THE CARE AND FEEDING OF ME, YOUR NEW AIR PLANT *
Hello! Allow meto introduce myself. I'm a Tillandsia- but my friends just call me an "Air Plant" Why you say? Well, it's because I'm an epiphyte; that is, I don't need soil to grow in, or even roots, for that matter. If you were to visit my tropical home, you might see me "hanging out" with my friends in a tree or on a rocky cliff. There we use our wiry roots to hold fast, taking nothing from our hosts. You see, my friends and I are members of the bromeliad family.
We bromeliads are a diverse group, and I have family members all over the American tropics, from south Florida to Argentina. Some of my cousins grow in the soil, like cousin pineapple, but most of us are content to life in trees, on rocks or other breezy places. Why, I even have a close cousin with no roots at all! Tillandsia usneoides or Spanish Moss as most call him is a real swinger, he just drapes himself over a twig and doesn't bother with roots.
The secret to our success in difficult environments is our trichomes. Now all plants have trichomes, but only in bromeliads are they so developed especially us Tillandsias. It's trichomes that give many of us Tillandsias a white, silvery or fuzzy appearance. These specialized organs allow us to be expert oligotrophs, or nutrient scavengers. While most plants feed through well-developed root hairs, me and most of my kin take our nutrients from even the most unlikely sources. Rainwater, fog, leaf debris, bird droppings (yuck), and even dust provides us with ample sustenance.
Just because we can live on skimpy rations, doesn't mean we don't enjoy a hearty meal. Like you folks, we grow faster, bigger and look better if given a balanced, steady diet. Our feeding can be as infrequent as monthly, though we prefer to be fed more often in smaller doses. We're not that fussy about food either, but there is one important thing to remember. Since we don't live in soil, we can't break down urea based nitrogen. Nitrogen is the "N" component in the NPK analysis of fertilizer. Phosphate and Potash are important too, but be sure the nitrogen is ammoniac, or nitrate, or both, not urea based. An NPK rating of20-10-20; 20-20-20; or 20-10-30 is good. If you feed me monthly, use up to a tablespoon per gallon, half that for bi-weekly and less if you use a diluted solution each time you water. Be sure to read the directions on the fertilizer bag. Usually commercial brands can be safely used at half to quarter strength.
About now, you're probably asking yourself; "Now that I know what he eats, I wonder what else he likes?" I'm so glad you asked! Water. That's right, water. Even "Air Plants" need water. A pH of 6.0 is perfect, but rainwater and almost any tap water will do. (No Perrier needed). But one thing, never ever use softened water! This has too much sodium (salt) in it, and will do me in. Give me a drink about twice a week by wetting me thoroughly, then let me dry out. I may need more if kept in the AC or if you live in a desert, and less in the cool months. Silvery (xeric) Tillandsias need less water than green (mesic) varieties.
Light, the natural kind is best, is something no plant can do without. If you keep me inside a house or porch, give me all the light you can. Keep me in a South, East or West window or close to some grow lights. If you keep me in a greenhouse or outdoors, make sure I can take the sun OK If my leaves are more green than silver, or rather shiny, I usually need less light and may burn in the fall sun. If I have a lovely coat of silver, chances are that I can take the brightest spot you've got.
Air plants gotta have air. Just a little breeze from an open window or a fan will do Try and avoid putting me in a dead air space. Take particular note of the word 'dead'. Get the hint?
Wake up! I saw you drifting off. Now pay attention for just a few more minutes.
Now that you know what I require, what are you going to put me on or in? With few exceptions xeric Tillandsias don t like being potted. We prefer being mounted on a piece of wood, cork stone or other suitable perch. Attach us with construction adhesive (Liquid Nails), wire (no bare copper) or both. In time we'll form wire-like roots of our own and grip any rough surface. We can do just fine standing up in an empty pot, or resting on the surface of a pot full of pebbles or other material that doesn't hold water. However, we're so handsome that we think we should be displayed either by hanging or standing mounted to show off our full potential. Here are some tips: Learn something about me, like how big I get, so that you can choose a mount that will accommodate me when I grow up. If I clump, you may want to choose a slender mount that will show off my best form. I look great standing on a root or decorative stone. Be artistic, go ahead, use your imagination. Make a Tillandsia tree and put me on it with some of my friends, it'll make a great conversation piece. Just remember to choose plants that have similar requirements for light and water. Try not to mix desert plants with jungle plants.
So that's about it. Easy huh? Now all that's left to do is enjoy. If you do the simple things I ask I'll bloom and grow and make you proud and glad that we met. Now what more could you ask of a plant?
* Courtesy of Tropiflora, 3530 Tallevast Road, Sarasota, FL 34243