Air plants are another returning 70s trend, like suede shoes. Once vintage chic, these versatile plants are enjoyed for their quirky appearance and low maintenance—and they really are easy: They don’t need soil. They rarely need to be watered. And since they only use their roots for anchoring to a surface, you can put them anywhere.
Bringing an Air Plant Home
Air plants vary from colorful, thick leaves to thin white spines. All are inexpensive. You can purchase them individually, or if you can’t make up your mind, try a variety pack. Also popular–but more costly–are the beautiful arrangements in glass containers called “aeriums.”
Air plants only use their roots to mount onto something. In the wild, that’s trees, rocks, or even electrical wires. But inside a home they can make their perch on a desk, cabinet corner, or anything if you attach it with non-soluable glue. The only caveat is to not place them in a south-facing window where intense sun will dry them out. The most important part of caring for an air plant is keeping it moist. When you first buy or receive your mail order air plant, soak it in a bowl of water for 30 minutes. Gently shake off excess water.
Keeping an Air Plant Happy
After that initial soak, remember your air plant’s color and the full, thick feeling of its leaves. This is your plant when it’s happy. In a dry, air-conditioned home, many air plants will need a 10-minute soak once a week. If you keep a smaller plant in an aerium, weekly misting with a water bottle will be enough for some time. If the plant begins to lose its color or the edges of its leaves start to turn brown or curl, give it a 30 minute soak and it will regain its vibrancy. Never use distilled water–the salts will damage the plant. Filtered water or tap water that has been set aside overnight to de-chlorinate is good.
Fertilizer is optional. However, it hastens an air plant’s flowering period and helps the plant produce new plants growing out from its leaves, called “pups.” Use bromeliad or orchid fertilizer at ¼ strength once a month, as air plants are sensitive to over-fertilizing. Air plants flower only once in their life, and around this time they make pups. Pups can be removed once they reach a third or half of the size of the mother plant. You can also leave pups on the mother plant to eventually grow into a large “clump,” a collection of many plants that anchor in each other. Trim dead foliage on the mother plant. After a flowering period, it will eventually die, but possibly not for several years. One plant can give you a garden of pups!
If you buy a number of air plants, it’s a good idea to invest in Zenaida Sengo’s book Air Plants. It provides detailed care information for each type of air plant and is filled with display ideas.
Rescuing a Dying Air Plant
If you do neglect your air plant for months, don’t panic. We all get busy. As long as there is still the barest hint of green left, it can be rescued. Give a dying air plant a full overnight soak. A few days later, give it another long soak, but for only 3-4 hours and begin a regular watering schedule. Most likely it will recover and give you pups. Cute, easy to care for, and extremely forgiving, air plants are perfect for beginners who want a bit of nature in their home or work.