Why Are My Air Plants Dying? (How To Keep Your Plant Alive)

Fun and unique, air plants add a quirky and charming vibe to the home. And though they are easy to grow, they do need certain conditions in order to thrive.  If you are scratching your head wondering why are my air plants dying!? Then this post is for you!  

Common signs of a struggling air plant are dead leaves or brown leaf tips, softness at the base of the plant, and dry crispy leaves.   The dry leaves will often have a papery texture and will begin to peel away from the plant.  

a healthy flowering air plant
A healthy air plant that is flowering

As an air plant dies it will start to fall apart.  The brown leaves will peel out from the crown of the plant. This is obviously what we do not what for our air plants!

Today we are covering the common reasons why air plants die. And, we’ll be giving you the essential tips needed to keep them alive in this air plant care guide today!

Most Common Reasons Air Plants Die

Air plants often start to die when they are exposed to too much direct light, watered too often, and not allowed to dry out in between watering.  Over fertilizing can be a culprit for sick plants as well.

Here are the 8 most common reasons air plants die: 

  • Excess water (giving your plants too much water)
  • Crown rot that occurs from not allowing water to drain off plant
  • Lack of water (regular watering is essential for air plants!)
  • The wrong water source (using tap water that is filled with chemicals)
  • The wrong light: (giving your plants too much direct light instead of indirect sunlight, or not giving them enough light)
  • Not enough humidity: a healthy air plant thrives on humidity. Dry climates can kill air plants!
  • Poor air circulation: air plants need good air circulation in order to thrive
  • Too much fertilizer can burn the plant and cause it distress

Keep reading to learn how to trouble shoot all of these air plant problems!   

Signs Your Air Plant Is Dying

Some of the early signs of a dying air plant can be curling leaves with brown spots, rot at the base of the plant (which has a dark brown color), and a colorless, dull looking plant.

The leaves will become weak and the whole plant will fall apart.   The air plant will sometimes smell of rot and decay when it dies!

Are air plants succulents? Find out here!

healthy air plant living in a seashell

Air Plant Natural Environment: How It Affects Your Plant

Before diving into the problems of the air plant, it is helpful to look at it’s natural habitat. The best way to keep air plants alive and healthy is to give them the same conditions of their natural home.

Air plants can be found in warm, humid climates such as South America, the Southern United States, Mexico and Central America.  

Air plants make up the genus Tillandsia which is composed of over 650 beautiful evergreen flowering plants.  They are epiphytic plants, which means that air plants do not use their roots to collect nutrients!

Instead they have specialized cells on their leaves that collect nutrients from air and water. They can live on many surfaces and do not root into the soil.  You can find them living on rocks, other plants, or even just on dry soil.  

To prevent your air plant from dying give them growing conditions similar to their native environment.

Types Of Air Plants + Their Needs

There are two varieties of air plants. Knowing which type you have and how to care for each type is the first place in preventing damage to an air plant!

Xeric air plants:  Xeric plants live in desert and mountain regions that feature lower humidity. These plants are more adaptable to bright light and drier conditions.  

Mesic air plants:  Mesic air plants love high humidity and typically live in shaded areas under other plants.   

As you can see, these two types of air plants live in different environments.  This distinction between mesic and xeric air plants in an important factor in what kind of light the plant needs and how often to water them. 

Now, let’s jump into the common problems of air plants and how you can prevent them! 

Curious if you can get your air plant to bloom?  Learn about the life cycle of air plants and how to encourage a mother plant to bloom here! 

healthy green mesic air plant

Most Common Air Plant Problems (And How To Prevent Them)

The most common problems that cause air plants to die have to do with their basic needs.  Too much or too little water, insufficient light and wrong humidity levels can all kill your plants. Let’s dive into each problem and how to prevent it!


One of the biggest air plant issues to figure out is how to water an air plant. Watering is essential for an air plant’s health, and improper watering is one of the main causes of air plant problems.  

Allowing water to sit on the plant leaves, using the wrong type of water and watering too much or too infrequently will all cause problems for your plants.

Let’s look more closely at how you should water your air plant and the problems that can occur:

Not Letting Your Plant Dry Completely After Watering

One of the most common methods of watering air plants is to give them a good soak in a bowl of water.  While this is a wonderful method for soaking your plants, the air plant must be set out to dry after the soak.  

All excess moisture needs to be shaken off, and then the air plant should be set upside down on a paper towel to dry for a long time (until completely dry!).  

Leaving water droplets on your plant will encourage rot in the center of the plant. This will lead to a dead plant as the rot will start at the base of the plant and spread throughout the air plant’s leaves.  

Make sure to allow all of the extra moisture to dry from the plant completely! And keep your air plant away from any surfaces that are wet. Wet surfaces, soil and moisture touching the plant can encourage rot and decay.

healthy air plant

Not Watering Your Plant Frequently Enough

While air plants are one of the easiest plants to maintain, they do need frequent watering!  In most conditions air plants need to be watered about once a week.  

