Here’s How Long Air Plants Can Actually Go Without Water

Small beautiful tillandsia plant

Air plants are becoming more and more popular in the household. They require no soil and little care, making them a hassle-free plant. However, if you’re going on vacation and need to leave your air plants behind, you may be wondering how long they can go without water?

Most air plants will survive up to 2 weeks without water. Some drought-tolerant species such as T. flexuosa are adapted to drier conditions and can last up to 3 weeks. Species that are naturally from humid environments such as T. elongata will struggle after just one week without water.

Air plants are unique in that they get everything they need from the air rather than soil. Let’s take a closer look at how long air plants can go without water.

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How Much Water Do Air Plants need?

Instead of using soil and roots to absorb nutrients and water, air plants make use of their leaves to gather all the water and nutrients they need from the air. 

This is because they are epiphytes, meaning they attach themselves to a plant via their roots and just ‘hang’ out..okay terrible joke but you get the point. They aren’t parasites, they just use plants and sometimes rocks for support while getting nutrients and water from the air.

In their native habitats, air plants may be subjected to dry, arid conditions, or they may be at home in a humid rainforest. This is an important distinction because some air plants require less water than others.

Your average air plant cannot survive on misting alone, even if you mist your air plant every day. It requires a good soaking in room temperature water to absorb the necessary water to thrive.

When misting, you should use enough water so that it is dripping from the leaves of your air plant. For soaking, make sure your air plant can be completely submerged.

According to Iowa State University, air plants use specialized cells called trichomes. These cells, located on the air plant’s leaves, absorb water from the air in the form of dew, humidity, or rain.

Air plants are almost always purchased as live plants from a nursery or garden center, so you don’t need to worry about the different life stages of the plant in terms of watering.

How Do You Water An Air Plant With No Soil?

Beautiful of tillandsia ionantha planch in garden. Air plant.

Now we know that air plants need to be both misted AND soaked to absorb the necessary water. So, um, how exactly do you water a plant that has no soil?

Air plants should be heavily misted once per week and soaked in room temperature water 2 to 3 times per month. Misting should be done so that water is dripping off the air plant.

To mist your plant, you can use a plastic spray bottle or an actual plant mister like Ebristar’s Glass Plant Mister Spray Bottle. This product works great at creating a fine mist instead of a heavier spray like other plastic spray bottles might.

Concentrate the misting on the plant’s leaves. This is the part of the plant that will absorb and use the water. After misting, be sure to gently shake your air plant so that water is not sitting in the leaves near the base of the plant.

Now, what exactly do we mean by soaking air plants in water? 

Surprisingly, it’s exactly what it sounds like! You can follow these steps to properly soak your air plant:

  • Step 1: Find a bowl that will fit your entire air plant inside.
  • Step 2: Fill the bowl with water, preferably purified water with little to no chlorine or other harsh chemicals.
  • Step 3: Allow the water to sit for 24 hours to reach room temperature. Do not use cold water as this can shock the air plant.
  • Step 4: Take the air plant and submerge it entirely into the room temperature water.
  • Step 5: Leave your air plant submerged for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Step 6: Hang your air plant so that it dries completely before placing it back in its container. If you don’t let the air plant dry completely, it can develop root rot or similar afflictions.

Soaking is extremely beneficial for air plants. An article in the Journal Planta found that when T. ionantha, a very drought-tolerant air plant, was soaked in water for 3 hours, it absorbed as much as 40% of its weight in water. 

Once absorbed, the water is slowly distributed throughout the plant to wherever it is needed. Meanwhile, excess water is stored in the trichomes for later use.

After both misting and soaking, shake your air plant to remove excess moisture. Many air plants have a shape that will allow water to sit in the crook of the leaves. This can promote rot and can stress the air plant more than if it were underwatered.

Air Plant Watering Schedule

There are many different kinds of air plants and when you first get into growing these bizarre plants, it can be intimidating to decide which species to get.

We totally get it! 

But rest assured, the vast majority of air plants can be cared for in the same way. Even if you go with a more drought-tolerant air plant, you can still mist it once per week and soak it 2-3 times per month.

Conversely, if you get a drought-sensitive air plant, it will still thrive with the normal watering schedule.

