living things

DIY Air Plant Terrariums

Terrariums and their inhabitants, which can range from succulents and cacti to bromeliads and air plants, have become wildly popular and also widely available.  It is relatively easy now to find not just containers, but completely pre-made, ready to take home terrariums, but why buy a pre-made terrarium when you can create and personalize your own habitat? All of the materials needed can be found locally or online. It only requires a little hunter-gatherer ingenuity and a lovely little air plant to construct a home for…


Air plants, known as Tillandsia, belong to the family Bromeliaceae, which are slow growing epiphytes native to Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. These plants grow without soil, using their roots only to attach themselves to other plants and objects without becoming dependent or taking nutrientsfrom the host. Moisture and nutrients are absorbed from the air through tiny networks on the leaves called trichomes, so they never need soil or a permanent planting.  The most important elements for taking care of a tillandsia are bright, but indirect, sunlight, regular watering, and good air circulation.  If well taken care of, tillandsia will live for several years and even provide offshoots called ‘pups’ that can be coaxed into new adult air plants over time.





  • Glass container with wide opening
  • Sand (Decorative or play sand)
  • Rocks or stones
  • Mosses, lichen, or dried wood/plant matter
  • Tillandsia (Xerographica pictured here)



Step 1. Wash and dry your glass container thoroughly before using. Then fill your container with sand.  I chose to layer two different colors of decorative sand (black sand on the bottom inch and white sand on the top 1/2 inch) in this particular terrarium, but you can use plain play sand as well.

Step 2. Add rocks or stones in small groupings around the open space.  You can use decorative rocks found at the craft store, or river rock and stones from the great outdoors.  Just make sure they are free of any dirt, debris, or insects before placing them in your terrarium.

Step 3. Add small amounts of moss or lichen around the rocks and stones to create a somewhat natural effect.

Step 4.  Place your tillandsia into its new home! I usually try to camouflage the roots a little bit, but be sure to leave the entire plant exposed to air, as good air circulation is necessary for keeping a healthy air plant.

Step 5. Care for your tillandsia by placing in an area indoors with strong, but indirect sunlight. The recommended distance is within 3-5 feet of a window or near an artificial light source. Your air plant will need to be watered 2-3 times a week.  To water, remove the plant from its terrarium and soak for 30-60 minutes in a bowl of water.  Shake the excess water off the leaves and let the plant dry out for several hours before placing it back in its container. Let your tillandsia dry out completely between waterings as well.

Once you have successfully learned to care for one air plant, I guarantee that you will want more…I have always loved air plants, and steadily learned more and more about them over time, hoping to one day own one.  The more you learn about them, the more you realize how easy they are to care for, especially for city dwellers that may not have the space for a traditional garden or patio planting. There are many different varieties of tillandsia, most of which will bloom if cared for correctly.  My first air plant was a tillandsia bulbosa (pictured below) that was given to me by a good friend on my birthday. It developed an amazing layered purple, pink, and white flowered spire that lasted for weeks!


There are endless variations for designing your own unique terrarium.  Even though the terrarium for your air plant is completely decorative, you can make it seem like its own natural habitat.  For more information on care or purchasing, you can visit some of the growers I have referenced throughout my care for various tillandsia at Air Plant Design Studio or Plant OdditiesIf you have difficulties caring for your air plant, a simple online search will usually help you assess the problem.  In addition, search for a local nursery that sells or specializes in succulents and bromeliads to help you determine what your air plant may need. If you live in the Seattle area, Ravenna Gardens (University District), The Indoor Sun Shoppe (Fremont), and West Seattle Nursery have a great selection of air plants and items for potential terrariums. Good luck!



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