Ethereal air plants   Sassy, soilless gardening

Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil

With a motto like 'freedom to create', In2plants is a wonderland of endless imagination. Their exquisite collection of air plants is enough to make any gardener rethink the way they see soilless growing. Their Garden Centre offers exclusivity and a one-on-one shopping experience – you’ll have to make an appointment before visiting. Alternatively, you can shop online via their website and they will deliver your new collector’s item to anywhere in South Africa. Below is everything you need to know about growing ethereal, exotic air plants.

November’s topic: Soilless, sassy gardening
Theme: Ethereal air plants   
Industry Experts: Gerrit and Marinda Snyman 
Garden Centre: In2plants based in Wonderboom, Pretoria https://www.in2plants.co.za/ 

1. Exploring your website is so much fun! Please tell us about your journey with air plants and what drew you to this mysterious Tillandsia genus.   

Our passion for these plants started about 18 years ago. Tradition in our house is that you never buy your spouse flowers; it will be either a rock, piece of wood or a plant. Gerrit travelled a lot locally for work purposes and therefore had ample opportunities to obtain plants. Coming back from holiday, the car would always be overloaded with plants, even on my lap if needed. We started off with orchids and staghorn ferns until we got hooked on Tillandsia. 

Our first Tillandsia came from Nelspruit 18 years ago - Tillandsia seleriana. We beagn with this one as a companion plant for our other plants. This plant did not require any soil or roots, which fascinated us as this was in contradiction to growing many other different plants. Tillandsia air plants are epiphytes and can be mounted on wood or any other suitable material. Perfect! Now we could use all our pieces of beautiful wood collected.  

Using little space and giving lots of opportunities to grow vertically, we suddenly had more space to fill, which was super exciting. The freedom to create and seeing the first flower on one of our Tillandsia made us even more curious about the genus. This inspired us to ensure we got our hands on many more varieties. 

Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil

2. Air plants challenge the idea of traditional soil gardening, and we love that they are so exotic-looking. What motivation would you give gardeners to inspire them to go soilless? 

Tillandsias are epiphytes and require no soil, giving you more space to work with. They are evergreen, perennial flowering plants in the family Bromeliaceae. Tillandsias absorb water and nutrients through their leaves/trichomes and require less water and maintenance than many other plants. Many of them can be grown in a small space, horizontally or vertically.  

The plants are grown by young and old, in small and large spaces, as well as indoors and outside. 

When moving house, Tillandsia air plants are easy to pack up and go. We would often move our plants to the dinner table as decoration for when guests came over. You also earn some bragging rights during the visit by showing off your exotic plants. 

Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil

3. Is it true that air plants are difficult to grow? Please debunk some of the common misconceptions about this genus.  

Air plants are alive, and anything living has needs. The idea of plants obtaining all nutrients and water through the air on their own is a misunderstanding. Air plants need to be watered and fed like all other plants. Growing conditions vary from indoors to outdoors as well as different climates/seasons. Humidity also contributes to this. Air plants are not indigenous and therefore we need to ensure we create optimal growing conditions for different Tillandsia species.  

A common misconception is that plants must have roots to grow and stay alive. These plants do grow roots, but the roots are only used to attach to a surface. The mother plant will eventually dry out and die after blooming, which may not happen immediately and can even take years. The mother plant produces pups after flowering that will give you more plants in return. This also means that a mother plant is monocarpic: she will only bloom once in her lifetime.  

The colour of Tillandsia blooms also differs. Not all air plants produce purple blooms. 

Trichomes on air plants are crucial as they act as a pathway to absorb water and minerals. Trichomes are often mistaken for scale by plant owners, who then dispose of or treat the plant incorrectly. Trichomes are in fact a sign of a healthy air plant.

Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil

4. What are some of the common mistakes that lead to unsuccessful air plant growing?  

  • Lack of light and air movement 
  • Over and under watering 
  • Use of copper wire to display. 
  • Incorrect mounting methods - plants must not be strangled during mounting. 
  • Driftwood not freshened  
  • Use of wood treated with a substance that is not plant-friendly. 
  • Placing Tillandsia against walls or metal surfaces that get too hot during summer or too cold during winter.  
  • Too much direct sun on certain species. 
  • Some Tillandsia air plants tolerate more extreme conditions, so choosing the right air plant for your area is important.  
  • Harvesting of pups too early. It is recommended that the pup must be at least 1/3 of the mother plant before harvesting. 
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil

5. With so many stunning Tillandsias to choose from, please guide our gardeners on some factors to consider before beginning their soilless journey. Should they be thinking about space, sun, style, or skill levels?  

Identify the display method and area you want to grow air plants and choose plants with different leaf textures and colours to give you a collage throughout the year. Not all species flower at the same time and many also ‘blush’ at certain times of the year before blooming. Some Tillandsia air plants are more difficult to grow so remember to ask for advice from your Garden Centre assistant. Fragrant species are also popular due to the scent they bring to the display.  

Top tips: 

  • The best direction for your air plants to face is east. This allows them to absorb morning sun, which is less harmful than afternoon sun.  
  • Mount your plants correctly and use mounting material that will not kill or stress the plant. We use simple matt pantyhose that are not that visible and will stretch with the plant. Eventually, the pantihose will rot but at that stage, your plants will be rooted on the surface you mounted them on.  
  • Water your plants correctly. As we are based in Gauteng, we water once to twice a week in winter and two to three times a week in summer. Watering may vary depending on your area/climate/ humidity.  
  • Air plants must never sit in water and need to dry out before watering again. Propper airflow contributes to the plant drying correctly after watering. 
  • Fertilise your plants, once every second week will do. Fertilising contributes a lot to having beautiful, healthy plants. 
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil

6. We would love to suggest some top Tillandsia plant picks for our gardeners. Please give us the inside scoop on: 

A) Best air plants for beginners

There are just so many to choose from, considering the number of species available. Personal taste and available space will also determine which bigger plant is best-suited.  

  

  • T. ionantha, T. brachycaulos multiflora, T. capitata peach, T. caput medusae, T. circinate, T. fuchsii, T. harrisii, T. juncea, T.magnusiana, T. melanocrater, T. butzii, T. bulbosa, and T. usneoides. 
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil

B) Exotic air plants for seasoned gardeners.

Our stock list includes so many incredible exotics, but below are a few to mention. 

  

  • T. Maria Teresa, T. bulbosa “Belize”, and T. bryoides. 
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil

7. Do you have a few all-time Tillandsia favourites? What makes them stand out to you? 

Tillandsia ionantha species, also known as the sky plant. This air plant is very hardy and difficult to kill. The ionantha varieties boast many different shapes and sizes and are very rewarding air plants that change colour spectacularly when blooming. They multiply quickly too with pups produced after blooming, which form balls as big as soccer balls that create a stunning focal point to the garden or patio.  

Tillandsia xerographica, also called Queen of Tillandsia. The name says it all! This is truly a stunning air plant and worth the dedication to it.  

Tillandsia tectorum is another favourite. There are different species of tectorum and vary in size. The large fuzzy trichomes make them very popular. These trichomes also assist to catch nutrients from the air and allow them to dry quickly. 

Tillandsia kautskyi is a small, very rare silvery-grey plant. Mature plants are about 8-10cm.   

Tillandsia somnians grow more like a bromeliad with long inflorescent red branches. They grow large and have long flower spikes. What makes them different from other Tillandsia is that they produce pups on their flower stem. 

This list will never stop as we have more than 540 species /hybrids, which all have their special place and features in our garden.  

Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil
Airplants, tillandsia, trichomes, November, garden, air, soilless, Greenery, life is a garden, decor, hanging, staghorn, butzii, colour, soil

In2plants also offer advice and plant recommendations to all new and old air plant parents. With years of experience, it is easy to appreciate their passion and reap the rewards of their wisdom. We trust that you will never look at driftwood and interesting logs the same again! To find your nearest GCA Garden Centre, follow this link: https://www.lifeisagarden.co.za/category/garden-centres/ 

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