How to care for an air plant — 6 expert-approved tips to help them thrive indoors

Get the lowdown on how to care for an air plant — from watering advice to cute display ideas

colorful green and pink air plants on light gray wall
(Image credit: kipgodi / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

If you're wondering how to care for an air plant, we're here to help. These spiky specimens are an eye-catching addition to any indoor garden, but as they don't grow in soil, they require a slightly unusual maintenance routine.

We've teamed up with houseplant experts to get all the essential advice on how to care for an air plant at home, including the optimal lighting conditions, how to water them, and whether misting can help keep them healthy.

Below, you'll find plenty of beginner-friendly tips for tending to these brilliant indoor plants. Plus, there are lots of fun ideas for displaying them, too.

How to care for an air plant, according to the experts

Juliette Vassilkioti from My City Plants says, "Air plants, or Tillandsia, have completely won me over with their incredible diversity, boasting nearly 650 different types, and remarkable ability to flourish without soil."

However, without the proper know-how, they're not one of those easy house plants that almost look after themselves. To get air plants to thrive rather than flop, there are some important things to get right.

headshot of Juliette Vassilkioti, the founder of My City Plants
Juliette Vassilkioti

Juliette, a horticultural expert and plant educator, is the driving force behind My City Plants. Her goal is to transform lifeless office spaces into vibrant, green sanctuaries. She and her team are responsible for the health and growth of thousands of different types of plants, helping numerous New Yorkers establish a bond with nature.

1. Display them creatively

Air plants hanging from shells upside down in a clear, tall cylindrical pot

(Image credit: DuKai photographer / Moment / Getty Images)

Kiersten Rankel, an expert from Greg, a houseplant-care app, says air plants are epiphytes — they grow on other plants, such as the branches of trees. They absorb moisture and nutrients from the air and this is why a typical potting mix isn't necessary.

Not only does a lack of soil eliminate the need for messy repotting, but it also means you can display air plants in unique ways. Just remember they need to be somewhere well-ventilated. Juliette points out how this will avoid issues with rot or pests.

It's good news too for those with four-legged friends: air plants are pet-friendly houseplants, meaning they are non-toxic to both cats and dogs.

Smiling headshot of Kiersten Rankel of Greg app, next to a monstera leaf
Kiersten Rankel

Kiersten Rankel is a certified Louisiana Master Naturalist and regularly volunteers with local community gardens and nonprofits to help restore critical ecosystems along the Gulf Coast. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking and tending to her 150+ houseplants and vegetable garden.

Kayla Gajdascz, the co-founder of Mental Houseplants, says, "Air plants can be attached to pieces of driftwood, cork, or even stones using a non-toxic adhesive. This mimics their natural habitat and creates a stunning natural display." 

E6000 adhesive, available on Amazon, is often recommended for attaching air plants to surfaces. It creates a strong, waterproof bond, which will come in handy when you water them.

Kayla also suggests using suspended glass globes, perhaps in a well-lit window. "You can add small pebbles or moss for extra flair," she adds. We like this set of three hanging glass planters from Mkono at Amazon — perfect for displaying compact houseplants in small spaces.

"For a beachy vibe, place air plants in seashells or sea urchins," Kayla continues. "They can be set on tables, shelves, or even hung using thin fishing line."

Kayla notes how you can grow air plants inside glass terrariums, too. "Just ensure there's an opening for air circulation."

smiling headshot of Kayla Gajdascz, co-founder of Mental Houseplants, wearing a hat
Kayla Gajdascz

Kayla Gajdascz is the co-founder and owner of Mental Houseplants, an online plant retailer that sells a unique selection of houseplants to promote mental health awareness that is complemented by expert care tips and resources. Mental Houseplants further strengthens mental health support by partnering with and donating to the National Alliance on Mental Illness with each sale.

2. Soak them in water

A person soaking air plants in an almond-shaped white dish of clean water. Only their hands are visible.

(Image credit: Geri Lavrov / Moment / Getty Images)

It's easy to assume air plants don't need water, but this isn't the case. In fact, Juliette says, "Proper watering is crucial."

