How to Care for Air Plants

Air plants just need air, right?

Chances are you've seen a brown, shriveled air plant in a coworker's cubicle, or perhaps on your own kitchen windowsill. (Don't worry, your secret's safe with us.) The thing is, people often see an air plant and think, "no care plant." True, air plants require very little attention—in fact, one of the worst things you can do is love them too much. But they need a bit of routine care if you want to keep them lush and living. Join the ranks of successful air plant parents by checking out our guide to air plant care below.

What Is an Air Plant?

Air plants, or Tillandsia, are epiphytes, meaning they require no soil to grow. They absorb nutrients and water through their leaves from the air around them (hence the nickname).

How to Choose the Best Air Plant

Air plants come in a variety of sizes and colors, from 1-inch wide "Rubra"(Tillandsia ionantha)to Tillandsia usneoides, better known as Spanish moss, which can span up to 3 feet wide and 20 feet long (so probably not the best for indoor growing!). The popularity of air plants means you can purchase them almost anywhere, from the internet to the grocery store—but not all air plants are created equal. Look for plants with fresh, strong, vibrant leaves, and avoid plants with brown tips or shriveled leaves, as this can be a sign that the plants are dehydrated and may be tough to revive. On the other hand, if an air plant is soft or mushy, chances are it has begun to rot due to overwatering and poor air circulation—again, hard to save.

How to Water Your Air Plant

You'll want to soak your air plant every 1 to 2 weeks—ultimately, how often will depend on the humidity level and temperature in your home. Here's how to tell that it's time to water: Look for an inward curving on the plant's leaves, an indication that the plant is getting thirsty. Chances are, you'll have to water more frequently in dry winter air than during the stickier summer months. In any case, here's how to do it: Fill a sink or bucket with room-temperature tap water (don't use softened or distilled water, as the salt and mineral contents can harm your plant). Submerge your plant for 15 to 20 minutes, then remove it, turn it upside down, gently shake off any excess water, and allow your baby to dry completely before placing it back in its original spot. For best results and an extra boost of nutrients, add one pump of M​iracle-Gro® Indoor Plant Food to the soaking water or mist your air plant once a week with M​iracle-Gro® Ready-to-Use Orchid Plant Food Mist.

Where to Place Your Air Plant

Air plants prefer bright, indirect light, good air circulation, and high humidity—no surprise, since Tillandsia’s natural habitat includes the southern United States, Central America, and other humid regions. In nature, they can be found among rocks and trees, where they receive bright, filtered sunlight, so they’ll thrive with similar light conditions in your home. That means that windowless offices aren’t ideal, but if you’re just dying to have an air plant companion with you at work, make sure it gets at least 12 hours a day of fluorescent light, and place it as close to the bulb as you reasonably can without looking weird. Air plants also aren’t equipped for the cold, so keep this particular plant baby away from chilly windows and air conditioning vents. Finally (and this probably goes without saying, but just in case), never plant an air plant in soil!

Air Plant Growth Cycle

When given just the right TLC, some air plant species will eventually flower. The bad news: This will only happen once in their lifetimes and afterward, the plants will begin to die off. The good news: New plants, called pups, will begin to grow from the mama plant post-bloom. So, you can simply remove the spent plant once the pups start growing and let the great cycle of life begin again.

Air Plant Display Ideas

There so many cool ways to display your air plants, from simple to elegant to creative to quirky. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Free-standing on a table or shelf
  • Stuck in a frame covered in chicken wire
  • In a metal or glass terrarium (that still allows for good air circulation, of course)
  • Hanging from the ceiling in a glass orb or macramé plant hanger (ditto about the air circulation)
  • In or on an antique vase or jar as a quirky, unexpected accent

To sum it up, all air plants need is air…and light and water and a little extra nutrition in order to look their best. Still, they’re still one of the easiest houseplants to grow. With minimal attention and smartly selected growing conditions, air plants allow you to add fun, unexpected pops of green to virtually any indoor space. Now that’s a good conversation starter!