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How Long Can Air Plants Actually Go Without Water?

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Air plants, also commonly referred to using their genus name Tillandsia, are 400+ species of plants that each have their own individual watering preferences. 

Broadly however to help us answer the question ‘how long can an air plants survive without water‘ we first need to understand that air plants sold and kept indoors are classified into one of two groups, either mesic or xeric, which are terms to describe  their physiology and in particular their relationship with water.

While its true air plants can typically go longer between watering than most common house plants, sometimes surviving up to weeks without a soak, it is recommended to mist most varieties of Tillandsia at least once a week to keep them in peak condition, whilst certain species will benefit further from being soaked in water for an hour each week. 

Your climate and the specific species of plant, may mean you are able to go for more extended periods  between watering, so we will dig a little deeper below to help you distinguish (I) which type of air plant you own and (II) what factors you should keep in mind when it comes to watering them.

Photo by Severin Candrian on Unsplash
Photo by Severin Candrian on Unsplash
Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash
Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash

The Natural Habitat Of Air Plants Can Help Us Understand Watering Preferences

  • Xeric Air Plants generally grow at higher altitudes and so are exposed to arid conditions and prolonged periods of light
  • Mesic Air Plants are commonly found under the dense rainforest canopy, which is a high humidity atmosphere

Of the two common types of air plants that are kept as houseplants, Xeric air plants tend to be more hardy and tolerant of drought conditions. While Mesic air plants, that are used to a consistently humid atmosphere, will require them to be watered more frequently when brought indoors.

Depending on what you are looking to do with your air plants will significantly influence which type of Tillandsia you should get.

If you are looking to house air plants in a terrarium that is exposed to high levels of light, you might want to look more into the Xeric air plants . Meanwhile, if you are looking to add some flora to your bathroom, you will want to lean towards Mesic air plants that can handle a low light situation and prefer high humidity. 

A common misconception among new buyers is that air plants do not need to be watered since they absorb moisture from the air. This is simply a myth, air plants need access to water like any other plant, and some need to be moistened or soaked regularly or will begin to suffer.

The term “air plants” was coined because these plants do not need their roots buried in the soil. In fact, air plants will not do well in soil. They also do not absorb moisture through their roots like most plants but instead absorb water through their leaves .

Photo by Sarah Bronske on Unsplash
Photo by Sarah Bronske on Unsplash

How Long Can Xeric Air Plants Go Without Water?

Xeric air plants are found naturally in arid habitats such as deserts and mountainous terrain and have evolved to survive for months without water! 

They are capable of collecting moisture from the air, but this alone is not enough to sustain themselves for long periods of time. And while this sustained period of drought is not recommended, Xeric air plants do make for a hardier plant and are generally a better air plants for horticultural beginners.  

Recommended Watering

It is suggested to do a misting or dunking rather than a soak for Xeric air plants. Misting or dunking about once every 7 to 10 days  is sufficient when it comes to watering. Abiotic conditions, such as exposure to light and humidity can affect the need for watering. 

Photo by Nancy Yang on Unsplash
Photo by Nancy Yang on Unsplash

How Long Can Mesic Air Plants Go Without Water?

Mesic air plants can go around two weeks without water. Keeping in mind the plant can survive alive in most cases but not thriving. For most types of air plants that fall under the mesic category, watering is regularly needed. 

Recommended Watering

For Mesic Air Plants, holding the plant under a stream of water for a few seconds each week is sufficient, although if you’re trying to revive a plant it is recommended to also soak the plant for an hour or two once a week.

Keeping in mind that the species and the conditions it is housed in can significantly impact watering needs. These plants are found on the rainforest floors under the canopies so if they are left exposed to high light or arid conditions, it may need to be watered more frequently. Even with supplemental watering, if the elevated light levels may cause your plant to suffer. 

Signs That Show You Are Underwatering Your Air Plants

Whilst many air plants don’t need an abundance of water; they are commonly under-watered because of this trait.  Signs of under-watering include;

  • Looking dull in coloration
  • Leaves drying out at the tips
  • Forming into a limp shape
  • Looking droopy

How To Reverse Underwatering

  • Clear the plant of any dead or dying leaves or roots
  • Dip the plant in water for 5 to 8 hours (making sure their leaves are completely submerged)
  • If you can, use unchlorinated or rain water to do the recovery watering

 

Signs That Show You Are Overwatering Your Air Plants

Over-watering is one of the biggest downfalls of keepers of air plants. Often it comes as a symptom of over caring for the plant and displays itself in the form of;

  • The base of the plant turning dark
  • Leaves falling out from the center of the plant
  • Mushy roots
  • Yellowing leaves

How To Reverse Overwatering

  • Remove any rotting or infected parts of the plant to prevent them from spreading
  • Dry your plants out (Using fans if necessary)
  • Ensure plants are on dry mediums such as dry rocks
  • Make sure it is dry and has maximum ventilation if being displayed in a terrarium
  • Make sure to remove excess water or hang it to dry completely

 

Tips From The Experts

It should be noted that some air plants have naturally dark bases, and so it can become tricky to spot rotting at its early stages. Some leaf shedding during the life of the plant is also entirely normal so it doesn’t always signify the air plant is unhappy with its conditions. 

When watering be mindful to not let water sit on the flowers of the air plants or soak the air plants while they are blooming as the buds will quickly rot.

It is also recommended to never used distilled or artificially softened water. If possible seek pond water, or rainwater. 

Conclusion

With so many air plants kept as house plants these days, there is no blanket answer to the question ‘how long can air plants survive without water’, however I’m betting that at a couple of weeks its probably shorter than you first imagined.

With the right care, air plants can survive prolonged periods of time without water, so when an emergency arises and you need to leave home for a couple of weeks, have faith, your air plants will be fine.

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