How NOT to kill your Tillandsia xerographica airplant

12 Mar

I had sixteen T. xerographica that were left over from my wedding – they were beautiful and cost-effective centerpieces.  I really considered them my “plant babies.”  When I first got them, I’d give them a “bath” about once a week and let them dry outside in the sun.  Eventually, those baths dwindled to about 2-3 weeks apart, which is still fine.   Then life got busy and it was too cold to leave them outside, so I kept them in a bin in the guest room.  However, one busy night I realized I hadn’t watered my plants in a month and so proceeded to dunk them all in the bathtub.  After watering, I always invert them so that the plant isn’t holding water, because a tillandsia with water remaining in its base will rot in the middle.  I allowed them to dry off and the plants had returned to their silvery green state and felt dry to the touch.   I thought it was safe to corral them in my plastic bin (to save space).

Was I ever wrong…

Killing one of these plants that can live 50+ years isn’t the same as killing the basil that lives about 6 months.     When I went to water them next (another month later), I realized all the plants in the bottom of the bin were dead.  They didn’t exactly look dead at first, but once I pulled them out of the tub they fell apart from the center.  I had decapitated my plant babies!   There were two layers of plants in the bin – the ones on top of the bin were fine, since they dried fully…but all the ones on the bottom died since they were just damp enough for mildew to form.  The mildew was barely noticeable, but definitely the culprit.  The culprit, besides me, murderer of plants =(.  I now have 9 plants, down from 16.

So that you can avoid my heartache and unwitting cruelty to plant babies, here are the following tips:

1. ALWAYS allow your xerographica to dry fully, ideally in the sun for several hours.  (Prior to this incident, I had successfully stored the plants in the bin with no problems, because they were fully dry)

2. Water once every 2-3 weeks by soaking.  Shake off excess water by inverting the plant.

3. Bromeliad fertilizer can be used occasionally – I recommend a very dilute concentration, at most 1/4 of the recommended amount.  Over-fertilizing can be lethal.

4. Keep plant in moderate temperatures (50-80 deg F).

5. Indirect or direct sunlight are both fine – other than the mildew susceptibility, this plant is extremely low-maintenance

Because you may not trust a person who has killed her supposedly low-maintenance plants, here are some other sources for T. xerographica care.  Keep in mind that some instructions are contradictory, which I think just attests to the easygoing nature of the plant.

Care tips from airplantsupplyco.com
Hard to read, but informative

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3 Responses to “How NOT to kill your Tillandsia xerographica airplant”

  1. Sharon February 28, 2016 at 9:01 pm #

    I may have Accidently left my air plants in a tub of water for a whole week. Will they die??

    • Phoebe February 29, 2016 at 8:41 am #

      The best you can do is to dump the water out of the center of the plant (shake as much as possible), and leave them in the sun to dry. Make sure they get completely dry! If you live in a place that gets wet overnight, it may make sense to bring them inside. I’m wishing the best for your plants. ~Pb

  2. Sarah February 2, 2017 at 3:42 pm #

    I bought 3 xerographica tillys from the air plant supply company. I was doing the soaking method as well as per the instructions they came with. One still rotted in the center, even following the directions. A few weeks later, I was in a terrarium shop in Portland, Oregon, where I reside. I told the owner, who has been a terrarium maker for over 40 years, I had been soaking this particular air plant and 1 of my 3 had died by rotting. He told me xerographica tillandsia SHOULD NOT be soaked, only lightly misted once a day because they are actually from arid climates. I looked it up and found he is correct, their origin are dry forests in some parts of Mexico, at the tops of trees near the brightest, most intense light. I’m really glad he told me because I have one of my survivors away as a gift and only have one left, I hope it will love for many years to come. For fertilizer and watering, I put freshwater fish tank water in a mister. I read it is just as good as pond water and because it’s high in nitrogen, fertilizer isn’t necessary.

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