How to grow and care for Air Plants (Grey Tillandsia)

Air Plant, Bromeliad

Botanical name: Tillandsia spp
Family: Bromeliaceae
Sufamily: Tillandsidoeae

The Air Plants or the Grey Tillandsias Bromeliads are unique houseplants that do not need to be planted in potting medium as furry scales on their foliage take up water from humid air and obtain nutrientsfrom air-borne dust and moisture; they literally live on air and hence the common name "Air Plants". Air Plants can be displayed by sticking them on coral, shells, drift wood, hanging them and many other ways. When they bloom, the leaves around the flowers change color and provide a lasting bright display, but the blooms themselves last only a few days.

The most widespread species of Air Plants is Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish Moss) which can be found hanging on trees throughout the warm tropical forests. Tillandsia caput-medusae is one of the most popular Air Plants whose thick and twisted leaves arise from a bulbous base and has very showy red bracts and blue flowers. Another common variety is Tillandsia ionatha which forms a compact rosette of arching silvery leaves and grows only a couple of inches tall. Its inner foliage turns red when the stalkless violet flowers appear. Tillandsia juncea is a long-leaved species whose rush-like foliage spreads outwards and a single flower-stalk bears the terminal blooms well above the heart of the plant. Tillandsia argentea is a silvery species whose short leaves spread untidily outwards as the plant develops.

How to Grow Air Plants (Grey Tillandsia)

Light for Air Plants

Air Plants prefer bright light but away from direct sunlight. Learn how to ensure your plant receives the correct light in this guide on understanding light for houseplants.

Watering Air Plants

For Air Plants in glass containers (ensure the container has an opening for proper air circulation), water by daily misting of the leaves during the hot season. Reduce misting to 2-3 times weekly during the cold season. For Air Plants that are in the open, water by dunking; dip the plant into a container of water and allow some time for the plant to absorb water. Repeat 2-3 times per week in hot season and reduce in the cold season. Shake off excess water and hang it upside-down to ensure no water remains standing in the center as it can lead to rotting.

To ensure that the Air Plant dries out quickly to avoid crown-rot, water in the morning so that it can dry out during the day when temperatures are higher than at night. Use tepid chlorine-free water like rain water. Do not use chlorinated water as Air Plants are sensitive to chlorine and do not use distilled water as the distillation process removes all the nutrients required for growth. Allow good air circulation to prevent pests and disease infestation.

Temperature for Air Plants

Average warmth with a minimum of 100C is ideal for Air Plants. However, to bring the plant to flower may require temperatures above 260C.

Humidity for Air Plants

Air Plants require a humid enviroment as is present in their natural environment. Employ these techniques to raise humidity. Allow good air circulation to prevent pests and disease infestation.

Feeding Air Plants

Feed Air Plants with a liquid fertilizer (foliar feed) once every month during the growing season. Do not use a fertilizer containing urea nitrogen as air plants cannot use urea nitrogen. Do not feed during the cold season as growth is minimal.

Pruning Air Plants

Pruning Air Plants involves removal of dead leaves to keep the plant neat and tidy and to allow adequate room for the new plants to grow. Remove the dead foliage by cutting at the base with a clean knife or a pair of scissors. Snip off dry, brown leaf tips with sharp scissors. Cut them at an angle so that they can blend in naturally with the rest of the leaves.

How to Propagate Air Plants (Grey Tillandsia)

Air Plants are propagated from offsets (pups) appearing at the base of the plant. When the offset is several months old or 1/3 to 1/2 the height of mother plant, remove it together with some roots attached and display it on its own. Continue with routine care.

Common Problems in Growing Air Plants (Grey Tillandsia)

  • Slow growth and pale leaves
  • Inadequate light is the cause of slow growth and pale leaves in Air Plants. Move the plant to a brighter spot. Learn how to ensure your plant receives the correct light in this guide on understanding light for houseplants.

  • Reddish, dry and brittle leaves
  • Exposing an Air Plant to excess light will result in reddish, dry brittle leaves. Move the plant to a shadier spot.

  • Brown leaf tips
  • There are two causes of brown leaf tips in Air Plants. One cause is underwatering; water more regularly and ensure the plant is thoroughly soaked. The other cause is overfeeding; reduce either frequency of feeding or quantity of feed as Air Plants are slow growers requiring very minimal feeding.

  • Leaves whitish even after watering
  • Low air humidity is the reason. Air Plants require a humid environment. Mist more regularly or place them in a glass bowl and keep a wet sponge inside to raise humidity.

  • Brown or grey slimy crown and roots
  • This is an indication of rotting due to excess water standing at the base of the crown of the Air Plant. Trim the rotten roots but if the crown is rotten, discard the plant, it is too far gone and can not be saved.

  • Pests
  • Common pests in Air Plants are Scales and Mealy Bugs. Isolate the affected plant to prevent spread to other houseplants and treat appropriately. Raise the air humidity to discourage pests infestation.

  • Plant death
  • Crown and Stem-rot Disease due to water sitting in the crown is the cause if the Air Plant has not flowered. If the plant has flowered then rotting and death of rosette which bore flower-stalk is natural to give room for the new plants. Remove the dead foliage by cutting at the base with a clean knife or a pair of scissors.

Toxicity

Air Plants (Grey Tillandsia) are non-toxic to humans and pets. The plants are safe to grow indoors.

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