Besides being easy to grow, air plants lend themselves well to indoor or outdoor decor, and can be moved without any fuss. Air plants, or tillandsia, are epiphytes, which means that in nature they grow on other plants. Fortunately they are not parasitic, so have no worries about placing your air plant onto some other plant. Air plants use their roots only as anchors, taking in water and nutrients through their leaves.
On the other hand, other plants are not the only place where air plants can put down their roots. Clear plastic hanging containers are a popular place for air plants. They give any room a light, natural look and can be moved when you feel like changing the decor. Such containers are available in teardrop or spherical shapes, and a group of them makes an interesting statement. Try differently shaped hung at different lengths with different species of air plants for variety.
A terrarium offers a good place to make an arrangement of air plants. Fill your terrarium with sand for a natural look . Add some pretty rocks and place your air plants onto the tops and sides of your rocks to make a little world where you can take a micro vacation meditating. Be sure that your terrarium has some open places where air can circulate. Do not use soil or any other medium that will hold in water.
Make modern art with the use of opaque vases or clay pots. Fill your vase or pot with styrofoam and insert a wire vertically through the center so that it sticks up. Twist the top of the wire gently around the bottom of an air plant. Leave at least an inch of wire between the container and your plant. Cover the styrofoam with gravel, moss, or acrylics. Your plant will appear to float above the container.
Or construct a living wreath for all seasons. Start with a basic wreath made of grape vine, straw, or man made material. Gently wire your air plants all around. Use other natural materials such as seeds, shells, or dried flowers to give your wreath more interest and texture. You can decorate it throughout the year with colored ribbons or raffia for varying seasons and holidays. In the spring glue on brightly-colored Easter eggs. For Fourth of July use red, white, and blue bows. In the fall wire or glue on either freshly- fallen leaves or permanent botanical leaves in autumnal colors. For the look of a country cottage use burlap ribbon. For a more urbane look use simple smooth or metallic ribbon.
If you have an epiphytic orchid mounted on driftwood or some other attractive wood, air plants look nice beside it and are compatible because both thrive under the same conditions. If you use wood be careful not to get it too wet and cause it to rot. Any non-copper surface is fine, so be creative. Make an air plant mobile using coat hangers, steel wires, or fishing line and glue your air plants onto it. You can use artificial nail glue, hot glue, Goop, or whatever is available at your favorite crafts store.
Which brings us to environment. Air plants do well in 50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or about room temperature. They can do nicely outside in a mild climate or do well as house plants for home or office.
Even air plants need watering, which should be done 2 to 3 times per week. Either allow them to float for 20 to 30 minutes in a water bath or use a mister. If you use the former method, do not allow the flowers to submerge as they are delicate and can break. After their bath put your plants onto a flat surface where they will dry in about 4 hours. Air plants can live in a bathroom but still need to be watered because the water vapor from a shower only lasts in the air a short time.
Air plants are related to bromeliads, so bromeliad fertilizer can be added to your mister or water bath about once a month during the plants’ growing season, from spring through fall. If bromeliad fertilizer is unavailable, a commercial fertilizer such as Miracle Grow can be used at ¼ strength. While fertilizer is not strictly necessary it will help your air plants to grow and bloom.
Air plants need bright but indirect sunlight, so plant near a window that gets some sun but where your plants will not be burned by direct exposure. Fluorescent bulbs are also good.
Air plants occasionally need grooming just as other plants do. When a leaf or root dries out or becomes brown, gently remove it with a pair of manicure scissors, cutting on a slant for a natural esthetic look.
Air plants reproduce by two methods, by seeds and pups. Flowers produce the tiny seeds, which are usually contained in a small pod that dries and turns beige when fully ripe. Pups are smaller plants produced next to the mother plants. They can be removed and replanted elsewhere when they are about one third the size of the mother plant.
Growing air plants from seed is not difficult, but it does require patience, as the seedlngs take 2 to 3 years to show enough growth to transplant. A fine plastic mesh or a nylon stocking stretched over a frame will provide a good platform for your seeds. Place your air plant frame in a place where it will get indirect sunlight as well as circulating air. Mist your seeds every day but watch for water droplets that do not evaporate. Even a small amount of standing water will encourage algal growth that will choke your air plants. Use dilute fertilizer as above every week. When your seedlings are about an inch high it is time to transplant them to your favorite location.
Air plants come in a variety of species, many of which produce colorful flowers. In the section entitled Tillandsia we will describe the types of air plants available and how to arrange them for adding a touch of tropical color to your garden, home, or workplace.