Air plants are eye-catchingly adorable and are low-maintenance and pet-safe—perfect for anyone looking for a unique yet forgiving houseplant that does not require much attention.

If you’re anything like us, the first time you laid eyes on these wild wonders known as air plants, you were simultaneously baffled and instantly in love. Where’s the soil? How do you water air plants? Is this some crazy invention from a mad botanist? Nope, this is just how amazing these plants grow—dirt not required!

What Are Air Plants?

Air plants, or Tillandsia, are members of the Pineapple or Bromeliad family—a group of mostly epiphytes, which are non-parasitic plants that grow on other plants or structures such as trees, nurse logs, rocks, or whatever they can get their “hands” on. Tillandsias absorb water and nutrients through their foliage, while their roots simply act as an anchor to secure them in place.

Tillandsias are native to the forests, mountains, and deserts of northern Mexico, southeastern United States, Mesoamerica, the Caribbean, and central Argentina. They range in size from less than an inch to the size of a large grapefruit.

holding an air plant or tillandsia

How to Display Air Plants

Air plants can be displayed in and on a wide range of objects. The sky is the limit, so get creative and find something that aligns with your aesthetic to start your air plant collection!


hanging air plants and macrame displayed on wall

Creating an Aerium

Aeriums are easy to make and are a chic way to display air plants and other treasures in repurposed or unique glass containers. Similar to a terrarium, but without the use of soil, aeriums are created by using small amounts of sand, pebbles, or gemstones, along with bits of other natural materials like moss, feathers, or whatever inspires you, plus Tillandsias, of course!

You can use containers of any size, though clear glass is best for plant health. They can either have a large or small opening, just remember that air plants should be removed regularly for proper watering, so be sure you can easily get them in and out of the container!

air plants and gemstones for DIY aerium
Creating a DIY aerium to display tillandias or air plants

How to Care for Air Plants

How to Water Air Plants

Tillandsias prefer room temperature water—avoid distilled or softened water.

  1. Be sure to fully submerge plants.
  2. After watering, lightly shake off and drip dry plants upside-down so any excess water can drain out—sitting water between foliage can cause rotting.
  3. Allow plants to thoroughly dry before returning them to their display location.

How often should you water air plants?

Watering frequency depends on the plant and its original habitat. Since air plants can be found growing in a wide range of climates, simulating the plant’s natural habitat will ensure a long and healthy life. Use the foliage as a guide:

  • Thin, green foliage: Originates from a humid, tropical or subtropical environment. Needs regular weekly soakings for about 10–20 minutes; also benefits from spritzing throughout the week.
  • Thick foliage or fuzzy, silver foliage: Comes from dryer air environments. Only needs a short soak in a bowl of water once per week, or briefly run it under the faucet until it appears wet.

Sunlight & Temperature Needs of Air Plants

Air plants prefer bright, indirect light, like the filtered light they would receive under tree canopies. Most can handle direct morning sunlight, but anything stronger may cause burnt foliage tips.

  • Place directly in north-facing windows
  • Place further away from east, west, or south-facing windows
  • Fluorescent light will not damage air plants
  • Air plants require at least 12 hours of light daily

Air plants thrive in indoor conditions, and species are even hardy down to 50°F. Your plants will benefit from fresh, moving air, so crack open a window on a warm Spring or Fall day!

Fertilizing Air Plants

Feed once or twice monthly from March to September with a 2-1-2 ratio fertilizer or regular houseplant fertilizer (non-urea) diluted to ¼ strength. Assorted nutrients can also be provided by soaking in rainwater, pondwater, or aquarium water. Household dust has even been known to provide some nutrients!

Air Plant Reproduction & Flowering

Small plantlets will form around the base of the plant before, during, or after flowering. Each air plant will form a flower at the peak of its life cycle, then begin to die. Plantlets can either be separated from the parent or left to grow in its place.

Troubleshooting Air Plants

Fortunately, problems with pests and diseases are rare for air plants—most issues are from overwatering or underwatering.

  • Signs of underwatering: Foliage is dry, browning at the tips, or rolling inward slightly. To fix the problem, try soaking more often, soaking for longer periods, or misting between soaks.
  • Signs of overwatering (or not thoroughly dried before displaying): Plants develop a darkened color near the base or feel soft/soggy and have begun to rot. Overwatering is often fatal and most plants fail to recover.
  • Avoid contact with copper—it is toxic to air plants!


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