Kayla says, "The watering needs of air plants can vary, based on the humidity of your environment. A general rule is to soak them in room-temperature water for 20–30 minutes, once a week. 

"After soaking, shake off any excess water and place them upside down on a towel to dry completely. This helps prevent water from collecting in the base of the leaves, which can cause the plant to rot."

When caring for most houseplants, using filtered water or rainwater is better than tap water.

Leaf curl and crispy tips are usually associated with dehydration, low humidity, or mineral burn from hard tap water. Depending on the cause, try misting it more often, giving it a good soak, or using rainwater to water it. 

3. Get the lighting right

variety of air plants on white wooden background

(Image credit: Geri Lavrov / Moment / Getty Images)

Nastya Vasylchyshyna, a resident botany expert at Plantum, notes how air plants naturally grow in shady places under tree crowns. Indoors, the optimal location is a spot with indirect or filtered light, she says. 

This is similar to caring for Chinese money plants. However, Paris Lalicata from The Sill highlights how some species can tolerate more direct sunlight, so it’s best to research the variety of air plant you have.

In brighter locations, Kiersten recommends observing closely for signs of sunburn. These appear as bleached spots on the sections that get the most light, she says.

smiling headshot of Nastya Vasylchyshyna from Plantum app
Nastya Vasylchyshyna

Nastya is a professional botany expert for the Plantum app that helps identify plants and plant diseases and provides care recommendations. Her specialization is plant morphology, phytopathology, and plant physiology.

smiling headshot of Paris Lalicate from The Sill holding a potted plant
Paris Lalicata

Paris has been with The Sill for almost five years and heads up Plant Education and Community. A self-taught plant expert with over 10 years of experience growing houseplants, she currently maintains an indoor garden of more than 200 plants in the northeast. Her passion is making plant care more digestible for budding plant parents and sharing the many benefits of having plants indoors.

4. Mist them occasionally

Four air plants on a light wooden rectangular board with four dips in the surgface for placement

(Image credit: Liudmila Chernetska / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

Juliette says, "These plants appreciate moderate humidity levels, which can be provided by occasional, very light misting or placing them in a bathroom or kitchen where humidity levels tend to be higher."

Misting is especially important during the hot summer months and times when the heating is on, adds Nastya. 

We love this vintage-style copper mister from Sustainable Village at Amazon. A humidifier, such as this compact design by Rosekm from Amazon, can also help to keep the environment optimal for these tropical plants.

5. Avoid extreme temperatures

air plants on hessian cloth

(Image credit: kipgodi / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

Nastya says, "Air plants can’t withstand drastic temperature changes or overcooling. 

"The optimal temperature is 72–82° Fahrenheit," she says. "Don’t let it drop below 59°F or go higher than 90–93°F."

This means keeping them safely away from drafts or heat sources, such as fireplaces and air conditioning units. Otherwise, you'll be wondering a little too late how not to kill your houseplants.

6. Add fertilizer to their water

two green air plants on driftwood

(Image credit: sKrisda / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

Whether caring for peace lilies, fiddle leaf figs, or air plants, a splash of fertilizer can help give houseplants a boost.

Kayla says, while not strictly necessary, fertilizing your air plant with a bromeliad or orchid fertilizer (diluted to 1/4 strength) once a month can encourage growth and blooming. "Apply the fertilizer when you water the plant."

Consider the organic orchid fertilizer from Espoma at Amazon for the job. Alternatively, you can buy fertilizers specifically designed for air plants, which can be misted straight onto the plants.

If you love the look of air plants and fancy another low-maintenance plant in your indoor garden, consider an easy-to-care for spider plant, too. These are slightly larger, with often variegated leaves, and make a gorgeous addition to a windowsill or desk.

Holly Crossley
Freelance writer

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest, UK, where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; over the years, she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Having worked for for two years, Holly now regularly writes about plants and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.

In her spare time, Holly loves visiting local English gardens and is particularly fond of relaxed cottage-garden schemes. She also loves prairie-style planting – the tapestry effect of grasses mixed with drought-tolerant blooms never ceases to delight her. Always happiest around plants, when she isn't swooning over gardens, she's looking after her ever-growing collection of houseplants and arranging seasonal flowers in her apartment to paint.