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So, you decided to get an air plant. Congratulations! Air plants are great for beginners because they aren’t finicky or fussy.

The best part is you don’t even need to buy or change soil for these babies.

But just because they’re low maintenance doesn’t mean you can buy them and then forget all about them. Like any living thing, they need some care (at the very least).

Australia’s unique climate presents a wonderful opportunity for both beginner and pro gardeners to cultivate various types of air plants.


How to Care for Air Plants

Air plants prefer bright, indirect light and a temperature range of 10°C to 32°C, which aligns well with most Australian climates. 

However, you will need to protect your air plants from frost and extreme heat.

Protecting your plants from direct midday sunlight is important, as this can scorch their leaves.

The best place to put and grow air plants is somewhere that gets morning light or filtered afternoon light.

If you’re keeping your air plant indoors, you should place it near a window with plenty of natural but indirect light.


How to Water Air Plants

Lush green air plants soaking in water

The climate in Australia varies significantly from region to region, so watering air plants should be adjusted accordingly.

Air plants may need less frequent watering in more humid areas, while in drier regions, you’ll need to water them more often.

The most obvious sign your air plants need water is when their leaves start curling or becoming u-shaped. 

If it’s been a while (read: more than a week) since you last gave them a drink, it’s best to soak the entire plant into a bowl or bucket of water.

Unlike most plants that need deep watering and avoiding wetting their leaves, the best way to water your air plants is by soaking and misting.

  • Soaking involves submerging your air plant in room temperature water for about 20–30 minutes every one to two weeks. After soaking, shake off any excess water and place them upside down on a towel to dry completely.
  • Misting is done in between soakings. Misting your air plants 2–3 times a week can help maintain their moisture level, especially in areas with low humidity. To prevent rot, make sure they are dry within 4 hours after misting.


How Much Air Do Air Plants Need?

In case it wasn’t obvious, air plants need air. They need to stay in a place with good air circulation.

Your air plants should not be confined to enclosed spaces or humid parts of your home.

It sounds counterintuitive since air plants need air to get moisture and other nutrients, but high humidity can kill your plants.


How to Fertilise Air Plants

orchid fertilizer

While not essential, fertilising your air plants can promote growth and enhance blooming and pup production.

Use a bromeliad or orchid fertiliser at 1/4 strength once a month, ideally during the watering process. 

This will provide them with the necessary nutrients without the risk of chemical burns.


Seasonal Care Adjustments

During Australia’s hot summers, your air plants may require more frequent watering to combat the heat and dryness. 

Conversely, reduce watering frequency in winter as cooler temperatures and potential heating indoors can affect their moisture needs.


When Do Air Plants Bloom?

Most Tillandsia species bloom once in their lifetime, typically as mature plants. 

Depending on the species and the growing conditions, this blooming can occur any time of the year.

So, while it’s difficult to pinpoint when an air plant blooms, there are general patterns we can observe:


Bloom cycle

Mini bromeliads living on a palm tree trunk against a blue sky.

When an air plant is ready to bloom, you’ll notice changes in the plant’s appearance.

Your air plant’s leaves may change colour, often becoming more vibrant or taking on a different hue, and the flower spike or inflorescence will begin to emerge.

The flowers themselves can be quite striking, ranging in colour from bright blues and purples to vivid pinks and reds.

Depending on the species, the bloom can last several days to a few months.


Post-bloom phase

After blooming, the focus of the air plant shifts to producing offsets, also known as “pups.”

These pups are the next generation of plants and will grow from the base of the parent plant.

While the parent plant eventually dies after flowering and producing pups, these offspring continue the cycle, growing and eventually blooming themselves.


Encouraging more air plant blooms

If you’re eager to see your air plant bloom, you need to provide optimal growing conditions and a lot of TLC. This means the right light, water, temperature conditions, and proper fertilisation (as needed).

However, patience is also important. Air plants bloom on their own schedule, and it can be a waiting game to see when each plant will show its flowers.


How Big Do Air Plants Get?

Air plants come in a wide range of sizes, from tiny, almost microscopic seedlings to large, otherworldly specimens that can span over 30cm in diameter. 

The size of an air plant largely depends on its species, with some known for their compact size and others celebrated for their impressive scale.


Small air plants

Many species of Tillandsia, such as Tillandsia ionantha or Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish Moss), are relatively small.

These varieties typically grow to only a few centimetres in height and width. Tillandsia ionantha, for example, may reach about 5–8cm in size.

Small air plant species are perfect for terrariums, small containers or accents in larger displays.


Medium air plants

Close up group tillandsia air plant. Carnation of air (Tillandsia Aeranthos), against an unfocused background of a garden, Tillandsia in hand.

Medium-sized air plants, such as Tillandsia aeranthos or Tillandsia stricta, can grow about 12–20cm tall and wide.

These plants offer more presence in displays and can be quite versatile. 