The entire plant should be submerged in water, unless you have an air plant that is blooming.  In that case, do not submerge the blooms, as it will shorten the bloom life span.  

The local environment should be taken into consideration when watering an air plant.  In drier climates, for example, you’ll need to increase your watering schedule.

(It’s a good idea to fully understand the humidity level of your local environment.  If the area has low humidity, you will need to water more often.)

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Using Unfiltered Municipal Water To Soak Your Air Plant

Unfiltered tap water is full of harmful chemicals such as chlorine and flouride.

These chemicals can be detrimental to all houseplants, including air plants.  The best source of water for air plants is actually rain water!  You can collect rain water and then bring it inside to warm up so that the cold temperatures do not harm your plant. 

If you live in a dry area without much rainfall, use a water filter to remove some of the chemicals.  You can also use spring water or recycled aquarium water (which is full of nutrients). 

Always use lukewarm water to water your air plant, not freezing cold water! Get our guide to the best water for houseplants here.

How Your Environment Affects Your Air Plant’s Water Needs

Did you know that the environment you live in will affect the needs of your air plant?  If you live in a dry and arid environment the air plant will need to be watered more frequently.  

And if you live in a humid environment the air plant will need less water.  The same is true of light: air plants that receive a lot of light will need to be watered more frequently than air plants that receive less light.

Carefully watch your watering routine in order to prevent having a dehydrated air plant!

Depending on your climate, you may need to water every 2-3 days.  If you live in a more humid, moist environment, the air plant will need less water.

healthy mesic air plant


The proper amount of light is also a crucial part of taking of taking care of your air plant. Remember, mesic air plants and xeric air plants are different varieties of air plants and can tolerate different lighting conditions.

Mesic air plants do best in bright, indirect light.  They cannot handle too much direct sunlight.

Xeric air plants can tolerate bright direct light and sometimes grow in desert like conditions and on rocks in direct sun.

Too much bright direct light an affect a mesic air plant’s health.  The leaves can become sun burnt and suck the moisture out of their healthy leaves.  Eventually this can dry out the plant and cause it to die. 

A great place for your mesic air plant is an east-facing window that receives a lot of bright indirect morning light.  

Xeric air plants are much more flexible with the amount and type of light they receive, but they also need a lot of light!

An air plant that is not receiving enough light is susceptible to health problems.  They will not thrive in low light.

Make sure that your air plant receives at least 6 hours of bright, indirect light per day.   Artificial lighting can be used if you do not have a bright spot with indirect light in which to place your plant.  

Did you know?  In their natural environment air plants grow on the surfaces of other plants, rocks and debris.  They are known as epiphytes, which means they cling to other plants. They do not need soil and can be grown in glass terrariums, on book shelves, and in sea shells.  You can get creative with your air plant display!

Get our guide to the best light for air plants here.

healthy xeric air plant in a basket

Not Enough Humidity

Proper care for air plants includes the right amount of humidity.  Remember that air plants hail from tropical areas with high humidity.  The ideal humidity level for air plants is between 50 and 70%.  

Humidity is simply the amount of water vapor that is in the air.  

Keep in mind that the climate you live in will affect the humidity of the air in your home.  The current seasonal climate can also affect the air plant.  For example, if you run a heater a lot during the winter months, the air can become drier than normal.  

If your air plant is not getting enough humidity it can start to look dull and lifeless.  The tips of the leaves may look dried out and turn brown at the tip. 

The easiest way to add humidity to your environment is to add distilled water to a humidifier.  

Get our complete guide to the best water for indoor air plants here.

Too Much Fertilizer

Too much fertilizer can also cause problems for air plants. As a house plant, air plants do not need to be fertilized, although they can be fed sparingly if desired.  

A good rule of thumb is to never fertilize air plants more than once a month.  When over fertilized the air plant can become yellow and rot can occur at the base of the plant. 

If you have a sickly air plant problem, make sure you are not using too much fertilizer!

healthy air plant that is blooming

Learn how to take beautiful up close photos of flowers here!

Final Thoughts On Helping An Air Plant Thrive

With their silver green tendrils and unique shape, air plants are gorgeous plants that add a ton of charm to the home.  Though they are generally easy to care for, air plants can suffer and ultimately die if not given the right type of care.  

The best thing you can do to keep your air plant from dying is to give it the right care from the beginning.  

Make sure to give your plant the right amount of water and allow it to dry after the soaking process.  Give your air plant enough water in order to thrive.  

And place it in an area where it will receive the right kind of light (research different varieties of air plant to fully understand their light needs!).  Too much sun can really harm air plants, so be extra careful with light!  Don’t over fertilize your plant and make sure it receives a high amount of humidity.

When thriving, an air plant will have silver to green leaves that are bright and perky.  In time your air plant may eventually produce a bloom, completely it’s life cycle and gifting you with new baby air plants. 

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