Have you ever felt exasperated watching your tender air plants breathe their last? And, worst of all – there wasn’t much you could do about it. It has happened to the best of us. You bring home a beautiful Tillandsia, give it plenty of love and care, yet something goes wrong. Suddenly, the leaves curl up and the plant loses all its color and turns a dismal black and brown.
There can be many reasons behind a dying air plant. The most common are pest infestation and negligence. Pests can be annoyingly stubborn.
However, if you’re sure it’s not an insect at work, the culprit could be improper care. Over or under-watering, too little sunlight, or extreme temperatures are all possible reasons.
The following causes will help you effectively diagnose what could be killing your air plants.
Air plants are vulnerable to rot and fungus. Tillandsias don’t welcome extreme or sudden changes in temperature. If the humidity is on the rise or somehow the leaves have excess moisture, air plants will rot and develop fungus.
Fungus always indicates the presence of dampness. In this case, over-watering the air plants or leaving them in a humid room for too long will cause the leaves to fall out. Excess dampness can also turn the leaves black. When this happens, the air plant might have already succumbed to rot.
Fungus, in most cases, occurs due to poor ventilation. The chances are high if you keep the air plants in a terrarium. The leaves will lose their freshness and luster and begin to fall out. If the plant appears brown or feels mushy, it might have fungus.
Inner rot can be harder to diagnose and you won’t know until the plant collapses. But, fungus and leaf rot can also show on outer leaves, which will turn brown over time. The only long-term solution is to prevent over-watering and ensure that the leaves dry afterward.
Pests are mostly attracted to dying air plants. When the leaves begin to decay, brown, or crisp, you can expect a pest infestation. Mealybugs and scale insects are the most common types of pests, but they have different symptoms. Here’s how to identify each.
Mealybugs – resembling tiny bits of cotton – can be vile and stubborn. They are white with soft bodies. These pests don’t have wings and linger on the leaves by forming a wax coating over them. The real damage ensues when these critters suck out the sap from the plant’s tissue. They use their mouths and are found around stems and leaves.
They multiply fast, with a newborn occupying an area on the leaf with the most nutrition. Mealybugs then migrate towards that prime area and suck away all the nutrients. The result? Wilting, pale-yellow leaves that begin to fall off.
Another crucial sign of mealy bugs is a sooty substance on the leaves. The black substance comes from ants that hunt for sweet-tasting honeydew produced by the mealybugs. An effective way to ward them off is to introduce dainty ladybugs to the terrarium.
Ladybugs and mealybugs are natural enemies, which can help control the latter’s growth and infestation. If you see any damaged leaves, gently pluck them. Allowing them to stay on the plant will invite more mealybugs.
Scale bugs are the second most common pesky bug. They can come for your air plants both in indoor and outdoor spaces. Like mealybugs, scale insects are quite obstinate. The feeding process begins by locating the nutritious spot on the plant. The females are mainly responsible for hunting.
Once they find a prime area, scale insects drop their legs and remain in the same location their entire lives. They use their hard exterior shell to cling onto the underside of leaves. So if you’re inspecting for scaly insects, always look at the underside of leaves. If you see tiny bumps, those insects could be the culprit.
The leaves will become yellow and fall apart. Scale insects also produce honeydew, which can further damage the air plants.
Apart from pests and diseases, lack of proper care can cause air plants to die. Many factors determine their health – light, water, fertilizer, temperature, and air circulation. Here we discuss each of them in detail.
Too little or too much light can cause havoc on the air plants. Direct sunlight will dry out the leaves, leaving the plant dehydrated. Sometimes, direct sun can even burn the leaves. If you’re keeping your air plants in a terrarium, don’t expose them to direct sun. The glass gets hot quickly, which can damage the air plants.
Air plants left in dim or dark places for too long die. They need bright but indirect and consistent light to grow and sustain healthy leaves.
The best way to ensure optimal light is by choosing a well-lit spot with consistent but indirect sunlight. If that’s not possible, you can also keep the plants under bright artificial lighting during the day. An ideal location can be near a window in your room or office.
Ensuring optimal hydration can be tricky as well. There are high chances of over-watering the air plant if you don’t thoroughly inspect the leaves. After watering, always shake off the excess moisture to ensure they dry out. If you’re soaking the plants, lay them out on a paper towel under medium lighting to dry them out.
Under-watering can cause the leaves to curl up or become pale yellow in color. If this is the case, giving them an overnight bath can help dying air plants. In any case, stay wary of curled up leaves. The leaves can close themselves to keep moisture. But this can lead to rot.
The best way to ensure optimal watering is to check the leaves after you’ve soaked them. If they’re hydrated, the leaves should look flat and open. If not, you need to check for moisture.
Air plants are fragile. When fertilizing, always keep the solution to a ¼ teaspoon plant food mixed in about a gallon of water. That’s all they need to thrive. Air plants are already absorbing most nutrients from the atmosphere.
Over-fertilizing can burn the plants. The best way to treat your air plants with fertilizer is by using a mist. As you mist the plants with water, mix in the recommended dose of fertilizer and spray them. Do this once a month for best results.
Keeping air plants in a terrarium, especially when it’s too hot, can burn the leaves. The glass can focus all the sunlight and its heat on the plants. Keep your air plants in a pleasant space with temperature ranging between 55 and 85 degrees F. As long as it’s within this range, they will survive well.
Air plants can’t tolerate temperature below 32 degrees F. If there’s frost or freezing temperature in your area, avoid keeping them outdoors. The leaves will die and the plant will fall apart. The best way to limit their exposure to cold is to keep them indoors when temperatures drop.
Air plants have trichomes that absorb moisture from the environment. The plants need proper airflow to make the most of these trichomes. Poor air circulation can thwart this process, causing the leaves to curl up.
Another important step is to dry the plants after washing.
Not doing so can cause root rot because of excess moisture. The best way to ensure air circulation is to dry the plants under a ceiling fan. When you hang them indoors, make sure to place them on a wall with good air circulation.
The life of an air plant comprises a cycle—growth, maturity, and blooming. Most people believe that after blooming, the plants tend to decline.
This isn’t true.
In most cases, the mother plant produces offsets and the life cycle goes on. The point is your air plants won’t last forever. Their lives will come to a stop once their cycle ends.
So, that’s it – the most common reasons why your air plants might be dying. Use the guide above to see what could be the cause and how you can revive your air plants!
Does every air plant die after flowering?
Yes, most will. But some also produce pups before dying.
How do I take care of my air plants during the summer?
Adjust the watering schedule, lighting, and temperature. Make sure they get ample amounts of each without overdoing it.
Can air plants thrive well in artificial light?
Yes, they can. If you can’t find an ideal sun-lit spot, you can place them in artificial light for 4-6 hours every day.