Sunday, February 19, 2012

Air Plants – easy plants for brown thumbs

Is this funky fish swallowing a green spider??? Read on...
Photo credit; Katie Chapman

There’s a reason why I subtitled my blog ‘for thumbs of all colors’. I have one which is a pretty decent green and one a nasty mud color. The latter is due to my complete ineptitude to keep indoor plants alive. I’m so busy working in the garden that it doesn't even cross my mind to check on any plants which might be foolish enough to try and take up residence in our nice cozy home.

Hence my interest in air plants – and it would seem I’m not alone. These feisty little chaps were seen strutting their stuff all over the recent Northwest Flower and Garden Show not to mention in fashionable retail stores and nurseries across the United States. Maybe for once in my life I am at the forefront of a new trend.

So what’s the big deal? Well they don’t need soil. Or a plant pot. Or much water. Just a little spritz every now and then will do. Sounds like my kind of plant.

Air plants (botanically known as Tillandsia) gather their water and nutrients from the air rather than soil in the form of dust (now there’s a good reason they’d thrive here), decaying leaves and insect matter and are typically found growing on other plants in their native tropical and subtropical environment.


Clear hanging bubbles make a great display.
Source


Looking like overzealous spiders these may be fleshy or more grass-like in appearance. They are epiphytes which means that their roots are used solely to anchor the plants to rocks or trees. In fact you may have seen a type of air plant in the wild – Spanish moss, also known as Old Man’s Beard trailing from the branches of evergreen oak trees in the Southern United States.









Create a miniature tablescape

Although the most popular way to display air plants is within a terrarium or miniature glass house, I have been advised that this is not ideal as a long term solution as air plants really do need good air circulation. Figures. So find a brightly lit spot, out of direct hot sun and be prepared to squirt them liberally with water 1-3 times a week depending upon the ambient temperature and humidity (and conscientiousness of their owners). 


To encourage flowers they should be fertilized monthly in spring and summer with a ¼ strength solution of a high phosphorous fertilizer. (The fertilizer label has three numbers such as 2:4:2 with the middle number indicating the phosphorous content). That might be expecting a bit much of my indoor gardening skills, however!

Combine different colors and textures

There are lots of fun ways to display these little treasures – nestled in seashells, within diminutive wicker baskets or alongside interesting pieces of driftwood and decorative pebbles as a table centerpiece.

I may have finally found a houseplant that can withstand moderate neglect. 

All I need now is a plant that can live on dog fur as well as dust.

16 comments:

  1. I bought some of those cute little glass hanging containers last year, but I still haven't hung them up. I have been a horrible air plant Mother! My houseplants are on the once per month water diet, those that need spraying, misting or spritzing better hold up between times. I am So bad!

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  2. Tillandsias are fantastic! You can get creative with it :)I have a clump bulking up nicely inside a bird cage.

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    1. What a fabulous idea!! Please post a photo on my Facebook page if you can. We'd all love to see it!

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  3. My, my, Karen, we do have a lot in common. I, too, am a failure at most house plants. It's true they don't hold my interest the way outdoor plants do, so they have to take care of themselves. I do have a cactus plant that needs watering about four times a year, and it has a fake flower stuck to the top that for the longest time I thought was real! Your fish pot with the spider thing hanging out of its mouth is scary; I'm not sure I would want to see that in the middle of the night.

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    1. How funny Deb!I even managed to shrivel a cactus...

      We bought our daughter Katie this ceramic fish as a thank you for helping me out with one of my seminars. It's more silly than scary with its cross eyes!

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  4. Good luck with them brown thumb! House plants are an endless mystery to me and I am always jealous of the people with prolific green stuff everywhere. I stick to succulents which I manage not to kill, well who could kill them:~)

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    1. Me!!!!

      I just need to acknowledge that my green thumb ends at my door step :)

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  5. OK, this is a bit tangential, but my sister and I used to keep a list of things never to eat on a first date, and alfalfa sprouts were always top of the list. Your photo of the tillandsia-eating fish reminds me why...

    I've seen tillandsia in one of the nicer nurseries here but never at a time when it was convenient to buy--always had arms full of bags of potting soil or something at the time. I may have to make a special trip. They really are charming!

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    1. I've been the same Stacy. It has been my daughter that has woken me up to these possibilities. And I do love that fish (and your hilarious story)

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  6. I am able to keep my indoor plants alive, but sometimes I am very bad at remembering them and neglect them...especially in the spring and summer when there is so much to do outside. My husband and I just returned from a visit to Hershey Hotel in Pennsylvania, and I was admiring their indoor plants. They looked so healthy and lush. Perhaps I will try harder this year to be kinder to mine...

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    1. I do best with the 'indoor' plants that I can grow 'outdoors' in summer such as bromeliads and crotons. These air plants encourage me that perhaps I could try again!

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  7. Thats an awesome plant, Im going to look it up and see if it can be ordered from some where. I agree with you about a plant that could live on dog hair since we have 6 doggies and alot of hair to go with! Deb
    http://theeverydaygardener.blogspot.com/

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    1. I swear my dog should be bald....

      I'm sure you should be able to order these. Seems to be quite a lot of sites which look promising. Good luck!

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  8. I like the air plant containers you've found. I always like finding unique items to show of my air plants.

    One thing about air plants is that they seem to take more water then most people realize, most require a good rinse or bath a couple times per week...seems to depend on the type of plant.

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    1. That's good to know about the watering Gabe - thanks. I suspect a brightly lit bathroom would be a good location in that case?

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