How to Water Air Plants
Tillandsia watering guide
Learning how to water air plants can seem like a daunting task. You may have been told just to mist your air plant once per week. Or maybe you were told to put it in water for five minutes. Not to worry. In this article, we will break it down and simplify things so you can be confident you are watering your air plant correctly.
How you need to water your air plant depends on what type of air plant you have. Just like potted plants, air plants grow in a wide range of environments and need different amounts of water, light, humidity, etc. They all take in water through the trichomes on their leaves. So the leaves are what need water, not the roots. Tillandsia uses their roots to attach to surfaces like trees and rocks. The roots don’t take in water or nutrients.
It’s always best to learn how to care for your specific species of tillandsia; however, most air plants can be divided into four categories. Open, Bulbous, Smooth, and Fuzzy. Some plants will fall into two different categories. Keep in mind there are always exceptions to this generalization including Xerographica and Streptophylla.
Open Air Plants
Open air plants are those with an open rosette. This category includes T. harrisii, T. capitata, and T. aeranthos. They can be smooth or fuzzy, water hogs or drought tolerant, large or small. Because they have more space between the leaves and don’t have tight bases, they can be fully submerged in water, for an extended period of time.
The leaves of these types of plants tend to fold inward when they are dry so it is easy to tell when they need water. Most species need 30 minutes to 4 hours soaking in water, once per week, depending on whether or not they are smooth or fuzzy.
If the plant has gotten too dry and the leaves have folded in, it’s best to let these soak until the leaves have unfolded. Keep in mind that it can be normal for older leaves at the base of the plant to fold in…. Unfortunately, that type of thing can happen when we get older, whether we are a plant or something else.
Lastly, always, always, always dry your air plant upside down. If they don’t dry upside down, water can get caught in the base and cause rot.
Bulbous Air Plants
Bulbous air plants have a tight, round base. They can be smooth or fuzzy, large or small but most are fairly drought-tolerant. The important part about watering bulbous air plants is to not get water caught in the base. If water gets in the base, it is practically impossible to get out causing your plant to rot and die.
There are two ways to water bulbous plants. Misting and dunking or a combination of the two. Whichever you choose, start with once per week and increase/decrease the frequency as needed.
If you prefer misting, get a spray bottle with a fine mist and spray the plant at least 3 times per week. Ideally, mist your plant 5-7 times per week. Be careful not to over-saturate the plant and cause water to drip into the base. If you want to play it safe, mist it fully and prop the air plant upside down to dry.
Here are a few misters with a nice spray pattern.
Dunking is my favorite way to water bulbous air plants. Instead of submerging the entire plant in water as you would an open plant, only submerge the top part, avoiding getting the base of the plant wet. Just a quick dip in and pull it out, no soaking.
Just like before, always, always, always dry your air plant upside down. If they don’t dry upside down, water can get caught in the base and cause rot. This is especially important with bulbous plants.
Smooth air plants have less prominent trichomes. Instead of having shimmery, velvety leaves, the leaves are shiny and feel more like plastic. These are the water hogs. The vast majority of smooth-leaved air plants will need soaking once per week and won’t survive on misting alone.
If the leaves are smooth and the base is open, start with an hour soak and increase the time if needed. Most will need 1-4 hours of soaking depending on the heat and humidity.
These plants can soak for up to 8 hours but only if they are super dehydrated. Like if you went on vacation for two weeks and forgot about them. Or maybe you ordered them online and they were stuck in transit for over a week.
Remember that the base shape trumps the leaf texture, smooth or fuzzy. If the base is bulbous, do not soak! Instead water per instructions for bulbous plants, just more frequently.
Fuzzy air plants are the few air plants that can survive on misting alone. This category includes T. tectorum and T. caput. Their fuzzy or velvet texture means there are a lot of trichomes that can absorb water more easily. Check out our list of 10 fuzzy air plants.
It’s important not to soak fuzzy air plants as too much water can damage the trichomes.
If you prefer misting, get a spray bottle with a fine mist and spray the plant at least 3 times per week. Ideally, mist your plant 5-7 times per week. If the leaf lips start turning brow, the plant needs more water. Be careful not to over-saturate the plant and cause water to drip into the base.
Dunking is another option. These fuzzy plants only need a quick dip in water. Likewise, you can hold it upside down, under a faucet for a few seconds. If the base is bulbous, do not soak it! And again, always, always, always dry your air plant upside down.
Check out our video on How to Water Air Plants for more information.
That’s it ya’ll. If you have any other questions about watering your air plant, let us know!