3An overwatered air plant’s base responds to excess water by darkening, followed by yellowing, and falling out of leaves from the center. Upon further inspection, you can also notice some mushy roots and black spots on the leaves.
An important reminder to note is that some air plant varieties like the Melanocrator tricolor naturally have darker bottoms and brown leaves which may confuse you, therefore, you should lean on preventing overwatering at all costs.
Considering that overwatering is the main reason why air plants fail, this guide should help you to rescue your ailing plants.
- How Is My Air Plant Getting Overwatered?
- How Do I Save an Overwatered Air Plant?
How Is My Air Plant Getting Overwatered?
Your air plant is getting overwatered because of too frequent watering, changes in atmospheric conditions, misuse of pebble trays, and employing water to eliminate pests. Air plant roots tend to rot if the moisture around them is not allowed to escape.
You can also identify a drowning air plant by observing a fallen leaf’s appearance. If you see a brown ring on the leaf’s base, your parent plant is suffering from excessive amounts of water.
– Too Much Exposure to Water
In their natural habitats, air plants are epiphytic, meaning that they grow on other plants. They get moisture from rainwater that drips along the tree trunks.
The presence of high humidity also supplies air plants with sufficient moisture for their growth or upkeep. These plants do not need soil as a medium to grow, but water can be applied directly to their bare roots.
When grown indoors, an air plant can go for about a week without being watered. If you water air plants more than once a week when grown indoors, you are probably overwatering them.
Some air plant species can survive for two weeks without water, but you should keep a close eye on them to avoid exposure to underwatering.
Air plants’ root systems are very sensitive to damp environments so you should not leave them sitting in a jar containing water for more than 30 minutes.
If you want to water air plants, we recommend using a sink or any suitable container that is large enough for submersion. Make sure they get soaked for at least half an hour before you shake them gently to get rid of all water particles.
You should also turn your plants upside-down on a dry towel so that they drain excess water out. If you do not follow this procedure, leftover water particles will keep the plant wet for an extended period of time, thereby making them vulnerable to bacterial attack.
– Changes in Atmospheric Conditions
Environmental conditions tend to differ as the seasons change. In high-temperature conditions, the surrounding air causes your plant to emit more moisture into the atmosphere, causing it to quickly become thirsty.
This situation is the opposite when it comes to cooler weather where moisture loss from your air plant is minimal. This implies that if you do not change the watering frequency accordingly, you will overwater the plants during low evapotranspiration periods.
An air plant can get enough moisture for its upkeep from the atmosphere. Moisturized air circulation also discourages further water loss from the plant, which ultimately keeps it going for a long time without getting thirsty.
This situation is common in rooms like bathrooms where humidity remains high throughout the day. If you have moved your epiphytes to a high-humidity room and you constantly water air plants using the same dosage as that of drier places, they easily get overwatered.
Soon after watering an air plant, make sure that conditions favor excess water loss from its system to curb rot. If it remains damp, brown leaf tips emerge and rot takes over.
Air plant rot reduces the plant’s ability to absorb vital nutrients and moisture that are needed for its development. The plant suffers nutrient and water deficiencies that cause yellowing, black spots on the leaves, stunted development, and wilting.
– Pebble Tray Misuse
During drier air spells, consider using a pebble tray to boost the relative humidity of your plant’s immediate environment. To make a pebble tray, you need a dish filled with water and some pebbles that keep the plants’ roots from sinking.
The idea here is to achieve air saturation with vapor, which gives the ideal conditions for your air plants’ well-being. However, this simple and cost-effective moisture supplementing method can be deadly to your plants if it is used incorrectly.
In order to get the best outcome from a pebble tray system, you need to position it underneath your plant so that it gets directly exposed to moisture-saturated air. The problem begins when your plant gets into direct contact with water for a long time.
Considering that air plants can take in moisture using their leaves and stems, if any of these parts remain touching the water, overwatering troubles begin. Due to their vining nature, we do not encourage you to leave your air plants above pebble trays if you are constantly away from them.
