How do I display my airplant?

You’ve bought one or two gorgeous air plants, you’ve decided where to put them, what next? Here is a guide to various methods you can use to display your plants.

Plonking down

If you have the type and shape of plant that looks good just sitting on a flat surface, there is no reason not to just plonk it down on the windowsill or shelf. Tillandsia ionantha are great for this.

  Tillandsia ionantha  demonstrating basic plonking.

Tillandsia ionantha demonstrating basic plonking.

Advanced plonking

This involves a support of some sort to help the plant remain in place and enhance its looks. Napkin rings, egg cups, espresso cups, are great for this; shell windmills, china shepherdesses and porcelain kittens are optional.

  Tillandsia punctulata  wearing a Bakelite napkin ring,  Tillandsia ionantha  au naturel.

Tillandsia punctulata wearing a Bakelite napkin ring, Tillandsia ionantha au naturel.

Hanging

Hanging is normally done from the roots/root area so your plant is upside down. The plant doesn’t mind this, and it does have advantages. The thing most likely to kill your tillandsia, apart from under-watering is rot. This happens when the plant can’t dry out properly after getting wet, and water tends to collect in the spaces between the leaves. If you hang your plant upside down, this is less likely to happen. It also makes use of space in your home that is normally free, and gives the plant good air circulation and light.

Hanging by a thread

You will need some thread (cotton, fishing line, whatever works for you) a hook or curtain ring of some sort, and some patience. For how to tie see techniques, below. Once you have tied the plant, attach the hook or loop to the other end and hang your plant. Just a warning, invisible thread or fishing line looks effective as your plant appears to be floating, but it is quite annoying.

Hanging by a chain

In your local DIY store you will normally find an area where you can buy lengths of chain (like the chain that holds up hanging baskets). This works really well to hang single or multiple plants from. You will need to wire your plant (see techniques, below), or use thread to tie it to the chain. Wiring is better because it is easier to manage in the long term, but either method will do. You should be able to fit two or three plants per meter, bearing in mind that most windows are about a 1 meter in length (very roughly) and most patio doors about 2 metres. The chain will need something to attach it at the top (try an S-hook) and something to attach it to (curtain rail).

Or  you can hang the chain horizontally between the net curtain hooks you often find in the upper corners of a window frame. You can then hang your plants along the chain.

Depending on what you find easiest you can either unhook the whole chain and water the plants in a bowl or the shower in one go, or unhook them individually to water.

  Tillandsia butzii  attached by wire to a hanging basket chain.

Tillandsia butzii attached by wire to a hanging basket chain.

If you are the arty type you can add many extras to the chain such as lights (bearing in mind the risk of DEATH when combining electricity and water) hanging decorations, more plants etc.

Supports and Frames

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If you have several plants of different shapes and sizes, try the picture frame. You will need pliers, a staple gun and some slim canes or heavy tape. Buy a second-hand picture with a frame you like; remove the picture, glass and backing. Wire netting with a square or oblong pattern is easier to attach than chicken wire. Cut your wire just a bit larger than the frame with your pliers, attach with the staple gun. You may find that it stays in place better if you hold it down with canes inside the edge of the frame and stick or staple them in place. If you have a lot of rough edges you can either file them down, snip them off, or cover with heavy tape. You can then hang or prop the frame in your window. Depending on the size of frame you can display up to about 10 plants this way. Plants like Tillandsia usneoides can just be poked through the holes. Slim curvy plants will support themselves if wound between wires, and others can be wired or tied in. You can water on the frame in the shower, or remove the plants and water individually.


An easy way of achieving an eye-catching display is to stick a plant support (the type used for propping up flowers in a border) in a cork into a weighted bottle. This is easily done without tools and will support three or four air plants quite simply. If you don’t want to use a bottle, insert the support into the soil of another plant. Have a look in the gardening section of your DIY store for ideas.

Other plants

Don’t forget other plants in your search for the perfect position. The more silvery your air plant is the more sun it will enjoy, so if you have some of the real sun lovers like Tillandsia tectorum they can sit on your cacti and succulents. Other may be happy sitting amongst the leaves, hanging from a branch, or sat on the compost at the bottom. As long as they are not getting damp and are getting the right amount of light they will enjoy themselves.

  Tillandsia tectorum  with a crassula and  Haemanthus albiflos

Tillandsia tectorum with a crassula and Haemanthus albiflos

Plantoramas

For the truly adventurous, how about creating a more naturalistic arrangement with a dead branch. You can position it in your window and attach or place plants on to it. You should be able to offer the plants a sunnier or shadier position, on one side or the other of the branch, so you could have different species.

Have a think about how you are going to maintain the arrangement. Are you going to remove the plants individually to water, or are you going to water the whole arrangement at once? If doing it all at once you will need to make sure all the plants have similar needs in terms of water. You will also have to work out how they are going to drain after watering. If removing them individually, you will need to make it easy to do, or you will never do it!

To avoid rot don’t smother plants in moss, or glue them into nooks or dips in the branch. They need air circulation to keep them healthy, especially if they are permanently mounted. You will see mossy or damp looking arrangements done sometimes in glasshouses, but the temperature and humidity are consistently managed to recreate the perfect conditions.

Techniques

Curtain clips

Some plants have enough root or spare stem to use curtain clips on.

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Thread

To attach thread to an air plant you need to pass it behind/under the lowest/oldest leaves. If you look at the plant and find its bottom, where the roots would normally come from. You are aiming to tie a loop of thread gently behind the first rosette of leaves. Once done you can hang your plant using this thread.

 Tillandsia ionantha showing the basal leaves under which thread or wire can be passed to suspend the plant.

Tillandsia ionantha showing the basal leaves under which thread or wire can be passed to suspend the plant.

Wiring

With some plants you can wire them in the same manner as you would thread them. You will need thin wire (never copper), I tend to buy the thinner galvanised-type wire in the garden centre/DIY store. Again, pass it under/behind the bottom leaves and hook around the wire so that you have a single piece of wire to turn into a hook. This is often very fiddly, and it can be hard not to damage the plant. Some plants are just shaped in a way that makes it impossible to do.

Gluing

Currently I am using waterproof wood glue to glue tillandsias to wire. I have used E6000 in the past, it is a very good glue but expensive and has a list of health warnings as long as my arm. You can get Tilly Tacker, which is specifically for air plants, but is again a bit expensive. Don’t use Superglue (cyanoacrylate).

I am not the type of person to glue a plant to a shell windmill, so what I do is glue them to a wire. They are then easier to handle without damaging, because you can pick them up using the wire. You can hang them, stick them in things make them into art installations. I have attached them to beaded hangers, bits of driftwood, stones; you are only limited by your imagination.

Each plant is a different shape from the next plant, even if you have ten Tillandsia ionantha, they will all need slightly different treatment. I tend to start making a range of the type of support I think will work and then try them on, like Goldilocks. When one fits a plant, I use the glue to stick it in place.

You don’t need to stick to plain wire, there are a lot of beautifully coloured wires available in craft shops, I have used turquoise before, which looked spectacular.

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Things to remember:

Don’t use copper wire - air plants are allergic to it.

Don’t use superglue.

Don’t ‘plant’ your air plant or cluster things around it.

Don’t staple, pin or cut through the centre of the plant.