Everything You Need to Know About Air Plants

We have a confession to make—air plants aren’t actually succulents. But we really want to share them with you anyway! They’re super easy to grow and maintain just like succulents. They don’t even require soil, so they’re the perfect no-mess houseplants!

Air plants look great in arrangements with succulents and are some of the cutest little plants around. They have thin, ribbonlike leaves that grow in clusters, so we think they look a lot like pom poms!

We know that succulents are your main squeeze, but we hope you have a little room left in your heart for air plants. If you want to know more about these wispy little wonders, keep reading! (We thought it’d be good to switch it up a bit from succulents from time to time).

But if you still want to read about succulents check out this amazing article we just published about why succulents are so popular.

What are Air Plants?

So if air plants aren’t succulents, what are they? And why are they similar to succulents anyways?

Air plants, which are also called Tillandsia, are epiphytes. Epiphytes are a group of plants that grow on trees and other plants not necessarily soil. Some epiphytes you’re already familiar with are orchids, ferns, and mosses like Spanish moss.

Epiphytes aren’t parasitic, so they don’t have any kind of negative effect on the trees they grow on. Since air plants are epiphytes, they don’t steal nutrients from their host plants—they derive those from the air, water, dead leaves and debris.

Most air plants absorb nutrients through their leaves since the main purpose of their roots is to anchor them to other plants. How crazy is that?

Air plants have special structures called trichomes that allow them to absorb nutrients. Trichomes are those white, fuzzy, hairlike structures on the leaves of air plants. (Almost as fuzzy as this shaggy blanket). They kind of look like mold at first glance!

Don’t be fooled though!

Trichomes are made up of a bunch of dead and living cells that swell up whenever they come into contact with water. As they swell, they stretch out and cover the whole leaf, which traps the water inside the plant. From there, the water gets absorbed into other cells and is utilized.

You may be wondering… how is this even possible? A plant that doesn’t need soil to survive and lives off the air? That’s crazy talk.

When we first heard about air plants, we were skeptical too! But the more we learned about them, the more we realized that the way they grow makes sense given their environment. Most air plants are native to tropical rainforests that have lots of competition for sunlight and water. There’s a dense, thick canopy of trees in these rainforests that prevents sunlight and water from reaching the ground.

Tillandsia adapted to grow on trees so that they didn’t have to compete with all the plants on the ground for sunlight and nutrients. They grow high up so that they’re closer to sunlight, rain, and nutrients from the dead leaves that fall from the canopy. Pretty genius, huh?

How Do You Plant Air Plants?

Most people don’t have huge trees growing in their houses, so they plant their air plants in glass terrariums, hanging metal planters, and even in sea urchin shells.

You can also grow Tillandsia on a piece of driftwood, but they may have a little trouble sticking on their own. You can use a small dab of glue to mount your plant to the wood without hurting it.

The most important thing to remember is that your air plants should not be planted in soil. If you do, your plants might rot!
You can layer sand, rocks, and moss in their terrarium or planter instead.

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Everything you need to know about air plants
@ary_plants

Types of Air Plants

There are around 650 species of Tillandsia, so there are a lot of plants to choose from! To help you narrow your search for the perfect air plant, we’re going to talk a little bit about the two different types of Tillandsia—mesic and xeric.

Xeric Tillandsia are a lot like succulents—they’re really good at soaking up water because they’re native to hot, dry climates like the desert. Since they have lots of trichomes that can soak up water effectively like a scotch brite sponge, xeric types don’t need to be watered as often as mesic plants.

Mesic Tillandsia, on the other hand, are native to humid, tropical rainforests. Since water is more readily available there than in the desert, they didn’t develop as many trichomes as xeric plants. Since your home isn’t a hot, steamy rainforest with lots of water vapor for your mesic plants to soak up, you’ll need to water them more often! We’ll give you some watering tips for both types of air plants in just a sec.

Since the water needs of these two plants are different, knowing which type you have is important. You can tell if a plant is mesic or xeric by looking at its leaves.

If it’s covered with a bunch of white, fuzzy hairs, then it’s probably a xeric Tillandsia. If it has smooth leaves without a lot of fuzzy tricohomes, then it’s probably a mesic plant.

Watering Air Plants

Now is a great time to talk about watering Tillandsia!

There are a few different ways to water air plants that you should know about. The first way you can water them is by giving them a bath! You can place them face down in a garden tub or sink full of water and they’ll absorb all the moisture they need.

Your Tillandsia can stay in there for up to two hours depending on how much time you have and how much water they need. If their leaves are dry, brown, or crispy, they’re going to need that long, two hour soak. If they’re looking healthy but they’re mesic types, then you should also give them a bath that’s on the longer side once per week. But if you have xeric plants, putting them in the bath for half an hour or less once a week should be enough.

Everything you need to know about air plants or tillandsias
@ary_plants

If giving your plant babies a bath just like real babies sounds a little too extra for you, you can dunk them in water instead. Grab a bowl and fill it up with some water, and then dip the top of your plants in the water for a minute or two. You can even rinse them under the tap for a minute or two if you prefer.

