Wondering how to water air plants? Or are you worried that your air plant may be dying due to over- or under-watering? Find out how much and how often should you soak air plants to keep them alive!
Air plants – from their name, does that mean that they only need air alone to survive? Many people don’t even know what air plants are so it’s easy to make mistakes when you’re just starting to have them in your home.
I admit that I was one of those people who thought that air plants literally just thrive on air. Because of that, my Capitata Peach shriveled and I was completely lost on what to do next.
Don’t let my mishap scare you on getting them though since air plants –also known as Tillandsia– are low-maintenance plants like succulents. It's really easy to care for them since they mostly get the nutrients that they need from the air, hence the name.
Considering you’re a beginner, you might be wondering about how to water air plants. If so, read on to discover everything you need to know about watering these beauties.
How to water air plants
Plants usually need soil, water, and sunlight to survive but when it comes to air plants, they basically just need a bit of light and water.
Generally, there are two ways that you can water your air plants; it can be by Soaking or by Misting/Spritzing.
For a more vibrant and healthier air plant, it’s usually the combination of both. The third method, Rinsing or Dunking, is only administered from time to time.
soaking air plants
Let’s say you now have your first air plant. Before hanging them, soak the plant upside down on water for 15 minutes.
Shake it gently, still upside down, to make sure that there’s no water in between the leaves; completely dry the plant.
And that’s it, easy right? However, you don’t always have to soak your air plants. They’re fine with no or little water for extended periods of time. This is where the other method comes in, misting.
Misting or Spritzing
When spritzing air plants, you need a misting bottle or spray bottle. Spray water on all of the plant’s leaves just enough to wet them. It is important to not leave water dripping down the plant.
Take note that your air plant cannot live all throughout its life with just this method of watering alone. It’s usually in combined with the soaking method. Think of this process like you’re giving snacks to your air plants.
Rinsing or Dunking
Another less known way of watering air plants. It is like the middle-ground for misting and soaking. When I give my air plants a rinse, I place them on a sieve then proceed to rinse them (even the roots and foliage) under running water.
You can also just quickly dunk the plant in water for a few times.
Air plants that should not be soaked
The misting and soaking combo doesn’t always work in every air plant. There are some wild cards that prefer low moisture, thus, these plants should not be soaked. They can live well just by misting.
These plants that are mostly found in Ecuador have fluffy fur-like leaves that make them so efficient in absorbing water. It’s hard to dry the Tectorum’s fur-like cover. Because of this, these babies prefer to stay dry.
Just like the Tectorum, this air plant has thick trichomes or fur. Its bottom is also shaped like a bulb that can trap large amounts of water.
I personally love this air plant because of its soft trichomes. It has bulbous stem and bottom that should not be soaked.
For busy bees like me, Selerianas might be one of the best choices since they only need some light misting to live.
This plant can be a bit tricky to water. It has an onion-like pseudobulb that curves in when the plant dries.
Although it’s not really a no-no to soak a Bulbosa, the empty “bulb” part of it can trap water that may never completely dry.
This air plant is almost like the Tillandsia Bulbosa. The bulb at the bottom may be a bit cute but this also makes it hard to soak. The curving gaps at the base can trap water that won’t fry easily.
This beautiful spherical plant is also one of my favorites! I always see xerographicas being used not only in tablescapes but also in weddings.
Florists usually water it less when they want the leaves to curl tightly. To loosen the leaves a bit and make it look fuller, the xerographica should be watered more frequently.
Instead of soaking, this air plant is fine with just a bit of mist. Although I personally suggest a quick dunk in the water for this plant.
How much water do my air plants need?
The amount of water that your plants need depends largely on your current climate and the species of the air plant that you're growing.
Actually, before purchasing an air plant, you must first determine if they are mesic, xeric, or hydric.
Put like this; if you’re from a tropical country, you’d have a hard time living in places with harsh snow or colder weather and vice versa. Same is true with plants.
Mesic Air Plants
Majority of air plants are under this category. They mostly come from moderately humid places such as South American jungles.
Because of this, these plants prefer moderate humidity so you might need to mist them more frequently.
Mesic air plants usually have darker green leaves. Their leaves are shiny, smooth, and with a few trichomes. This kind of air plants also has tightly cupped or curled leaves.
- Tillandsia Bulbosa Guatemala
- Tillandsia Butzii
- Tillandsia Brachycaulos
- Tillandsia Abdita Multiflora
- Tillandsia Bulbosa Belize
- Xeric Air Plants
xeric air plants
Xeric tillandsias are used to dry, arid, and desert-like locations. The extreme heat of the sun doesn’t bother these beauties too much.
My first air plant is under this type and I can guarantee that they are easy to take care of.
Most air plants under this type have silver-like leaves because of the microscopic hairs or fuzz all over them.
These plants have more leaves and fuzzy trichomes compared to mesic plants. The abundance of tiny trichomes in xeric air plants absorbs moisture and keeps them hydrated. They soak up sunlight through their flat leaves.