Some of the most popular indoor air plants include:

  • Xerographica
  • Ionantha (sky plant)
  • Brachycaulos
  • Aeranthos (Mad pupper)
  • Capitata (peach air plant)
  • Bulbosa
  • Pink Quill
  • Cacticola
  • Cotton Candy
  • Recurvata (small ball moss)

These can all be watered in the same general manner. However, if you notice something doesn’t look right, your plant may be telling you it is water-stressed.

Adding fertilizer to your watering schedule can encourage your air plants to bloom, which is rare if they are grown indoors. It will also encourage new growth and nutrition in your plant.

Cute Farm’s Tillandsia Air Plant Fertilizer comes in a mister bottle for easy application. Their 8 oz. bottle will provide an air plant with enough fertilizer for six months. 

Depending on where you buy your air plant, you may be provided with a fertilizer similar to this product. A mist fertilizer is the best choice for air plants as it will deliver the nutrients to the leaves where they are absorbed the easiest.

To use fertilizer, simply mist it onto your air plants once a week. It’s best to fertilize and water on different days so that the water does not rinse off the fertilizer.

You can read more about the best places to plant your air plant indoors here!

How To Tell If Your Air Plants Are Getting Enough Water

Close up flower of tillandsia air plant with blur background.

Plants are a little more difficult to communicate with than people or animals. Nonetheless, plants will let you know when they are stressed by exhibiting certain symptoms.

According to Clemson University, signs that your air plant is not getting enough water include:

  • Curling leaves
  • Rolling leaves
  • Dull-colored leaves
  • Brown leaf tips
  • Stunted growth

If your air plant is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it’s best to give it a good soaking so that it can recover from being drought-stressed.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can overwater your air plant. Overwatering is the number one reason that air plants wither and die off, not underwatering.

Signs that your air plant is overwatered include:

  • Yellowing leaves
  • Dark-colored trunk (base) 
  • Leaf drop 
  • Leaves that are easily pulled from the middle of the plant
  • Squishy base

If you’re debating whether or not to water your air plant, it’s best to give it a few more days before watering. Air plants can tolerate dry conditions far better than wet conditions.

(By the way, I encourage you to check out our article on why you shouldn’t water your plants everyday.)

How Long Can Air Plants Go Without Water?

Your air plant will let you know when it is drought-stressed by showing some of the characteristics discussed above. 

How long can air plants REALLY go without water? If you’re planning a month-long trip, can you expect your air plants to be alive when you get back?

The majority of air plants can safely withstand two weeks without water. After two weeks, your air plants may start to exhibit drought stress. 

Some air plant species will not survive after two weeks, others can squeak by and be revived after 3 weeks, even 4 weeks, without water.

An article in the American Journal of Botany found that after 30 days of drought, the air plant T. brachycaulos was still maintaining normal metabolic processes. T. elongata, on the other hand, stopped after just 7 days of drought.

This just goes to show that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to how long air plants can go without water. However, 2 weeks is a good all-around baseline for most air plants.

How To Revive A Dried Out Air Plant

Reviving a dry air plant with water

If you forgot to hire a plant sitter for your long getaway and come home to discover your air plants have shriveled up, there might be a way to bring them back.

Air plants that seem dead might be brought back to life with a thorough soaking in room temperature water. According to the University of Illinois, you can soak your air plant for several hours or even leave it soaking overnight.

Once the air plant is done soaking, shake the excess water off or hang the air plant upside down to allow it to dry. Don’t worry, the leaves will retain the water to keep the plant hydrated for a few days.

Repeat this soaking once per week and mist every day until you see improvement. As soon as your air plant shows signs of life, cut back on the soaking to every other week and misting every day. As the plant improves, cut the misting back to once a week. 

Eventually, you can get back to your normal watering schedule. 

This will not work for every shriveled air plant. Some will be too far gone to be brought back. But air plants are incredibly resilient and many species are used to going without rain for months at a time (though they still acquire water from dew or humidity).

How To Prepare Your Air Plants When You Leave For A Trip

Wondering what to do to prepare your air plants for a few days (or a few weeks) without water? We got you covered!

When you can’t find a plant sitter for your trip, you can take a few steps before you leave and a few steps when you get back to make sure your air plants survive without water.

