Air Plant Gardening

A plant that lives on air? How easy is that? Air plants are spidery little beauties that are ideal for home decorators and plant collectors. Here are some surprising things you may not know about these carefree plants.

  • Air plants are related to bromeliads, the spiky-flowered tropical plant. In fact, air plants are considered bromeliads (but not all bromeliads are air plants). Like bromeliads, airplants come in different sizes, colours, and shapes.
  • Air plants are rule breakers: Unlike other plants, they don’t grow in soil. In nature, air plants use their roots to set up housekeeping anywhere, grabbing onto tree branches or rocks. But they are also happy sitting in a glass globe, on top of sand in a dish, or propped on the top of a little vase.
  • Remember the Hollies hit in the summer of 1974 “The Air that I Breathe”? (If not, ask your parents…) This song could have been written about air plants. Plants that live on air are called epiphytes. Absorption of nutrients occurs through the small scales on their leaves.
  • Because air plants feed off the air, it only makes sense that they like lots of circulating air—sort of a fly-by smorgasbord. Air plants won’t live in an entirely enclosed container, such as a sealed jar.
  • Air plants like it bright! Position your plants in a south, east or west window. They also do well under fluorescent lights.
  • Air plants love a vacation and a little stint on a front or stoep or screened room will suit them well. Just make sure they are not exposed to full direct sunlight all day. In the wild air plants are found in many different ecosystems: jungles, deserts, and rain forests.
  • Like dunking a rusk into coffee: that’s how you water an air plant. Just immerse the whole plant in a bowl of water. Then shake out the air plants so no water pools in leaf recesses. Dunk a couple times a week to refresh your air plant. You can also water by misting your air plant once a week or two.
  • Although you don’t need to feed your air plant (because it can live off nutrients gleaned from water and air), you can improve the growth of your plant by giving it a snack. Look for food formulated for air plants or bromeliads.
  • Go ahead and groom your air plant. If leaves are dried or brown, clip them off the plant.
  • As if air plant foliage isn’t cool on its own, these little plants will occasionally bloom in a host of colours. Flowers appear in spring and summer.
  • Air plants can have babies! Called pups, these baby tillandsias grow around the base of the mother plant. Once they are about the same size as the mother, you can pluck them off and place them in other containers.

Our free online workshops will resume again on 14 January 2022. Watch these pages for the links.

If you have any gardening questions, feel free to contact your friendly Garden Guru – Sue Both at: sueb@gardenhop.co.za