Air plant care cheat sheet

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Soaking air plants in a bowl of water

How To Soak Air Plants (3 Simple Steps)

The best way to soak air plants is by immersing them in a bowl or bucket filled with room temperature water, weekly for 20-30 minutes. Then, gently shake off any excess water and allow the plants to dry on their side or upside down for 4 hours.

Soaking is particularly important if you keep your Tillandsia in an indoor environment such as your home or conservatory. Indoor environments are often very dry and lack the humidity that air plants need to thrive.

Soaking your plants weekly enables them to absorb an adequate amount of water in a short space of time and helps to keep them happy and healthy.

That’s the short explanation of course and there’s more to it than meets the eye. For example, some species do not like soaking. I go into further detail in the rest of this guide …

Soaking Your Air Plants – Step-by-Step

Follow my step-by-step instructions on how to properly soak your air plants to ensure they receive the moisture they need to grow and thrive.

Step 1: Prepare the Water For Soaking

When it comes to soaking air plants, the type of water you use is crucial for their health and well-being. Using the wrong type of water can harm them, leading to issues such as dehydration or the growth of harmful bacteria. Therefore, it’s important to take time to prepare the right water before soaking your Tillandsia.

First and foremost, it’s recommended to use lukewarm or room-temperature water. If the water is too cold, it can shock your air plants and cause damage.

Another aspect to consider is the type of water you use. While tap water may seem like the most convenient option, it’s important to note that the chlorine found in most tap water can harm air plants. Therefore, it’s recommended to use rain, spring, or pond water instead.

If you must use tap water, it’s important to let it sit in a container for at least 24 hours before soaking your air plants. This will allow the chlorine to evaporate and make the water safer to use. Also, soft tap water is better than hard tap water, something to bear in mind.

Once you have decided on the type of water to use, the next step is to select a container. The type of container doesn’t matter as long as it’s clean. For smaller Tillandisa collections you can use a bowl or bucket, or for larger collections perhaps the kitchen sink. I’ve even seen some people using their bathtubs, which always makes me smile. Make sure the container is big enough to accommodate your air plants comfortably and then fill it with water.

Step 2: Thoroughly Wet The Entire Plant

When soaking your air plants, it’s crucial to ensure that the entire plants are thoroughly wet. To achieve this, completely submerge your plants in the water-filled container, taking care not to overcrowd or damage your plants.

Soaking Tillandsia in a bowl of water

Generally, air plants should be soaked for around 20-30 minutes at a time. If the plants are showing signs of dehydration you can soak them for longer periods, for example, 3-4 hours. Some people even soak their Tillandsia overnight.

Step 3: Drying Your Air Plants

After soaking, remove your air plants from the water and gently shake them to remove any excess moisture. This is an essential step and will help to protect the leaves and roots from rotting.

Hold your plants upside down for a few seconds to allow any remaining water to run off.

Then, place your air plants on a towel or paper towel on their side or upside down for about 4 hours to allow them to dry. Choose an area that has good air movement and proper circulation to help aid the drying process. Some people use a fan at this time to speed up the drying process but be careful not to stress your plants.

A small collection of drying Tillandsia

After about 4 hours, your air plants should be dry enough and ready to return to their original location.

Air plant care cheat sheet

Keep your plants healthy. This simple cheat sheet is all you need.

How Long Do I Soak My Air Plants?

The general rule of thumb is to soak air plants for around 20-30 minutes. If your Tillandsia is looking rather dehydrated there is nothing wrong with soaking it for a longer period, for example, 3-4 hours.

Some people soak their air plants overnight. I don’t think that’s necessary and could lead to rotting. However, if you take care to dry your plants properly afterward they should be fine.

How Often Should I Soak Air Plants?

I usually recommend soaking air plants once a week. However, the frequency of soaking Tillandsia largely depends on the species and their surrounding environment. It’s important to note that some species of air plants do not like being soaked and prefer misting instead.

If your Tillandsia are kept in a warm and dry environment they may require more frequent soaking. In contrast, some air plants are more drought-resistant than others and require less watering. For example, those with white, gray, or silver leaves (xeric varieties) can often go long periods without soaking compared to their greener-leaved cousins (mesic varieties) that need regular soaking.

