Air plants are generally easy to care for; however, they sometimes get sick like all living things. Humans have doctors and animals have veterinarians, and air plants have this document. While there is no easy way to give definitive diagnoses, there are correlations between the symptoms the plant is presenting and the conditions you provide the plant. Here we will go over the five big reasons your air plants could be sick, dying, or dead.
1. Issues with watering
Watering is probably one of the most common issues with air plants. The general consensus is that air plants are so easy to care for that you don't even need to water them, and that is FALSE. Yes, they take moisture from the air, but I promise you that the air in your home or office is not humid enough to keep an air plant alive without any additional watering. Follow the Goldilocks principle when watering air plants. Simply put, too much or too little water is a death sentence.
When an air plant receives too much water or is not receiving enough air circulation to dry in a timely manner, rot and fungal infections can set in. Rot appears as soft/mushy brown spots at the base of the air plant, and you'll notice excessive amounts of leaf loss (Please note that healthy air plants do shed leaves from time to time). Unfortunately, by the time you notice rot, the plant is already doomed. You may attempt to stop the spread of the rot or fungus by removing the affected leaves; however, if the rot or infection has spread to the plant's crown, there is no saving it.
The best way to avoid rot/fungal infections is to tailor your watering routine to the type of air plant that you have. Visit the "HOW DO YOU CARE FOR TILLANDSIA?" page of Tillandsia 101 to learn how to identify the watering needs of your plant. After watering, you must make sure to shake out any excess water from your plant and let the plant dry completely before placing it back on display.
When an air plant is not receiving enough water, they will try to communicate with you by exhibiting wrinkled or rolled leaves. Luckily the fix for this easy! Water the poor thing!
2. Using municipal water
It has to be said... the water from your tap is garbage. It's basically diluted pool water as it is full of water softener salts and chlorine. Unfortunately, these chemicals will build up over time and harm your air plants. You will notice the tips of the leaves turning brown and becoming crispy. This is because the trichomes become full of salt deposits, and the plant cannot absorb moisture. To avoid this, I recommend watering with rain, well, pond, lake, mineral, or reverse osmosis water. If you choose to use reverse osmosis (RO) water, you will absolutely need to incorporate fertilizer into your care regime as all the nutrients are stripped from RO water.
3. Lighting issues
Most air plants like bright indirect light; however, they do not always get this indoors. If a light is needed for daytime activities, the chances are that there is not enough light in the room for an air plant. Symptoms of light deprivation are similar to underwatering or overfertilizing. If you notice your plant is losing leaves, growing smaller leaves than usual, losing color, and the tips are turning brown, you may need to relocate your plant to a brighter place.
4. Fertilizer Issues
To have more vigorous growth, you can choose to use fertilizer on your plants; however, more fertilizer DOES NOT mean faster growth. High concentrations of fertilizer can cause leaf scorch, which is the drying out of plant tissues due to osmotic stress. If your plant has the same symptoms as dehydration (discussed above) and the leaves are becoming extremely brittle and yellow, you may be over-fertilizing. If this is the case, stop fertilizing the plant completely and begin to water with only reverse osmosis water. This water is pure and will more readily diffuse into the dehydrated plant tissues than water that contains any other minerals.
5. Life cycle
Tillandsia are monocarpic plants. This means that the plant will put so much energy into producing offsets that the mother plant dies after flowering. So if your plant bloomed and is now looking a little sad, check out the base of the leaves to see if you can see any of the offsets beginning to form!