Linda Tomlinson

Place air plants in open containers or terrariums

Air plants, Tillandsia, add interest to the decor because they are attractive and can be part of unique displays.

As the name suggests, air plants get their nutrients from the air, or more correctly from the moisture in the air. They are epiphytic meaning that they attach themselves to other plants by their roots but do not feed off of the other plant.

The plants are native to tropical and subtropical rainforests from the southern United States to Argentina where the climate is hot, humid with frequent rain showers.

What do Tillandsias need to survive? Warm temperatures, bright light, moisture, air flow and nutrients during the growing season.

Ideal temperatures range between 10-32 C. Most buildings fall within this temperature range.

In nature, air plants attach themselves to the bark of trees and shrubs or attach themselves to rocks in areas that get bright, indirect sunlight. Place air plants in bright rooms away from direct sunlight or in an east or north facing window.

Air plants should not be placed in soil as damp soil can cause the plants to rot. Instead they are displayed in many different ways including: by being glued to driftwood, attached to dowels, placed in open containers or terrariums. The plants can be displayed on any surface that can be submerged in water.

Many people suggest misting Tillandsias but this will not supply enough moisture to replace a subtropical rain. Best watering practises are to soak the plant in a basin of warm or room temperature water once a week. Once they are out of the basin, shake off excess water and place the plant in an area where excess moisture will evaporate within three hours. If placing dry Tillandsia in glass bubbles such as terrariums make sure the plants are dry and that there is some movement of air. Moisture and lack of moving air can lead to plants developing bacteria and diseases.

In nature the plants are exposed to wind and breezes which evaporates excess moisture even when humidity is high. The air in buildings is rarely stagnant due to the fans, furnaces and air conditioners. The dry air stops bacteria from growing but means that the plants need soaked more often.

Bird’s excrement provides the plants with nutrients in the wild. Ideally, purchase fertilizer formulated for air plants or Bromeliads and place it in the soaking water once a month. Using too strong a fertilizer will burn the plants.

Air Plants are available in many different shapes, sizes and colors. The following are some of the more common ones.

Sky Plant (Tillandsia ionantha) is a bushy plant with many rows of leaves like a pineapple. They are available in a number of different colors and sizes.

The leaves on a Bulbous Air Plant (Tillandsia bulbosa) grow from a bulb like base. They twist and turn as they grow upwards.

Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) hang from oak and cypress trees in the wild. The light colored plant cascades downwards from wherever it is hung.

These are just some of the many Tillasnsia varieties available. Provide the correct environment and they will flourish.

Linda Tomlinson has gardened in central Alberta for over 30 years. She can be reached at yor_garden@hotmail.com.

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