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One Mercantile

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Garden: Turning A New Leaf

By Brian Cruey

I’m probably the only person in the world that likes New Year’s resolutions.  Maybe I am a masochist, but after a month of full-on gluttony and good cheer brought by the holidays, I think it’s healthy to take a step back and look at my shortcomings over the past year and consider ways that I can improve.  I try to avoid the resolution pitfalls of setting totally unrealistic goals like “exercise” or “floss more.” Rather, I prefer to find modest, attainable milestones that I might actually accomplish.  This year, my resolutions include:

1. Find a way to not hate winter so much
2. Get my Rural Intelligence articles in on time
3. Stop pretending to like kale
4. Have more indoor plants and keep them alive

I’m hoping that if I can accomplish #4 that it might help me with #1.  I’m terrible with houseplants.  Despite my (modest) successes outdoors, I’m just not talented with indoor gardening. Part of the problem is that I set myself up for failure by buying plants that take a lot of monitoring, care and have very specific needs that aren’t suited to every indoor environment. To rectify this problem I’ve been doing a lot of research on plants that are easy to take care of, are hardy and are able to be grown by just about anyone in any household environment.

Air plants, or Tillandsia fit into these parameters perfectly.  Tillandsia is a type of bromeliad that gets all of the nutrients and water that they need by absorbing it through their leaves.  The plants do have a root system, but it is designed more to attach itself to other plants, rocks trees or the ground rather than a vehicle for food – meaning that they don’t need to be grown in soil.  This not only makes the plant easy to care for, but also allows you to grow the plant in very nontraditional and unique ways.

Take for example the wreath shown here that I recently purchased at this year’s Holiday Marketplace at the Berkshire Botanical Garden.  Made of the Tillandsia variety Tillandsia Abdita, the plants have been “sewn” onto a grapevine wreath frame with wire. I’m currently using it as a centerpiece on my dining room table, but will hang it in my bathroom window after the holidays where it will be exposed to humidity from my morning shower everyday.  Once a week I place the wreath (face down) in my sink filled with two inches of water and let it soak for half an hour after which I shake it to remove any excess water.  That’s all it needs! 

Soaking is a great way to make sure that the plants are getting their fill of water, but you can also mist air plants regularly (at least three times a week) using a spray bottle.  Excess water on the plant can get stuck under leaves and lead to rot, so make sure that if you are soaking the plant, you shake it out properly.  You’ll also want to make sure that Tillandisa is in a place with well circulated air flow and in a room that doesn’t get below 50 degrees.  It needs access to sun, but when the weather turns warm, make sure that the light is indirect.  Remember, these plants are used to growing on other plants and are accustom to shade and partial sun. 

Growing air plants is more than just a horticultural endeavor.  Their growth habits and easy-to-care-for nature make them ideal for terrariums and design projects like the hanging terrariums and mini garden pictured here.  With over 540 varieties of this plant to choose from, you have a lot of options. 

I’m hoping that this is my “gateway” houseplant that is going to help make the winter of 2014 a greener, more enjoyable place.  If you have any houseplants that you swear by, let me know by emailing me at

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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 12/18/13 at 12:40 PM • Permalink