They fit well in tabletop arrangements, as standalone pieces in small pots or mounted on pieces of wood or stone.


Large air plants

Some Tillandsia species can grow quite large, becoming the centrepiece of an air plant collection. 

Tillandsia xerographica is a prime example, often reaching 30cm or more in diameter when fully mature. 

Similarly, Tillandsia caput-medusae can grow to be quite large, offering dramatic visual interest with their unique shapes and textures.


Factors affecting air plant size

Several factors influence the ultimate size of an air plant:

  • Genetics: The species of the Tillandsia plays the most significant role in determining its size.
  • Environment: Light, air circulation, humidity, and temperature all play roles in the growth of air plants. Optimal conditions can encourage larger growth, while less-than-ideal conditions may stunt a plant’s development.
  • Care: Regular watering (through misting or soaking, depending on the species) and occasional fertilisation can help an air plant reach its full size potential. Overwatering, however, can lead to rot and inhibit growth.


Growth over time

Air plants are generally slow growers. It may take several years for a plant to reach its full size, and along the way, it may produce flowers and pups (offsets), which can be separated to form new plants. 

The growth process is gradual but rewarding, offering enthusiasts the chance to observe the fascinating life cycle of these unique plants.


How to Display Air Plants

tillandsia in a terrarium

Air plants can be creatively displayed in various ways — mounted on wood, nestled in shells, placed in terrariums, or arranged on a desk. 

When choosing a location, consider the air plant’s light and airflow needs.

In Australia’s dry interior, a bright bathroom with natural light can provide a humid environment for your air plants. 

In coastal areas, ensure air plants are placed where they can receive fresh air and are protected from strong, salty winds.


Can I group air plants with other plants?

Air plants can be grouped with other plants, offering a creative and visually appealing way to display them.

This approach not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of your plant collection but can also create a more diverse and stimulating environment for all the plants involved.

Here’s how to successfully integrate air plants with other plants:


Benefits of grouping plants

Grouping air plants with other plants can enhance the visual interest of your plant displays. This approach creates micro-environments or small ecosystems. 

The varied textures, colours, and forms create a captivating and dynamic arrangement.


Complementing growing environments

tillandsia and other plants

When grouping air plants with other plants, you must consider the environmental needs of all species involved.

Air plants typically require bright, indirect light, good air circulation and periodic watering through misting or soaking.

Choose companion plants with similar requirements to ensure all plants thrive together.

Air plants can grow well with:

  • Bromeliads: Being relatives of air plants, bromeliads share many of the same care requirements. Their colourful leaves and flowers can enhance the visual appeal of any grouping.
  • Ferns: Ferns enjoy the same humid conditions and indirect light as air plants. Together, they can create a lush, tropical feel in hanging baskets or terrariums.
  • Orchids: Like air plants, many orchids are epiphytes that thrive in high humidity and indirect light. They can be mounted together on bark or driftwood for a stunning natural display.
  • Peace lilies: While they have slightly different watering requirements, peace lilies grow well with air plants. They can help maintain a beneficial microclimate in humid parts of your home.
  • Mosses: Mosses provide a moist, shady environment that can benefit air plants, especially in terrarium settings. They add a green, textured base that complements the unique look of air plants.
  • Succulents: Many succulents prefer bright light and infrequent watering, matching the needs of air plants. They can coexist beautifully in arrangements that allow for easy removal of air plants when they need soaking.


Common Pests and Problems for Air Plants

While air plants are relatively pest-free, they can occasionally be affected by pests and other fungal diseases.



Closeup of a long-tailed mealybug

Mealybugs are tiny, soft-bodied insects that can pose a threat to air plants by sucking sap from their leaves, leading to weakened plants and potential death if not addressed. 

These pests are identifiable by their cotton-like appearance, often found in the crevices of the plant’s leaves. 

To treat mealybugs, you can use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to gently remove them from your air plant. 

A diluted solution of insecticidal soap sprayed directly onto the plant can be effective for more severe infestations. 

Ensure the plant is completely dry after treatment to prevent fungal growth.


Scale insects

Scale insects are another sap-sucking pest that can harm air plants. 

They attach themselves to the leaves and stems, appearing as small, brown, or black bumps that can be mistaken for part of the plant. 

Scale weakens air plants by extracting vital nutrients, leading to yellowing leaves and stunted growth. 

Removing scale insects involves physically wiping them off with a soft cloth or brush dipped in soapy water. 

In cases of severe infestation, applying a horticultural oil or insecticidal soap may be necessary, and always follow the product instructions to avoid damaging the plant.


Fungus and rot

Fungus and rot are common problems for air plants, often resulting from excessive moisture and poor air circulation. 

Signs of a fungal infection include black spots on leaves, a mushy base, or an unpleasant odour. 

To prevent fungal issues, ensure your air plants are properly ventilated and fully dry within 4 hours of watering. 

If you detect signs of fungus or rot, remove the affected parts of the plant with a sterile knife and treat the remaining healthy part with a fungicide recommended for air plants. 

