In their native homes of Mexico and South America, air plants can live for up to 20 years or more! By replicating their natural habitat so far as possible, we can work towards extending their longevity within our homes – but how long do air plants live for at home?
Many of the species of air plant you can buy for home growth will last from 2 to 5 years. However, this is only a guideline – as the way you look after your air plants may increase or decrease their lifespan.
If you’re intent on keeping your air plant alive for as long as possible, let’s break down everything you need to know.
What affects the lifespan of an air plant?
As with most plants, the tillandsia’s lifespan is typically affected by how much sunlight and water it receives. However, you’ll also find that some species can live for longer depending on where you place them.
For example, some live in deserts and in forests in the wild. It’s therefore important to learn as much about your type of air plant as possible, so you can replicate their ideal environments at home. If you have a tropical species of air plant native to South America, for example, you’ll likely do well with a humid, near-tropical setup.
You’ll also notice that when an air plant flowers, it’ll soon wilt. Flowering tends to be the final life stage of most air plants, but this can take place over several months.
That’s not the end of the story, of course – as you can remove air plant offsets (or ‘pups’) to grow on their own all over again. Tillandsias share a lot in common with spider plants in this regard – while the main plant may die, they will frequently sprout children that you can easily house and propagate elsewhere.
Is my air plant dying?
The typical signs of an air plant dying, sadly, will be that its leaves are starting to dry or crust up. In some cases, they may even roll up altogether. As air plants use their leaves to soak up water and nutrients, it’s here where you will find the first signs of life coming to an end.
However, do also pay attention to your air plant’s core. If it’s starting to turn black or brownish in color, it’s likely starting to rot. While you don’t need soil to grow air plants, these beauties are still at risk from the same rotting conditions as other specimens.
You may even find that when you gently pull at an air plant’s leaves, the plant itself disintegrates. Unfortunately, it’s come to the end of its life.
However, just because an air plant is looking poorly, doesn’t mean it’s about to bite the dust. Try and pluck off one or two of the leaves which look particularly unwell. If the plant does not completely disintegrate, there may be some life left in it. Where there is life, as they say, there is hope!
Reasons why your air plant may be dying
As mentioned, your air plant’s going to need access to similar conditions to what it expects in the wild. Emulate these, and you’ll likely have a wonderful tillandsia that lasts for years to come. However, there are common causes of air plants dying earlier than expected. These may include the following.
You’re not watering it properly
As with most plants, watering an air plant improperly may result in your tillandsia reaching the end of its life sooner than you anticipate. Ideally, you should water your air plant once a week, though this may vary on the species. In some cases, a deep soak once per month may be enough to satisfy your specimen!
Regardless, look carefully for black or brown base colors. If your plant is starting to darken towards the base, it’s typically a sign that it’s been watered too much. Your leaves should start to splinter off from here, too.
Underwatering is also reasonably easy to spot, as it manifests itself in the form of leaves wrinkling or starting to roll up. This, again, is because your tillandsia’s leaves soak up water and nutrients, not traditional roots.
Make sure to hydrate your plant with dechlorinated lukewarm water between 65 and 75 degrees F (18 to 24 degrees C). Do not water any flowers that might emerge – instead, mist the plant, and avoid steeping them in water.
It’s flowered enough
As mentioned above, when a tillandsia starts to flower, it’s in the final stages of its growth cycle. While an air plant that flowers may not die immediately (or even within a few weeks), it still means that your air plant has reached full maturity. Like most living creatures, old age can signify the end of life, meaning that, sadly, there’s no turning back for your air plant.
It’s had too much sun
All plants need sunlight to some extent, though it’s entirely possible to burn tillandsia if you place it in too much direct light. It’s a good idea to try and let your tillandsia grow accustomed to the spot you place it in so that it doesn’t burn up too quickly. Try and gradually move your air plant towards a sunnier position.
Otherwise, you may find that your air plant dies of sunburn. This is normally easy to spot as leaf tips start to crisp up, and leaves in general start to bleach in color. If you notice this, it’s a good idea to move your plant back to a less sunny position while it acclimatizes.
Remember that sunlight is intensified by passing through windows. Heat is deflected and plants can easily dry out – so don’t take any chances!
If your plant has dried up completely in excess sunlight, remove it from that position and seek a more suitable place where you should begin by misting. Do this in open air, not in a pendulum or other enclosed container.
Helping an air plant live longer
If you want to try and help your air plant live longer than the expected five years, try and keep its flowers growing as long as possible. Consider misting your plant carefully, and to avoid actually getting your flowers wet at all.
You should also consider the type of air plant you’re growing. Some will require less water than most – such as xeric plants, that live in the desert and thrive on humidity. Others, known as mesic plants, will require a more frequent watering schedule.
Some air plant owners even encourage fertilization – and in some cases, this can help if you want to drive more pups from your plant or if you want to keep your air plant blooming for longer.
If you want to take this particular route, avoid using any fertilizers enriched with copper – copper kills air plants! Do also try and avoid zinc and urea. Ideally, the nitrogen your air plant needs will arrive in the shape of ammonia.
Can I revive a dead air plant?
Unfortunately, there’s no way for you to bring any plants back from the dead. However, if you notice that your air plant still shows a few colorful spots on its leaves, you may be able to revive a dying plant, especially if it hasn’t yet reached full maturity or flowered.
Ideally, you should try and soak your air plant overnight if it’s showing signs of illness, and is yet to flower. The best action is to fill a bowl up with lukewarm water and to submerge the plant. You should ideally attach a stone or similar weight to your plant with twine to keep it from floating upwards overnight.
You should be ready to remove your air plant from a deep soak after around seven hours. Shake off any moisture gently, and leave your plant to dry on its own in the open, on a paper towel – but, crucially, away from any heat or light sources such as a window or a radiator.
If your air plant is still curling and crisping a couple of days later, redo the soak. Keep trying – your air plant may yet pull through!
If soaking doesn’t work, it may even be best to just remove dead or dying leaves from your air plant altogether. This is a great idea if you still have a couple of healthy, colorful leaves growing away.
All you need do here is gently cut dead leaves away with scissors or to give affected leaves a gentle tug so that they pull away in your hand.
Removing dead leaves can help to revive air plants as they can give your specimens a genuine kickstart. This means that your plant’s circulation can work back around to allow sun and nutrient absorption to continue around healthier parts of the plant.
Removing any dead leaves will allow your tillandsia to start growing healthy specimens in their place over time. Give them a little patience, and you may well see color start to sprout again!
As you can see, your individual air plant lifespan may vary from case to case. Lots of different factors can extend the life of a healthy plant – while you may also find that these plants’ lives can dwindle if you don’t care for them appropriately.
However, providing you’re careful with the type of air plant you water and care for and that you keep an open mind, there’s no reason why your tillandsia won’t withstand the full five years it could thrive at home. Try the above and see how you get on!