Not Always “In the Dirt” – Air Plants Thrive Soil-Free!

Tillandsia, also known as air plants, make plant care even simpler with their unique ability to thrive soil-free! Now anyone can have a green thumb!

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One of tillandsia’s attractions is that you can “plant” them almost anywhere there’s the right amount of light and air circulation.
Photos: Courtesy of Greenstreet Gardens

by Ray Greenstreet

Alexandria, VA – When it comes to growing and nurturing most plants, good quality soil is usually the top priority. But tillandsia, also known as air plants, make plant care even simpler with their unique ability to thrive soil-free!

That’s right, the one thing you thought every single plant needed, this one doesn’t. Instead, this houseplant is happy to latch onto almost anything, sourcing nutrients from the atmosphere rather than the ground. And although they aren’t named for this ability, they’re also effective air-cleaning plants, great for improving the air quality of your home!

As the broadest genus of the bromeliad family, there are hundreds of different tillandsia to choose from. In fact, that number is always growing as we’re constantly discovering more and more of these fascinating plants in the depths of South and Central American jungles and forests.

While varying shades of green are common, you may notice that some varieties display fun patterns and colors. Their fresh, green color fades to beautiful shades of deep red or bright pink at the tips when they’re ready to bloom, providing a bright, eye-catching accent to your home. In addition to unique colors, some air plants display funky patterns, with neat variegations and bold stripes.

In their native habitat, these organisms grow on the surface of other plants, but in our homes and offices, they need something else to latch onto. With no need for soil, there are so many more interesting things you can work

with to display them. Mounts such as stones, driftwood, and lattices are the most popular; just use some plant ties, wire, or even a small bit of hot glue to secure. Terrariums and containers are a common choice as well.

Tillandsia (air plants) are easy to care for due to their unique ability to thrive soil-free.
Photos: Courtesy of Greenstreet Gardens

The biggest mistake people make when caring for tillandsia is believing that air alone is all these guys need to survive. While their name might be a little misleading, it merely means that they don’t need soil—not that they don’t need anything else! Like other houseplants, you still need to give your tillandsia sunlight and water to thrive.

Since they’re used to the sheltered canopies of the rainforest, tillandsia typically don’t do well outside or in direct sunlight, but they will often thrive near a sunny window. The light requirements of your tillandsia will vary based on the variety, but most will do fine in bright indirect light.

Every few days, submerge your plant in a dish of water for an hour or so, allowing it to pull in all the moisture it needs through its foliage. We recommend letting the water sit for a few hours before doing this so that any trace of chlorine can evaporate first. Soak your tillandsia every week or so. A great place for air plants to hang out is actually the bathroom—they’ll love the humidity in there after you take a hot shower!

Good air circulation is also essential for tillandsia. Although all plants need some circulation to keep away fungus and disease, it’s especially crucial for air plants because their foliage gets wet when they’re watered. After soaking or misting them, they need to be able to dry off within three to four hours to decrease the risk of rot.

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