Adjust your watering habits to prevent future occurrences.


Root rot

rotting plant roots, close up picture

While air plants don’t rely on roots for nutrient uptake, they can still suffer from root rot, which typically affects the base of the plant, where it absorbs moisture from the air. 

This condition often results from letting the plant sit in water for too long or not allowing it to dry out sufficiently between waterings. 

Root rot can spread to the rest of the plant if left untreated, leading to its demise. 

To combat root rot, remove the affected areas with sterile scissors or a knife, ensuring to cut into healthy tissue to stop the spread.

Improve air circulation around the plant and adjust your watering technique to avoid future issues.


Why Did My Air Plant Die?

Air plants have a lifespan of 2 to 5 years, depending on the variety and care conditions.

Growing air plants in Australia shouldn’t be so hard, but there are a few reasons why our favourite indoor plant toughie can die sooner than expected.



Your air plant can die from too much water. 

Misting weekly or thrice a week should be fine, along with a 30-minute water bath if the leaves are starting to curl or look wrinkled.


Not enough air circulation

Tillandsia Ionantha in beaker full of pebbles in front of window. Air plant

Air plants get their food from the air, and poor air circulation can make your plants unhealthy. 

A spacious room or near a window is the perfect place for it.


Not enough light

Your air plant will need light to make food.

Make sure to put it near a window to give it enough filtered sunlight.


Too much direct sunlight

Putting your air plant under direct sun for too long can burn its leaves and cause it to wither. 

Indirect sun is the best heat and light source for your plant.


Tillandsia air plant on white ceramic plate with sunlight and shadows at home.


Low humidity or dry air

Curly or wrinkled leaves are a sign that the air is too dry for your air plant. 

When this happens, soak your air plant in a 30-minute water bath to revive it.



Air plants thrive in warm weather. Freezing temperatures can kill your air plant.

During winter months, bring your air plants indoors and place them under a fluorescent light to keep them healthy.


Copper wire or rust

Wall gardening idea with residual bamboo and Tillandsia.

Copper and rust are both toxic to air plants. You can use plastic-covered wires or glue when mounting air plants on walls or fences.


Are Air Plants Safe for Pets?

It’s no secret that Tillandsia or air plants are safe for pets. They are non-toxic to cats and dogs, making them an excellent choice for pet owners looking to add some greenery to their home.

However, even though air plants are safe, it’s still a good idea to keep them out of reach of pets. 

Some animals may be tempted to chew on the leaves, which could potentially damage the plant or lead to gastrointestinal upset in pets due to the unusual texture or fibres.


How to Propagate Air Plants

Never has there been a more poetic plant death than the air plant’s.

A mature air plant eventually dies after flowering but not before birthing 2–8 baby plants, or pups, in the process.


1. Identify pups

Tiilandsia ionantha pups

The first step in propagating air plants is to identify the “pups” that grow at the base of the mother plant.

Pups are essentially baby air plants that form as offshoots after the mother plant has flowered. 

Keep a close eye on your air plants, especially after they’ve bloomed, as this is when pups are most likely to appear.


2. Separate pups from the mother air plant

You can remove the pups from the mother plant when they reach 1/3 the original size. 

To do this, hold the mother plant in one hand and the pup in the other, gently twisting and pulling the pup away.

Sometimes, you may need to use a clean, sharp knife or scissors to carefully cut the pup away, especially if it’s tightly attached. 

Make sure to sterilise any cutting tool used to prevent the spread of disease.


3. Prepare pups for growth

After separating the pups from the mother plant, let them sit out in a well-ventilated, shaded area for a few hours to allow any cut or wounded areas to callous over. 

This step is crucial to prevent rot or infection when the pups start to grow on their own.

While they’re drying, ensure they are kept away from direct sunlight to avoid stress or dehydration.


4. Caring for new pups

tillandsia soaking in water

Newly separated pups should be treated with the same care as adult air plants. Place them in a location with bright, indirect light and provide them with good air circulation. 

Water the pups by soaking or misting, depending on the specific needs of their species and the current climate. 

It’s important to let the air plant pups dry thoroughly after each watering to prevent rot.

In their initial stages, air plant pups may require slightly more frequent watering than mature plants as they establish their root systems and adapt to independent growth.


5. Monitoring and ongoing care

As your air plant pups grow, monitor their progress closely. Adjust care as necessary based on their development and the environmental conditions.

Some pups may grow more slowly than others, and that’s perfectly normal. 

With patience and consistent care, these pups will gradually grow into full-sized air plants.


Air Plants Won’t Leave You Breathless

So, go on, go on. Get those air plants growing.

Then, when you feel ready to get other plants, get a gardening expert to help your home garden thrive.

About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.


About Author

Jamie Donovan

Jamie is an Australian horticulturalist and landscape designer. He enjoys writing about landscape architecture, garden design and lifestyle topics.