This page focuses on how to care for your Tillandsias.
Remember though that this is largely based on my experience of growing Tillandsias in the Free State Province of South Africa, which is at altitude and has extremes of weather (see 'About this Site' elsewhere on this website)
Due to these extremes, I have battled to grow several Tillandsia species, noteably; T araujei, T gardneri, T geminiflora, T stricta, T arenicola and T. kirchoffiana. Others do not flower properly and I suspect my local temperatures are too extreme.
On the 'Gallery' page, I have uploaded photographs of some of my plants. With each photograph is some commentary about the plant and at the end of the commentary, the conditions under which I try to keep the plants. This is annotated, for example, as "CARE: H; X: ?". The first letter is about Light Conditions (High, Medium or Low). The second letter is about Watering (Xeric, Sub-mesic or Mesic). The third is for Humidity (High, Medium or Low). A question mark means that I don't know! Note that I have searched the Web for clues on how to care for the each Tillandsia species.
As a general rule, the darker green, softer leafed Tillandsias, (which also seem to be the ones that will benefit from being potted) tend to prefer shade rather than direct sunlight. The stiffer greyer leaved variety prefer bright light although that doesn't necessarily mean full sun, and especially in the summer here.
I have read that Tillandsias can survive on light levels of 20 000 Lux, but will thrive at levels between 30 000 and 40 000 Lux. I wasn't sure what that meant, so I bought a light meter. My first measurement were taken at 12h45 on 4th September on a bright clear cloudless early spring day and gave a reading of 100 000 Lux. By comparison, under shade netting in my veggie garden, I recorded 60 000 Lux, implying that my shade netting was 40%.
So I have used additional shade netting to try and get the following Light regimes.
40 000 Lux = High
30 000 Lux = Medium
20 000 Lux = Low.
Tillandsias take in nutrients through their leaves.They are frequently described as eiher Xeric (meaning they prefer dry conditions) or Mesic (wetter conditions) or an inbetween Sub-mesic.
In my local climate, I spray them in the mornings, on average every second or third day. I try not to use tap water, which is often heavily chlorinated, but use filtered (by reverse osmosis) water that the family uses for drinking. Fresh rain water is best of course, but the winters in Welkom are largely dry, and summer rainfall can be heavy and with hail, so natural soaking is a rare event. Some specimens benefit by a long bath on occasions when the leaves of some species start to curl.
Some specimens are liable to rot, so ensure that the Tillies dry out during the day.
Some of the lower light Tillandsias, prefer a humid environment. As my home town is quite dry, especially in the colder winter months, I have added a few small pots of water attached to the frames which hopefully will make the local environment a bit moister. My plants are also in a veggie garden which gets watered daily, so the humidity levels will be slightly above the norm anyway.
Tillandsias, being sub-tropical beasties, are quite comfortble in high temperatures, but, apart from Tillandsia usneioides, are not tolerant to cold temperatures, especially frost. In the summer, most of my tillandsias are mounted outside under shade cloth. Some of the potted tillies are kept in the greenhouse, and I use a combination of an extractor fan or an evaporative cooler, or fine mist sprays, to keep the temperature down below 30 degrees C. In the winter, I have them in a greenhouse with a heater if the temperature drops below 5 degrees C at night.
As a final comment, the Tillandsia that are truly epiphytic will be found in trees under some form of shade canopy. If your Tillandsias are recorded as found in wet tropical areas, then the level of shade will be higher than those described at altitude in dry forests, where light levels will by definition be higher. Tillandsias that are saxicolous and thus found on rocks and on cliff faces will presumably tolerate still higher levels of light. However, some desert species for example, can still require good moisture as in their natural habitat may have coastal mists.
I'm not exactly a handiman, but I have constructed a series of frames made from 20mm x 20mm 'par' (planed all round) pine, which I have painted with some marine varnish to attempt some weather-proofing. The frame is around 0.9 m x 0.9 m (only because I could purchase the stuff in 1.8 m lengths), but it seems that anything larger would be a hassle man-handling. I reinforced the frame at the corners with some metal brackets. Attached to the frame, I have pinned (using fencing staples) some rigid plastic fence netting with a grid of about 32mm.
The frames themselves can be hung on something more permanent. I have some rectangular tubular bar mounted horizontally for the frames to hang on and inside my greenhouse, they are hung on horizontally mounted plastic drain pipes.
I hang the tillandsias on the plastic netting. The first lot of Tillandsias I had were individually mounted on off-cuts of old vine wood. They were fixed t the wood using a glue (such as "Fix All" - I have read that you shouldn't use silicon glues for this). The glue is not ideal and as a back-up, I have tied them on with string. Around the top of the vine, I wrap a piece of wire with a hook, and use the hook to hang the mounted tillandsia on a wooden frame (see picture).
Some of my later tillandsias have been hung using the green plastic coated floral wire, and hung on the netting.
Be careful with wire, as I understand that copper wire is a no-no for tillandsias. The wire I use is galvanised steel binding wire.