Is Your Air Plant Dying? How To Tell & What To Do


If you’re the proud owner of an air plant, you know how unique and beautiful these plants can be. 

However, despite their reputation for being low-maintenance, air plants can still experience problems that lead to their untimely demise. 

In this article, we’ll explore some of the common signs that your air plant is dying and what you can do to revive it.

Identifying Signs of a Dying Air Plant

Air plants are generally easy to care for, but sometimes they can become sick and start to die.

Identifying the signs of a dying air plant is the first step in saving your plant. 

If the are leaves turning brown or black, shriveling or falling off, these are all indications that your air plant is in trouble. Reasons for problems can include watering issues, temperature extremes, or humidity problems. 

Fortunately, with a little bit of knowledge and care, you can often revive a dying air plant and help it return to its former glory.

Let’s dive deeper into the signs that your air plant may be dying and what you can do to save it.

Image of Spanish moss with browning and dying clumps.

1. Color Changes

One of the first signs that your air plant is sick is a change in color. Healthy air plants are green, but if your plant starts to turn brown or black, or yellow, it could be a sign that it is dying.

Browning was the first indication that my Spanish Moss was in trouble.  Unfortunately, I eventually lost the plant.

2. Structural Changes

Another sign that your air plant is dying is a change in its structure. 

If the leaves become limp, shrivel, curl up, droop, or soften, it could be a sign that your plant is dying. 

The same goes for the plant’s base and roots. If these areas become mushy or soft, start to shrivel, or appear sickly, those are signs something is amiss.

Lastly, you may notice the plant is starting to fall apart.

3. Pests

Pests, such as mealybugs, can also cause your air plant to become sick and start to die. White cottony masses, leaf discoloration, or pest sightings themselves are all indications of pest problems. 

If spotted, it’s important to take action immediately to prevent them from spreading to other plants.

In summary, watch out for discolorations, structural changes, or pest indications. All of these can be signs of your air plant dying.

A display of several air plants sitting together.

Common Causes of Air Plant Death

Air plants are known for their hardiness and low maintenance requirements, but they can still die if not given proper care. Here are some common causes of air plant death and how to avoid them.

1. Watering Issues

Overwatering and underwatering are the most common causes of air plant problems. 

Air plants need water to survive, but they also need good air circulation to prevent rot. 

Water your air plants by soaking them in room temperature water for 20-30 minutes once a week, then let them dry out completely before placing them back in their display. 

Avoid using chlorinated tap water or water that is too cold or too hot.

2. Light and Temperature Problems

Air plants need bright, indirect light to thrive, but direct sunlight can burn them. 

They also prefer warmer temperatures. They’ll tolerate between 50-90°F, but 65-85°F is their ideal range. Avoid exposing them to extreme heat or cold. 

3. Poor Air Circulation

Air plants need good air circulation to prevent rot and fungal growth. It’s one of the reasons why air plants can’t live in water

Place your air plants in a location with good airflow. You can also use a fan to circulate the air around them. And, always let them dry thoroughly after a soaking before placing them back in their display.

4. Nutrient Deficiencies

Air plants do not need soil to grow, but they still need nutrients to survive. You can feed them with a weak fertilizer solution once a month, or mist them with a diluted fertilizer spray. 

Always dilute the fertilizer per the package recommendations, at a minimum.  I usually recommend diluting even further to ⅛ – ½ the recommended ratio.

5. Incorrect Display or Container

Air plants can be displayed in a variety of ways, such as in a terrarium or mounted on a piece of driftwood. Really, you’re only limited by your imagination.

But, they should not be planted in soil or placed in a container that does not allow for good air circulation. 

Air plant sitting in a glass hanging globe.

6. Cold Damage

Air plants can be damaged by cold temperatures, especially if they’re exposed to frost or freezing temperatures. 

In homes and offices, this is less problematic, but you still want to keep your air plants away from cold drafts. And if they live outside during the warmer months, be sure to bring them indoors during the winter months.

7. Pest Damage

Air plants can be susceptible to pest infestations, especially critters such as mealybugs or scale. 

If you notice any signs of pest damage, such as white cottony spots on the plant, treat them with rubbing alcohol or insecticidal soap. This article from The Spruce delves further into treating mealybugs.

8. Reproduction

Air plants reproduce by producing small offsets, or “pups,” around the base of the parent plant. 

Image of an air plant with a pup.

While this is a natural process, it can also signal the parent plant is coming to the end of its life cycle. 

With the pups, you have two options. You can remove them from the parent once they’ve grown a bit and place them in their own display. Alternatively, they can remain with the mother plant to form a “clump”. The mother plant eventually dies and the pup carries on.

My air plants usually stay with the mother, unless the display won’t accommodate the pups.

9. Life Cycle Considerations

It is important to note that air plants have a natural life cycle. Producing offspring and blooming both signal your plant’s entering “old age”. 

If your air plant has recently bloomed or produced pups and is starting to look sickly, it may be reaching the end of its natural life cycle.