– Treating Pests With Water
Like most vining plants, air plants can be invaded and destroyed by pests that include mealybugs, aphids, and chiggers. One of the cost-effective ways to get rid of them is washing them off using raw water.
To begin this process, submerge the whole plant or place it under running water, thereby forcing the intruders off. However, executing this process before the plant is ready for irrigation increases its chance of being overwatered.
Make sure you do not water air plant foliage involuntarily by letting it get into contact with moisture in any way before it is ready for irrigation.
– Insufficient Ventilation
Air plants that are grown in closed terrariums, small rooms, and tight spots usually succumb to overwatering. Such places are associated with damp surfaces as well as high humidity due to a lack of air circulation.
In such conditions, the plant fails to dry out completely, thereby promoting rot. Regular watering of plants that are kept in places with low air movement is, therefore, a bad idea.
If the base of the air plant is sitting inside a tight container that has little airflow, rotting is more likely to take place. The moisture that is released from the plant remains trapped in the container, causing the exposed part to rot.
This damage will extend to the healthy parts of the plant if the situation is not rescued early. The stagnant air in the container encourages several fungal infections to manifest on your plants.
The air plant cannot absorb enough nutrients from stagnant air, which leaves it extremely malnourished. It is, therefore, best that you move your air plants to an open area for ventilation.
This epiphyte’s natural environment has plenty of airflow, so turning on fans in your home is a good alternative. A small desk or USB fan can be enough to aid adequate air circulation around them.
How Do I Save an Overwatered Air Plant?
To save an overwatered air plant, you should isolate the affected plant, reduce watering, prune the dying roots and leaves, and move the plant outdoors. Saving an overwatered air plant takes commitment and composure because if you administer the revival steps incorrectly, the situation may become worse or irreversible.
Plants that are not grown on soil need you to deal with the environment more so that it becomes habitable for them. This calls for some amendments to be done. However, watering air plants sparingly is the most common step that you could employ to save them from excessive moisture.
– Problem Evaluation
You need to do a thorough inspection of the overwatered air plant so that you can evaluate the extent of damage incurred and its possible causes. If the plant has brown leaf tips as well as yellow leaves, the attack is slight and you can manage it easily.
However, if the plant has reached the extent of wilting and rotting, extensive work needs to be done. In some cases, you may notice fungal infections and pests on the foliage, which calls for you to do further air plant care procedures.
– Isolate an Overwatered Air Plant
Growing air plants in an enclosed space encourages the quick spread of infections as compared to ones grown outdoors. This is the main reason why we recommend the isolation of all plants that have been diagnosed with overwatering.
Overwatered plants’ susceptibility to diseases and pests is high, which poses risk to the surrounding healthy plants. It is, therefore, important to isolate such a plant and treat it in a separate place.
You should re-introduce a once overwatered plant to its usual growing spot only after it has fully recovered. You should not omit this overwatered air plant care step to avoid having similar problems with nearby healthy plants.
– Reduce Watering
The response of your air plant to reduced watering should pave the way for the next step. If you were watering the air plants more regularly, wait until you see signs of wilt before applying more water.
Under normal circumstances, you should water your air plants once every 10 days, but this differs with changes in environmental conditions. Based on the assessment results, it is time to create a suitable irrigation schedule that suits the rate of water loss and the air plant water needs.
Take note that in hot seasons like summer, you usually expect to water your plants more frequently, but this is not always the case. Changes in humidity, saturation, sunlight exposure, and airflow are the essential points to look out for.
A good example is when you are keeping your air plants outdoors and you move them indoors or vice-versa. Low air circulation and light in enclosed places reduce water loss, so you should cut back on watering.
– Prune Bad Roots and Leaves
You can safely execute the pruning process using bacteria or fungi-free tools. Just submerge a pair of scissors or a sharp knife in rubbing alcohol to kill all pathogens before cutting the plant.
