How To Water Air Plants

How to Revive a Sick Air Plant

If your air plant is looking dull, a bit brown, maybe limp, it could mean that it is very thirsty! To revive a sick air plant that has been a tad neglected, shipped from far, far away, or is just looking a little under the weather, this guide will show you how to perk it back up!How to water and revive a sick air plant

1. The first step is to give your sick air plant an overnight soak. Prepare an air plant bath as you normally would to water it, and let it soak overnight. The next morning, shake it off and put back in place. If you need a refresher on watering, here is what I wrote in my All About Air Plants article:

“Without soil, this means that air plants will need to absorb moisture through their leaves. I have heard many, many times that garden centers have recommended spritzing them a few times a week. I find that this is just not enough water and that it is often the reason for their demise. I never found that misting was very helpful or consistent.

Personally, I give air plants an hour-long bath to meet their water requirements. In the summer they need a weekly soak, whereas in the winter it’s once every 3 weeks or so. I like to use rainwater whenever I can, and this is pretty simple given I live in a rain forest! You can use tap water as well, just leave it out for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate, or use filtered water.

To give them a bath, simply remove the air plant from the shell, bowl, or whatever else you have it in and set it in a bowl that is large enough to submerge the plant in water. After an hour, take the plant out and give it a good shake upside down to remove any water pooling inside the leaves. Put the plant back in place and just enjoy its beauty for another 1-3 weeks before it needs another bath.”

The proper way to water air plants

2. Remove dead leaves by gently tugging at them to see if they come off. If they remove easily, they are dead. If the whole plant falls apart when you do this, your air plant has already bit the dust, unfortunately. If only a few leaves come off and the inside leaves are green and healthy looking, your plant is going to make it!!pruning or trimming air plants

3. If the tips of your air plant are turning brown, try using rainwater or unchlorinated water as described above. If you are not giving them chlorine but they are still turning brown, then your plant may not be getting enough water. Give them an overnight bath, then make sure you are bathing them more often.

How to prune an air plant

4. If the plant falls apart even though it’s green, it has probably been sitting in standing water too long, or it was not shaken off properly after bath time. Read the section about watering again and you’ll surely have better luck with the next one!

how to revive a sick air plant

Love air plants? Me too! Read all about them here and check out some of the ways you can show them off:

Sea urchin and seashells - How to plant an air plant sea shell terrarium

About the Author : Stephanie RoseAn artistic gardener aiming to feed the body & soul through an urban potager garden & a community veggie plot in Vancouver.View all posts by Stephanie Rose

  1. Stephen
    StephenFebruary 14,16

    Thankyou so much! Going to try and revive my air plant. I found your two blog posts on the topic very helpful :)

  2. Qerbul
    QerbulJune 13,16

    I want to ask some question about my air plant, as we know that these plants take their needs directly from the air. In treatment I do not give a lot of water and fertilizer, also need adequate sun. I are asking, why the base of the plant is rotten.

    • Rich
      RichSeptember 9,16

      While it’s true that fresh air is one of the basic needs of air-plants, so is bright sun and water. I soak my plants in water more than once a week and fertilize (with Tillandsia fertilizer) once a month. After soaking your plant it is essential that you shake out and remove any drops of water. In certain tillandsia species, the bulbous base of the plant holds on to water, which is why I think your plant may have developed rot. I’ve been growing air-plants for years and lost a few nice ones due to water hidden in the base of the plant. While some species require more waterings than others, if they are to grow and bloom, they need more waterings than most are aware of. On the other hand, once watered, they need to dry completely within a few hours. Inspect the plants for places where water can hide and shake it out or dry on a paper towel, and never leave your plants to sit in moisture. From my experience, not allowing plants to dry thoroughly after necessary waterings is the main cause of dead plants.

  3. Constanze
    ConstanzeAugust 28,16

    In Germany in some reagions we have a great amount of chalk in our tab water. At some website i’ve once read that this would probably jam their leave pores. Which water can i use instead (besides rainwater)?

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseAugust 29,16

      How about purchased distilled water or spring water? What do you water houseplants with?

  4. Laurie
    LaurieSeptember 5,16

    Thanks for the tips. Is it easy to propagate more plants when they are healthy? (i.e. do they send off little shoots?)

    We have chloramine in our water, which doesn’t evaporate over time. Maybe something to mention in your post, to not use tap water at all in that case?