Depending on the type of plant you have, you should dip it between one and four times a week. Mesic Tillandsia will need to be dipped three or four times a week, while xeric Tillandsia will get by on just one or two waterings.

After soaking or dipping your plants, you should put them in an area with good air circulation so that they dry out quickly. Plants that don’t dry out within four hours are likely to rot, so put them near a fan, in front of an open window, or somewhere else with good airflow. Make sure that you don’t put your plant back in its terrarium or hanging planter until it’s completely dry!

If you have a laundry drying rack laying around, be sure to use this. It’s perfectly set up so that your air plants get the air circulation it needs in order to dry completely.

If your plant looks a little parched in between soakings, you can mist it a bit with any spray bottle, which is the final watering method we’re going to talk about.

You can use a spray bottle to mist and moisten the leaves of your plant. If they’re planted in a metal hanging planter like this one from Mkono or on a piece of driftwood, you won’t need to move them or remove them from their container to mist them, so  it’s a pretty convenient way to water your plants.

If misting is your primary watering method, though, you’ll need to do it at least three times a week to make sure your Tillandsia get enough water. Mesic types may even need to be misted every single day! So even though misting seems like a convenient way to water your plants, it can actually turn into a real hassle if it’s the only way you water them!

Misting isn’t the absolute best way to water your air plants—soaking them in water will actually keep them healthier. So we recommend that you don’t rely too heavily on misting and mix things up. You should soak your plants at least twice a month to ensure that they’re getting the kind of deep watering they need to stay healthy.

Do Air Plants Need Sunlight?

Air plants definitely need sunlight, but not quite as much as succulents. If you put them in direct sunlight for a few hours, their moisture supply will get depleted, so put them someplace where they’ll get bright but indirect sunlight.

We like to keep our air plants a few feet away from a bright window using a cute window sill planter like this. If you keep yours outside, make sure to put them somewhere with plenty of shade like a covered patio or porch.

As for temperature requirements, air plants do best in warm temps between fifty and ninety degrees. Luckily your home is right in that temperature range, so your air plants will do great indoors!

Tillandsia do not do well in freezing temperatures, so keep that in mind if you’re growing them outside.

Fertilizing Tillandsia

Just like succulents, Tillandsia don’t need a lot of fertilizer. You can fertilize them up to once a month, but you don’t have to. Using a fertilizer designed for air plants or bromeliads on them a few times a year is more than enough.

If you can’t get your hands on bromeliad fertilizer, then pick up some regular houseplant fertilizer at your local garden center and dilute it to one quarter strength before you apply it to your Tillandsia.

Propagating Air Plants

Air plants flower, but right after they do, they die! Sad, right?

Don’t despair, though! Tillandsia have a lifespan of several years and can be propagated before they die. So you’ll have lots of baby plants around to comfort you when it’s time to say goodbye to your mature plant!

Before they bloom, Tillandsia produce offsets, which are baby plants that pop up around the base of the main plant. Offsets stay connected to the main plant until you divide and remove them.

When the offsets are small, it’s best to keep them connected to the main plant, but once they get bigger, you can separate and replant them. We like to wait until our baby Tillandsia are about a third of the size of the main plant before dividing them.

All we do to divide our plants is grab them by the base with our hands and gently pull them apart. Avoid grabbing the top of the plant because you may accidentally rip some of its leaves off! Once the plants are separated, you can mount them or plant them wherever you like.


There you have it! That’s everything we think you need to know about air plants.

What do you think of these cute little plants? Have they made it onto your wishlist? Let us know in the comments below or in our exclusive Succulent Plant Lounge community. Many succulent lovers share their experiences and questions in there.

Loved learning about this succulent and now inspired to add more to your collection?! (We don’t blame you) Check out Succulent City’s new line of ebooks covering topics from, “All the Types of Succulents for Indoor and Outdoor,” “Different Types of Planters,” and many more helpful in-depth ebooks. Head to this link to view our full line of ebooks and get started with our complementary guide. 

Happy planting!



Succulent Tips: Do Succulents Need Sunlight?

It’s no secret that succulents love the sun.

Not everyone has access to abundant sunlight, though. And winter rolls around every year like clockwork. Are succulents still a good idea even if you can’t give them full sunlight all the time?

Don’t worry – we’re gonna tell you exactly what kind of light your succulents needs and where you can get it.

Is Sunlight Mandatory for Succulents?

The short answer is no, sunlight isn’t a requirement for growing succulents.

Any plant can use any light (in the visible spectrum) for photosynthesis. Sure, the amount of “power” they get can vary hugely depending on the qualities of the light, but they’re always getting something from the light.

Even succulents and cacti, as special as they are, don’t absolutely require fancy-schmancy sunlight. They will continue to grow under your office fluorescents, the LED desk clip light, or even a regular old lamp. Or even a grow light like this.

That being said… succulents would definitely prefer sunlight.

That’s largely true for all plants – after all, they evolved for millions of years with just the light of the sun. They’re pretty well-adapted at this point.

Echeveria succulent plant
Echeveria @kazu228728

Why is Sunlight Beneficial?

The vast majority of succulents prefer to be in full, direct sun. There are two big reasons that sunlight is better for succulents.

