Tips for Growing Air Plants – Tillandsia

Tillandsia is also known as an air plant. Air plants are a member of the epiphyte family. This plant needs no soil to grow and gets its nourishment from the air.  Air plants have specialized leaves that draw in nutrients.

An air plant can also have roots, but it uses these only to attach itself to rocks, trees, shrubs and even the ground.  They can be displayed in so many creative ways and make wonderful indoor plants.

How to grow Air Plants - Tillandsia. These little plants seem to thrive on neglect.

Air Plants – the house plant that lives on a bit of neglect.

Air plants are common in the Southern US, Mexico, as well as Central and South America.  They are epiphytes, a type of plant that actually seems to thrive on a bit of neglect. Growing air plants

My type of plant!  As much as I love gardening, there are times when I manage to kill a plant from getting too busy with my life.  It is nice to know that there is a plant that will put up with this.air plants on a tree limb

One might think that air plants are parasites since they attach themselves to trees, but epiphytes grow on other plants for physical support and do not normally affect the host plant in a negative way.

What is Tillandsia Moss

Spanish Moss, also known as Tillandsia Usneoides is an ephiphyte often seen  in the Southern areas of the USA.Tillandsia moss (Spanish moss) is the most common air plant in the USA

It is a flowering plant that often grows upon larger trees in tropical and subtropical climates. The plant is native to much of Mexico, Central America and South America. It is probably the most common air plant in the United States.

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Care of Air Plants

In spite of the fact that air plants get nourishment from the air, there still do need a few things to grow well.

Circulation – air plants often attach themselves high in trees, so it stands to reason that they need some air circulating around them. You can’t expect to put it in the back of a cupboard and have it thrive.  Good air circulation will keep air plants happy.

This image shows an air plant holder with circulation from all sides, allowing more than one air plant to be displayed effectively. Image provided by reader of this blog Lanka W. Thanks for sharing Lanka!Air plant holder with good circulation

Moisture – Even though air plants don’t need to be watered often, they do need some moisture or they will shrivel and eventually die.  Misting with a plant mister, a few times a week, not watering, takes care of this.

During the really warm months,  you might need to mist them once a day if they look as though they are shriveling.  In the autumn and winter, once or twice a week will do.

air plants often grow in trees so they like good circulation

For air plants to really do well in a home environment, the whole plant needs to be placed in a container of water once a week and then dried out before placing it back in its container.

Sunlight – Air plants choose trees and shrubs to attach themselves to for a reason. It gives them some protection from full sunlight. Bright filtered light or partial shade will result in the most healthy plants. Colorful air plants such as this Tillandsia ioantha need a bit more like than the plain green ones.Colorful air plant Tillandsia ioantha

Fertilization – Once a month in the summer months, add some liquid fertilizer made for air plants to the watering mister.  Very weak fertilizer ration is best – about 1/4 strength.

Temperature – These are tropical plants. They won’t like it one bit if you leave them outside when the temperature dips below 40ºF.  In zones 9 and higher, you can grow them outside all year, but in colder zones, bring them indoors before you hit the mid 40s temps in the fall.

Flowers – Sadly, each air plant will only bloom once in its lifetime. After flowering, the bloom will dry off.  Trim off the entire flower stalk to help produce tillandsia pups. These pups are new plants that form at the base of the plant.

Most air plants will bloom eventually but they need the right light and growing conditions to do so. If you are lucky to get yours to flower, be sure to water regularly and fertilize at this time to encourage a long bloom time.

Tillandsia will only bloom once in a lifetime

What a great little plant!

Air plants need no soil to grow. See these creative ideas for displaying this pretty plant.

Display of Air Plants

Now that you know how to take care of them, what should you use for air plant holders to display them?  That is what I love best about air plants.  They are happily at home in so many ways.   Think outside the box. So many items can be home to your tillandsias.

1. Bird cage planters.  Bird cages make great locations for your air plants.  You can add a few pieces of bark or some branches and they will be right at home.Air Plants look right at home in bird cage planters2. Driftwood. Air plants love to attach themselves to anything stationary.  An artistic piece of drift wood, or part of a tree or some branches make the perfect display.air plants on driftwood3. In baskets.  There are some lovely tiered baskets available in most home decor shops.  Air plants make a lovely display when they are just casually growing in a basket.  It makes them easy to care for too!  This double tiered basket makes a great home for them!Air plants in a basket4. On Stones.  It is not uncommon for air plants to find themselves attached to stone or rocks in the wild.  Make use of their nature by artistically displaying it on some sliced agate, or other natural stone. It makes a work of art.Place air plants on granite for artistic displays5. On Moss.  Attach air plants to some sphagnum moss and tie to any upright.  This gives the plant the air circulation that it loves and adds height to the display.Place air plants on moss to give it a home6. On upright posts.  Tillandsia really does like an airy perch.  Do you have uprights on a pergola, or on your patio?  How about the slats on a porch railing?  Tie bunches of air plants to them for a really decorative effect.  This colorful version is Tillandsia “Victoria.”

