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Avatar for beachcomber
Jul 13, 2017 2:02 PM CST

Calling all experts ... I've been trying to grow tillandsia this year and am not having a good go of it -- I keep killing them!

Back in February, I purchased several varieties in Florida: Tillandsia bulbosa, Ionantha Guatemala, and clumps of Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish moss) and Tillandsia recurvata (ballmoss).

The bulbosa and ionatha are doing fine. No, they're doing great! They're perfectly happy in the sponge display I put them in and they're thriving under the light over my kitchen sink. The bulbosa has already put out pups and has nearly doubled in size!

The Spanish moss and ballmoss, however, are another story. A terrible story. The ones I brought back from Florida dried out and died within a couple of months. Not to be deterred, I doubled-down on researching care instructions for these beautiful bromeliads, and purchased five more clumps of them from a Florida grower via mail order. They arrived back on May 1.

(I'm in Ohio, 6b, and it's been hot and muggy for weeks. The occasional days of air conditioning are probably not good for the plants, although we have fans and open windows most days. I dread how it will be in the dry winter months!)

I let them hang in a few places in the house (in airy places near southern, eastern, and northern windows), and misted them every few days. Soon I switched to the dunking method and made sure that they had a good soaking once a week. Every other week I put a small amount of fertilizer in the water. I dried them out on towels for hours after their baths.

Some of them were flowering, and the clumps were pale green and happy, but before long I began to recognize the same pattern that I saw in the first batch: they gradually became silvery gray and very dry and crisp.

About a month ago I tried using good green pondwater for their baths. Since I was panicking about the fact that they were drying up, I gave them all a very long 14 hour soak, and then dried them out in the sun the next day. A few looked all right after that, but many didn't -- so the following day I gave them another four-hour soak.

I've been racking my brain over this and wondering what I could be doing wrong. Is it that hard to grow these plants outside of their native environment? One thing I can think of is that maybe they're not getting enough bright light in their various locations -- the bulbosa and ionatha get a lot of artificial light in the kitchen, but the others were in different locations all over the house; some were hanging in fishnet in a warm three-season room with shady northern exposure, some were in the middle of our living room (southern exposure, but they weren't placed near the window). Interestingly enough, I'd forgotten about a clump that I had hung by an eastern basement window -- it was humid down there and they were right by the window getting morning light, and after a few weeks they still didn't look bad.

So about a week ago I got them all together and I put them by an eastern-facing window where they get bright morning and midday light. As you can see in the pictures, there's a little bit of green in all the clumps, but the majority of them are dry and silvery and (I fear) dead. They haven't bloomed in months and they seem a little less green every day.

In my latest attempt to save them, I cut away all the dead stuff. There isn't much left, but there's a handful of small and scraggly plants. I haven't been dunking them, just misting them. The ones in the eastern window, with bright early sun and constant breeze, seemed to die quickly. The best ones are where all my other tillys are -- the north-facing kitchen window, under the artificial light. I'm just misting them every day now.

Help! Can these plants be revived? I want to save them if I can.

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Jul 13, 2017 7:40 PM CST
Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
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Tillandsias are monocarpic, so after they bloom it will eventually wither and die. It may have just completed its life cycle.
Avatar for AlyssaBlue
Jul 14, 2017 7:31 AM CST
Ohio (Zone 5b)
Plant Identifier
Other than what tarev mentioned, I don't think they're supposed to soak so long, in pond water either. They are air plants, meaning they don't need that much water.

I have a newer tillandsia and I left it in a soak for an hour, and a couple of the stems yellowed. If you're going to soak, do it for short periods, like 10-20 min, then it seems fine. Since it's so humid right now, you won't need to do it as often either. I would also move it back to a sunnier spot. If it doesn't work, maybe try a different air plant and then work up to the moss.

Edit- I'd skip the fertilizer too
Last edited by AlyssaBlue Jul 14, 2017 7:33 AM Icon for preview
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