By Yvette Tan

With the popularity of indoor plants on the rise once again, folks are always on the lookout for varieties that can the most green to their spaces while requiring the least amount of maintenance. This is one reason that tillandsias are so popular.

Tillandsia, or air plant, is a type of bromeliad that gets its colloquial name from its minimal root system that allows it to thrive without soil, instead hanging in the air by clinging to rocks, posts, branches, and the like. Its origins from the mountains and deserts of different parts of the Americas has turned it into a hardy plant, one that requires little water and attention. This, plus its striking appearance, has turned it into a crowd favorite for both newbie and seasoned plant parents.

In Part 1, we talked about the minimum amount of sunlight, water, and ventilation a Tillandsia, or air plant may need. Now, we move on to more advanced, albeit optional, topics: fertilizers, pest control, acclimatization, and emergency care.

Fertilizer

Fertilizing Tillandsia is optional, and are only usually done by breeders or by someone hoping for a specific effect. Tots Sanchez-Mariscal, a tillandsia breeder who spoke about the basic care of tillandsias at the first Cactus, Succulent, and Bromeliad Festival held at the SM Mall of Asia, said that he fertilizes three times a week with 14 14 14 or 20 10 10 fertilizers. He added that Tillandsia fertilizer can be expensive, and if it’s beyond one’s budget, certain kinds of orchid fertilizers will work as well.

“I water in the evening then feed and then wash off all the excess (the next day). But I water three times a day: morning, afternoon, and night,” he said. “I feed three times a week, but you don’t have to feed along with water.”

He does this in the evening so that the plant is less stressed and more receptive to nutrients. Plus, the cooler temperature also means water is saved because there is less evaporation.

“If you don’t want to use fertilizer, water your plants diligently,” he added.

Pest control 

Tillandsia can attract pests like aphids, spider mites, millipedes, grasshoppers, and birds. Sanchez-Mariscal uses malathion (follow instructions carefully and properly when using), which is highly toxic to insects but has a low toxicity to mammals, though he warns that it has an off-putting smell. He sprays the infested plants every three days for about for applications to make sure that even the eggs are destroyed. Otherwise, insects can be picked off one by one. He also warns that pesticides might clog the plant’s stomata, and too much or improper application might result in less than stellar plants.

Emergency care

A dehydrated plant can be dipped in water to revive it. If the plant is overly dehydrated,
it can be left in water overnight. Usually, dried plants will have leaves that have curled up on themselves, and these leaves may straighten out once rehydrated. Sanchez-Mariscal cautions against using water sourced from a deep well, as it might contain high amounts of iron or copper that might be harmful to the plant. “Adjust (and observe how much water your plant needs) and you’ll get to a point where you can mostly leave it alone,” he said.

Acclimatization

When buying tillandsia, make sure to ask your breeder about their watering routine,
then slowly adjust it to yours, particularly if it’s an outdoor plant being prepared for the rainy season. Follow the breeder’s routine at first, but also make sure to check how the plant is thriving in its new location. Leaves should dry within four hours, otherwise, the plant will be susceptible to rot. “Adjust because what is good for me may not be good for everyone, so you should know your culture, your area,” Sanchez-Mariscal said. It may take about three weeks to a month for the plant to acclimatize. Don’t forget to ask the breeder for tips on simplifying this process.

He adds that every gardener will have their own technique for keeping plants healthy. While he likes to water his plants three times a day, he knows someone who has produced lush, beautiful specimens by watering them only once a week or every other day. A lot of gardening may start with following the advice of experts and experienced gardeners (always remember to ask your breeder for tips) but ultimately, one should learn to rely on their gut when deciding how best to care for their plants.