Although Tillandsia, also known as Air plants, are relatively easier to care for than any other plant, they grow differently. They need proper care and have some environmental consideration for them to continuously thrive, which makes it quite confusing and frustrating especially if you don’t know why and what to do if you see them slowly dying.
But no worries, we've got your back! Here, we will help you be able to identify the problem and prepare to prevent future problems.
Overwatered & Underwatered
If the base of your air plant looks brown or black and feels overly soft/mushy to the touch, it might be the victim of overwatering. Also, overwatered air plants will start to lose some leaves and could start to fall apart from the center, and this will likely succumb to rot. Underwatered air plants, on the other hand, will show an indication of leaf curvation and brown, dead leaves.
To prevent them from suffering over or underwatering, give your air plant a good soak every 1 to 2 weeks for approximately 20-30 minutes. Then shake off the excess water gently. Turning them upside down after a good soak, and putting them on a towel in a bright spot is strongly recommended. Doing this will help speed up the process of drying off your air plants, as they shouldn’t remain wet for more than 3 hours, or else, it may end up getting rot.
Extreme heat or sunlight
While air plants are known to be native to tropical environments, there's still a high chance that they would get brown spots and dried-out marks due to extreme heat exposure. In other words, they are already suffering from sunburn.
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind to prevent such a tragedy from happening is to keep an eye on the temperature. Always remember that air plants do best when the temperature is between 50-90 degrees. Once you notice that the temperature is getting higher than 90 degrees, transfer your air plant in a different spot right away and prepare to do some maintenance by placing it in a south-facing window where it can get bright filtered sunlight and some extra air circulation.
Too little light
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Most air plants that lack light don't show symptoms right away, but if you see that their leaves start to lose its color or it begins to cup inward and fall, it is an indication that they are not getting enough sunlight for them to remain healthy. So make sure that they are placed in a spot where they can get lots of bright but indirect or filtered sunlight for them to continuously photosynthesize.
Pests & Disease
Air plants aren't immune to pests and disease. They need to be properly taken care of in order to survive and thrive.
If you see that the leaves start to become black or brown spots on the base of the plant and feel overly soft/mushy to the touch, it means your air plant might be suffering from rot or fungus.
As for pests, air plants are commonly infected by Mealybugs and Scale insects. They are usually found around the stems and leaves, and mostly get attracted to a dying air plant.
To avoid your air plant being infected by disease or pest infestation, it is best to keep a close look on your watering schedule. Make sure not to overwater it, and NOT to leave it submerged in water for too long. Allow it to dry completely before taking it back to its vessel.
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Sudden changes in temperature can affect the condition of how air plants grow. In fact, they are very sensitive that their leaf will dieback and begin to rot, especially if they remain wet for too long in very cold temperatures.
The ideal temperature for an air plant is between 65-85 degrees. So avoid placing them near a cooling vent, and If the temperature gets colder, consider changing your watering schedule to once every three weeks.
Poor air circulation
Air plants need lots of air for them to continuously thrive and remain healthy, as they may end up rotting and die with lack of air circulation. So for the air to circulate freely around your air plant, do not place them in a sealed or closed container.
Sadly, like any other lifeform, air plants will eventually die. They will turn brown and dry out. The good news is, they are capable of living for a few months to a couple of years and produce at least 3-8 babies after they bloom. They will remain healthy until they wear themselves out completely by putting all their energy into their growing babies. Then those babies will grow on to a mature air plant, bloom, and have their own babies in the future!
Hard water has a significant amount of lime, salt, and minerals, which will cause trichome blockage (a hairlike substance on the leaves where they take all of their nutrients), and end up dying due to starvation of water and food. In other words, watering an air plant doesn’t just depend on how much or often you water them, but also on the type of water that you are using. So consider using filtered, purified/bottled, rain or pond water to soak them, instead of hard, soft, or distilled water.
All in all, taking care of air plants can sometimes be quite challenging, but with proper care and knowledge of what conditions they need, they will surely thrive! And following what has been outlined above will definitely provide you a solid foundation on taking care of them.
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