Reviving a Dying Air Plant

If you notice your air plant is dying, there are a few steps you can take to revive it. Below are some techniques you can try to bring your air plant back to life.

Image of an air plant sitting in a cupped vase.

1. Watering and Soaking Techniques

One of the most common reasons for an air plant’s demise is improper watering – whether overwatering or underwatering. 

To revive a dying air plant and keep him healthy, soak your plant in water for 15 – 30 minutes once a week. You can also mist it with water every few days to keep it hydrated. 

Don’t use distilled water. There are no nutrients in this water. Nor should you use chlorinated water, or water that’s run through a water-softening system.

Let the plant dry out completely before putting it back in its container.

2. Providing Adequate Light and Temperature

Air plants require bright, indirect light to thrive. If your air plant is not getting enough light, it may start to die. Place your air plant near a window where it can get enough sunlight.

If the window has too much sunlight, you can use a sheer curtain to filter the direct light.

Air plants also prefer warm temperatures. If the temperature drops below 50°F, the plant may start to die. Keep your air plant in a warm location to prevent this from happening.

3. Improving Air Circulation

Air circulation is important for air plants because it helps prevent rot and mold. 

If your air plant is in a container, make sure it has enough space to allow for air circulation. You can also use a fan to improve air circulation in the room.

4. Nutrients

Air plants need nutrients to grow and stay healthy. And they get those nutrients from air and water. Don’t be afraid to use dirty water. Pond, aquarium, rainwater, or plain tap water, all work fine.  

But, don’t use distilled water, as this water is stripped of nutrients. Similarly, chlorinated water, water run through a water-softening system, or water tainted with any other type of chemical or soap, are also no-nos.

You can apply a fertilizer specifically designed for air plants once a month to give them an extra boost. Always dilute the fertilizer.

5. Changing The Display or Container

Air plants displayed hanging upside down.

If your air plant is not doing well in its current container, you can try changing it to a different one. Make sure the new container has enough space for the plant and allows for air circulation.

You can also change the display location of your air plant. Try moving it to a different window or room to see if it does better in a different environment.

6. Pest Control

Mealybugs are a common pest that can affect air plants. If you notice mealybugs on your plant, you can use rubbing alcohol to get rid of them. 

Simply dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and apply it to the affected areas.

By following these techniques, you can revive a dying air plant and help it thrive again.

Preventive Care for Air Plants

Air plants are low-maintenance plants that are easy to care for. Here are some preventive care tips to keep your air plants healthy.:

Watering and Soaking Tips

Air plants need water to survive, but they don’t need soil. Instead, they absorb water through their leaves. To water your air plants, you can mist them or soak them in water. Here are some tips for watering and soaking your air plants:

  • Mist your air plants once a week with a spray bottle filled with water.
  • Soak your air plants in water once a week for 30 minutes.
  • Use room temperature water, and avoid using distilled water or water with high mineral content.
  • After soaking your air plants, shake off the excess water and let them dry completely before putting them back in their display.

Light and Temperature Recommendations

Air plants need bright, indirect light to thrive. They can also tolerate some direct sunlight, but too much can damage their leaves. Here are some light and temperature recommendations for air plants:

  • Place your air plants near a window that gets bright, indirect light.
  • Avoid placing your air plants in direct sunlight.
  • Air plants prefer temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Avoid exposing your air plants to temperatures below freezing or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Air Circulation Guidelines

Air plants need good air circulation to prevent them from rotting. Here are some air circulation guidelines for air plants:

  • Place your air plants in a location with good air circulation.
  • Use a fan to improve air circulation if necessary.
  • Avoid placing your air plants in a location with poor air circulation, such as a closed terrarium.

Display and Container Suggestions

Air plants can be displayed in a variety of ways, but they need a container that allows for good air circulation. Here are some display and container suggestions for air plants:

  • Use a container with a wide opening to allow for good air circulation.
  • Display your air plants on a shelf, in a terrarium, or mounted on a piece of driftwood.

Pest Prevention

Air plants are susceptible to pests, such as mealybugs. Here are some pest prevention tips for air plants:

  • Inspect your air plants regularly for signs of pests.
  • If you notice pests, remove them with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
  • Avoid using pesticides on your air plants, as they can damage the leaves.

Final Thoughts

To summarize, here are some key takeaways to keep in mind:

  • Air plants need proper care to thrive, including adequate light, water, and air circulation.
  • Look for signs of a dying air plant, such as brown or black leaves or shriveling foliage.
  • Overwatering and placing the plant in direct sunlight are common mistakes that can lead to the plant’s death.
  • If your air plant is dying, diagnose the problem quickly and take steps to revive it.
  • With proper care, you can prevent future problems and keep your air plant looking healthy and vibrant.

And if you enjoyed this article on dying air plants, and found it helpful, feel free to leave a comment and share the article.

Angela

Hi! My name is Angela Carr. I started this site to share my love for plants and gardening. My aim is to provide my readers with easy tips and tricks on plant care, fun facts, and encouragement for the new plant owner or anyone questioning the colour of their thumb!

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