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Tillandsias – Air Plants or Tillies, for short – are easy to care for and maintain. But as easy as they are, they do require care and maintenance if you want them to thrive, grow, flower, and have little babies (pups). That already answers most of the “why”. The other part of the why is, if like us, you like to set your plants anywhere and everywhere, those little blessings that some of us have (also known as cats and dogs), love to play with tillies. Oh, they won’t cause any harm to the little critters, but the poor little tillies can only take so much love and fun before they just fall apart. So, you may want to keep that in mind when choosing where to display your favorite tilly friends.
So, let’s talk about the “how”.
Altitude and Temperature
Various species live from sea level to thousands of feet high in the Andes Mountains and in temperatures ranging from the mid 40’s F to 95̊ F. For the most part, they don’t tolerate frost or prolonged cold weather and typically won’t survive prolonged temperatures above 95̊ F without sufficient water. With indoor temperature, lighting, and moisture control you can grow them just about anywhere.
Tillies are green plants, so they like sunlight, but not too much. Think of their natural environment, hanging out in trees and such. Prolonged direct sunlight, especially through a clear window or automobile windshield, can quickly burn or dry them out. So generally, filtered or partial sun outdoors and indirect sunlight or artificial light indoors of at least 8 – 10 hours per day is best. Generally, the stiffer armed tillies like the Fuchii, can tolerate more sunlight than the more delicate, softer tillies.
Tillies live primarily in areas where there is frequent or at least regular rain throughout the year. Their natural western hemisphere range is predominantly from the Southern and Eastern United States and down into South America. Outdoors, or in controlled greenhouses, where there is plenty of air flow, it is easy enough to let the rain water them or to water them with a sprinkler.
Whether indoors or outdoors, tillies should never be allowed to sit in water or remain wet for extended periods of time, lest they develop a fungus and rot. So, it is important not to place them in or attach them to anything that will keep them wet.
Indoors, many folks have success just misting their plants. This is perfectly acceptable, especially if they are part of a permanent arrangement or display. But again, make certain that they don’t stay wet. In our shop, we prefer to dunk ours in water for 15 minutes to an hour every couple of weeks. It allows them to get washed off and lets us give them some occasional mild fertilizer. After we pull them out of the water, we shake out the excess and lay them out to thoroughly dry before returning them to their respective displays.
Oh! I almost forgot. Whenever you can, collect some clean rainwater for watering them. Since it is what they receive in nature, they will love it.
Adding a very mild fertilizer to their water about every other watering will help them to grow, blossom, and have pups. We recommend a fertilizer that we sell in our store called “Tilly Boost”. But any 16-9-25 fertilizer will do. Add just 1/6 teaspoon to a gallon of water. You can use what’s left to water any other plants you may have.
When we take plants out of their natural environment, they depend upon us to care for them. So, keep your tillies in a place where you will regularly see them and can check up on them. If you see any signs that their leaves are shrinking or curling, it could be that they are not getting enough water. If they are drying out or getting brown or rough patches, it could be too much direct sun. If they are losing their color or turning yellowish, it could be not enough light. If the base is turning dark, or slippery it is surly too much water and it may already be too late.
None of this is to over complicate the true ease of care for tillies. This little bit of knowledge just allows you to become mindful of their needs, so that you can enjoy them for years to come, looking forward to their delicate blooms and the arrival of little baby tilly pups.
Authors: Jerry & Lisa Griffin
When it comes to "real earth creations" there is no limit to the options of things that draw our interest. But with the limit of time and space, we can only do so much. Tillandsias are one of those fascinating creations that we just have to make time and room for.