Despite the classic excuse of not having a “green thumb,” keeping a houseplant alive has more to do with the ability to make and remember to stick to a schedule than being born without a pretend gene that makes you good at gardening. (And if you have a literal green thumb, you may want to have a medical profession look at it.)
But some houseplants are definitely easier to care for than others, and people who travel a lot, or find it difficult to remember to water their plants may want to opt for varieties that are more self-sufficient. And when it comes to being low maintenance, it’s hard to beat air plants. Still, they’re not completely hands-off and do require some occasional care. Here’s what to know.
What is an air plant?
Officially called Tillandsias, there are more than 600 types of air plants. And while they’re native to the southern parts to the United States and through Central and South America, it’s possible to grow air plants indoors in any climate. And yes, they got their name because they don’t need soil to grow.
Air plants are epiphytes, “which means they use their roots to cling onto supports such as tree branches and rocks, similar to the way orchids grow,” according to the Farmer’s Almanac. “Instead of soaking up water and nutrients through their roots, they use trichomes, special scale-like structures on their leaves, to do the job.”
How to take care of an air plant
First of all, never plant an air plant in soil, or put one in a terrarium. Instead, pop them into a cup or bowl or vase, and place them somewhere that gets between four and six hours of filtered natural light each day. Also, make sure the temperature is between the 10s and 30s (which shouldn’t be difficult indoors).
Air plants need to be soaked — not watered in the traditional sense — once every two weeks. To do this, take the plant out of its usual home and submerge it in a bowl of either rainwater or bottled drinking water (softened and/or tap water contains minerals that can harm the air plants) for about an hour.
After its bath, shake the plant out to remove as much of the water as possible (so it doesn’t rot when it goes back into its usual pot or vase). If an air plant’s leaves start turning brown, it means that it needs to be watered more frequently. And if any of the leaves die completely, cut them off with a pair of sharp scissors.