How to Care for Tillandsias (Air Plants)

Tillandsia is their botanical first name but these fascinating beauties are commonly called Air Plants because they don’t grow in soil. Look ma, no dirt! A few of them, like the Tillandsia cyanea, can grow in soil too. If you want to learn how to care for Tillandsias, then please read on.

They’re epiphytes, and in their natural environments, grow attached to other plants usually under the canopy of a tree. Don’t worry – they’re not parasitic like that oh so popular holiday smoochin’ plant the mistletoe. The host plant is merely their means of support. 

The care for these unusual plants is super simple.  I’ll break it into 6 categories so it’s crystal clear for you. There’s a video, How to Care For Your Air Plants, waiting for you at the end of this post.

I’ve done an updated air plant care post and video which you also might find helpful. It goes more into detail about how to grow them indoors.

How To Care For Your Tillandsias aka Air Plants

looking down on a variety of air plants aka tillandsias
a beautiful arrangement of air plants aka tillandsias

NATURAL LIGHTING

Bright, indirect light is best.  Make sure your air plants don’t get any hot, direct sun or that they aren’t in low light.  The light conditions they require are very similar to pothos, dracaenas or rubber plants.  That being said, those with more silver in their foliage or thick foliage can take more light.  

The lighting is the similar for bromeliads. Tillandsias are in the same family by the way.  I have bromeliads in my garden and some can take more sun than others.  The majority (all but 3) of my tillandsias live outdoors on my covered front porch and enjoy the bright light of the filtered morning sun.

When growing air plants as houseplants, they need also bright natural light to do their best. Just be sure to keep them out of any hot, direct sun or they’ll burn.

TEMPERATURE

This is simple; no need to make it more complicated than it is.  They like temperatures no higher than 85 or 90 degrees and none below freezing.

WATERING

It’s best to spray or soak (how long depends on the size) your air plants 1-2 times a week. If you’re in a drier climate, then you may need to mist them every other day. Your temperature & humidity levels throughout the year will play a part also.

I’m an exception. I live in Santa Barbara, CA only 7 blocks from the ocean so my tillandsias that live outdoors take in moisture from the air. I soak them only once every 4-5 weeks and the smaller ones get a good spray once a week or 2.

They don’t like any salts (some of us have more in our tap water than others do) so I let the water sit in the pail for a day or so before I soak them. I do the same with the water in the spray bottle.

The finer leaf varieties would benefit from a soaking more often but don’t them let soak for too long. They’ll “mush” out if water sits in their centers. It’s important to shake off all the excess water after soaking. Although air plants love moisture, they are subject to rot.

And, an air plant that’s blooming doesn’t like to be soaked.

FERTILIZING

Air plants take in nutrients through their leaves. A fertilizer specific for bromeliads is best. Either soak them in the fertilizer mixed with water or take them to the sink and spray them (with the fertilizer in a spray bottle) if they’re attached to something like a rock or piece of wood.  

They really don’t need the fertilizer but when growing indoors, they’d appreciate it. Feeding will help them to grow a little faster, pup (make new baby plants) and perhaps flower if you do.

AIR CIRCULATION

Another simple one – they need it to have it.

TOXIC TO ANIMALS

This can be a concern with indoor plants.  They are reportedly non toxic to pets but I know from experience (Oscar, my tuxedo kitty, partially chewed three of them) that cats love to munch on their crunchy leaves. My 3 air plants growing indoors have since been moved to higher grounds.

air plants aka tillandsias & 2 succulents growing on a piece of driftwood
close up of a tillandsia tectorum

They are great for crafting, creating and for kids as a starter plant.  Check out my Amazon shop for air plants & accessories.  Be warned:  once you get a few, you’ll want more!

I’ve done an updated air plant care post and video which you also might find helpful. It goes more into detail about how to grow them indoors.

P.S. Here is the video in case you didn’t catch it before!

Happy Gardening,

Signed by Nell Foster

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29 Comments

  1. Hi Neil
    I HAVE been given a tillandsia cyanea which I have indoors in UK
    It was a lovely pink but after having it for a month or two it is now starting to turn a green colour is this bad and is it starting to die?

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