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Growing Plants Out of Thin Air

By Monica Boyd

Air plants are remarkable little things; they need no soil, little water and can thrive pretty much anywhere. So get growing!

Think you can’t grow houseplants? Think again! Even the most non-green-fingered among us can keep an air plant alive. These hardy and unique little plants grow without soil, getting all the water and nutrients they need from the air. This means they’re not only easy to grow, but easy to display: no soil spilling out of a plant pot; no dribbles when watering.

There are more than 650 different types of air plant (or bromeliad), and they are native to the southern United States, Mexico, Central and South America. This means they thrive in warm conditions, such as inside a house, and will grow even when neglected. Plus, with no need to keep their roots buried in soil, these plants are hugely versatile and can flourish in anything from a glass jar to an old branch.
Hang them high
Special glass containers, sometimes called air plant terrariums, beautifully showcase the plants’ delicate leaves and colours. Many of these terrariums are designed so they can be hung up. Unlike regular houseplants, air plants require no soil, so they’re perfectly suited to being displayed like this, with no risk of soil showering the floor.
Team with potted plants
Mix air plants into a larger display of potted plants to create a relaxed and visually exciting display. Since they don’t need to be planted in soil, you can simply dot one or two around the larger, conventional houseplants and easily move them if you wish
Try as a table centrepiece
Ditch the vase of flowers and go for something more contemporary on your dining table. An air plant or two, sitting in a simple bowl, makes an unusual centrepiece. Since air plants get all the nutrients they need through their specialised leaves, rather than their roots, there’s no need to plant them in soil. Just remember to mist with water daily from spring to mid-autumn, and once or twice a week in the winter.
Go for glass
Air plants, as their name suggests, need good air circulation to thrive, but they will grow in almost any kind of vessel. Try using wine glasses, flutes or any cloche that has an opening, so the plant flourishes but is also beautifully displayed.
Upcycle old jars
Turn old glass jars into informal holders for air plants. If you want to make the plants appear more ‘rooted’, fill the jars with pebbles, around which their roots will slowly grow.
Dot in as a display
Use a tiny air plant in a glass terrarium as a beautiful, natural addition to a little tableau of finds. It will add a gorgeous flash of soft green to any small arrangement and bring simple objects to life.
Branch out
Encourage an air plant to grow on a piece of timber or a tree branch, and then display this artfully.Air plants don’t use their roots to pull up nutrients from the soil; they only use them for attaching themselves to rocks, trees, shrubs or the ground. Harness this natural ability by tucking tiny air plants into a branch, old plank or piece of driftwood. Then hang it up, pop it on a mantelpiece or display it within an old picture frame or window, as here.
Green-up a bathroom
Air plants thrive in moist environments, so are perfectly suited to life in a bathroom. They need good light levels, but don’t like direct sun, preferring filtered light or dappled shade, so the frosted glass often found in a bathroom window is another good fit for them.Hang them over the bath so you have something pretty to gaze at while you bathe.
Grow them in the garden
In mild climates, air plants will grow happily outside. (They will die in temperatures below about 7ºC.) Tuck them in among existing planting, shrubs or trees to create a contrast of leaf shape and colour.Air plants that are naturally suited to growing in trees can be gently tied to a tree trunk or post using translucent fishing line. You could also add a little bit of sphagnum moss around the roots for extra moisture. Simply bring them in for the winter once the weather turns.
Spell it out
Fill metal letters with air plants to create a living word! Create compartments within the letters from stiff card or small sections of ply, then tuck the plants into each space to gradually fill out the letters.
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