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseSeptember 6,16

      Great tip, Laurie. Yes, they absolutely will send out pups from the base that you can break off and grow as new plants. They are slow growing and the pups are more susceptible to drying out. So be sure to keep them on the mother plant as long as you can, then care for them carefully.

      • Senior Citizen
        Senior CitizenJanuary 1,17

        My air plant has a pup for about eight months. When and how do I take it from the mother? Thank You when I get your answer.

        • Stephanie Rose
          Stephanie RoseJanuary 3,17

          Hi! It should be able to gently break off. As long as it comes off fairly easily, it is ready to be removed. Note that the mother plant doesn’t always survive though. Some set pups at the end of their life cycles.

  5. Alisa
    AlisaNovember 3,16

    My air plants were doing great and all of a sudden one died and the other doesn’t look happy. It’s leaves are turning brown and curling, even after I’ve given it water. Do you recommend I do an overnight soak? I’d hate for it to rot!!

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseNovember 3,16

      Hi Alisa, yes, I would recommend an overnight soak. Afterwards shake it out well and allow it to dry. If it is still not doing well then it is probably at the end of its life. Did it have babies? If they set pups and flower, then the air plant mother can die off soon after.

  6. Tonya
    TonyaDecember 11,16

    I’ve tried air plants over the years without success. Since I was born into a family of green thumbs and have been successful with many other plants, I was frustrated to say the least. But I finally ran across some how to’s. Now I’m in air plant heaven. I too found that spraying was not enough water. I live in Central California. It’s 100+ degrees during the summer and 40s – 30s in winter. Soaking works best for me. Once per week during the summer and two weeks or so during winter. After soaking I turn my plants upside down on a wire rack (like a rack to cool cookies) with a paper towel under. I leave them, usually overnight because I get busy with other things, at least long enough for the water to drain out and for the plants to get fairly dry. So far so good. My biggest problem is that the local OSH has started carrying air plants so I go fairly often to “rescue” some of the plants so they get watered properly. What can I say. They are addictive.

  7. Dawn Duncan
    Dawn DuncanFebruary 4,17

    The root of my Air plants are brown and look dried out but the plant its self looks healthy am I doing good something wrong?

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseFebruary 5,17

      Some of the species of air plants have brown bases. If the rest of the plant looks healthy, I would suggest that is why. Enjoy!

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseFebruary 5,17

      Also, if you mean the roots (not the base), they are only for clinging on to other plants. You can cut the roots off if they grow. The eye in the center of the base is what sends out new growth so keep that intact and healthy.

  8. Student
    StudentMarch 31,17

    Hi, the Base of my tilly is purplish ,but the leaves don’t fall off and I have a tillandsia stricta so I’m wondering if it’s normal. I’m really worried cause I got it recently. Thanks for your time!

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseMarch 31,17

      Many tillandsias have purple coloring. I wouldn’t worry unless it starts to lose leaves and fall apart.

  9. Newbie
    NewbieApril 26,17

    Hi, I love attaching a lamp with the air plants. Is it good for the air plants if they get a long time with light? I gonna use a white light LED and i think i’ll not too light. One more question. Could I put my air plant together with moss or ferns. I’ll try not to make the air plants touch the moss. Is it too moist for the air plants? Thank you ^^

  10. Tanya
    TanyaMay 7,17

    This is a great article, but it doesn’t cover something that I have encountered repeatedly. I love my little friends but they keep drying out immediately after they have been soaked. It is so unusual and happens whether I have use distilled water, rain water or tap water.

    The plump up and look rehydrated in the water, then I take them out and put them to dry upside down to the roots do not get wet and then the leaves look like they are shriveled, dehydrated and have a fine white powder. That’s just my observation not sure if there’s actual powder there.

    I have tried it with 20 minute, 40 minute, two hour and overnights soaks.

    It’s the same thing with multiple species so that’s why I thought it was the water. But when it happened again with rainwater so I am really stumped!

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseMay 8,17

      Hi Tanya, is it all of the leaves or just some of them? The outside leaves do tend to die off while the plant grows new ones from the inside. A few thoughts:

      Did you try pruning your plant as described above in “remove the dead leaves”?


      Perhaps this is just your type of air plant. The powder you describe could be white fuzz known as Trichomes, or the natural downy hairs on the plant. It’s perfectly normal and a sign of a healthy plant.