- Tillandsia Tectorum Ecuador
- Tillandsia Diaguitensis
- Tillandsia Cacticola
- Tillandsia Tectorum Peru
- Tillandsia Duratii
- Tillandsia Xerographica
- Tillandsia Gardneri
- Tillandsia Palacea
Hydric Air Plants
This is a less known type since there are only a few of them around. They mostly grow near or in water. Hydric air plants have big and dense leaves.
How often should I water my air plants?
As previously stated, the season, climate, and the type of air plant that you have are great indicators on how often you should water them.
Take a second and ask yourself, how hot or cold is my home at this time of year?
Are my air plants in a dry space? Is it near a fireplace, heater, or too much sun? Or is it very humid?
If you’re still a little lost on the watering frequency, a good estimate for almost all air plants is watering once a week. You can mist them 2-3 times throughout the week for optimal care. Every two to three weeks, 1-2 hours of soaking is recommended.
Take note of the temperature in your house and the overall climate too. Air plants in houses with dry air need to be watered more often. Whereas, air plants in a humid area only need water every ten days.
Of course, you can also change the type of watering technique and frequency depending on the type of air plant.
For instance, you have a Xeric air plant and it’s currently summer, you don’t need to fret about watering your plant regularly because they’re used to heat. In fact, you don’t even need to soak some tillandsias since it might do them more harm.
Just pay attention to your air plants. Most of the time, their appearance are also good indicators if they need water or not.
Overwatered Air Plants
Tillandsias absorb water with their trichomes. As I’ve mentioned before, they don’t need too much water since they already get it from the air and moisture around them.
In fact, overwatering is also one of the top reasons why some air plants die early. When they are overwatered and not dried properly, they will rot easily.
One good sign of an over-watered air plant is the obvious browning/blackening or rotting at the bottom.
Under-watered Air Plants
Like I’ve said, air plants don’t mean that they don’t need water to survive. Don’t be overconfident and leave your air plants hanging for extended periods without even a bit of water. They can get thirsty too!
Once you have noticed that your tillandsias look a bit dull, the tips are drying out, and the leaves are starting to curl and close on themselves; your air plants are definitely dehydrated.
Compared to overwatered air plants, which has less chance to survive if they already start to rot, under-watered tillandsias are easier to save.
If ever you suspect that your plant is dehydrated, you can easily revive it by giving them a good soak for an hour.
Which type of water should I use for my air plants?
These beauties are not that meticulous when it comes to water per se. Most of the time they only need tap water but it still depends on the quality of tap water that you’re using.
I must say that rainwater is the best since these plants are used in getting the good ‘ol PH-balanced rainwater in their native habitat. Not to mention that rainwater has the right amount of nutrients that air plants need.
If you can’t get enough rainwater for your plants, you can also use spring water, well water, or lake water. If you’re near a creek or pond, then you’re good to go too.
Back to the tap water quality, some usually have high levels of chlorine and calcium. These can clog up your air plant’s leaves and prevent them from absorbing the good stuff.
If you want to use tap water and you’re a bit wary of the chlorine. It is better to let it sit undisturbed for a minimum of 12 hours up to 24 hours. This process lets the chlorine in tap water evaporate.
Talking about the PH balance of the water, air plants thrive on the slightly acidic side of the spectrum. The perfect range for this is between 5.5 to 6.0 alkalinity.
However, it doesn’t mean that you have to always test the PH balance of the water. The recommended ones above are just fine.
Distilled water is definitely a no-no. It’s too pure to a point that it doesn’t have enough nutrients and minerals that your plant needs. Furthermore, distilled water sucks the nutrients out of your air plant through osmosis.
The best time of day to soak or water air plants
I personally recommend soaking air plants first thing in the morning. This way, they have time to dry completely the whole day with some help from direct or indirect sunlight.
Before placing your plants back in their displays or terrariums, make sure that they’re sufficiently dry.
For a more scientific explanation about this preference, air plants breathe in carbon dioxide at night. It means that if they’re drenched or wet at night, they will have a hard time to respire properly.
Do not submerge or soak blooming air plants. They only bloom once during their lifetime. These beautiful blooms are also delicate so I suggest rinsing them instead of soaking them.
Know your plant's native climate or the environment that they used to live in. You can pretty much go far from that information alone.
If the tips of your air plant are turning brown, it might be a sign that you’re using water with a lot of chlorine.
You don’t need to add fertilizer if you’re using rainwater, pond water, and the likes since they’re already rich in nutrients.
The drying part is just as important as the watering part. After soaking your air plants, make sure that they are dry within 1-3 hours. They have a bigger chance of rotting if they stay wet for longer hours.
The best way to dry tillandsias is by placing them on a towel in bright indirect sunlight.
Rotting air plants? It’s not only because of overwatering. Aside from the plant being too wet, it’s also because of poor air circulation in the area.
Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she attended University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. She has supplemented her formal education by working on various organic farms, including spending a semester abroad in India.
Growing and/or raising just about anything gets her excited. She is especially passionate about environmental justice and low-tech, sustainable ways to better run small-scale farms and homesteads. Lindsey started Urban Organic Yield to discuss gardening tips and tactics.