Soak City: An Unlikely Fertilizer for Tillandsia

Photo by Ryan Benoit

The current state of our tillandsia — our sweet, innocent air plants — has officially thrown us into a shame spiral. It’s a bad scene here in bromeliad land: No specimens have flowered in months. Their tips are scorched. These guys are looking dull, dull, dull.

We think the plants might be getting burnt in their weekly tap water baths — and we also suspect that they are hongry. Luckily, Air Plant City has a nice tutorial here on fertilizing, an essential part of tillandsia care. But how do you fertilize a plant that lacks a soil-based root system? Adding some bromeliad fertilizer (17-8-22, nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) to your mister bottle is one method, but a preferred method of feeding your tillies is soaking them in pond water as part of your normal watering routine.

It turns out that the plant-loving nitrates present in pond water are the natural byproduct of the removal of ammonia and nitrite by nitrogen-fixing bacteria; the same bacterial cycle occurs in your compost bin (minus the live fish). If you’ve got algae in your pond, you’ve got nitrates. If you don’t have a pond, you could dunk your tillies in your aquarium (fresh water, that is; and then there’s the added benefit of watching your fish give them the side-eye) — for 30-45 minutes a week. Remember to shake them off completely and to dry them in a well-ventilated spot near a window. The less light exposure they receive, the less bathing will be needed.

tillandsia-soak-fertilize_RMB8065

Our new pond-soaking regimen started yesterday. After each 30-minute weekly bath, we’ll shake the water off each air plant and let them dry on our ledges before bringing them back inside the house.

We look forward to reporting back on their health!

Shoot and share Tillandsia funkiana in the Community Garden
Shoot and share Tillandsia bulbosa in the Community Garden

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  • KitKat6568

    I can attest to this. I live in San Antonio, and tillandsia grows outside on tree branches here. One day one of them dropped to the sidewalk at my feet; amused, I took it home and set it on top of my 55 gallon aquarium. I used to give it a quick dunk in the tank while passing about once a week or anytime it looked thirsty. It bloomed luxuriously and grew huge.

  • meg200418

    So is liquid seaweed a good option as a fertilizer?