Air plant care cheat sheet

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Mature air plant in sand

Can Air Plants Be Put in Sand?

Tillandsia are almost unique in the world of indoor plants due to their ability to thrive without soil, but can air plants be put in sand? As epiphytes in their natural habitat, they mainly cling to tree trunks and branches, rocks, and shrubs, instead of rooting in the ground.

However, since many air plant enthusiasts use terrariums to display their plants sand is often a natural consideration.

So, can air plants be put in sand? Yes, they can but make sure the sand is dry and moisture-free. Keep in mind that air plants have specific water, light, and temperature requirements that should be met for optimal growth, regardless of the base layer you’re using.

Although layering with sand, moss, or rocks can add variety and texture to your glass containers or terrariums the base layer must be kept dry. Air plants prefer not to be in constant contact with moisture as it can lead to rot or other health issues.

Sandy Habitats and Natural Growing Conditions

Air plants are part of the Tillandsia genus, which means they’re tropical plants found mostly in Central and South America. In their natural habitat, they grow in diverse environments ranging from rainforests to sandy deserts.

Since air plants don’t need soil, they’ve adapted to grow on other surfaces: tree trunks, rocks, even sandy dunes, you name it. They’re classified as epiphytes and absorb water and nutrients through their leaves rather than roots.

Knowing that you still need to focus on the ideal growing conditions for your air plants to thrive in sand.

A single Tillandsia growing in the desert

Air plants thrive in warm conditions, ideally between 65°F and 90°F during the day, and 50-65°F at night. Too cold, and they’ll struggle to grow or even rot away. As for humidity, they like levels around 50-70%, though they can adapt to lower levels too.

Now here’s where growing them in sand gets tricky. Sure, they can grow on sandy dunes in the wild, but it’s not ideal indoors. They need proper air circulation which doesn’t happen so well in a sandy terrarium or container so you’ll need to keep a close eye on them.

If you want to go for that white sand aesthetic in an air plant terrarium or glass jar, make sure the sand doesn’t retain any moisture and risk rotting your air plants.

Sand and Other Display Options for Air Plants

Air plants make fabulous houseplants because they don’t require soil to grow, which means their display options are almost unlimited. Here are a few ideas to get your creativity flowing when it comes to displaying air plants, including using sand as a base layer.

One popular choice is to place air plants in terrariums. Glass terrariums are especially cool as they allow you to create a mini ecosystem that shows off your air plants from all angles.

You can use sand as a base in these terrariums, which not only helps anchor the plants but also adds a bit of flair to your indoor garden. Just remember, that sand isn’t necessarily ideal.

Five Tillandsia Ionanthas in a small sand terrarium

Driftwood is another great option to display your air plants. With a bit of creativity, you can secure the plants to the driftwood, creating a stunning eye-catching arrangement. You can also use sand or small pebbles to fill any crevices in the wood to hold your air plants in place.

If you love container displays, then look no further than your everyday household items. From teacups and mason jars to glass vases, there are plenty of containers that can house your air plants.

Simply fill your chosen container with aquarium sand or colorful pebbles as a base layer to create a unique table display.

Of course, don’t forget about hanging displays. You can suspend air plants from the ceiling using macrame hangers, birdcages, or tiered hanging baskets. These aerial houseplant displays offer a fantastic way to incorporate greenery into your home without taking up valuable counter or shelf space.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do air plants need soil?

No! Air plants do not need soil to grow. They’re epiphytic, which means they grow on the surface of other plants, and therefore get their nutrients and water from the air that surrounds them. So, you can use sand as a decorative substrate for air plants without any major issues.

The air plant below was growing on top of sandy soil, which is natural, but it looks like the leaves either scorched in the midday sun or the plant did not receive sufficient water to sustain life.

A dead air plant in sandy soil
Air plant care cheat sheet

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How do you care for air plants in a terrarium?

Caring for air plants in a closed terrarium can be difficult. In an open terrarium, it’s easier for sure. First, make sure your plants get indirect sunlight or artificial lighting. Avoid placing them in direct sun or by intense heat sources as that can harm them.

Maintain good air circulation by opening the terrarium daily or preferably leaving it permanently open. You’ll need to remove your plants and soak them for 20-30 minutes once a week.

Which air plants are suitable for a sand-filled terrarium?

I recommend incorporating these varieties to elevate the aesthetic appeal of your sand-filled terrarium. The following air plants are suitable for the globe, teardrop, shelf, and tabletop terrariums:

  • T. Argentina
  • T. Flexuosa
  • T. Ionantha
  • T. Butzii
  • T. Scaposa
  • T. Tenuifolia
  • T. Aeranthos

These Tillys remain quite small even when mature so they’re ideal for small sand-filled terrariums.

How do I water air plants in a sandy environment?

Watering air plants in a sandy environment like a terrarium is not a good idea. It’s best to remove your plants from the terrarium and then soak them. Otherwise, you risk losing your air plants to leaf or root rot.

You can gently mist your air plants with a spray bottle occasionally to raise the humidity level in the terrarium but you’ll need to be careful not to overdo it.

After soaking, let your plants air-dry in a well-ventilated spot with adequate lighting for 3-4 hours before returning them to the terrarium.

Author - Stephen Little
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