Tillandsia Victoria

Photo credit Wikimedia – Share Alike 3.0

 7. In a pretty bowl.  I love the way the starkness of this air plant compliments the bright and shiny bowl container.  Any decorative bowl would do.  Just use some moss inside to keep the air plant at the level that you want.Air plants look great in a bowl.8. On Wire.  Place some wire around a ball of sphagnum moss and form it into any shape you like (I’d use a sphere and cover it with air plants!  Just poke the air plant through the spaces of the wire and cover it for a really lovely hanging display.

Air plant on wire

Photo credit Wikimedia Creative Commons Share- Alike 3.0

9. In a terrarium.  This is one of my favorite ways to display air plants.  Our local farmer’s market has a stall which sells only these wonderful hanging terrarium displays with air plants in them. So pretty.

Display air plants in a terrarium

Photo credit – Wikimedia – Creative commons share alike 3.0

10. On wires. Since air plants do not need soil and can live in the air, attach some curled plastic coated heavy gauge wire against a colorful background and pop the tillandsia into the openings of the wire.  It makes a very colorful and striking display.Place air plants in curled wires for a pretty display

11. In normal planters Air plants are normally quite small plants in the 2-4 inch size but given the right conditions and the variety, some can grow to be quite large.  In a case like this, you can display them in any normal planter and place it where it will get the right growing conditions.Large air plant

Have you grown air plants?  How do you display ours?  I’d love to see some photos of them.  You can email them to me or upload them with a comment below, and I’ll include your photo in this article too.

If you would like a reminder of this post for growing air plants, just pin this image to one of your Pinterest Gardening Boards.Tips for growing air plants and how to display them creatively

Admin note: This post for growing air plants first appeared on the blog in July of 2015. I have updated it with additional information, photos and a video for you to enjoy.


  10 comments for “Tips for Growing Air Plants – Tillandsia

  1. 07/26/2017 at 9:50 pm

    I agree with most of your care instructions but air plants do not need to be misted every day. A couple of times a week with a heavy mist or just run water over them at the sink is fine. They need to dry out after the watering in about four hours. As quick as possible.

    • Carol
      07/26/2017 at 10:20 pm

      I love your photo. I have a new post about containers for air plants. If you don’t mind, I’d love to add it to the post. (with a shout out to you, of course) You can see the post here. Thanks for the tip on watering. I didn’t realize it read that I suggested misting every day. I meant that more as an aside for really hot months. I have adjusted the wording slightly. Thanks! Carol

  2. Michele Schirduan
    10/26/2017 at 3:44 pm

    I love your post. I have been watering my Air Plants every other week by placing them in a bowl of water and they are doing fine. They seem to enjoy the neglect!

    • Carol
      10/26/2017 at 4:04 pm

      Thanks Michelle. They really are appealing little plants, aren’t they? Carol

  3. Lolita
    04/27/2018 at 12:30 pm

    Hello, maybe i can buy air plants from you?

    • Carol
      04/27/2018 at 5:39 pm

      I’m sorry, I don’t sell plants. Carol

  4. Deb Chalman
    07/03/2018 at 1:24 am

    Are air plants started from seed, spores, cuttings? I would like to go them and create gifts for a very large family…most have gotten past the age of gifts but this is perfect…can you tell me how I grow them myself? Thanks

    • Carol
      07/03/2018 at 11:29 am

      Hi Deb. They do grow from seeds but it can take 2-4 years. Most of them are grown from offsets – called “pups” that develop near the main plant. This would mean that you would need a mature host plant (or several if you want a lot of pups) Carol

  5. CHARLENE SHERWOOD
    07/22/2018 at 8:38 pm

    Hello! I bought the wood, not realizing that I need to attach the plant to the wood. The plant does not grow out of the wood, correct?

    Thanks 🙂
    Char

    • Carol
      07/22/2018 at 9:39 pm

      Hi Charlene. In nature, the plant attaches naturally to trees and other wooden supports. In our homes, we need to have a way to attach it somehow until it takes root. You could attach a small velcro dot to the wood and then the plant will stick to it, but come off easily when you need to water it. Carol

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