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What’s the easiest houseplant to grow?

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: January 25, 2018
  • Published January 25, 2018

Various tillandsia “air plants” (Getty Images)

I wish I had a dime for every time I have been asked what the easiest indoor plant to grow is.

I am sure the loyal reader can list a number of the easy plants we grow here in Alaska. Easy? We just grew a bulb at our house that came dipped in thick wax and without soil. It grew and produced beautiful blooms without even watering it. That is pretty easy.

Then there are chlorophytum, known to many as spider plants. These are easy enough to grow if watering plants is not your top priority. Thriving on neglect, they can go months without any attention.

As easy as amaryllis and chlorophytum are, however, they can't hold a candle to most bromeliads, and certainly one member of that family: tillandsias. These are so easy to grow, they are popularly called "Air Plants," which should give you a very good idea of just how easy they are to grow.

Tillandsias can be found growing naturally in South and Central America. In the wild, they attach themselves to tree trunks and branches with short, non-feeding roots.

You can find tillandsias for sale at most of the plant outlets you visit. Once you find a good source, you should continue to visit it as these are great plants for creating a collection. There are lots of different kinds.

It is easy to see why tillandsias are called Air Plants. They don't use soil at all. In the wild they attach themselves to tree bark via roots which are only for support, not feeding. Tillandsias are not parasitic, or even symbiotic.

So how do they eat without using soil and roots? Nutrients are taken in through the leaves. Apparently, there is enough stuff floating around in the air to feed your plant so you don't have to. Collectors use a foliar fertilizer to grow bigger specimens, faster. It is a practice you may want to emulate, but it isn't necessary. Apparently, our houses are dirty enough to sustain them.

As for water, tillandsias take it in through scales on their leaves — trichomes, actually. There are so many, in fact, that if you look closely you will see a silver fuzz all over the leaves.

While it is not absolutely necessary to water a tillandsia, especially when grown where the humidity is high, they can often use a bit of help when grown where the humidity is low, as in an Alaskan home in the winter.

You can tell if your air plant needs water by looking closely at the leaves. Normally they are flat or the edges point downward. If they are curling into themselves, they need water. Once absorbed, the leaves curl outward again.

You don't have to, but there are three ways to water, with the easiest being a simple misting of the plant with a hand-held spray bottle. No need to move the plant. In dry homes, this is a daily requirement.

The other two ways require you to move the plant to the sink. You can put it in a big strainer or colander and run water over it for a minute or two. This is an easy way to get the entire plant covered. Use room-temperature water.

Or you can soak tillandsias for an hour or two in lukewarm water. This is particularly useful when the plant is extremely dry.

In addition to being easy to keep alive, tillandsias, like most bromeliads, produce wonderful flowers. These are full of yellows, blues, purples, orange, pinks and reds and usually last for a while.

Tillandsia not only need little to no water or fertilizer, they can also take a huge range of temperatures from just above freezing to 90 degrees. It helps to know something about the original location of the type of plant you are growing so you can try and match not only the daytime temperature, but the night temperature as well.

Finally, because these plants are also easy to reproduce from pups that grow at the base of the plant, the many varieties of this largest group of bromeliads are often available commercially. This makes them easy plants to start collecting, and collect you should if you want to grow the easiest houseplant I think there is to grow.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

11th Annual Spring Garden Conference: March 3, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., reception from 5 to 6:30. Reserve tickets now. This sells out for obvious reasons.

Spring bulbs being forced: Bring yours out into the light, water lightly and stand by.

Mulch: Did you mulch with leaves or grass clippings this fall? These freeze-and-thaws we are having are why it is necessary to do so. Mulch keeps the ground frozen this time of year when it does get above 32.

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