aromatic candle with steam on table in sunlight

Air Plants: Purpose, Care, and What They Need to Grow Successfully

Every plant parent loves low-maintenance babies, which explains why the snake plant and monstera are popular in most homes. However, other unique options are unusual (come to think of it, they survive without soil) and fun to display around. We’re talking about the peculiar air plants with their unique shapes and various hues.

Like most epiphytes, air plants grow on different objects or host plants, which provide anchoring. Since they don’t grow on soil, their scale-like structures enable them to absorb nutrients on the surface. Being low-maintenance plants means they won’t demand most of your attention but need specialized care to grow and thrive. 

If you’ve ever wanted to grow air plants but are unsure how to go about it, here is the ultimate guide to everything about air plants. What are they, what purpose do they serve at home, how do you care for them, and what exactly do they need to thrive? Keep reading as we answer these questions.

What are Air Plants?

Air plants are unique perennial plants. They belong to the bromeliad family of the Tillandsia genus. They thrive in tropical and subtropical regions, which explains why they’re mostly found in North and South America.

Air plants grow by clinging onto other host plants or objects, which provide them with a solid anchor. They are not predatory plants, so they don’t suck life from their host.

The leaves of air plants have specialized cells called trichomes. These cells help collect and absorb water and other nutrients necessary for growth. Air plants have varying sizes and can be as big as the T. bulbosa, the Spanish moss, or as small as the ball moss.

What are the Different Types of Air Plants?

Air plants can be classified into two different categories, namely mesic and xeric. Mesic air plants are easily identifiable by their dark green leaves which are generally curly.

Their primary habitat is rainforests with excess humidity necessary for their survival. They thrive mostly under forest canopies and although they love bright light, they can’t survive in direct sunlight.

In contrast, Xeric air plants thrive in desserts. They have distinct flat leaves which are silvery and somewhat fuzzy. Since they’re desert natives, Xeric air plants are a great option for novice gardeners as they can go for several days without water.

What are the Benefits of Growing Air Plants?

Growing these perennial plants improves your home’s aesthetics, and they’re a unique contrast to traditional house plants. But other than making gardening more creative, air plants also serve various purposes, which makes them worth having around your living spaces.

Here are some potential benefits of growing air plants:

1. They’re Natural Air Purifiers

If you love to inhale the sweet natural scent of plants and flowers, you should have these perennial plants nearby and enjoy unlimited access to fresh scents all day. 

According to various scientific research studies, Tillandsia can eliminate airborne contaminants, making them natural air purifiers. Their ability to filter the air and rid it of dust and other contaminants means your household will be less prone to colds and flu attacks, and you’re also likely to recover faster from them.

2. They’re Small

Being compact means most air plants will take up little space in your home. You can display them in strategic locations around your home and not worry about creating a bulky mess.

3. They Act As Air Humidifiers

Air plants are all about air: they grow on air, purify air, and humidify air. On humidity, they help regulate humidity levels during the winter, making the air less dry and more comfortable to breathe.

4. They’re Pet-Friendly

Most houseplants are toxic and can lead to allergic reactions in pets. Not so with air plants which do not absorb any chemicals and are therefore generally safe. You can leave your fur babies around your green babies and not worry about potential harm. 

5. They’re Resilient

Unlike some houseplants, which are naturally delicate and sensitive, most air plants are so resilient that they can last for several years. Of course, this is dependent on how well you take care of them and if the environment is conducive. With proper care and maintenance, they can be a good investment and worth every effort.

6. They’re Less Needy

Most houseplants are known for their fussiness. You only have to miss a few days of watering, and they’ll wither out, threatening to die.

Not so with air plants, which have active trichomes on the leaves specifically for absorbing moisture and nutrients from the atmosphere. That means you don’t have to worry about giving them constant attention or tending to the soil.

7. They’re Therapeutic

There’s nothing as therapeutic as being surrounded by nature; numerous studies exist to back up this. The Journal of Physiological Anthropology reports that people who surround themselves with natural plants at home or in the office tend to be more relaxed, comfortable, and less stressed.

Tufted air plants: Source: Pixabay
Tufted air plants: Source: Pixabay

Perhaps you don’t need to see a therapist for your chronic anxiety and recurrent stress. Perhaps all you need is to surround yourself with lots of houseplants (in this case air plants) and help yourself relax both at home and in the office.