  11. Tanya
    TanyaMay 7,17

    Just as a follow-up, I have absolutely no idea what happened with my comment above!

    I really need your help and I’m not a spammer – I just think I hit a tech glitch there LOL

  12. Nicol
    NicolJune 4,17

    Hello, great articles regarding air plants :) I have an air plant from a supermarket and it is glued into the dish…. Will it survive like that? Should I try and detach it or just leave it?? Cheers

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseJune 6,17

      Hi Nicol, if you can soak the whole dish in a water bath to water it and shake it off well to avoid pools of water, then it should be OK. Eventually, the plant will grow out of the space it is allocated. The leaves that are glued will die back and the new growth comes from the middle. At that time, you could remove the plant from the dish, prune the dead leaves, and display it elsewhere.

  13. Erin
    ErinJune 20,17

    I have been taking care of several different types of air plants in my office for the past few months, but they are starting to die off one by one. They seemed to like a short soak (5-10 mins) every week or two, but three have now dried up and seemingly rotted from the bottom. I dried them upside down and followed everything I’ve read. I’m wondering if the office’s tap water is to blame. The same thing happened with my plants at home, but I have well water. Should I be using a bottled water?

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseJune 20,17

      Hi Erin, it sounds to me like they are not getting enough water. Indoors it is much drier than outdoors and they can’t get moisture from the air. Try following the steps in this post and my All About Air Plants A one-hour soak every week or two, and give them an overnight if they are looking a bit dry.

    • amy Marie
      amy MarieJuly 1,17

      i always use rain water too. everytime it supppose to rain i keep something outside to collect rain water and fill up spray bottle with the rain water or soak them in the rain water since thats the water they get in the natural habitats. and i also use a humidifier here and there next to my plants to add moisture it the air. my gramother has to soak hers more cause she doesnt have as much moisture in here house. if you house or office is really dry its going to need more water then directed. when i buy my air plants its says spray them twice a week. i deff dont think that is enough for them in some enviroments

  14. Tara
    TaraJune 23,17

    I have one air plant that used to be a red/purple color. Over the last month I’ve noticed that it has changed to a grey silver and the root is turning a pink color. Another air plant of mine is still green but its leaves seem limp and fall off easily. It was ok with soaking in water before this and the change has occurred over the past 3 weeks. I usually soak my air plants for 20-30 minutes once a week. Please let me know if you can help me and tell me what I’m doing wrong! Thanks!

  15. amy Marie
    amy MarieJuly 1,17

    hi . i have been having air plants and keeping them alive for almost a year now. i had about 6 of them that bloomed into a flower . the flower died. and the plants after flowered looked really dried out and dead looking and never had signs of pups growing is there something im doing wrong?. so they all grow pups?

  16. amy Marie
    amy MarieJuly 1,17

    i always use rain water. i soak them once a week for about 30 mins. let them try out on a towel. shake them out up side down, when i have my flowered ones i make sure try not to get the flower to wet. i only spray the flowered plants instead of soaking them to prevent flower from getting wet as much as possible. then since it really hott right now i spray each one besides soaking twice a week. some more then others. seem some species dry out more quick then others. then after the flower dies . i have clipped the flower stem off and some ive kept intact seeing which would most likely help. cause i read some said clip. some siad dont clip. and i also read you really dont need to fertilize them if you use rain water all the time. i will be looking into getting fertilizer air plant spray soon though. just wandering if after they are done flowering if they supposed to look dried up and dead. also it says if its done flowering and you see a dead leaf to not pick it off which i havent . i have beeen leaving any dead leaves intact. but not once have a seen a sign of pupping . some have been over 5months. nothing..

  17. Davy
    DavyJuly 15,17

    Thanks! I thought I was watering enough by spraying them and didn’t understand why thry all looked so dry, brittle and brown.

  18. Denisr
    DenisrOctober 6,17

    My adult air plant has brown spots on some leaves with holes in the middle.
    Is it some kind of bug eating the leaves ?

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseOctober 6,17

      Hi Denisr, it sure sounds like bugs but I haven’t seen that myself. Could you take it into a garden center for identification and treatment options?

  19. Ashlyn
    AshlynOctober 7,17

    Hi Stephanie, The centre of my Bulbosa (Jellyfish) browned and rotted – I’ve cut the brown off and wonder if the leaves might survive if I soak and shake them off every couple weeks? The inside of the leaf where cut looks viable.

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