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Grooming Air Plants

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Trim Air Plant Roots

Root of the Problem

Even though air plants absorb water and nutrients from their trichomes, or sponge-like cells on their leaves, they still grow roots. Find out why air plants grow roots and what you should do with them.

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Because air plant roots have been trimmed off before you buy them you may be wondering: Do air plants have roots? The answer is: Yes they do. Though they perform a much different function than roots do for other plants.

Even though air plants absorb water and nutrients from their trichomes, or sponge-like cells on their leaves, they still grow roots. These roots perform a different function than the roots of most other plants. The sole purpose of these roots is to grab hold of a host plant. Air plants do not harm the host plant, they just need a good anchor. This may be a tree branch, a rock or even a telephone wire.

Find out how to groom your air plants

Can You Trim Air Plant Roots?

Air plant roots may be trimmed off without causing any harm to the plant. In fact, when you first purchase an air plant the roots will have already been trimmed off. Over time these roots will eventually begin to grow again.

Root Removal

If you don’t like the look of the roots they may be easily removed. Look for a pair of scissors with a long, slender tips. The type used for bonsai trees work well. Simply snip off the roots as close to the base as possible

Remove Air Plant Roots

Another reason for using long-nosed scissors is for grooming an air plant clump. Roots will inevitably grow out from the center of the sphere.

Check out the post below to learn more about air plant clumps.

Air Plant Growth Cycle

Learn How to Propagate Air Plants

Read

If your air plant has begun to grow roots, remember these roots are completely normal and can be trimmed off and the air plant won’t suffer a bit.

19 Comments
  1. Wanda says:

    I have ten various plants for 1 1/2 months and have noticed that they are not succulent in nature, but dry and crispy and not vibrant as I’ve seen on some sites. They range from 2 to 4 inches. I spray once a week, and give them bath soaks and dry them correctly. I’ve just ordered some fertilizer for them. Will that make them look more alive or do I have a bad batch. I’m very concerned.

    1. Anna says:

      Wanda,
      Air plants have varying textures – some are firm and stiff (T. fasciulata), some are soft and “leafy” (T. abdita) others are more succulent (T. caput-medusae) – but they should not be dry and crispy.

      Contact the seller and ask them what their guarantee is.
      Best,
      Anna

  2. Mary says:

    Hello, thank you for your information. I live in Tucson, very hot and dry. I keep my air conditioner at 76 degrees. Is dunking once a week for an hour enough?

    1. Anna says:

      Mary,
      If you feel like your air plants are pretty crispy by the time you water them again, add a biweekly watering. Most importantly, be sure that after watering they drain up-side-down for several hours to prevent crown rot. Also, using a humidifier will also help. I too live in an arid climate. I set my humidifier to the lowest setting and my air plants really like it.
      Take care,
      Anna

  3. Judith Marth says:

    I have a glued air plant. Due to physical problems, can’t dunk to water, so if I spray every other day would that be adequate? I love your tips and appreciate any feedback.

    1. Anna says:

      Judith,
      In this case, where you can’t soak or dunk your air plant, mist it frequently and hope for the best – it will likely still live a long time. Then, when you’re ready to replace the air plant you can get one that isn’t glued to anything and you’ll be able to provide optimal care. And, you’ll have some experience under your belt.
      All my best,
      Anna

  4. Susan says:

    Anna, I am not an air plant enthusiast… I’m the mother of a bride that has chosen to give an air plant in each cute little pot I’ve made for the ladies. I ordered 75 (knew I’d kill at least a few. I did.) I ordered them many months in advance to make sure I didn’t need to order more. Wouldn’t you know, they moved the date later. So I’ve been carrying for these over a year! Now the time is near. The bottoms of some aren’t pretty but the leafy stuff is firm. What is suppose to be ‘rooty’ is brown and crisp. Maybe it’s because I see them all the time, I think they haven’t grown much. Are they slow growers? Do I have to do something? I’ve soaked them every other week for 2 hoursish, give them a few good shakes to remove excess water, then leave them upside down on a towel to dry. I need to give each lady a care card… what is the “care” I should give them? Sorry. I guess I have more to worry about than I thought.

    1. Anna says:

      Susan,
      Your comment made me smile – doing what moms do – taking on projects that you’re not enthusiastic about because you’re the mom.

      The brown, crispy roots are completely normal and can be trimmed off.

      Yes, air plants are very slow-growing.

      Also, to water, you could put all your air plants in the bathtub to soak since you have so many. That is what I do.

      Here is air plant care in a nutshell:

      Air: air plants do best out in the air (as opposed to an enclosed container, like a terrarium).
      Light: air plants thrive in bright, indirect light.
      Water: water air plants once a week for about 20 minutes and allow to dry upside down for at least 4 hours before returning to display.

      Congratulations on your daughter’s upcoming wedding and best of luck caring for your multitude of air plants.
      Best,
      Anna

  5. Damien says:

    Hey, I’ve attached my Tillandsia to my oak tree, about how long should I be expecting for it to root?

    1. Anna says:

      Damien,
      I can’t give you a specific timeline, but I can tell you that it will take quite a while. I wish I could give you something more definitive.
      All my best,
      Anna

  6. Elizabeth Yvanovich says:

    Hi Anna, I have soggy problems with my air plants but I have saved some I hang them upside down on my curtain rail, it also says that if you want to revive them is to soak for 24hrs which I don’t, I do a short 5min soak & upside down, what can I do if this happens again Liz

    1. Anna says:

      Elizabeth,
      Great question. To prevent overwatering, the best thing you can do is to let them dry up-side-down for at least four hours. You can let them soak for about an hour without any problems as long as you let them drain and dry really well.
      All the best,
      Anna

      1. Grace says:

        My air plant has lost all of its leaves to rot.
        Is there any chance of it growing again or should I just buy another and try again?

        1. Anna says:

          Grace,
          You could hang on to your air plant and see what happens, but most likely, the air plants are goners. You are probably better off buying more and trying again. After watering, be sure to let the air plant rest upside-down for several hours to let excess water to drain away from the plant.
          Best of everything to you and your air plants,
          Anna

  7. Violet says:

    2). Do you know in there is a possibility of having air plants shipped to Trinidad. I will love to increase my collection, now that I am learning from your wealth of knowledge and experience.
    Blessings.

    1. Anna says:

      Violet,
      I am making inquiries and will let you know as soon as I hear back.
      Thanks for your interest!
      Anna

    2. Anna says:

      Violet,
      I have checked with several online air plant shops and because of customs restrictions they are unable to ship outside the US. I wish I had better news for you. If I hear of anything, I will be sure to let you know.
      Yours,
      Anna

  8. Edgar says:

    I’m a new hobbyist and I love looking and caring at my plants, and I would love to dunk them in water, say for 30 mins every other day, would it be okay? tha nks.

    1. Anna says:

      Edgar,
      That watering method should work just fine as long as you let them drain and dry before returning the air plants to their displays.
      Anna

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