  • Give it a good soak before you leave: The day before you leave, soak your air plant in room temperature water for 1-3 hours in the morning. This will help the air plant absorb as much water as it can into the trichomes and store them for the coming drought.
  • Lower the temperature of your home: According to New Mexico State University, air plants will use less water when temperatures are lower. This will help extend their drought tolerance while you are gone.
  • Move your air plant to a shady location: The less light the air plant is exposed to, the fewer metabolic processes it will perform and the fewer nutrients and water it will need. This doesn’t mean full shade, but moving it further away from the window than normal works just fine
  • Use plastic bags: place your air plant in a plastic bag with holes punched in it while you are gone. This serves as a mini greenhouse and will help seal in moisture for your air plant.
  • Give it a good soak when you get back: When you get back, soak your air plant again in room temperature water for 1-3 hours. This will help revive the plant and give it plenty of water after a period of drought.

How Long Can Air Plants Survive Without Light?

Tillandsia or air plant which is grows without soil attached with the wood with its colorful flowers.

We mentioned that placing your air plants away from sunlight can prolong their drought tolerance. Just how long can they go without light?

When you want to prolong your air plant’s drought tolerance while you leave on a trip, you can move your air plant to low-light conditions.

Like their water requirements, most air plants can withstand 2 weeks without light. After two weeks, your air plant will likely become stressed and may even perish.

Air plants are tough and can withstand unfavorable conditions for quite some time before they start to complain or show signs of damage. That being said, if you want your air plant to thrive, it’s best to keep it in bright, indirect light.

East- and west-facing windows are a great location for your air plant. According to Cornell University, south-facing windows may get too hot in the summer but can be used in the spring, winter, and fall.

Can Air Plants Survive In A Box?

Maybe you aren’t worried about watering your air plants because you’re leaving on a trip. Maybe you’re moving far away and need to transport your air plants with you.

If this is the case, the easiest way to transport plants is in a box. This keeps them secure so they are not falling over in your vehicle and provides support to keep the plant upright.

2 weeks is the standard for water, light, and survival in a box for air plants. Even if your air plant shows signs of stress from being in a box for a week, it will most likely bounce back after being given adequate light and water once you reach your destination.

Before you move, be sure to check with your destination’s State Plant Regulatory Official to make sure it is okay to move your air plant with you. 

This is just to ensure your plant is not invasive to the area. In most cases, air plants are actually on the decline from overharvesting, but it’s always best to check!

You can use some of the measures listed above before you move to give your air plant the best chance of survival. Soak it before you leave and once you reach your destination and keep the temperature in your vehicle cool.

That’s All For Now!

Air plants are bizarre and interesting plants to have in the home. Their minimal care requirements make them attractive to many busy homeowners.

While air plants require less care than most houseplants, you’ll still want to provide them with adequate light, water, and air circulation.

If you’re leaving for a trip or moving your air plants in your vehicle, it will be difficult to meet the requirements of your air plant in terms of watering.

Air plants can go for 2 weeks without water in most cases. Some air plants are more sensitive to drought while others are more tolerant.

It’s a good idea to give your air plant a good soaking before you leave and after you return. This will help restore the air plant’s water stores so they can continue to grow.

When you’re not on vacation or traveling, be sure to give your air plants a weekly misting, a few monthly soakings, and weekly fertilizing to keep them happy and healthy! 

References

Bader, M. Y., Menke, G., & Zotz, G. (2009, May 21). Pronounced drought tolerance characterizes the early life stages of the epiphytic bromeliad Tillandsia flexuosa. Functional Ecology23(3), 472-479. https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2435.2009.01547.x

Graham, E. A., & Andrade, J. L. (2004, May 01). Drought tolerance associated with vertical stratification of two co-occurring epiphytic bromeliads in a tropical dry forest. American Journal of Botany91(5), 699-706.

Montes-Recinas, S., Márquez-Guzmán, J. & Orozco-Segovia, A. Temperature and water requirements for germination and effects of discontinuous hydration on germinated seed survival in Tillandsia recurvata L.. Plant Ecol 213, 1069–1079 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-012-0066-9

Ohrui, T., Nobira, H., Sakata, Y. et al. Foliar trichome- and aquaporin-aided water uptake in a drought-resistant epiphyte Tillandsia ionantha Planchon. Planta 227, 47–56 (2007).

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