We get lots of questions on air plant watering methods on our Facebook Page so I wanted to expand on this a bit. While Tillandsia (AKA air plants) are easier to care for than many other plant varieties, they do require some maintenance and TLC - and water is a big factor in their overall health. Here are some questions we often get on the subject of watering your air plants and our advice.
How much water do my air plants need and how frequently do I water them?
This depends largely on your climate and where you're keeping the air plants, as well as the Tillandsia species itself (read more about mesic vs. xeric air plants here) and what type of environment it grows in nature. We live in Tampa, FL so most of the year it's fairly humid here and we're not running the heat in our house during the winter like our friends up North (not trying to rub it in, I swear!). We normally water our plants about twice per week but those in dryer climates will need to water more frequently. You will find that you might need to water your plants less depending on the time of year. Also, it depends where in your home or workspace you keep them. A humid bathroom will keep the plants more moist but you'll probably need to give more frequent watering to those near an air vent or heat source. (Note: we don't recommend you keep your plants near heat sources) While humidity can delay the drying process, humidity itself is not a sufficient watering method!
What is the best way to water air plants?
Again, you'll want to adjust watering methods based on your climate and air plant species but for MOST air plants and environments we recommend that you soak your plants in water at least once per week. You can use a bowl, bucket or your sink. Something that allows you to completely submerge the air plants. Soak for 30-60 minutes at least once a week and if you're in a drier climate give them a longer soak for an hour or more every other week. If you live in an area with more humidity or you have an air plant that is more xeric in nature, you may want to shorten the duration of the soaks.
After soaking you will want to let the air plants dry completely. Turn them over and lightly shake them or set them to dry with their leaves facing down. Don't let water sit in the leaves or the plants could rot. The plants should be put somewhere that has good air circulation and the plants should be able to completely dry within 4 hours. If your plants live in globe or terrarium make sure they completely dry out before returning them home!
After soaking your plants you will notice how wide and open the leaves are and how much more "happy" they appear. This is how a hydrated air plant should look! Over time you will notice that if the color becomes slightly dull and the leaves begin to close/curl, that this is an indication that your Tillandsia is thirsty and you should give them another good soak. If your air plant is really struggling, try soaking for several hours or even over night to see if you can re-hydrate the plant. As always, make sure they are able to dry out completely before soaking or misting again.
You can also mist the plants in between waterings. This can be a great way to keep plants healthy and give some extra love if you live in a drier climate. Misting is not a substitution for a good soak though, unless you have one of the few types of air plants that prefer low moisture like the T. tectorum (which we recommend only misting) or the T. xerographica (which we recommend dunking instead of soaking).
What kind of water should I use? Is tap water OK to water my air plants with?
Air plants aren't too picky when it comes to water, and most tap water is just fine but it depends on the water quality in your area. The best water to use is rain water, aquarium water, or pond water because these are more rich in nutrients (note: if using one of these waters, don't add any additional fertilizer) If you are using tap water let the water stand for several hours for the chlorine to dissipate (maybe 24 hours in some areas)
Do NOT use distilled water as this type of water is actually too "pure" and will deprive these plants of the nutrients they need. Also, don't use artificially softened water, as it is often too high in salt content for Tillandsia.
What is the best time of day to water my air plants?
We recommend soaking your air plants in the morning so that they dry thoroughly over the course of the day, and also because air plants use the evening time to respire carbon dioxide and won't be able to "breathe" properly if they are wet in the evenings. This process is referred to as CAM, learn more about CAM in our article that explains how air plants breathe. Some indirect sunlight will help dry them more quickly, and you can check on them before you go to bed and put them back in their terrariums or displays.
Those are the most common questions we get about watering air plants. Did we answer yours? If not, just ask! Need more air plant care tips? Visit our Air Plant Care Page.