air plant tillandsia killing dying

What's Killing My Air Plants?

Tips For Maintaining Healthy Air Plants

Although generally low maintenance, air plants can be susceptible to health issues due to environmental factors or improper care just like any other plant or living thing! By reviewing this list of topics, you can be confident in diagnosing and preventing health problems to grow happy and healthy air plants.


Over and Under Watering

air plant tillandsia soaking watering

Proper hydration is key in keeping air plants alive. Too much or too little water will cause your plant’s health to decline. The best way to keep your plant hydrated is to soak it for 20 - 30 minutes weekly. Excess water can then be gently shaken off and then allow the plant to dry for a few hours before replacing it into its enclosure, container or display.

Each plant is unique so watering frequency may need to be adjusted depending on how the plant responds after each soak! An under-watered plant will show signs of dehydration through leaves that are curled or folded as opposed to open and flat. Be careful not to overwater your air plants, however, and be mindful that some species such as Aeranthos and Tenuifolia will show more drastic signs of hydration while others, Ionantha for example, will have a more subtle change if they are over or under-watered. Overwatered plants often suffer from rot which is why the plants must dry completely between waterings and before being placed into an enclosed space.

Exposure to Salt and Chemicals

Air plants are unique in that they absorb water and nutrients through their leaves as opposed to roots. They also do not require soil which acts as a natural filter for salts and chemicals in the air or water. When soaking, it is important to use water that is clean and nutrient-rich to provide the best care for your air plants. Rain, well, pond, lake, and non-carbonated mineral water are ideal sources. Distilled or filtered water will lack the nutrients needed for the air plants to survive. Water softener systems and municipal water often contain added salts and chlorine which will create deposits on the leaves of the air plants. This will prevent the absorption of water, minerals, and nutrients and cause harm to the plants. The salt deposits will have a crystal-like appearance and will be noticeable on the leaves. If your plant suffers from these salt deposits then you can soak it in distilled water to rinse off the build-up. Remember that air plants naturally have trichomes on their leaves so be sure not to confuse them with salt deposits! If you are not familiar with trichomes, you can learn about them in our blog all about trichomes.

Heat and Light Exposure

air plant tillandsia light
While some species of Tillandsia such as Xerographica, Harrisii, and Stricta are Xeric plants (read more about different plant climates at our blog: What Are Hydric, Mesic and Xeric Air Plants?) and are adapted to hot and arid climates, most air plants prefer temperatures in the 55 - 85 degree Fahrenheit range. Hot, direct sunlight, whether indoors or outdoors, will dehydrate the plants and can even cause the leaves to burn. Be careful not to leave the plants in a hot room or enclosure and never display them next to a hot window! If you wouldn’t be comfortable in the environment the air plants are located, then it is likely the plants will not like it either. Air plants thrive when they receive bright but indirect light for several hours a day – the light source can be natural or artificial. Dim rooms or hallways often will not suffice and should be avoided.

Winter Weather

If you plan to keep your air plants outdoors, it is best to do so only throughout the warmer months and bring them inside once temperatures start to drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezing temperatures are intolerable for air plants and they will not survive cold winters outdoors.

The hardiest air plant regarding cold weather is Spanish Moss, however, as it is native to the southern and southeast regions of the United States where temperatures can drop as low as the twenties. During the winter months, air plants may require additional care which can be viewed on our Winter Care blog.

Fertilizer Burn

Fertilizing your air plants is a great way to provide nutrients and encourage blooms – shop our fertilizer here. It is important to fertilize in moderation – once a month will suffice. Fertilizing too frequently or in high concentrations will cause burns on the air plants. Be sure to properly dilute your fertilizer and follow the instructions provided. The air plants can be fertilized through soaking or misting with the diluted solution.

Moisture and Poor Air Circulation

air plant tillandsia drying
Most air plants are indigenous to deserts or highlands where conditions are cool and dry. Although some species will succeed in humid climates, it is best to prevent too much moisture in the air plants by properly drying them after each watering session. Placing the plants under a ceiling fan and watering them outside of their containers will help to avoid rot. Full air circulation is best for hanging plants such as Spanish Moss so try to avoid placing these plants flat against a wall or surface.

The Plants’ Natural Life Cycle

Even the most well-maintained air plants will someday expire. Luckily, as the plants grow, mature, and bloom, they will eventually reproduce through pups and seedlings allowing the organism to live on. Some air plants can even bloom more than once and will produce more than one pup. The pups can either be separated from the mother plant or left alone to naturally form clumps.


We hope this helped you diagnose your air plant issues. Be sure to check out our other informative blogs or contact our helpful customer service team at

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