Soak a Tillandsia or Not Soak?

With conflicting information, how do you know if and when you should soak your tillandsia (or not)? One thing to consider before you decide is to identify your tillandsia species and its native climate (tropical, semi-tropical, or semi-arid region). This information will help you understand your air plant’s basic moisture requirements, how it survives under certain climates, and if it can easily adapt to your home or office climate.  Not all air plants like to be soaked.

You likely were given general tillandsia care tips recommending to soak your tillandsia air plants once per week for a recommended amount of time. There are other air plant care tips you have read that suggests a brief shower or a quick dunk in water 1 to 2 times per week and to only soak if the air plant is severely dry. There are many other general recommendations that suggests other soaking strategies and others that don’t recommend soaking at all.  This is rather confusing if you are new to growing tillandsia air plants.

Soak Tropical Air Plant?

Semi-tropical and tropical tillandsia air plants need higher humidity (50% and higher). If you live in this type of climate, achieving at least 50% humidity should not be difficult. But your air plant still needs some watering. A brief shower or a quick dunk once per week should be enough.

quick soaking butzii and bulbosa

Growing moisture-loving air plants in an arid or semi-arid climate may be a bit more challenging. You need keep your tropical air plant well hydrated. Lightly mist your plant once a day or every other day in the morning hours. Briefly shower or give a longer dunk once per week as part of your watering routine. I discourage soaking for prolong period.  I have personally killed air plants from soaking.  If you do soak, I suggest not fully immersing your plant.  Only soak the leaves.  However, Spanish moss enjoys a really good soak.  I soak my Spanish moss once per week for 30 minutes or longer.  

It is very important that your air plant has good air circulation to complete dry so that it does not get root rot and die. Yes, tropical tillandsias need to completely dry, especially the ones with a bulbous body structure, like the caput medusae and xerographica.

quick soaking butzii and bulbosa
xerographicas soaking in bucket of water

Should Desert Air Plant Get Soaked?

Semi-arid tillandsia plants are drought tolerant. They need moisture and humidity, maybe not as much as the tropical varieties. Its leaves are think and succulent.  That means it stores the water in its leaves to be used in drought conditions. They still need to be watered but not as frequent. Many semi-arid species have visible trichomes (silvery white fuzz) covering the leaves to naturally catch and absorb moisture and to protect it for the intense sunlight. The tectorum is a perfect example.

For semi-arid air plants, it is good to lightly mist once per day or every other day in the morning.  The can tolerate little neglect for a few days before misting again. These air plants are happy with a brief shower every other week, and with a light mist each day. 

I have read that some growers soak once a month for 20 to 30 minutes and only mist lightly between soaking. There isn’t a need to give your semi-arid air plant and over abundance of water if you are on top of your watering routine.  Soak further increases the risk of rot, especially if air circulation is not adequate.

Final Thought

The one take away is that there isn’t a single rule for watering your tillandsia air plant. You need to observe your plant to know what water method and cycle works for your home environment situation. Soaking, dunking, or showering are all good watering options, depending on your air plant and if done with proper care and consideration. Not one air plant and interior climate where it lives are the same.

Lorna Hawkins
Lorna Hawkins
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