No soil needed

Pedestrians walk past the New York Stock Exchange in New York. Stocks are off to a weak start on Wall Street today, keeping the S&P 500 index on track to end January with its worst monthly loss since March 2020, when pandemic shutdowns started to seize up the economy. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, file)

While visiting my son in California, we went to a nursery. It was there I had my first exposure to air plants.

It was so neat to see these plants growing without soil. They are visually unique and intriguing plants. As soon as I figured out how to get them home in the airplane, I bought two of them.

These plants are in the bromeliad family, which means they are related to pineapple. The genus is Tillandisa and is quite a diverse genus. You have probably seen many plants in this genus on shows based in tropical regions of the Americas.

They are called epiphytic plants, which means they attach to other plants or rocky terrains as a means of support. Although the air plants attach to other plants, they do not harm or feed on their host.

Their roots are used for attachment rather than to absorb nutrients or water as other plants do. Air plants rely on moisture in the atmosphere to grow and thrive. Specialized cells on the leaves of air plants called trichomes trap moisture and dust that provide the plant with water and nutrients.

Some common examples of air plants are Spanish moss (T. usneoides), which many people associate with the southern United States, and ball moss (T. recurvata), which is found more often in Central America. There are wide varieties of very colorful and significantly larger air plants like T. capitata, T. bulbosa, and T. xerographica. Mine is a T. ionantha and is red and green.

Because air plants grow without soil, they can be grown almost anywhere indoors where it is bright, but not in direct light. Let your imagination soar with these plants. Put them in sea shells, a terrarium, on cacti, the counter or even a grape vine wreath.

In nature, air plants grow in humid areas such as a rain forest, therefore they need watered on a regular basis. While care is easy, this part takes some getting used to if you have your mind set that this is a normal houseplant.

If using tap water, prepare it by letting it set out for several hours to get it to room temperature. Place plants under water for 30 minutes to an hour, then shake dry and hang upside down to dry. You will most likely water once a week, but if your house is dimly lit — up to every two weeks. Use houseplant fertilizer in the water about once per month.

Once the danger of frost has passed, you may take the plant outside and place it in indirect sunlight as to not burn the leaves. Be careful to protect the plant from hot late-day sun. You will still need to water as before when it is dry and humidity is low.

Kacenski is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.


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