Why Do My Air Plants Keep Dying?

You go to the store. And get a plant— an air plant that is. Oh, it’s so gorgeous, you can’t take your eyes off it. You get an unusual display and set it up in your living room, and don’t you just love how your guests are blown away by the sight?

“I love your plant!” — your friends and family would say.

Barely two weeks later, you notice strange colored spots, and what used to be a healthy, vivacious Tillandsia is now all droopy and dying. But why?!

Unbowed, you quickly discard it and head to the store for a different species. And guess what? The cycle continues.

I know. It’s sad, frustrating and downright shattering.

Every plant lover has been down this lane before. And yes, at first, you might be tempted to throw in the towel and forget all about air plants. But of course, nobody ever resists the urge to try once more given the attractive and idiosyncratic looks of these alien plants.

While it might not be possible to categorically state the specific cause of death, several pointers may give us a clue. Put on your medical gloves, we’re about to do some in-depth air plants diagnosis!

Why Do My Air Plants Keep Dying?
dying succulent @katloveskale

Tillandsia Rotting

If you recently lost an air plant, it was probably due to rot. It’s typically the biggest cause of death in Tillandsia plants. Overwatering your plants is the main cause of this destructive condition. Just like succulents, air plants store water in their leaves which may sustain them for as long as two weeks.

Allowing water to accumulate inside the plant will quickly result in rot. The tell-tale sign of a rotting air plant is the presence of black or purple color at the plant’s base., almost like the colors human bruises are! How ironic.

Additionally, setting your Tillandsia plants on a damp display pot or dish makes them susceptible to rot. Air plants absorb water and nutrients via trichomes found on their leaves and not through roots. Display your air plants on dry surfaces.

We did an entire article on how to water air plants. However, just for a quick rundown, water your plants by soaking them for about one hour, then immediately place them upside down for all the water to drain. Ensure the plant is totally dry before returning it to the display surface. Avoid misting unless you live in an area with high temperatures.

Air plant rot is fatal and in most cases, is irreversible damage. However, if you catch it early, you can pluck out the rotten leaves to prevent infection and cut back on watering.

Why Do My Air Plants Keep Dying?
Example of plant rotting.

Are You Poisoning Your Air Plant?

Toxins embedded on your display surface may be harming your air plants and causing them to die slowly. Rust, copper wire, and some type of pressure treated wood are dangerous to Tillandsia health. Sometimes these materials are made with your planters or terrariums and you won’t even know that they’re not helping the growth of your beautiful plants!

Also, such toxins may also result from fertilizers. Using fertilizers containing iron, copper, zinc and boron is highly lethal to these plants. Only feed them with tillandsia-specific fertilizers.

Why Do My Air Plants Keep Dying?
An example of a poisoned plant.

Does Your Air Plant Have Access to Enough Light?

It can be tempting to set up these decorative plants in living room corners, even in poorly lit places. While an air plant kept in inadequate light will not die the next day, its form will greatly change over time leading to a lanky and deformed plant. And soon enough it will be a goner, unfortunately.

It’s a plant after all, so it needs sufficient amount of light just like other plants!

Set your air plants where they can receive bright, indirect sunlight for a few hours a day. This can be three or four hours on average. A south or west facing window is your best bet for your plants to receive sufficient light. Remember— moderation is key like anything in life! Too much sun and your Tillandsia or air plants will get sun burns and become parched.

In case your natural lighting can’t get the job done, you can opt for artificial grow lights, they work just as good. Here’s one that we have set up in the office that works quite well for those gloomier days. They are cleverly designed to provide lighting so that plants can keep up with photosynthesis.

Why Do My Air Plants Keep Dying?
Plants that are drying out quickly.

Lack of Air Circulation

The basic requirements of air plants are water, light and, yes, you guessed it… air! They’re air plants after all. Air plants kept in closed containers lack proper ventilation and this leads to build up of a humid environment— a quick ticket to plant rot.

Everybody agrees that air plants placed in terrariums look super cute. But those pretty and closed terrariums could spell disaster for your plants due to increased humidity. This is due to lack of proper air circulation and may cause an early death on your plants. Plus, the lack of space in these beautiful terrariums aren’t optimal for the growth of your air plants!

Why Do My Air Plants Keep Dying?
Succulent plant with healthy growth.

Temperature Changes

Air plants can’t stand freezing cold temperatures or frost. They’ll end up being limp and mushy. It’s advised to keep them in environments above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course, this might not be a huge deal when growing them indoors. For outdoor air plants, it’s recommended that they’re whisked inside once temperatures go below 32 degrees.

Be careful with high temperatures as well. Too much heat will lead to parched and dry plants and so you might need to give them a soak more often than normal.

Why Do My Air Plants Keep Dying?
Air plants with the proper amount of sunlight exposure.

Dehydrated Air Plants

“Air plants can get all the water and nutrients they need from the air,” said the biggest air plants myth.

While it might be true that Tillandsia plants get some water and nutrients from the air, assuming that they can survive on that alone is a big lie. A really big lie!

Tillandsia are native to the tropical rainforests of Mexico and America. In such settings, air plants can get along pretty well as the air is humid and they can get all the water they need for survival. That drastically changes when you domesticate them. The air in a living room or office setting is dry and things like heating and summer only makes it worse. Therefore, tamed air plants can’t survive without water.

Curly, shriveled and droopy leaves are signs of dehydration. You can salvage such plants by giving them an overnight bath.

Watering air plants once a week will prevent your plants from being dehydrated. Nevertheless, this largely depends with your environment. Air plants growing in arid areas require regular watering.

Why Do My Air Plants Keep Dying?
Air plants with driftwood.

Pests on Your Air Plants

Pests can cripple up your plants’ growth and ultimately lead to death. Mealy bugs are the most notorious of all. They form a white cotton-like substance and use it to hide while feeding on the plant’s sap.

Quite cheeky creatures if you ask us!

You can knock off these bad boys by using 70% isopropyl alcohol. Try this 99% isopropyl alcohol. Dip a cotton swab in the alcohol and carefully wipe out every infestation on your air plant.

Why Do My Air Plants Keep Dying?
Vibrant air plants.

If you think your air plants keep dying way too fast, the common problems you just read may be part of the problem but not the only. Comment below other problems you think other people might have with their air plants dying. Or for answers and tips from fellow succulent and air plant lovers, join our exclusive Facebook Group, Succulent City Plant Lounge! Our community will gladly help.

Ah we almost forgot, this post is sponsored by Amazon Audible! They are offering all of our Succulent City community an exclusive offer of 2 FREE Ebooks when signing up for a free trial! You can sign up for a free trial here! Think about it, plant some of your favorite succulents or air plants while listening to your favorite Harry Potter book or something else you might be interested in! (Anyone else fans of Harry Potter anyways?)

If you’re still here for some more insight on the wonderful world of air plants, here are some additional articles to check out— How to Grow Air Plants, 5 Types of Air Plants, or Everything You Need to Know About Air Plants.

If you’d like this read you’re going to love our full in-depth ebooks! With so many of our succulent lovers asking for more, we listened and can’t wait to share it with you here! With our very detailed ebooks, you’ll get more information than these short articles, some ebooks are 30+ pages, perfect for a weekend read.

Happy AIR planting friends! 💚

Why Do My Air Plants Keep Dying?
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