Collecting Air Plants

by Holly Boettcher

How could it be that I, who has a green thumb the size of Door County, kept killing these adorable little plants? I was told they are so easy to grow, but my first several attempts with air plants did not have a good outcome. Once I learned the secret to success, I have been collecting these low-maintenance plants and they keep thriving.  

About Air Plants

Air Plants are cute, adorable, furry, fuzzy, shiny, and even spiky! Their botanical name is Tillandsia, but they are commonly known as air plants. Since they are hardy in zones nine to 13, they must live in the house with you unless you wish to keep them in a shaded area on your porch in the summer. Air plants are epiphytes, which means they grow on other plants in their native environment; mainly the bark of tree branches. They get nutrients from rainwater and bird excrement. There are more than 600 varieties. These lovely, little plants are part of the Bromeliad family and cousins of the pineapple. They are native to the southern U.S., California, Mexico, Central, and South America. They love humidity. Most are quite small, ranging from 2 inches up to 12 inches tall. Some produce attractive flowers that can last for months. They also have “pups” that can be removed as a new plant!

How to Care for Them

This is where I went wrong on my first several attempts. I was thoroughly rinsing them once per week, then soaking them for an hour once a month. My new successful care regime is to save rainwater, although cool tap water works just fine. Then I soak them — do not mist — in the rainwater once a week for about an hour. Next, I gently shake the excess water off and make sure they are dry. Now it is time to put them back in my favorite growing place, which is a bird cage above my kitchen sink. To encourage blooms and keep your air plant healthy, add a water-soluble fertilizer to the rainwater about once a month before soaking. The fertilizer is made specifically for air plants or Bromeliads. To keep them blooming longer, don’t soak the flower in water. Air plants love a room with lots of windows that get at least four to six hours of filtered light per day.  

Ideas for Display

Never plant air plants in soil. Don’t plant them in a terrarium or a closed vessel, because they need a lot of air circulation to prevent fungal disease. I love the look of my air plants in the bird cage! Other ideas are to place them in a seashell, a teacup, on a shelf, or in a grapevine wreath.

Sometimes my air plants almost feel like pets because they are so full of personality.  I am willing to bet if you try one of these fascinating plants, you’ll fall in love just like I did.