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How and when to water air plants

by Timber Press on October 13, 2014

in Craft, Gardening, Popular

02 Hydrated and Dehydrated

(L) These deeply channeled leaves of Tillandsia aeranthos curl inward on themselves, demonstrating an unhealthy state of dehydration. (R) Tillandsia aeranthos in a normal, healthy state of hydration. Plants can be fairly easily restored to a hydrated state by soaking them for several hours. Images: Caitlin Atkinson

There are so many different ways to water a tillandsia that it’s easy to get confused. In addition, it’s widely believed that tillandsias don’t need any water at all. But all plants need water and light to photosynthesize, and tillandsias are no exception.

There are essentially three methods for watering tillandsias: misting, dunking, and soaking. All three methods work to different degrees—the right method to adopt is the one that best suits you. Taking the time to understand each method will enable you to make confident decisions about how and when to water your tillandsias.

01 Misting

(L) If misting is your sole means of watering, then you must be sure to drench the entire plant. (M) It is okay to spray water in such a way that it collects on the sides of open containers, because the plants will absorb the water as it evaporates, but standing water is harmful. (R) To ensure that mist reaches all the surface areas of your plant, you can hold it over a bathtub or sink and rotate the plant while you mist it. Images: Caitlin Atkinson

Watering method: Misting
Spray all surfaces of the plant between 3 to 7 times per week

Easy; don’t have to remove plants from display; everyday interaction with plants

Won’t be enough to rehydrate a thirsty plant; not that thorough; may cause stray water to land on furniture, floor, household objects

Who should use this method
People who enjoy watering frequently; soakers or dunkers who draw out the time between waterings; terrarium keepers

01 Dunking

(L) A thorough rinse ensures every portion of your tillandsia is absorbing water. There is no need to water your tillandsia’s bloom as it doesn’t have any trichomes for drinking and unnecessary water may accelerate the rate at which it fades. (M) Showering several tillandsias at once can be done in a colander or bowl. (R) Shake out excess water well, especially when the tillandsias is densely structured. Bulbous species have a tendency to hold onto water and should be shaken out immediately or set upside down to dry. Images: Caitlin Atkinson

Watering method: Dunking
Briefly immerse the plant in water for just a few minutes or less, 2 to 4 times per week for mesic plants; once every 7 to 10 days for xeric plants

Easy and quick; thorough

Won’t rehydrate a really thirsty plant; requires removing a plant from its display; doesn’t keep the plant hydrated as long as soaking does

Who should use this method
Those who keep tillandsias near a convenient water source; those who want thorough waterings and don’t mind removing plants from their display spot

01 Soaking

(L) The leaves of this Tillandsia secunda specimen looked a little wrinkly and papery compared to their prior smooth fleshiness. It was ready for a lengthy soak. (M) Submerge the entire plant, including all the leaves. (R) Sometimes your buoyant tillandsia will need a little help staying submerged. Lightweight household objects can weigh down your tillandsia during its soak without crushing the leaves. This plant was fine soaking this way for up to five hours. Images: Caitlin Atkinson

Watering method: Soaking
Submerge the plant once a week for 1 to 2 hours; if done less often, then submerge the plant for up to 5 hours

Provides a deep and thorough watering; can restore very thirsty and dry plants that have begun to shrivel up

Requires removing a plant from its display; somewhat labor-intensive; occupies a sink, bath, bucket, or bowl for several hours

Who should use this method
Those who don’t want to water their plants more than once a week; those reviving neglected, parched plants; those who enjoy changing their tillandsia displays often


sengo_zZenaida Sengo is a Bay Area native. In addition to working in horticulture, she is passionate about painting and design. She studied art in Chico, California, where she got her first start in nursery work at a large wholesale grower. She now works as the interior coordinator at Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco and is an integral part of the creativity in new products; she gives store talks on tillandsias and offers DIY workshops at the nursery. You may also be interested in the author’s own Web site, zenaidasengo.com.


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“A truly handy and fun read, with clear, pretty photos and step-by-step how-to projects, this book is not only a guide on choosing and caring for air plants, but also gives us amazingly creative ideas on air plant crafting and design.”—BoingBoing

1 Stacie March 29, 2016 at 8:31 am

I just want to say thank you – This is immensely helpful and you’re the only one I’ve found that has a clear picture of dehydrated vs hydrated.

Time to soak my wee little air plant!

2 Brian Ridder March 29, 2016 at 11:18 am

Thanks for the comment, Stacie! We hope this helps your ‘wee little’ air plant. Let us know how it goes.

3 kate June 12, 2016 at 1:20 pm

My little green curly plant just sprouted TWO thin, tall dark purple FLOWER STEMS with little yellow tops this morning. SURPRISE!!!!!!! I have only had it a month! Been doing the soaking from the bottom for a couple of hours a couple of days a week, with dry days spaced in between. Any idea what mine is called? Dark green, thin, curvy leaves with like a powderly color starting inside. Last week, the thing started to turn a burnt reddish color and today these flowers!

4 Brian Ridder June 13, 2016 at 10:31 am

Thanks for the comment, Kate. We’re curious about your “little green curly plant” but couldn’t make a definite ID without a photograph. Any chance of you posting a picture?

5 tiana July 11, 2016 at 9:50 pm

Hi, Any chance of reviving a plant that hasn’t been watered for 2 weeks and is browned at the roots, leaves are still two thirds greens. Hoping for a miracle cure!

6 Karen Wescott July 26, 2017 at 4:17 pm

I have read a lot of articles about watering an air plants and I kept thinking that there seemed to be a lot of different ways to water but didn’t understand why there were so many. This was absolutely the BEST article I’ve come across! It explains why there are different ways to water and why one would be better than the other based on your lifestyle! I loved the picture of the dehydrated vs hydrated pant. I hope the dehydrated one was given a good soak after it’s photoshoot! ;) I now have some good information on how to take care of a very special plant that I bought in Oregon when my nephew was hit by a car and killed this past May. It means a lot to me and I want to make sure it lives a long, happy, and healthy life! Can’t thank you enough!!!

7 Daniella November 13, 2018 at 12:36 am

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