If you notice your plants are beginning to look dehydrated or starting to rot, adjust your watering schedule accordingly.

Do I Have To Soak Air Plants?

The short answer is ‘yes’, I recommend soaking your indoor air plants. Most indoor-kept Tillandsia do need soaking regularly to keep them healthy. Having said that, some xeric types prefer misting 2-3 times per week. You’ll find out more about the xeric types further down in this article.

I suggest, if you’re new to growing Tillandsia, or not sure about the species you own, you soak your air plants for the time being. You can always swap to misting at a later date if need be.

Soaking is the best way to rehydrate your Tillandsia properly and allow them to absorb essential nutrients if you’re adding fertilizer during the soaking period. For specific information on whether to soak or mist, we have a fantastic article on how to water air plants.

Benefits of Soaking Air Plants

One of the primary benefits of soaking air plants is to help prevent dehydration. Air plants are often exposed to dry air if kept in an indoor environment which can quickly dehydrate them. Soaking can prevent this by providing thorough and deep watering, which helps to keep them hydrated and healthy.

A dehydrated Tillandsia with brown leaf tips

Soaking also promotes photosynthesis, which is the process that enables air plants to produce food. Proper hydration enables Tillandsia to perform photosynthesis more effectively, resulting in healthier foliage and better growth.

Another benefit of soaking is that it washes off dust, pollutants, and salt that may have accumulated on the leaves. These substances can hinder water absorption and photosynthesis, leading to slower growth and unhealthy plants.

How To Soak Tillandsia With Flowers

When it comes to soaking air plants in bloom, there are a few things to keep in mind to avoid damaging their flowers. If possible, you should avoid getting the flowers wet. Water on the flowers can shorten the blooming period and even cause the flowers to wilt or rot.

If it’s too difficult to avoid the flowers when soaking your air plants consider misting the leaves instead. When doing so, take special care to not wet the flowers as excess moisture can lead to botrytis or fungal growth. Another option is to hold your plants under gently-flowing water, provided you are careful not to wet the flowers.

Soaking Mesic And Xeric Air Plants

Air plants are commonly found in tropical or arid regions and are separated into two main categories: mesic and xeric. While both types have different watering needs, soaking is an important aspect of their care.

Mesic air plants are native to humid environments such as rain and cloud forests and require more water than xeric Tillandsia to survive.

Mesic Tillandsia usually has thinner and more fleshy leaves, and are greener in appearance. Although mesic varieties often have numerous trichomes (hair-like structures that look a bit like crystals) on their leaves, as a general rule they rarely cover the entire plant.

Some examples of mesic varieties are:

  • T. Andreana
  • T. Butzii
  • T. Brachycaulos.
Species - Tillandsia Brachycaulos

Xeric air plants, on the other hand, come from arid (hot and dry) climates and can survive with less water than the mesic varieties. Xeric Tillandsia often has stiffer and broader leaves that are covered in more trichomes, often giving the plants a white, gray, or silver appearance.

Some examples of xeric varieties are:

  • T. Harrisii
  • T. Circinata
  • T. Xerographica.
Species - Tillandsia Xerographica

Gathering Tools And Supplies For Soaking Air Plants

Before diving into the process of soaking your air plants it’s important to gather the necessary supplies.

Container – Any container will do as long as it’s clean and big enough to fully submerge your air plants during soaking. Some options include bowls, buckets, tubs, and even the bath or kitchen sink.

Towel – After soaking air plants, it is advisable to let them dry on a towel or paper towel. A towel will absorb any excess water and prevent the accumulation of standing water underneath your plants.

Air plant fertilizer – To keep your plants healthy you should fertilize them occasionally. Air plant fertilizer is specifically formulated for Tillandsia and includes the nutrients and minerals they need to grow. I use a pre-mixed fertilizer that comes in a spray bottle for ease of use. A couple of squirts of liquid fertilizer and its job done.

Micro-climate meter – This item is not essential for soaking air plants but it’s a great addition to any Tillandsia enthusiast’s toolbox … if you want to ensure that your plants are receiving the correct amount of humidity and light. These devices measure temperature, humidity, and light levels, helping you create the ideal environment for your plants to thrive.

With proper care and the right tools, your air plants will thrive for many years to come.

Author - Stephen Little
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