Air Plants- Tillandsia

A hand holding Tillandsia bulbosa in flower. The plant is blushing bright red at the top and purple flowers are emerging

     Air plants are an interesting, whimsical addition to any home or terrarium. They require no soil to grow and thrive. A common misconception is that they also do not need additional water in order to live. While that could be the case if they are kept in a humid terrarium or are grown outdoors in their native habitat, which ranges anywhere from the southeastern USA down into meso-america, Argentina and the Caribbean, for most of us, it is simply not humid enough in our homes to keep these plants alive. Air plants are still a wonderful plant for beginners and experienced growers alike! Without further adieu, let's get into one of the most important aspects of care... Where should they be grown?


     Air plants are epiphytes, which means they grow on the surface of other plants. Typically, these plants are trees, which means air plants are used to shade. Keeping them in a terrarium or in a location with bright, indirect light is best. They can live easily in north facing windows, or even bathrooms with windows. Some species tolerate brighter light than others, with a few even having the ability to be grown in full sun. Not every species can tolerate these intense sun conditions, however, and have the potential to get sunburn if kept outside or under too bright of grow lights. Any window, even the brightest window of the house, will be safe for air plants, however. This is because our windows have a layer of argon gas between the panes, which filters a lot of light and will often leave plants who love the sun craving even more.


    Misting every day or every three days will help keep the plants hydrated between waterings. Air plants absorb water through their leaves instead of their roots, which are thin, stiff, and wiry. The roots of air plants are mainly used to hold them in place and are not always present when grown in cultivation. To water an air plant, fill a container with water and soak the plants for 15 to 20 minutes once a month or bimonthly, depending on the species. Some species, like Tillandsia xerographica are adapted to drier conditions and only need this soaking once every other month. Other species, like T. abdida, T. harrisii, and spanish moss are found in much wetter areas in the wild, and therefore will need more water. Keeping the base just above the water will help prevent rot. Shake as much water out of the plants as possible and allow them to dry upside down for at least four hours. This will help prevent rotting which is possibly the biggest cause of death for air plants. If being grown in a closed terrarium, your air plant might not need watering, depending on the level of humidity. It will not need misting if being grown in a terrarium setting.

Terrarium Setting

   A terrarium in this sense means a planted enclosed space with soil, plants, often as a closed system. This could also mean bioactive enclosures for reptiles and amphibians. Glass displays without soil are not considered terrariums, and are not included when talking about the terrarium care in this section.

     Terrarium settings are the closest we can get to Tillandsia’s natural habitat. Closed terrariums will have enough humidity to forgo misting. Keep a lookout for signs of thirst on the plant. The leaves will curl in on themselves when the plant needs soaked. Good airflow will help prevent rotting. If kept in a terrarium, be sure the plant is mounted above the soil. If air plants are resting on the soil or planted into it, they will most certainly rot. If your air plant is kept in a screen topped bioactive enclosure for your pet, they will likely still need additional misting. If your pet also needs to be misted, like gargoyle or crested geckos, make sure to spray the air plant during the nightly routine, as well.


    Mounting is not necessary for air plants to thrive, however if mounting is desired, it is suggested to use fishing line to hold the plant against an organic board such as cork bark, another live plant, etc. Leave the fishing line loose to allow removal for watering if need be and to allow for growth of the plant. If the plant begins to outgrow the fishing line (i.e. the line becomes snug), cut the line and retie a new one, keeping it loose. If the line becomes too tight, the plant’s health can suffer. There is a potential for the plants to attach themselves to the organic mount. If this happens and is undesired, carefully use a razor blade or exacto knife to remove the roots from the mount.


    Feel free to email me photos of your plant if you believe there is something wrong at With the photo, please tell me the care you have been giving the plant.

Happy growing!!

<3 Gina

A huge air plant