Skip to main content

Want to make sure your air plants don’t die? Here’s how to properly water them

Air plants are an oddity in the world of houseplants—unlike many plants, they don’t need soil to survive. In nature, air plants, or Tillandsia, are epiphytic, which means that they attach themselves to other plants instead of growing on the ground. They draw moisture and nutrients from the air through little hairs called trichomes.

When the soil dries out for a typical plant, that’s when you know that it’s watering time. But what do you do with a soilless air plant? If you’ve always wondered when and how to water an air plant, you’re not alone. For a thriving plant, read ahead to learn the secrets to watering air plants.

Air plant in sun
Image used with permission by copyright holder

When to water to your air plant

When it comes to care, the air plant has similar requirements with other houseplants—it enjoys bright indirect light and moderate room temperatures. The biggest difference between an air plant and your typical indoor plant is the watering requirement. Since air plants don’t live in soil, it’s tricky to know when it’s watering time.

Luckily, your air plant foliage will give you hints about when it wants water. A hydrated air plant feels firm to the touch, and its color will be slightly deeper. An air plant that could use a drink will feel soft and its color will appear faded. Thirsty air plants sometimes feature curled and shriveled leaves, too.

Air plant misting
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Ways to water an air plant

There really are two ways to water an air plant: misting and soaking. The method that’ll work best for you depends on your environment and your specific plant. Here’s an overview of each technique.

Misting

Misting an air plant really is as simple as it sounds. Spray all of the surface area on your plant without leaving any dry patches. Make sure not to get too much water on the crown of the plant, which can cause rot. After misting, shake off excess water. With the misting method, you’ll be spritzing your plant every day (or every other day) of the week, so it’s a great technique for hands-on plant parents. Misting also works best for those who live in relatively humid regions, where air plants can supplement misting with moisture from the air.

Soaking

Soaking is less high maintenance than frequently spritzing your plant, but it does require that you pay attention to how long you’re soaking your plant. With soaking, submerge your plant into a bowl of water for anywhere between half an hour to an hour once or twice a week. After soaking your air plant, place it on a paper towel with the crown facing down so that excess water falls off. If you live in a dry or hot area, soaking is probably best for you.

When it’s especially dry or hot inside your home, you can alternate between soaking and misting your plant as well. Some people will simply water them by dunking them in water for about five seconds a few times a week, striking a balance between misting and soaking.

So, which method suits which kinds of air plants? Native to semi-arid environments, air plants such as Tillandsia xerographica can handle drought, which is why they’re more likely to be able to handle misting. Smaller tropical plants, such as Tillandsia ionantha may appreciate a good soak instead, although misting them frequently can work as well.

Air plant inside of holder
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Air plant watering issues

  • Curled, dried leaves: Curled, dried leaves are usually an indication of under-watering. In this case, remove desiccated leaves and give your plant a good soak.
  • Rotting base: If your base starts to feel soft and squishy, this is usually due to overwatering, or not letting your plant dry sufficiently. Remove the rotting bits and keep your plant upside down on a paper towel after you water it so that water doesn’t collect at the base. Don’t soak your plant for too long or leave it inside a damp terrarium—misting may be a better alternative for you here.
  • Salt buildup: Sometimes, you may notice salt buildup at the end of the leaves. While tap water can sometimes be too hard for air plants, pure distilled water isn’t sufficient for them because it lacks minerals and nutrients. Rainwater or well water is ideal, but tap water that you’ve left out for about a day is usually adequate.

How to fertilize an air plant

While not always necessary, feeding an air plant can encourage pups and blooms. Fertilizing an air plant really just requires another extra step when you water it. Before soaking or misting your plant, add a few drops of liquid fertilizer to your water so that it’s roughly at quarter strength. You can use an all-purpose fertilizer or one specifically geared towards air plants. Fertilize roughly once a month during the spring and summer while keeping up with weekly watering.

Figuring out which watering method works best for your air plant can take some trial and error. It’s easy to neglect these low-maintenance plants altogether, but it’s also just as easy to give them too much water. With an understanding of your personal environment and what kind of plant you have, you’ll be able to master the art of watering an air plant for gorgeous blooms and prolific pups.

Editors' Recommendations

Stacey Nguyen
Stacey's work has appeared on sites such as POPSUGAR, HelloGiggles, Buzzfeed, The Balance, TripSavvy, and more. When she's…
Here’s how you can help indoor ferns thrive
From lighting to fertilizing, here's how to care for an indoor fern
Bird's nest fern growing in a white pot

Ferns are beautiful. They can add a touch of elegance to the shade, whimsy to the shadow, and softness to the dark and damp. Can they do the same for the shady corners of your house, though, or are they limited to just your outdoor garden? This is what you need to know to keep your indoor ferns flourishing.

Basic fern care
Ferns, in general, are fairly low maintenance compared to other plants. They really only need a few things, most of which are pretty simple and make a lot of sense when you consider their natural habitat.

Read more
Here are the top oxygen-producing plants to bring into your home
From spider plants to aloes, here are the best plants for purifying your home
A person holding a pothos plant

Did you know that there are plants that produce oxygen at night? Not only can they do amazing things during the day, but our green indoor friends are even helping us while we sleep! Indoor plants help filter the air and clean our space, and having oxygen-producing plants that can carry out that process at night will be beneficial for your environment.

Spider plants
Spider plants will bring more oxygen into your home while filtering out carbon monoxide! This is a great plant variety if you’re looking for a collection that produces oxygen at night. It's a relatively durable plant and very easy to take care of, even without much growing experience. Spider plants just need indirect lighting throughout the day and should be planted in a pot with good drainage.

Read more
Spider plants are hardy hydroponic plants – here’s how to grow your spider plant in water
Tips for growing new spider plants in this unique way
Spider plant with spiderettes

Spider plants are wonderful plants. They’re often touted as great plants for beginners, forgetful plant parents, and college students. As they're easy to care for and hard to kill, there’s a lot to love about spider plants. They’re also very easy to propagate, making them great gifts.

If you’ve just received a spider plant as a gift, or are thinking of getting one for yourself, then this article is for you. Read on to learn everything you need to know about growing spider plants and keeping your spider plant in water.

Read more