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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Air Plant Success...Even With Cats

Love the idea of plants around the home or office but don't want to deal with taking proper care of them or tired of trying to keep your cat from chewing on the leaves or making a mess of the soil?
Welcome the ease of air plants, low maintenance plants that grow without soil! 

They get all of the water and nutrients they need through their leaves. Each leaf is covered in smooth or sometimes hairy scales known as trichomes which have the special ability to absorb water and nutrients. What roots they do have are used only for anchoring themselves to rocks, trees or other means of a support.

Known as tillandsia, these plants are a type of bromeliad and come from areas of the southern United States, Mexico, Central and South America. In their native setting, they thrive in areas receiving bright, but filtered sunlight, warmer temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and good circulation.

Sounds easy enough, so what are we doing wrong that they end up dying anyway?

Ok, so we try again with a new order of plants.

They arrive and we follow the directions, yet again, pondering what we did wrong the last time: Unpack them and submerge them in a warm water bath for about 30 minutes. Shake a bit to remove excess water and let dry for about 4 hours. Plan to put them in an east, south or west facing window, somewhere with bright but filtered sunlight. A bathroom is nice since the plants can take advantage of the humidity generated from our showers. A screened in porch during the warmer months would be great. Somewhere where they'll get enough light but not at risk of too much direct sun baking and drying them out which is stressful if not kept hydrated.

While air plants can survive periods of drought and are forgiving, they won't thrive if moisture isn't adequate. There are many crafty ideas that have air plants glued to boards or stuck in bottles and the directions just say to mist them once in a while with a spray bottle. That is fine for the regular 2 - 3 times a week watering but ideally they should be soaked every 2 - 3 weeks for a half hour or at least run water over them thoroughly. Plants in bloom should be just rinsed rather than soaked. This means the plants need to be taken off of or out of whatever means we have them displayed. 

Recognize signs that your plants need water. If they are looking shriveled or getting dry tips or brown outer leaves, they need to be hydrated. Before tossing a seemingly dried up plant, try soaking in warm water for a few hours and observe if it plumps up and regains some green.

Too much of a good thing is lethal as well. Once a plant shows signs of rot it can literally fall apart and is often too late. Also, be sure to water during the daytime rather than in the evening. The plants need circulation and light in order to dry adequately. 

Even though there are plenty of Pinterest photos of really neat ideas for air plants, I've learned through loss that they really don't do well on the wall or as part of home or office decor unless they are actually at or near a window. They can do well with indoor lighting, but it has to be full-spectrum fluorescent lighting, not incandescent bulbs. The plants should be no more than 3 feet from the light source and receive about 12 hours of light a day. 

Finally, the death of many an air plant comes when discovered by a cat.
These light, little things are no match for the delightful play of being tossed around by bored house cats. So, after I had the perfect cute little containers in which to display my new baby plants, I found them missing, only to later reappear shriveled and disheveled when I vacuumed. Ok, let's try again but put them inside bottles where I thought they wouldn't even be noticed much less reachable...wrong. Little paws are good at fishing them out anyway. Well now I hope I have a solution.

I put them onto a wreath that I hung on the inside of a glass door. They're facing indoors so the wreath itself protects them from direct exposure to the sun, yet they get plenty of light all day long. I wanted to be able to take them down for their watering so didn't want to actually attach them to the wreath. And best of all, the cats cannot reach them!

I started with one of those wire wreath frames. Wrapped around that frame is burlap that you can get on a roll. The burlap is wrapped around the metal frame (a straw wreath would work great too), overlapping the edges as it goes around and around. Wrap tightly to avoid bulges and use a safety pin to secure the end when done, and then hot glue down the edge of the burlap roll. You can use your own creativity in sprucing up your wreath, but I just happened to have one of those artificial berry garlands that are used to drape mantels and doorways. This one was about four feet long. I tucked the wire on one end under the gaps from wrapping the burlap and then wound the garland around and around the wreath and tucked the other end under the burlap as well. Add a loop of fabric or ribbon around one of the vines for hanging.

In the past I had made fairy gardens for my kids and saved those tiny little plastic pots from the fairy plants. I hot glued them here and there around the wreath, pressing them firmly onto the burlap. Then viola, they made perfect little homes to just sit my little air plants! Now when its time to water them, I just remove them, plop them in the sink and then either spray them thoroughly or let them soak for 20 minutes. Let them drip off a bit and put them safely back into their little pots!

So time will tell!