A quick guide to growing and caring for Air Plants

Going.Local
Published on October 22nd 2020
26
A close up of a plant
Tillandsia or Air plants, as they are commonly referred to, is a large genus with over 500 plant species. Most Tillandsias originate from the cloud forests of central and southern America. These epiphytic plants grow whilst attached to trees or cliffs, absorbing all their moisture and nutrients through their silvery leaves.
Moving them into your home or garden can be a wonderful way to add a bit of a twist to your decor. So let's dive into what you need to know for air plant care.
A person in a garden
Discover the diversity of Air plants in the Knowledge base Collection below.

Which to choose?

You might find yourself thinking all air plants look very similar. This is not always the case as there are a few distinguishing features that can help you to separate them. Here are some things to consider when selecting your air plant:
  • Will it need bright indirect light or semi-shade?
Air plants with fewer or no 'hair' (trichomes) will require partial shade.
  • What size do I want?
Some stay miniature, whilst others can reach 30-40 cm.
  • What am I willing to spend?
You do not have to spend an arm and a leg to acquire a decent collection. Some slower-growing species will always cost more.
Some species will flower readily, such as Tillandsia ionantha, whilst others like Tillandsia xerographic will only flower once after a number of years. The latter also takes 4-5 years to reach marketable size and may set you back anywhere between R300-800 per plant.
As a reference guide:
Fast growers:
Tiny leaves:
Fluffy:
Large:
A close up of a tillandsia tunnel
The Tillandsia tunnel at Simply Green that houses Valhalla Bromeliads and Glenn Breayley's private collection.

Where to buy

Air plants are readily available from garden centres and select specialists. On a recent trip up the coast, I visited several collections including Simply Green. It is worth the effort to visit collections in person as the growers themselves add to the experience.
If you find yourself homebound for the foreseeable future, then do not despair. The following vendors offer postal orders:
A close up of a wire fence

Rare and Air

Rare and Air specialises in airplants. We supply nursery grown plants for creative gifts and decor, delivered nationwide. Open by appointment or online. Retail and wholesale.

A close up of a logo

In2Plants

We are passionate about collecting Tillandisia and we strive to make them available to fellow plant lovers. From ordinary to rare plants. We also sell orchids, staghorn ferns and air plant accessories. You can also request us to cater for events and special occasions.

Plantae Orchids

Plantae Orchids is a specialist nursery dedicated to the growing of orchids and rare & unusual plants. We offer a wide variety of orchid species and orchid hybrids with an emphasis on angraecoids, cattleyas, dendrobiums, oncidiinae phalaenopsis and vandas. Orchid plants can be purchased either at the nursery, at the various shows we attend countrywide or via mail order within South Africa. Our inventory features also exotic plants such as tillandsias and other bromeliads, carnivorous plants, hoyas, ornamental gingers as well as some rare trees and shrubs. We are able to present informative lectures and workshops. An informative monthly newsletter is circulated via e-mail with topical information on orchid growing and notices of shows and open days taking place in that month. You can subscribe to our newsletter by providing us with your details in the space allocated below to the right. The orchid and rare plant nursery is open by appointment as well as on the special open days listed. It would be a shame for you to drive out to the nursery and find we are away on delivery or attending a show. Please phone before you visit if it is not one of the open days listed on the website. Come and enjoy the peace and quiet of the bushveld on one of our open days. You would be able to view a wide range of orchids and other plants, our growing facilities and a variety of exotic cage birds. The garden keeps on expanding and here you would be able to see orchids and other epiphytes growing and flowering in the trees combined with a range of indigenous and exotic plants along the pathways. Wonderful scenery, a wide range of indigenous birds and trees will add to the magic of the visit!

A mounted tillandsia

Grow and care

Air plants require either daily or weekly watering depending on how you go about it. If you prefer to water once a week, then it is advised to leave the plants submerged for 2-5 hours in rainwater (tap water should be left out overnight to remove any chlorine before use).
  • Water: Once weekly soak or daily comprehensive misting.
  • Exposure: Indirect bright or semi-shade depending on species.
  • Feed: Bonsai or orchid liquid feed at 1/4 of recommended dosage once every other week (not during flowering, but after).
Check out the post below to see how @Jay does it!
If you like misting your plants every day, then make sure to wet the plant enough so it is still wet after 15 min. After watering the plant should be placed upside down or near good airflow for the excess water to evaporate within 1-2 hours. Some growers use unfiltered dam water or runoff that contains nutrients and therefore do not foliar feed.
A tillandsia ionantha bloom

Getting your air plant to flower

Some Tillandsia flowers are triggered by exposure to xylene (a gas emitted by ripening apples and prevalent in nature). Most will flower once it reaches a mature size without any encouragement on your part.
See the posts below for flowering inspiration by our community members!
You can remove the bloom early on to trigger the plant into producing pups with the energy it would have spent on the flower.
Flower removal | Done with a sterile pair of scissors and removed at the base of the stalk.
If you manage to obtain an air plant with seed pods then you can remove the seed pods for propagation. Seeds are sown on sphagnum moss and kept consistently moist in indirect sunlight to germinate.
A close up of a flower tillandsia bergeri or air plant
Tillandsia bergeri is the most common air plant in South African gardens as it can withstand full sun.

Tillandsia in habitat

If you would like to observe them in their natural habitat, then you will have to make the exhilarating trip to Brazil, Peru or several of the other native habitats.
One possibility is spotting the various species along the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. For more on the subject, you can head over to the article Ancient Gardens | Machu Picchu.

Share your air plants and care tips using the hashtag #AirPlant

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