Tillandsia, more commonly referred to as air plants, are a type of epiphyte native to the Americas and the West Indies. They are unique because they don’t need soil to grow and they absorb water and nutrients through their leaves. This makes caring for an air plant relatively simple, although there are a few best practices to keep in mind when watering them.
Air plants are native to tropical and subtropical regions where there is lots of moisture and warmth. So, when you water air plants, you want to help imitate their natural environment. You can mist air plants in imitation of light rainfall. Or you can use immersion methods that involve rinsing or soaking entire plants, and then shaking them to remove excess water.
Ways to water air plants
There are hundreds of different air plant species. As Carol Papas a master gardener explains, some are Mesic, and others are xeric.
Mesic air plants come from moderately humid environments. They prefer filtered light and need to be watered frequently.
Most are usually dark green, with smooth leaves. They have very few if any, trichomes (tiny hairy outgrowths).
Xeric air plants come from much drier regions, including deserts, and they have lots of fuzzy trichomes. Silvery in color, they thrive in direct sunlight and prefer less water.
In general, because air plants don’t grow in soil, air plant watering methods are very different from the methods we use for other house plants. While they certainly require less care than a lot of other house plants, they do need to be watered regularly.
Regular misting with water works well in warm, humid climates, but it often isn’t enough to keep these unique plants healthy. Other ways of watering involve immersing the entire plant in water, either just rinsing them or soaking them for a short time.
Whichever watering method you choose, you can buy liquid fertilizer for air plant watering that is formulated to encourage these amazing plants to flower. Generally, you should fertilize your air plants about once a month.
The soaking method is a type of immersion method used to water air plants. Unless your environment is very humid, it’s best to do this every 7-10 days.
All you do is fill a container with tepid water and let them soak at room temperature for about 20-60 minutes. This allows the plant to absorb water through its leaves.
Even though air plants do have roots, these are what they use to attach themselves to other plants in a natural environment. It’s not how they feed.
After soaking, it is vital to shake off any excess water. This prevents rot caused by water that settles inside the crown. Then place the plants on a clean, dry surface and let them dry for a couple of hours.
It is recommended that you soak air plants at least once a week. If the environment is very dry you’ll need to do this more frequently.
The rinsing method is probably the simplest watering method for an air plant. It also involves immersion in water, but for a much shorter time.
All you do is hold the entire plant under a tap and rinse it with tepid water. Then let it dry the same way as you do when using the soaking method.
The misting method can be time intensive, especially when the environment is very hot and dry. But it’s not difficult to do.
To mist plants, you need a spray bottle and clean water. It’s a good method to use when fertilizing air plants.
But it may not be sufficient to make sure air plants stay healthy. Even if you mist air plants every second day, you may find that misting is inadequate.
If this is the case, you could soak or rinse them now and then, as well as mist plants with water.
Should air plants be soaked or misted?
You can mist air plants, rinse them, or use the soaking method to water them. As explained, a lot has to do with your environmental conditions.
Of course, if your air plant is in a location where it can’t be moved, your only option will be misting. But there are other factors too.
Some types of air plants prefer to be misted rather than dunked under a tap or soaked in a basin of water.
A good rule of thumb is that xeric air plants prefer misting or dunking. Mesic air plants like to be soaked.
Can air plants be watered with tap water?
Air plants can be sensitive to fluorine and chloride. So it depends entirely on the quality of your tap water and how water has been processed.
Air plants prefer slightly acidic water, so aim for water with a pH of between 5.5 and 6.0 alkalinity.
If you can store rainwater, that’s a much better bet. Spring water is also a good option.
Ultimately, if it’s good clean water, your plants should be absolutely fine – even if it’s tap water.
How often do air plants need to be watered?
Air plants need to be watered often and consistently. If soaking or rinsing, do this every week to 10 days.
When misting air plants, you’ll need to do this more often. A good rule of thumb when misting is every two to three days, or more often if necessary. If you notice that their leaves are becoming slightly curled or rolled in appearance, water them. If tips start to turn brown, you can be sure that they aren’t getting enough water.
At the same time, as the experts at the University of New Hampshire Extension warn, air plants will rot if you water them too often. They will also suffer if you allow water to collect at the base of their leaves (or crown) or stay wet for too long after watering.
It is just as important not to over-mist air plants as this can also cause them to rot.
Watering air plants is relatively easy and can be done using an immersion method, misting method, or a combination of both. It is important to not over-water the plants.
You should also keep them in relatively bright, indirect light and maintain the proper temperature and humidity levels. Also, be sure there is good air circulation wherever you keep them.
With proper care, air plants can thrive and bring life and beauty to your home. If you don’t already have an air plant, you can order one online.
If you’re wondering how many to buy, one, three, or dozens. Look out for deals that offer three for the price of one!