How to Water Air Plants: Common Mistakes and Best Practices

Air plants, known scientifically as Tillandsia, have gained popularity due to their unique aesthetic and relatively low-maintenance nature.

These fascinating plants absorb water and nutrients through their leaves, not their roots, meaning they don’t require soil to grow. This feature, however, often leads to confusion regarding their watering needs. Here, we’ll explore common mistakes and best practices for watering air plants.

Also, Read: Why is my air plant turning red + How to care for air plants

Understanding Air Plant Water Requirements

Unlike traditional potted plants, air plants don’t draw water from the soil. Instead, they absorb moisture from the air through tiny scales on their leaves called trichomes.

This adaptation allows them to survive in their natural habitat, typically the forest canopy in Central and South America, where they cling to tree branches and rocks, gathering moisture from rainfall and ambient humidity.

However, in a home environment, air plants may need a little extra help getting the water they require. The optimal watering method can depend on the specific species, the climate, and the indoor environment.

Common Mistakes in Watering Air Plants


Overwatering is one of the most common mistakes. While it’s true that air plants need water to survive, too much can be harmful. Overwatering can lead to a number of issues:

  1. Saturation: If the air plant is left in water for too long, the trichomes—specialized structures on the plant’s leaves that absorb water—can become oversaturated. This can lead to the plant suffocating, as it relies on these trichomes for not just water, but also air exchange.
  2. Rot: Keeping an air plant too wet can also lead to rot. If the plant doesn’t have a chance to fully dry out between waterings, or if water is allowed to sit at the base of the plant or between its leaves, it can create conditions ripe for the development of fungus and bacteria that cause rot.


On the other end of the spectrum, underwatering is another common mistake. Air plants can withstand periods of drought, but they do need consistent moisture to thrive. Symptoms of an underwatered air plant include:

  1. Curling or Rolling Leaves: When an air plant is getting too little water, its leaves may begin to curl inwards or roll. This is the plant’s attempt to reduce surface area to minimize water loss.
  2. Browning Tips: The tips of the leaves may also turn brown or crispy when the plant is not getting enough water. This can sometimes be confused with normal leaf dieback, but if you see multiple leaves affected, it’s likely a sign of underwatering.

Inadequate Drying

Inadequate drying after watering can be a major issue. After watering, it’s important to allow the plant to fully dry to prevent rot.

Leaving the plant in a wet, dark, or poorly ventilated area can lead to the development of mold or rot. A best practice is to gently shake the plant after watering to remove excess water, and then allow it to dry in a well-ventilated area with indirect sunlight.

Using Poor Quality Water

The type of water used can also affect air plant health. Chlorine, found in most tap water, can damage the plant over time.

Using softened water can also be harmful, as the salt used in the softening process can build up in the plant’s tissues. Ideally, use rainwater, filtered water, or distilled water. If using tap water, allow it to sit for a few hours to let the chlorine evaporate.

Avoiding these common mistakes and understanding the unique needs of your air plants will help ensure they remain healthy and vibrant.

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Best Practices for Watering Air Plants

The Soaking Method

One of the most effective ways to water air plants is by soaking. Despite their name, air plants actually absorb quite a bit of water. To properly soak an air plant, follow these steps:

  1. Fill a basin, sink, or bowl with water: Filtered, rain, or distilled water is best for air plants as it doesn’t contain the minerals found in tap water that can harm the plant over time. If you must use tap water, let it sit for a few hours to allow any chlorine to evaporate.
  2. Submerge your air plant: Place your air plant in the water, ensuring the entire plant is submerged. It’s fine if the base is submerged, but take care to avoid submerging any bloom or flower, as this can cause it to rot.
  3. Soak the plant: Allow the air plant to soak for about 15-30 minutes. Some larger or more dehydrated air plants may benefit from soaking for up to an hour.
  4. Dry the plant: After soaking, remove the plant from the water and gently shake off the excess water. Place it upside down on a towel in a well-ventilated area with indirect light. It’s important to let the plant dry thoroughly to avoid rot, which can occur if water gets trapped in the plant’s crevices.

The Misting Method

Misting is another method of watering air plants, especially useful for plants that are mounted or live in a terrarium. To mist an air plant:

  1. Fill a spray bottle with water: Again, filtered, rain or distilled water is best.
  2. Mist the entire plant: Spray the air plant until it’s completely saturated, making sure to mist the underside of the leaves where the trichomes are most concentrated.
  3. Let it dry: Allow the plant to dry in a well-ventilated area before returning it to its usual spot.

Frequency and Timing

The frequency of watering depends on the climate and the specific conditions in your home. In general, air plants should be watered once a week, but in a dry climate or a home with dry air, they might need watering two or even three times a week.

Air plants do best when watered in the morning, as this mirrors their natural environment’s conditions and gives them plenty of time to dry out during the day.

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How can I tell if my air plant is getting enough water?

Healthy air plants usually have wide, open leaves. If your air plant’s leaves are curling, turning brown, or looking crispy, it might be a sign of underwatering. If the leaves are turning yellow or black, or if the base is becoming mushy, it might be overwatered.

Can I use tap water for my air plants?

Ideally, rainwater or filtered water is best for air plants. However, if you only have access to tap water, let it sit for a few hours to dissipate chlorine before using it.

What is the best time to water air plants?

Early morning is the best time to water air plants, as it mimics their natural rainforest environment and allows them plenty of time to dry before nightfall.

Do I need to dry my air plants after watering?

Yes, it’s crucial to let your air plants dry thoroughly after watering. Shake off excess water and place them in a well-ventilated area with plenty of light. Avoid leaving them in enclosed or dimly lit spaces, which can promote rot.

What if I’m leaving for vacation? How should I water my air plants?

Before leaving, give your air plants a good soak. If you’ll be gone for two weeks or less, they should be fine without water. For longer periods, consider asking a friend to water them or set up a self-watering system.

How to Water Air Plants
How to Water Air Plants


Watering air plants might seem complex due to their unique characteristics, but with a little knowledge and practice, you can easily keep your Tillandsias happy and healthy.

Remember, the key is to mimic their natural environment as much as possible, provide them with the right amount of moisture, and ensure they dry properly after watering. By avoiding common mistakes and following best practices, you’ll be well on your way to nurturing thriving air plants in your home or office.

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