Remember, once rot strikes any part of your air plants, it spreads rapidly all over the entire foliage. If a substantial part of the foliage rots, the discoloration that comes with it reduces sunlight absorption, which then produces an even weaker and duller plant.
Moisture and nutrient uptake decline when rot takes over a greater part of the air plant’s roots. In such cases, you should cut off all bad parts of your air plants to stop the spread of rot and give room for new and healthy growth.
You should neatly cut off mushy, darkened roots as well as discolored leaves to support quick recovery. Avoid making rough and deep cuts as they do not heal quickly, making room for bacterial infections.
Removing all unwanted foliage reduces the plant’s load, helping it to direct available energy and nutrients to the recovery of the remaining foliage. It is also at this point that you should get rid of all pest-infected leaves and dispose of them away from your homegrown plants.
Some air plant species like the Spanish moss’ foliage can be too dense, therefore, trimming part of it encourages air circulation which is key for recovery.
Considering that air plants grow effectively during spring and summer, if these recovery steps are taken during this period, the chances of successful recovery are very high.
– Move the Air Plant Outdoors
Based on the outcome of the evaluation, if poor air circulation is one of the culprits, you should change the environment. We advise that you take your overwatered air plants outdoors for at least one or two hours daily for fresh air access.
This is more effective on air plants that are at the early stages of rot. If the plant has not shown signs of rot yet, taking it to a well-ventilated spot will facilitate its recovery more quickly.
As highlighted earlier in this article, watering air plants that are kept in poorly ventilated spaces is quite tricky.
Vapor from the plant and surroundings can keep the immediate environment too damp, thereby keeping the foliage constantly wet. Soon after moving the plant outdoors, it should be able to lose excess water and absorb nutrients which will quicken its recovery.
– Add Some Water to the Plant
If the air plant is no longer absorbing water due to rot and its leaves appear wrinkled or slimy, you should give it some water. You should, however, be careful not to continue overwatering the air plant.
This step should be put into action once the air plant starts to exhibit signs of life. Simply add a bit of rainwater directly to the plant’s healthy-looking leaves using a spray bottle.
Most importantly, you should set the recovering air plant on a moisture-less medium, for instance, dry pebbles. For terrarium-grown ones, their habitats should be kept very dry and with wide ventilation.
– Maintain Extreme Hygiene on Your Air Plant
Maintaining cleanliness all the time is very vital to the well-being of your air plants. We advise you to wipe the plant’s leaves at least once a day using a paper towel or damp cloth.
Doing this should get rid of dust particles and light infections. If fine dust settles on the air plant’s leaves, they block the pores causing them to transpire less, which ultimately leads to rot.
– Give the Plant Enough Light
Place the air plant at least 12 to 24 feet (3.6 to 7.3 meters) from west- or east-facing window. You can alternatively position it within 12 to 24 inches (30.48 to 60.96 centimeters) from an artificial light source.
If an ideal watering pattern for the air plant’s upkeep is maintained, it gets more resilient and can tolerate even more direct sunlight as well as lengthy exposure.
Exposing an air plant that has tender leaves to the harsh sun causes them to start turning brown. You may also notice the leaf tips beginning to dry out, which unnecessarily draws back its recovery.
Upon noticing your air plants’ leaves returning to their healthy natural state, the plant in its life cycle blooms can now grace your places.
Outlined here are a few vital points to note.
- Air plant overwatering is mainly due to too frequent irrigation, changes in atmospheric conditions, poor ventilation, and pebble tray misuse.
- Poor ventilation also reduces water loss from the plant and increases the chances of rot.
- Once overwatering symptoms start showing up, quickly isolate the particular air plant and deal with it independently.
- We strongly advise you to maintain extreme hygiene around recovering air plants by wiping off all dust particles that may block their leaf pores.
Air plant water needs are surely easy to follow and unique due to its soil-free upkeep.
Seeing them deteriorating is saddening, but if the revival steps are taken correctly and promptly, the results will be mind-blowing, so do not miss out on this adventurous journey to revival!
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