Air plants, or Tillandsia, are a great starter plant for folks new to indoor plant care. Compact and charming, they fit into well-lit desks or kitchen benches with ease. But how big do these guys get? Are you on the hook for a bath sized terrarium further down the track, or are they always going to be tiny and sweet?
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How big do air plants grow?
When kept indoors, most air plants will only grow to be around seven or eight inches high. Some species, like Spanish Moss, can grow to impressive lengths, but most commercial air plants stay compact and manageable their whole lives.
How fast do air plants grow?
Air plants are slow growers. They’re epiphytes, a family of plants that have evolved to cling to branches and rock faces, spartan environments that don’t lend themselves well to spectacular rates of growth. Slow and steady is the name of the game!
“Most species of Tillandsia grow very slowly for the first two to three years,” explains Dr. Mark A. Dimmitt, curator of plants at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. “When they reach about an inch in height, growth speeds up dramatically, and continues to accelerate as the plants grow bigger, if they are not crowded.”
That said, the Tillandsia family is a big one, and different species grow at different rates. It’s also worth remembering that a well cared for plant, with the right light and the right water and fertilization, is always going to grow faster than an air plant in a dark room that’s rarely given a drink.
Popular Air Plants to Grow at Home
Odds are good if you’ve bought an air plant from a big-box retailer, it’s going to be a Tillandsia ionantha. Sometimes called Sky Plant, these charming little collections of silvery spikes are often planted in small vases or even glued to magnets or seashells as decorator items.
These sorts of displays take advantage of the T. ionantha’s small size. Even at fully grown, they rarely exceed seven or eight inches in height. Some cultivars may reach a foot in ideal conditions, but they tend to be the rare exceptions. Others, like the T. ionantha ‘Fuego’ variety, top out at a tiny inch high.
Also known as the Fuzzy Wuzzy air plant, the T. pruinosa is a native to Florida. Adored for its pink leaf tips and the gentle downy texture that gives it its name, this popular plant grows to ten inches when given ideal conditions. They tend to reach seven to eight inches when grown indoors.
Moving on to the larger air plants and we have the head-forming air plant, or Tillandsia capitata. It’s a bulb shaped plant, fringed with long curling leaves. Depending on the cultivar, they can range between a soft sage green right up to bright oranges and peaches.
In ideal conditions, the head-forming air plant can reach a foot and a half high or more. Like the sky plant, most commercial varieties like the popular T. capitata ‘Peach’ have been bred to stay small and sweet at no more than an inch or two in height.
This sprawling silver superstar is one of the biggest air plants on the market. T. xerographica forms a radiant gray spray of long curling foliage, soft and downy with a distinctive fuzz.
While still slow growing, these particular air plants can become surprisingly huge. With patience, T. xerographica can reach three feet across!
Tillandsia usneoides, or Spanish Moss
Individual plants may reach up to two feet, but it’ll grow in thick clusters that sometimes get sometimes gets so heavy it snaps branches right off the tree!
How do you make air plants bigger?
Like all plants, Tillandsia will grow its best when its needs are met. Give it what it wants to go large, and it’ll go large!
For an air plant, that means good light, good watering and very careful fertilization. It helps too if you’ve got a plant that’s predisposed to growing big in the first place.
Good Light for Air Plants
Good lighting is critical to getting the most from your air plant. Without an abundance of bright, indirect light, they’ll stay compact forever. They prefer 6-8 hours of natural light a day.
Be mindful that they do not like to be in direct sunlight. That’s going to dry it out in no time at all, scorching the leaves and restricting their growth.
Good Watering for Air Plants
“How do I water an air plant with no roots?” I hear you ask. It does seem like a tricky proposition to get hydration into a plant with no way of absorbing it. In fact, even leaving your air plant in a bathroom with some shower steam will give it as much hydration as it will ever need.
Air plants have a few tricks up their sleeves, and one of them is specialist hairs called trichomes all over their leaves. These amazing structures funnel water into the leaves without ever using the roots at all.
This means in order to water the air plant you need to get those leaves really wet. And I mean really wet – the best way to water them is to soak them in a bowl of clean, lukewarm water once or twice a week. Other tactics include rinsing them under a faucet or spritzing them with a plant mister until they drip.
No matter how you water, tip them upside down and allow to drain before returning them to their spot. Stagnant water at the base of their leaves can cause rot.
Good Fertilizing for Air Plants
It may seem counter-intuitive, but ‘good’ and ‘lots’ do not mean the same thing when it comes to fertilizing an air plant. Too much fertilizer will overwhelm them, resulting in damage to the foliage that looks like a chemical burn.
Your best bet is to use a specialist fertilizer formulated for bromeliads or even for air plants themselves. Added to their standard watering regime maybe once a month in the warmest parts of the year, you’ll be able to feed them just the right amount without risking a nasty burn.
Pick the Right Air Plant
No matter how hard you try, there’s no coaxing a T. ionantha ‘Fuego’ or the likewise compact T. capitata ‘Peach’ into gigantic sizes. It’s simply not in its genes to be big.
If you want large, you need think ahead and start with a Tillandsia that’s going to be able to reach the size you desire. Consider getting yourself T. xerographica, for example, or another species known for its size.
Will air plants grow upside down?
Air plants do not care in the slightest how you position them. Right way up, sideways, upside down. They evolved to cling tenaciously to any surface and so long as you keep them well lit and well watered, they’ll thrive.
Air plants vary in size depending on their species, ranging from dainty delights to sprawling alien wonders. With such a variety to choose from, it’s simply a matter of choosing which air plant is best for you!