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Air Plants Explained

Tillandsia’s, aka air plants, have got be some of the coolest plants that exist. Native to North, Central, South America, and the Caribbean, Epiphyte’s (Ep-Ih-Fights) are plants that grow in forests on other trees. When I lived in Puerto Rico and took hikes in the forests, you could see them from the forest floor, way up above in the tree canopy, hanging on the branches and limbs of larger trees. They are not parasites - which means they do not hurt the host tree. Rather, they recieve their water, nutrients and air from the naturally occurring rain and forest mist (they have specially adapted to do this, since they do not have soil at their disposal).

There are many types of epiphytes- bromeliads, orchids, Spanish moss, and tillandsias. Many of which you can pick up at your local nursery (Barrels and Branches in Encinitas has an awesome display in their greenhouse). They are all so unique and beautiful! Most of them flower for an added bonus, although will usually only flower once in their lifespan. They make for unique décor and can give your interior space a fun green touch or you can use them outdoors on a vertical garden wall.

If you are wondering how you'd display these little guys, we absolutely love local San Diego Braid and Wood Design Studio's indoor air plant holder as seen below.

You can check out all of their products at:

Here is how to take care of them:

  • Watering Tips:

Fully submerge in water about once a week and allow to completely dry. Observe the color and look of the plant when you purchase it and note if its leaves begin to look “dry” or turn pale in color. If this happens, they are not getting enough water. This usually happens when people only use mist to water their air plants. It simply is not enough to keep them fresh and vibrant. A weekly dip in water followed by a gentle shake to help the plant drip dry will really help simulate the rainfall soaking they would get in their natural forest environment. Of course, in a tropical forest the sun quickly comes out following the rain and would dry up the air plant, so make sure your air plant does not rot by ensuring it is drying within 4 hours of its soak.

Do get a spray bottle for misting and mist your air plant a few times a week. They will love the extra misting, as this helps simulate the forest mist and fog they would feel just below the forest tree canopy.

  • Sunlight Tips:

Air plants like filtered light and definitely no direct sunlight. When placing indoors they would love to be near a window, but not too close where the window glass will magnify the heat and burn the delicate foliage and be too intense. Another problem with placing an air plant too close to a window is that during winter the air plant would get too much cold exposure.

If placing outdoors, the first concern is to ensure that it will be in a spot that never freezes. They do not like temperatures below 60 degrees so make sure you bring them indoors in the fall/winter/spring in Southern California. If placing outdoors in the summer, pick a shady spot under a tree with a decent amount of foliage. You can hang it in place on the tree branch with wire or jute twine. Another great option would be a covered patio, shady spot under a pergola or any other covered outdoor space.

  • Potential Problems:

Mealy bugs or scale- if your plant gets either, treat right away with Neem oil by spraying on plant with bottle mister.

If bottom leaves die, simply remove gently by twisting off with hands or using scissors to cut off. If your air plants dries out while you are learning how much water it needs in your home environment, the tips of the leaves might turn brown. You can cut off the unsightly tips using scissors, just be sure to cut at an 45 degree angle so that it looks as natural as possible.

  • Fertilizer:

Not needed, but will improve the health and overall look of the plant. Use air plant specific fertilizer (see link below) and apply using the spray bottle with a gentle mist every other week.

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