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How to Care for Air Plants Indoors

Learn how to care for air plants with my guide—based on years of practical experience with these unique beauties!

Learn how to grow air plants indoors

Today we’re talking about air plants, a very cool type of plant that doesn’t grow in soil—hence the name, “air plants.” It’s from a unique genus of over 650 types of flowering plants called Tillandsia in the Bromeliaceae family.

Tillandsia plants hail from forested, mountainous, and desert areas of northern Mexico, parts of the southern U.S., the Caribbean, and parts of South America. When I was in Florida a decade ago, I saw them growing in the wild. Locals confirmed that they treat them like weeds there, eliciting quite the gasp from this Marylander. I might have even taken a few home in my suitcase 🙂

Tillandsia xerographica air plant care

Air plant care overview

  • Air plants (Tillandsia) are unique plants from the Bromeliaceae family.
  • Native to forests, mountains, and deserts in the Americas.
  • Do not grow in soil; derive water and nutrients through special cells called trichomes on their leaves.
  • To water, soak in room temperature water for about 30 minutes; allow to dry completely.
  • Put in bright, indirect sunlight; not a low-light plant.
  • Air plants reproduce through seedlings and offsets, or pups.
  • Not known to be toxic.

Why are they called air plants?

Plants in the Tillandsia genus are referred to as air plants because of two characteristics: first, the unique way in which they absorb water. Their leaves, which are typically green and can have a silverish sheen, are covered in special cells called trichomes that quickly and efficiently gather water and other nutrients from the air. Much of the time through humidity. 

Second, they are also called air plants because you’ll likely find them high up in the air attached to trees, rocks, and more. Because most air plants are epiphytes, they grow attached to other things with little to no root systems. Though some air plants have minimal root systems that have evolved to withstand shifting soil conditions.

how to care for air plants
Tillandsia xerographica air plant

How do I water air plants?

Because of their shallow to seemingly non-existent root systems, tillandsia plants do not grow in soil. In fact, planting air plants in soil will lead the plants to rot from too much moisture. I mentioned that tillandsias absorb water through special trichome cells on their leaves. Outdoors, this water generally comes from rain and humid air, while nutrients can come from leaves and insects. 

While air plants are low maintenance in their natural habitat, collecting everything they need from rainwater and the air around them, caring for air plants indoors requires a bit more effort. Indoor air is often very dry, which can quickly dry out an air plant. If the tips of your plant’s leaves are turning brown and crispy or are curling a bit too much, your plant is thirsty!

To water your air plant, I recommend soaking it in room temperature water for about a half hour once a week (less in the winter). You can use a bowl or a sink with a stopper, which is what I do. Ensure every part of the plant touches the water. I flip mine about halfway through a soaking session. 

When you’re done soaking your plant, dry it off by setting it in a spot with bright indirect light. You want them to dry completely to avoid any rotting. After a few hours, you can return your air plant to wherever you had it displayed.

In my experience, simply misting your plant is not enough. It needs a good soak. However, feel free to mist the plant lightly in the morning between dunking sessions. Especially in the summer when temperatures are higher.

Tillandsia xerographica air plant
Tillandsia xerographica air plant
Tillandsia xerographica air plant

Where should I put air plants?

Air plants thrive indoors with bright, indirect light. I recommend placing your air plant in a sunny windowsill. Keep an eye on them in super sunny windows, though–—like south- or west-facing windows. Too much direct sunlight, especially during the hottest part of the day, can lead to leaf burn.

While air plants can tolerate lower light conditions for short periods, prolonged exposure to only low light levels can weaken them, eventually killing them. If you notice your air plants stretching or losing color, it’s a sign they’re not receiving enough light. I can speak from experience here—medium to low light levels are absolutely not a recipe for success with air plants.

If natural light is limited in your space, you can supplement with a grow light. Place your air plants under full-spectrum grow lights or LED lights designed for indoor plants. Position the lights about 6-12 inches above the plants and keep them on for about 12 hours per day to mimic natural daylight.

air plant on branches
large air plant in a head planter

How do air plants reproduce?

Air plants reproduce through flowering and pupping. They typically bloom once they reach maturity, which can take several months to years. The flowering process begins with a flower spike from the center of the plant. The flowers are small but bright and beautiful.

Once the flowers bloom, they attract pollinators (like bees and butterflies) that transfer pollen from the flower’s stamen (male organ) to the stigma (female organ). The flowers then develop seeds that are released into the air.

In addition to reproducing through seeds, air plants produce offsets or pups—miniature versions of the parent plant, which provides support until the offsets can survive on their own. Generally pups form after flowering.

beautiful air plant flowering
beautiful air plant flowering
beautiful air plant flowering

I have owned a few different air plant varieties, but like a lot of plants with so many different types, air plants are usually just labeled as “air plant” or “assorted tillandsia” at stores and garden centers. Many of the different varieties also look really similar, so it might take some research to figure out exactly what you have. 

A neat fact—the varieties with thinner leaves often hail from humid, rainy areas, while the varieties with thicker, more substantial leaves can retain more water and hail from drought-prone areas. Indoors, you can cut off the roots on all varieties because they serve no purpose. (Outside, they help the plants attach themselves to stuff.)

Here are a few common kinds:

  • Tillandsia xerographica: My favorite kind! I love it’s silverish-green leaves that look like long curly ribbons. Its leaves are on the thicker side, too. This variety has red or yellow flowers.
  • Tillandsia aeranthos: These air plants have long curved, spiky green leaves that are thinner. The aeranthos produces pink and blue flowers.  h
  • Tillandsia bulbosa: This is one I see a lot in stores. It’s called “bulbosa” because its base it bulb-like. These are generally a bit longer and leaner than other air plants. 
  • Tillandsia kolbii: The kolbii variety also remains relatively small and lean, growing only a few inches long.
Tillandsia xerographica air plant
Tillandsia bulbosa care
how to care for air plants

Are air plants toxic?

According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a part of the University of Texas at Austin, tillandsia plants are not known to be toxic if ingested. However, they aren’t meant to be ingested, so I always recommend keeping plants away from curious kids and nosy pets.

how to care for air plants

In conclusion…

With their unique ability to thrive without soil, these fascinating plants only require occasional soaking and a spot with bright, indirect light to flourish. From the silvery elegance of tillandsia xerographica to the vibrant blooms of tillandsia aeranthos, there’s an air plant variety to suit every indoor plant collection.

Have you tried growing air plants, or do you have any tips to share? Drop a comment below, and happy planting!

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collage of plants with text overlay that says all about growing air plants

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  1. Lanty Ross says:

    I see a lot of pictures of air plants in pots. Do they need to be rooted in soil?

    • Brittany Goldwyn says:

      No, they do not–in fact, they shouldn’t be. Sometimes I just set mine down into pots so they have somewhere to live, but I don’t put soil in the pot.

  2. Kim V says:

    I love airplants. I live in a very dry area, so I water them weekly for about 40 minutes. I’ve found that if you want more flowers or color changing, they prefer bright light. Mine are in an east facing window and get direct morning sunlight. I appreciate that you didn’t say to “just mist” like so many places do that sell airplants.

    • Brittany Goldwyn says:

      Yes! My first air plant sadly died because I only misted it. I’m sure if you’re in a humid, warm climate that’s fine, but our house is so dry too.

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