Everything you need to know for happy, thriving air plants.

By Amanda Lauren
Updated June 01, 2019
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You might have heard that air plant care is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be if you understand what conditions they need to thrive. After all, air plants have been one of the biggest horticultural trends in recent years—and for good reason.

Air plants bloom into vibrant colors, including shades of red, burgundy, deep violet, and even bright pink. Not only are they beautiful, air plants are often miniature in size, making them perfect options for decorating small spaces and apartments. They’re often sold in decorative containers like miniature terrariums or even in crystals, which can help brighten up a desk or elevate the look of a side table. Hanging air plants are another great way to incorporate an element of nature and color into a space.

Air plants can also be beneficial to your health. They reduce both dust and pollutants in the air, so they are an ideal plant for allergy sufferers. They also reduce carbon dioxide and increase levels of oxygen.

However, many people who buy air plants complain that they die quickly. Partially true, this often occurs because they don’t know the best way to take care of air plants to help them thrive. But given proper conditions and maintenance, they grow easily indoors. Here are some helpful air plant care tips to keep yours blooming for years.

Let’s start with the basics: What is an air plant exactly?

Native to warm, humid climates located in North and South America, the genus Tillandsia has over 600 different species of epiphytes—aka air plants. An epiphyte is a plant that grows above the ground on another plant in a non-parasitic way. Tillandsia are called air plants because the nutrients they need to survive come from the atmosphere (air) as opposed to soil. While air plants do have roots, they are only for clinging to the plants they grow on.

Are air plants hard to take care of?

Caring for air plants is only a challenge if you don’t start off on the right foot. According to NYBG Certified Horticulturist Bliss Bendall, it’s important to be very specific about the kind of air plant you choose because not all have the same requirements or grow under the same exact conditions. “It is vital to do your research on the variety of Tillandsia species you want way ahead of time,” she says. As long as you are meticulous, your air plants can grow and thrive.

Do air plants need soil?

Air plants do not need soil because they grow above ground. In fact, soil can be deadly to air plants. “They need nutrients that can only be supplied by the atmosphere, including circulation, humidity, and rain (water)," Bendall says. "Putting air plants in soil would be like burying a person alive. They need air to breathe and to live.”

How much sunlight do air plants need?

Do air plants need sun? Absolutely, because all plants need sun. “Almost all Tillandsia cannot live in climates below 60-65 degrees. Thus, air plants don’t stand a chance without sunlight,” Bendall says.

Air plants need bright, indirect, filtered light. So if you are growing them indoors, it is ideal to keep them in a room with either southern or northern exposure. “East or west is usually too dim or too direct,” Bendall says. “But temperature and humidity are just as important as proper light exposure is to this plant.” So make sure you aren’t keeping the window open in the winter or blasting air conditioning in the summer.

Do air plants need water?

Water is a topic that can cause much confusion when it comes to caring for air plants. A common misconception is that air plants don’t need water. They are called “air plants” after all. Many people are under the impression that they need minimal water to survive, but every species of air plant actually has specific water needs.

There is one method of watering that works for most types of air plants, however. As a general rule of thumb, Bendall suggests removing air plants from their container, then submerging the plant in room temperature tap water (or ideally, rainwater) for an hour. “After all, in their element, air plants would be watered sufficiently from bouts of heavy tropical rain and left to drip dry as the sun comes back out,” she says. “At home, the plant should be properly shaken and dripped dry to avoid any stagnate water collecting on its leaves or in its crevices to prevent rotting.”

Water air plants once a week. Try to avoid using soft water, which can have high levels of salt and cause your plant to die.

How to grow air plants from seeds

Growing this plant from seeds is something that only experts should really attempt. “There is no way to predict if most species are even viable to begin with,” Bendall says. “Then, you would need to have next to perfect atmospheric conditions not only for the plant to survive but to germinate in the first place.”

You are likely to have better results from buying an air plant and trying to maintain it than you would starting from the beginning of its life.

Do air plants grow fast?

Unfortunately, air plants are notoriously slow growing. “Most species take five years to mature,” Bendall says. This also explains why so many small air plants are sold. “On the other hand, they are always consistently going through growth cycles,” she adds.

Why is your air plant dying?

There are many reasons why air plants don’t last. Chances are, you either under- or over-watered it or accidentally used soft water.

Cold air can also lead to the demise of air plants. “If air plants get too cold for a consistent 24-hour period below its planting zone, that can also cause them to die,” says Bendall. Low air circulation and lack of humidity can also kill plants.