Air plants—the dry-to-the-touch, alien-looking greenery that thrive outside of soil—are pretty much a gardening novice’s dream. They’re relatively hard to kill and look great set out on a saucer or hanging in a terrarium—but they do still require some amount of work.
If you’re wondering how to water air plants, the answer is relatively simple, but not altogether foolproof. A combination of misting and soaking gets the job done, and the time of day you hydrate them matters, too. Here, Kristin McLaughlin, founder of Brooklyn plant shop Soft Opening, shares exactly how to do it the right way.
How should you water an air plant?
“Most plants have roots, but since air plants aren’t rooted, they have to adapt,” says McLaughlin. They absorb water through trichomes in their leaf structure—basically that means you’ll want to make sure their leaves get wet.
Put your air plant in a bowl, make sure it’s covered in water, and set it out in a sunny spot for one to two hours, so it can also photosynthesize. Since air plants are native to humid, tropical climates, misting them occasionally will also keep them healthy.
If you’ve gone too long without watering an air plant, you can revive it. “It acts like a sponge,” says McLaughlin. “So if it’s looking a little droopy, you’ll notice it will plump up a bit after watering.”
When should you water an air plant?
If you buy an air plant in a shop, ask the owner when the last time it was watered. If you get it in the mail or can’t find out its last watering, give it a good soak on the day you acquire it. From there, repeat every two to four weeks—though if your plant is in bloom (which happens just once in a plant’s lifetime), it will need to be watered more frequently.
Because air plants only breathe in carbon dioxide at night, make sure you water them only in the morning—otherwise they won’t be able to function.
Can you overwater an air plant?
You’re far more likely to risk air plant rot after you’ve finished soaking it rather than during. To keep water from pooling in the plant’s crevices, shake it off after you remove it from the water and put it upside down so it can drain properly.
How can you tell when an air plant has died?
The tips of your air plant are the first indicator that your plant isn’t doing well—they’ll appear brown and wispy. If the plant has succumbed to rot or if it has completely dried up, the leaves will fall right off either on their own or with the slightest touch. But with proper care, your air plant can thrive for years.