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How to Grow a Tillandsia Air Plant

Updated on February 27, 2014
T. Brachycalous Multiflora.  This is the one that was suspended in the vase; see how the outside leaves are so brown?  I think it was hurting a bit in there.  Still blushing though!  Can't be feeling too bad.
T. Brachycalous Multiflora. This is the one that was suspended in the vase; see how the outside leaves are so brown? I think it was hurting a bit in there. Still blushing though! Can't be feeling too bad. | Source

The Myth of the Air Plant

I had a friend admiring my plant collection the other day, and she asked about my collection of Tillandsias. When I told her they were air plants she asked "They don't need anything but air?"

Well, this is true, in a sense I guess. An air plant doesn't need soil. It's roots are solely for the purpose of anchoring.

Buying a Tillandsia

There are hundreds of species and hybrids of Tillandsia Air Plants, and they are all fascinating in their own way. Some like terrariums, others like a drier climate.

I ordered my Tillandsias off the internet from a reputable grower. I see them for sale at Farmer's Markets and occasionally in grocery stores. These plants are usually glued to a shell, rock or part of a mini-scene.

I've heard ongoing controversy about whether or not they should be glued to any surface, I prefer to think logically about the situation: Is glue good for the plant?

A Little Bit of Background Info:

Things you should know before you purchase a Tillandsia Air Plant:

They absorb water, nutrients and carbon dioxide through their leaves. Using glue gunks up a bit of their absorption pores, (I wonder if it's not toxic to the plant) rendering them less efficient. In my opinion, taking away from a tiny little plants surface area decreases their chances of survival. I used florists wire so I can easily unhook them without damaging the leaves.

Tillandsias absorb carbon dioxide at night only. When you water them, they close their pores, so watering should only be done by day. I soak for about 5 min in the morning, then give them a cool down spritz in the mid afternoon (I have a period of time where I shut my growlight off and let the real sun in.) I let them dry out overnight.

Air Plants grow in the nooks and crannies of trees and rocks in the wild. They are usually found growing sideways or upside down. Not often right side up. When you are growing one in your home, be wary of growing them right way up as water collects between the leaves and can lead to rot.

Before they bloom (it starts as the days get longer in the spring) Tillandsias go through a "blushing" phase. The tips of your plant will change colors. By late summer they should be starting to bloom.

They are part of the Bromeliad family, the same family as Pineapples.

T. Oaxacana-See how the leaves are curling?  This one wants more water.
T. Oaxacana-See how the leaves are curling? This one wants more water. | Source

Where To Mount Your Tilly

It took me the better part of a month to figure out where the permanent home would be for these little guys. I decided on putting them overtop a glass vase half full of water. I tried suspending one in the vase, but there wasn't adequate air flow; I don't know if it will survive.

That being said: There are thousands of pictures on the internet of Tillandsia Air Plants being placed in "mini-terrariums" and hung from the ceiling or the wall or off the fridge etc...I had a huge vase with my Tilly in it and it went downhill. Mini-terrariums are pretty, but not great for long term survival. The two that I laid across the top are just ducky.

Don't put your Air Plant in a place where water can collect around it. Letting it sit in stagnant water for too long will kill them.

The Water Issue

Tillandsias, while challenging to grow, are very effective communicators. When they get thirsty, their leaves will curl. When parched, the outer leaves will curl inwards.

They like high humidity. I keep mine at about 80%. Full sun.

If you find your Tilly parched, you can soak it for up to 12 hours. Be sure to let it dry completely before watering again (obviously not to the point where it's parched again.)

T.  Butzii- A wet Tilly.  The pores are all closed.
T. Butzii- A wet Tilly. The pores are all closed. | Source

What About Food?

I feed these guys on the same schedule as I feed my orchids. I dilute 10-15-10 once a month during the slow growth season, and use 25-10-10 during rapid growth season.


Tillandsias reproduce via "pups" where the plant grows a new "bulb" part that seperates (not completely) from the mother plant. Small Tillies should be allowed to form a cluster; they grow better in groups.


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