Dakota Gardener: The scoop on air plants

Carrie Knutson
NDSU Extension Agent, Grand Forks County
Air plants are popular because of their low-maintenance care.

Houseplants are on a popularity streak that doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. If they are marketed for the Christmas season like they were for Halloween and Thanksgiving, you will not be able to turn around without running into them.

A popular plant that I see in my shopping trips are air plants.

Air plants belong to the Tillandsia genus in the Bromeliad family. There are over 400 species in the genus. Air plants are epiphytic plants. This means they grow on other plants or objects for support. They do not harm the plants or objects they grow on.

There are green and gray air plants and everything in between. They are easy to care for if you know their native environment.

Gray air plants have scaly or fuzzy flattened leaves. These plants are native to desert areas and prefer lots of light, lower humidity and infrequent watering. Green air plants are native to rainforests and prefer less light, higher humidity and frequent watering.

Air plant roots are designed to keep them attached to their growing surface. The plants are able to get most of their minerals through water. In their native habitat, they do rely on dead plant material that collects on their supporting plants for nutrients.

Air plants are popular because of their low maintenance care. Despite the appeal of the term “low maintenance,” they do still require light, air circulation and water.

Air plants need bright indirect light. Keep plants near a south- or west-facing window. Sunlight in the summer can be strong, so you might have to move the plants farther away from the window or to a different window entirely. In the wintertime, remember to keep these plants away from cold drafts from windows and doors as they prefer a warmer growing environment.

Depending on the type of air plant you have and your home environment, you might have to water once a week or every couple of days. To water the plants, mist the leaves with water to the point it runs off the leaves. Leaves should dry out a few hours after watering. Good air circulation will help dry off the leaves. If your plant has curled or rolled leaves, it could be too dry.

The next time I see an air plant in the store, I think it will end up in my shopping cart. What is one more plant?

Happy gardening!