Air plants are the surprise gems that will make your backyard hideaway feel special. Tucked into the bark of trees, gathered in small planters on tables, or hanging from the eaves of a shed, they create visual interest and surprise. Air plants are also a fun way to incorporate a theme or collection into your hideaway since they can be tucked into vintage jars and vases, wired to colorful stones, planted in seashells, or placed in dangling glass globes.
(Image credit: Cowell’s Garden Centre)
Air plants should be kept in shade or areas with filtered light, and you will need to bring them indoors before the first frost in the fall. You can also keep them in a shed in the winter in areas where the cold is not too severe. If you want to build a shed for your backyard, grab those free plans over here.
Many air plants also produce colorful blooms with the right care. Like the cherry on a sundae, the bloom on an air plant livens up your backyard especially when they are tucked away in unexpected places.
Here are the top five air plants for your backyard hideaway:
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Tillandsia Ionantha Mexican
The spiky leaves of the Ionantha Mexican are bright green most of the time. But, they can transform into shades of bright red and orange when the plant blooms. A delicate purple tubular flower also emerges in the center, adding to the colorful display. When well cared for, the Ionantha Mexican blooms two to three times per year. In addition to a colorful display, this plant is quite hardy. It survives drought and neglect quite well. It can sometimes go up to two weeks without water.
If you do forget about this air plant and it starts to dry up, it can usually be revived by soaking it in a bowl of water. This makes it perfect for first-time air plant owners, or forgetful gardeners. The Ionantha Mexican stays fairly small, topping out at about six inches high. It’s perfect for small hanging displays, placing in shells or bowls on a garden table, or tucking into the knots of trees.
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Since this little air plant will cling to almost any surface, it is perfect for placing in usual places or containers. It will thrive on ceramic, glass, stone, wood, cork, or just about any other surface allowing you to get really creative with its placement. The leaves are thin and grass-like in shades of green and silver-green. The stricta has a short blooming period.
In fact, the delicate pink blooms typically last for just one day, but the leaves also turn beautiful colors at the same time and that color can last for up to three months. Although the stricta will grow well in humid conditions it does not like to be completely wet for long periods of time. Tillandsia Stricta averages between four and six inches tall.
(Image credit: Hirt’s Gardens)
With its long flat leaves in shades of green and deep red, the flabellata resembles a typical house plant more than most air plants. It grows quite large as far as air plants go, reaching 10 to 12 inches in length. When in bloom, the plant sends out a spray of eye-catching red spiky flowers. The generous size of this air plant makes it ideal for spots that look a little bare visually. If you have low-growing bushes against a tall tree, for example, place the flabellata on the tree trunk a few feet above the bushes to fill in the empty space in an unexpected way. This plant likes humidity so it may need regular watering if you live in a dry climate, but it is rather hardy and easy to keep.
(Image credit: Cowell’s Garden Centre)
Fancy curled leaves are the trademark of the xerographica. The shape of the leaves is determined by how much water the plant receives, so a little neglect can actually result in a more attractive shape. The less water it receives, the more the leaves curl into attractive shapes.
The xerographica is hardy and can withstand more sunlight than most air plants. It can also survive with less water. If it gets a little too dry, it can usually be revived with a thorough soaking. It does not bloom very often, but when it does it sends up a striking spiky yellow bloom. The xerographica is usually around six inches but it can grow quite large for an air plant, reaching up to 15 inches in some cases.
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The bright green foliage of the brachycaulos is perfect for adding greenery. It can add new life to anyplace that seems a little bare in your backyard. The spiky leaves are often said to resemble the top of a pineapple. However, this tough little plant can grow just about anywhere.
Unlike most air plants that require filtered sun or shade, the brachycaulos can handle direct sun as long as it receives enough water. It will also grow upside down, making it a good choice for hanging displays. Place it in globes dangling from the eaves of your house, shed, or on stones, tables. It’ll compliment a variety of objects in your yard. At about six inches it is large enough to be seen but small enough to be highly versatile.
Emily Heyde is a hiking addict, vegan, Mad Men fan and a seasonal gardener from New Jersey. She uses an ecological approach to landscaping and experimenting with square foot gardening. She loves to spend her time with books and express ideas through writing.