How To Grow Air Plants
For specific growing instructions on each species check out our eBook, “201 Tillandsia & How to Grow Them”. This eBook can be purchased for $6.99 with no postage fee. (Search “201 Tillandsia” on our website)
Air plants (tillandsias) belong to the family of plants called bromeliads. There are close to 650 species and they often have unique structures and dazzling flowers when in bloom. They are living wonders of nature and have evolved with the remarkable ability of being able to capture all their water and nutrients through tiny scales on the leaf surface. Although they produce roots, these are primarily used to secure themselves and they can often be seen dangling from tree branches, power lines and cliff faces. Because of this, they can literally live off the air and hence their name. In fact, planting them in soil will eventually kill them!
Air plants are highly adaptable and can be grown well throughout Australia. They should receive bright, indirect sunlight. An east or west facing window area is ideal but avoid very hot positions. Outdoors under partially shaded conditions is fine but in the colder states protection from frost is required so an undercover or indoors area is more appropriate.
As a rough guide, you can look at the leaves to determine what kind of environment the plant comes from. In general, those with rigid, silver leaves (e.g. Tillandsia Xerographica) generally receive little rainfall while plants with soft, green leaves (e.g. Tillandsia Brachycaulos) are from more humid environments with higher water requirements.
As a general rule, a plant in a hot position will require watering every 2-3 days. In a dark, humid environment watering once per week can often be adequate. This can be achieved by misting or dunking the plant. If outdoors, a hose can be used. When dunking a plant, leave submerged in a bowl of water for 10-20 minutes before shaking off excess water. Air plants love to dry out completely between each watering and must never have water sitting at their base as this will cause the plant to rot.
We recommend fertilising your Air Plants once a fortnight in the warmer months and once a month through winter. We sell Air Plant Fertiliser in our Accessories section. Simply give the plant one or two sprays after watering.
There are two ways to propagate Tillandsia, from offsets “pups”, or from seed. Growing from seed is a patience game, sometimes taking up to 10 years for the plants to reach maturity! We recommend Tillandsia seedlings to collectors with some experience with the species, as they tend to need more attention to detail with regard to their growing conditions and care. Many a seedling has been lost in the chase for the perfect growing system!
The main issue that is faced with seedlings is watering consistency. As they are so small (and Tillandsia take their moisture from their surface area (through Trichomes) rather than from their roots, they tend to dry out quickly and need to be watered more often than larger plants. We recommend mounting your plants on a sheet of coconut husk or shade cloth. This can be done using a small amount of no-more nails or aquarium safe silicone (or laying them flat in a tray).
Next you will need to sort out a misting system. We prefer a misting system to sprinklers as you want to get the outside surface of the plant moist without building up moisture on the inside of the leaves (which can cause rot). Depending on your temperature, air flow, and humidity will be how often you will water the plants each day. For our smaller seedlings (1-2cm) we recommend trying to get as many wet/dry cycles in per day. We use a timing system which will switch on for a 1 minute, 1-2 times a day (depending on cloud cover). If you do not have a misting system you will need to do this by hand, try to mist them a minimum of once per day. You can slowly ween them off the water over a month or two so that you only have to water 2 – 3 times a week (this is called hardening). You will need to check your system to make sure the plants are fully drying out between watering. Below is an image of some Tillandsia Brachycaulos seedlings growing on a shade cloth.