How to Revive an Air Plant: Process Explained

Air Plants are notorious for being hardy – but that doesn’t mean they don’t periodically fall sick.

Their native climates are often hot and humid; attempting to grow them in our cool, air-conditioned homes can prove challenging. If an air plant becomes ill, it is likely to be a human’s fault. We tend to neglect their needs or kill them with kindness by overwatering them.

Air plants have three primary requirements to thrive: air, water, and light. The plants become sick, and left untended, will eventually die without the correct maintenance.

Signs that an Air Plant is Dying

Pay attention to the leaves for the biggest tell-tale signs that the air plant is sick. Many species have elongated leaves; they curl at the tips when the plant is dehydrated.

dehydrated air plant

Their texture also changes; if they were previously rigid, they soften and droop. Leaves that are usually soft and smooth will stiffen and become brittle.

Look for color differences; dying plants turn shades of brown or dirty grey.

How to Revive an Air Plant

The absence or excess of water, light, or air is usually what makes a Tillandsia ill.

Water

The prime culprit of a sick air plant is dehydration. In their native habitat, the adaptable plants absorb moisture and nutrients from the air and store them in the trichomes on their leaves. They are minute, hair-like cells that also protect the leaves from direct sunlight.

soaking air plants

The indoor atmosphere of homes differs from their environment in the wild; therefore, owners have to keep the plant well-irrigated by regular misting and soaking.

Step one to reviving a dying air plant:

  • Fill a bowl with the best water for air plants. Pond, aquarium, or rainwater suits best, but tap water suffices as long as it is left overnight for the chemicals to dissipate.
  • Place the air plant top-down in the tepid water and leave it in a warm spot overnight.
  • Remove the plant and gently shake it to remove excess water. Pooling water is the enemy of Tillandsia; it causes root rot.
  • Leave to dry in a bright, well-aerated room. Lay it on paper towels or in a colander for best effect.
  • After 4-hours, the plant should be dry and healthy enough to return to its usual position.
  • Check that the root system isn’t sitting in stagnant water; this is typical of seashell displays. Root rot is more detrimental to the plant’s well-being than dehydration.

Let the plant dry out thoroughly on absorbent paper towels for any hope of reviving it. The improvement should be noticeable quickly. If not, wait 2-3 days before repeating the process.

Give the plant weekly soakings until it looks healthy, then return to once every 3-4 weeks in winter, more often in a hot summer.

Air

Tillandsias appreciate free-flowing air to thrive. Ensure glass containers or terrariums have an open side or top to allow air to circulate.

tillandsia terrarium

Plants deprived of air allow moisture to collect on their leaves; they also struggle to control their temperature.

To revive a plant suffering from air deprivation:

  • Remove the plant from inside the terrarium one day a week.
  • Keep the plants at a safe distance from heating and cooling systems.
  • On warm days, Tillandsias appreciate an hour or two outside, in a sheltered spot.

Light

Air plants flourish in bright conditions; indirect sunlight is best. For those species native to rainforests, filtered light is ideal; They are acclimatized to lighting conditions created by leaf canopies.

To revive an air plant that has had insufficient light:

  • Place the plant in the morning sun for an hour each day. Do not be tempted to leave it any longer; the sun will scorch the leaves, leaving the plant in a worse condition than before.
  • If natural sunlight isn’t an option, artificial light is sufficient. Some species of Tillandsia love fluorescent light and thrive if left beneath it for most of the day.

Temperature

Air plants don’t tolerate extreme temperatures; they fair best when the heat doesn’t fluctuate excessively.

The room should be kept at above 45°F and above for the plants to remain in good health.

To revive an air plant that has got too cold:

Food

air plant fertilizer

Tillandsias absorb nutrients from the air; there are usually sufficient levels to keep the plants well-fed.

Specialist Bromeliad fertilizer gives them a boost, especially approaching blooming season.

  • Malnourished plants usually droop; their leaves dry out and become brittle. Monthly feeds should keep them in top condition.
  • Blooming season is energy-intensive. Air plants appreciate extra food in the difficult weeks ahead.

Pruning

pruning air plant

It is safe to prune the brown tips of air plants to revive them.

  • Use sharp scissors to trim away any brown tips of outer leaves. Cut an angle to create a natural-looking edge.
  • The plant won’t need to focus energy on repairing the dead leaf and concentrates on regrowing healthy new leaf.

Pests

Mealybugs are renowned for invading Tillandsia and devouring their sap.

The plant cannot withstand this for long periods and soon shows signs of fatigue. They are easy to spot by the white, web-like substance they trail over the leaves.

To rid bugs from your air plants:

  • Separate the leaves to identify the affected plants; isolate them.
  • Wash them in a very mild solution of dish soap and water.
  • Use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to remove all signs of the parasites.
  • Soak the plants in water for 10-minutes before thoroughly drying and returning to their display.

How Long does it Take to Revive an Air Plant?

If air plants are suffering from dehydration, you should witness some improvement after the first overnight soak.

Keep repeating the process until the leaves uncurl and it shows signs of returning to a healthy color.

Try and test all of the above methods of reviving an air plant until you notice a breakthrough.

Is it Always Possible to Revive an Air Plant?

It is always worth trying to revive an air plant; it will depend on its illness level if your efforts are successful.

Remember, air plants that have bloomed and had their impressive inflorescence, seen it fade, have reached peak maturity.

When an air plant has grown healthy offsets – pups, it begins to decline. Nothing can revive an air plant at this time.

Final Thoughts

Neglect isn’t the only cause of unhealthy air plants. Some might struggle to adapt to the changing seasons and climates; others may have shipped from a great distance.

We are also guilty of killing Tillandsias with kindness; too much water or fertilizer.

They are hardy and versatile, so don’t worry too much; there is almost always a method to revive an air plant.

Anthony Marsh
Anthony Marsh is a writer with deep roots in the soil of western New Hampshire. His first experiences with gardening were at the age of 10 where his parents allowed him to plant and cultivate his first vegetable garden. Twenty years later he’s continued with his passion for gardening and actively rescues abandoned plant life.