.
Air plants come from humid, rainforest environments, so it’s important to replicate that the best you can. Obviously, you can’t actually “water” your air plant like you would other plants. Instead of soaking the soil, you can soak the plant itself to keep it hydrated. Use tap water or well water, but avoid distilled water—it’ll end up leaching nutrients from the leaves.
Every few days, soak your plant in a dish of water for an hour or so, allowing it to pull in all the moisture it needs through its foliage. We recommend letting the water sit for a few hours before submerging your plant so that any traces of chlorine can evaporate first. Soak your tillandsia every week or so. Misting their foliage a few times a week can help supplement their watering, but most people find soaking to be a more reliable way to keep them healthy. A great place for air plants to hang out is actually the bathroom—they’ll love the humidity in there after you take a hot shower!
Good air circulation is also essential for tillandsia. Although all plants need some circulation to keep away fungus and disease, it’s especially crucial for air plants because their foliage gets wet when they’re watered. After soaking or misting them, they should be able to dry off within 3-4 hours to decrease the risk of rot.
Air plants are truly are one of a kind. Given adequate sun, moisture, and airflow, they’ll happily flourish almost anywhere like living pieces of art. Let your creativity flow by taking home your favorites from one of our garden center locations. Let Greenstreet Gardens be your destination for air plants in Lothian or Alexandria (Alexandria and Belle Haven) today!