8. They’re Easy to Propagate

With air plants, you don’t need to purchase new pups every so often. You just need to take good care of them, and they’ll produce small offsets after flowering. You can then tend to these new pups and expand your collection, which is cost-effective in the long run.

9. They are Affordable

Air plants aren’t the most expensive houseplants on the market, meaning they’re generally affordable. They’re a great investment if you have a low budget or are looking for houseplants that aren’t expensive to decorate. They’re great for minimalists and can transform your living spaces with minimal investment. 

What Do Air Plants Need to Thrive?

We already mentioned that these particular houseplants don’t need soil to grow or thrive. This shouldn’t be a cause for worry. Instead, think of the many hours of soil-tending and potting you’d be spared and the money you’d save from buying the same.

Air plants management tips: Source: YouTube

However, your green babies still need a specific amount of water and light to bloom. Oh, and the right amount of temperature because they’re still houseplants after all. So here is what you need to make your air plants happy.

1. Enough light

Notice that you only need enough, not too much light. Most houseplants will wither in direct sunlight, and air plants are no exception. In their natural habitat, the shady canopy of trees provide a sufficient amount of light while sheltering them from the extremes.

At home, place them in a well-lit spot away from the sun’s direct rays. If growing them outside, maintain the same rule: ensure the light is bright but keep them sheltered. 

2. Regular Watering

Another interesting fact about air plants is that they don’t have roots, at least not what most plants have. What they have are short stumps that help prop them onto whatever they’re anchored on.

That means they can fall apart and eventually rot from excess watering so you want to exercise caution here. It’s recommended that you water your air plants at least once a week or every two weeks depending on the variety you’re growing. 

A good example is desert xeric air plants, which can do with occasional dunking (every two weeks), shaking and drying before displaying again in the appropriate vessel. If you can, daily misting will also help keep your plants hydrated though this calls for commitment and discipline. 

For Mesic air plants, it’s advisable to water them 2-3 times a week following these steps:

  • Place the air plants in a container then add water and submerge them. A sink or bowl is ideal.
  • Allow the plants to soak in the water for 30 minutes then remove them. 
  • Gently shake them to remove the water then turn them upside down on a towel to allow the water to drain. 
  • After the plants have dried, place them back on their display objects. 

Pro tip: Turning the plants upside down on a towel helps drain excess water and prevent rotting so always follow this step. 

3. Temperature and Humidity

Besides water and enough light, air plants need warm air to thrive. That means you need to keep an eye on the humidity levels around your home. Ensure your plants aren’t exposed to temperatures above 45°F, or else they’ll die.

The higher the humidity levels, the more your plants will bloom. Using a humidifier at home during winter is a great idea to sustain your plants especially if your home is dry. 

How to Care for Air Plants Indoors?

For plants that don’t require soil as a necessity for growth, you can grow them anywhere that has bright light. Bring them inside your house and hang them on the corners, on your front porch, in terrariums, or display them in glass globes, sea shells, vases, anywhere you find creative and artistic. 

Since they need bright indirect light, placing them on a window facing east, west, or south is ideal. Avoid placing them on windows facing north since the light may be inadequate more so during winter.  

How to Care for Air Plants Outdoors

If you prefer to take your creativity outdoors, do so in a frost-free environment. That means they shouldn’t be out in winter. The rules for outdoor growing are the same: provide sufficient bright light but keep them from the sun’s rays. In this case a shady spot where they’ll receive enough moisture is ideal. 

Finally, adding fertilizer to your air plants is not mandatory but is a good practice. If you’re growing them indoors, use liquid fertilizer for orchids or those specifically used on bromeliads.

Read the instructions on the package and follow the recommended steps. It’s best to feed your plants occasionally during spring and summer. 

We recommend adding fertilizer at least once a month. For outdoor plants, they can thrive naturally on rain so you don’t need to feed them unless it’s absolutely necessary. You’ll know your plants are healthy and don’t need feeding if they’re blooming. 

Always move your air plants indoors at the onset of winter before the temperatures hit the dreaded 45°F. 


Air plants are unique, low-maintenance houseplants that can transform any living space into an artistic haven. They are natural air purifiers and humidifiers not to mention they’re beautiful and create a therapeutic relaxing atmosphere. 

Air plants only require minimal water, bright light, and optional temperature to bloom in any environment, they don’t even need soil.

Their beauty and varying color hues can earn them a space on your ceiling, terrarium, shelf, or office space. Since they’re relatively low-maintenance plants, all you need is to learn to care for them and they’ll love you for a long time. 






Similar Posts

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *