An Alameda Garden: How to Grow Epiphytes (aka Air Plants)

Monday, July 27, 2015

How to Grow Epiphytes (aka Air Plants)

Orchids and staghorn ferns are two kinds of epiphytes.
One trend in houseplants that comes around every so often is a resurgence of interest in epiphytes. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants, but they aren't parasites. In their natural habitats they take moisture and nutrition from the air and the rain without robbing the plants they dwell on of any nutrients. For that reason epiphytes are often called "air plants." You'll often see epiphytes attached to driftwood or shells, or even hung directly on a wall. They can live perfectly happily outdoors under the right conditions, but their soilless state and ability to grow on just about anything make them a natural choice for a houseplant. Common epiphytes include some types of orchids, bromeliads, anthuriums, philodendrons, staghorn ferns, and Spanish moss.

Epiphytic orchid growing
on a piece of tree branch
But don't let the term "air plant" mislead you. Epiphytes can't survive in your home on just air. Once or twice a week you should submerge your epiphytes in room temperature water for up to three or four hours. You can use municipal tap water on them, but they'll appreciate rain water, bottled water, or well water even more and will likely bloom more quickly with it. For extra nutrition, you can mix a half-strength dose of orchid food into the bathwater once a month.

The proper lighting is important too. Situate them in bright, indirect light, just like they'd find if they were perched high into a dense canopy of a tree. Direct sunlight could dry them out too much.

Dry air can also be a problem, so during the summer months if your home is either very hot or very air-conditioned, you should give your epiphytes a spritz of water every couple days in between soakings.

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