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Tillandsia Outdoor Care


One of the most compelling aspects of these plants is the ease with which they are maintained. Tillandsias are easily grown in an outdoor patio or under a tree; any area that gets good air movement and plenty of indirect sunlight. As a general rule of thumb, the greener and softer leaved the plants, the less sun and more moisture they require, and they tend to thrive in a cool environment. The grayer, stiffer leaved tillandsias require more light and less moisture, and are usually from the warmer areas. If you want a tillandsia that requires minimal care, buy one that comes from an environment similar to yours.

Most tillandsias come from humid climates. Even Latin American deserts are sometimes humid, so water the plants often if your outdoor or indoor location for them is dry. The sun's rays increase in intensity as the humidity goes down. During periods of low humidity the sun can burn the leaves of even the most xerophytic (dry growing tillandsia unless the plant has been gradually acclimated to long periods of direct sun. In the East, Midwest and South where it is quite humid, direct sunlight isn't as intense.

At the same time however, this ability to survive long periods of drought without mortal damage qualifies these xerophytic tillandsias as among the world's hardiest plants. In combination with the fact that there is no soil to contend with, they also qualify as one of the most carefree of all houseplants.

Unlike other houseplants, tillandsias love fresh ail breezes. Of course with more exposure to actual wind, they dehydrate and should receive more watering. Temperature should not be much of a factor unless it either approaches freezing or gets quite hot. The greener, softer leaved species are more susceptable to extremes of cold and heat. If it is hot. mist the leaves frequently and keep the center wells filled with water. If the temperature goes much below 50 degrees or over 85 degrees, bring the plant inside. The grayer, stiffer leaved plants can tolerate frost and high temperature, but for temper­atures over 85 degrees, the plants should be watered quite frequently and heavily—maybe once or even twice a day in hot dry valley and desert areas.

Some of the more experienced plantsmen water their tillandsia collection in the evening in spring and summer to correspond to the time period of jungle rainfall, and because the plants perform their breathing and growing functions at night. In the winter they water them in the morning to make sure they dry out by the time cold night arrives.If your humidity level is low, an excellent way to keep ii up is to put the tillandsias close to a group of your other plants They love this company because their respiration will help humidify the air. Another way to increase the humidity level is to fill a large, flat pan half full of gravel and water. Put a grill over it and set the plants on the grill.

As a rule, tillandsias are not bothered by common insect pests. Scale is the most common one and is eradicated in a two step program. First, wash the leaves thoroughly with a solution of dishwater soap and water. This will soften the waxy shell of the scale. Then soak the plant for a few minutes in a solution of malathion (wettable powder) and water, about one tablespoon per gallon. After removing the plant, wash it in plain water. Other pests can be eliminated in similar fashion. Be sure to use only a wettable powder and not an oil based liquid. The hydrocarbons in the oil may easily damage the plants.

If one of your tillandsias should ever happen to rot (ie, the center leaves fall out), don't throw it away unless you're sure there is nothing left alive in the plant. To check, take the plant and continue to pull out the leaves from the center outward. If you soon reach a point where the leaves do not pull out, and there is a substantial portion of the plant left, keep it. Let it dry out completely and then treat it as you would any of the other tillandsias. Very often it will pup.

Sometimes you may notice that part of the base of a tillandsia has become soft and mushy like a bruised apple. Take a clean knife and cut away the bruised part. Make sure you get all of the brown area because the bruise spreads if you don't. Keep the base dry until it heals over, and then treat it as before. If the bruise hasn't spread too far, it will soon root and send out new growth.