The first is that it’s the easiest way to reveal their “true colors”, also known as “sun blush”. Those are terms that describe the gorgeous colors that succulents are known for; the luscious tones of lavender, turquoise, tangerine, and opalescent rainbow are the result of the plant being “sun stressed”.

“Sun stress” is a response to lots of intense, direct light. Plants have different responses to intense light. Some, like grasses, curl up to minimize the amount of surface area exposed. Succulents, on the other hand, change colors. Color changing in this case helps to reflect some of the light, preventing heat damage and reducing the amount of energy they uptake.

Those Pinterest-worthy color schemes are just a happy side-effect.

Succulents can and do survive just fine even without that amount of light. The catch is that they tend to just stay a (somewhat boring) shade of green.

The second reason that sunlight is helpful might be a little unexpected since it has nothing to do with the actual light. Sunlight is useful because it brings with it heat… and that heat will help dry out your soil.

We’ve talked about watering best practices and the importance of dry soil before. Sunlight helps dry out your soil even if the plant is behind a window or in an environment that is otherwise cool. The light from the sun is very high in energy, which speeds up evaporation even if you don’t notice the temperature rising.

Sunlight Alternatives

Don’t be concerned if you don’t have access to an abundance of sunlight. Succulents are not off the table yet. You just need to grab some grow lights.

There are two main types of grow lights: LEDs and fluorescent bulbs. The old-style incandescent bulbs should be given a pass – they make more heat than light.

While both LED and fluorescent will provide plenty of energy to keep your succulents happy, we recommend using fluorescents (especially the tube-light configurations). LED only emits light at specific wavelengths, which is very efficient in terms of electricity, but won’t get you the colors you want.

Fluorescent lights, on the other hand, come in full spectrum varieties. Those usually have a “color temperature” of about 6500K, meaning that it emits a light very similar to that of the sun. Some even have a bit of UV light, and while that won’t contribute to growth, it’s great for stressing the plant a little to get those beautiful colors.

Grow lights come in a bunch of styles to fit your needs. There are CFL bulbs that screw into a regular bulb socket (a great trick is to replace your desk lamp with one of these – now it’s a grow light)! LEDs often come in adhesive strips so you can put them under shelves, for example. There are tube lights which have varying lengths and can be suspended above your plants. Particularly versatile is the simple goose-necked clip on light that can go anywhere you have plants!

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Where do you get the Best Sunlight?

If you’re committed to growing your succulents au natural, you’ll need to know the optimal places to set your plant.

If you’re trying to get your plant as much light as possible, that’s easy – set them outside in a place that’s slightly elevated and has nothing around it to cast shade.

Not everyone has the luxury of open spaces in their apartment or wooded properties, however. Furthermore, putting succulents outside year-round isn’t viable for most of us. When temperatures begin to drop below the 50° F succulents start to suffer.

Windowsills are the natural next step. Of course, you only get light from one direction in this scenario. That could cause your succulent to grow in the direction of the light – to fix this, rotate them regularly or add supplemental light from the other direction.

What are the best windows for plants? I’m glad you asked. If you live in the northern hemisphere (that’s us in the USA), a south-facing window will get more light than any other direction (assuming there are no external circumstances like another house or a tree casting shade).

A good south-facing window is almost as good as being outside in direct sunlight because it will get light all day. The next best window is east-facing. That’s because morning light tends to be more intense than afternoon light, and so it’s better for succulents. You would lastly prioritize westward windows over northward ones, but it’s unlikely that those two will be quite enough light.

Windowsills tend to fill up pretty quickly, unfortunately. It’s like home-builders don’t know that their primary purpose is to hold lots of plants? It took me a while to discover this, but it turns out that there exist windowsill shelves. They easily attach to your window and can double or triple the amount of sill real estate. It’s a game-changer.

You can also buy some planter stands that elevate the planter so that your succulents receive better light with a stable base. Something like this will work depending on how tall your windowsill is.

Sunlight Precautions

It’s worth remembering that it is possible to give your plants too much sun. A few kinds of succulents only want partial sun, or even like shade. Be sure to check the care requirements on your specific fat plant before making big changes.

It’s also not advised to move a sun directly into very bright, intense light without acclimatizing it first. If it’s been in a low-light situation for a while and then is moved into the open sun, it’ll cause shock and even sunburn. In extreme cases, the succulent can die.

It’s easy to prevent, though. Just introduce it to sun gradually over a week or two. That might mean putting it in a place that gets shade during part of the day, or moving it in and outside once per day.

No, that’s not a chore! That’s another excuse to play with plants!


Now that we’ve enlightened you about the amount of light a succulent plant really needs, your succulent will grow healthy! Be sure to read our articles below if you need more tips and tricks on how to take care of your succulent plants. With over thousands of shares on some articles, we’ve helped so many people, you can be one of them.

Did this article about how much light succulents need help answer your succulent-care questions? We sure hope so! If not, no worries. Succulent City is devoted to aiding all succulent lovers, and that’s why we created a line of ebook guides! Check out our in-depth tips on Best Lighting Practices for Succulent Growth or even The Best Soil Recommendations for Your Succulent today!

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