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Epiphytes open up a fascinating world to gardening. Characterized by their ability to anchor themselves on a support system, their natural growing habit allows for unique design opportunities. Precariously mounted or suspended indoors, they add greenery and make a unique conversation piece in your home.

Epiphytes include a wide range of plants. We have come to know and love airplants.

At our nursery we have been experimenting with a broader range of epiphytes that include ferns, mosses, orchids, and a few succulents. Their roots typically look wiry, only utilized as a support system.

These plants use their roots to secure themselves onto other plants, but do not take any nutrients from the host plant. They simply utilize their host to gain a better location, where lighting and water are optimal for their living situation.

Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out

Many can be planted in soil, but prefer to grow in their natural habitat, clinging to rough wood or bark surrounded by organic matter.

We are familiar with elegant moss hanging from tree canopies or dappling rocks and tree bark in forests. When traveling through rain forests of Central and South America, or parts of the southeast United States you are greeted with a more exotic, diverse group of epiphytes.

Tillandsias (air plants) make up one of the most diverse families of bromeliad epiphytes. Found in a wide array of colors, textures, sizes and flower colors, these have quickly won over many of our customers.

Contrary to typical belief air plants do need watered. I believe their name is misleading to many because they think they only need the air to survive.

In their natural habitat they receive a sufficient amount of rainfall throughout the year and get plenty of moisture growing under the canopies of trees to supplement in between rainfall. In our dry climate you need to give them water.

We submerge our air plants in water for a half hour several times a week in the summer months, and reduce it down to two times a week in fall and winter. Many of your customers will mist them daily instead of full submersion. It is important to remember that air plants do not use their roots to absorb water.

If you simply set the roots in a dish of water, there may be enough evaporation up to the leaves to suffice, but this may not be sufficient during hot months. By placing them in bright indirect light in your home or on a patio mimic the sunlight they would receive protected under the canopy of the forest.

Many people love to simply suspend air plants in glass orbs or delicately situated on their wall to create nontraditional punch of greenery.

Others like to fix them onto another object to encourage them to grow onto that surface. You can do this by layering sphagnum moss onto the object and securing the air plant with fishing line or Tillandsia adhesive. Aesthetically it looks best to cover the base of the plant with more moss to conceal it.

Staghorn ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum) are one of my favorite exotic finds. In parts of Florida these grow into stately specimens reaching over 6 feet long, curiously cantilevering off of tree trunks.

You can find these planted at nurseries in containers, but they prefer to be mounted onto an object. We have made wood plaques at our nursery and secured the staghorns to the wood with sphagnum moss and wire so they can be hung on the wall. The staghorn will eventually root onto the wood plaque and continue to propagate.

Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening

Soon it will overgrow its little wood plaque and need to be secured onto a larger object. During their growing season of spring and fall you can throw in a slow release fertilizer tablet into the center of the plant, or incorporate water soluble fertilizer into your irrigation.

Many people have been intimidated by these unique plants, thinking they are difficult to keep alive. Once you have met the Staghorn’s basic requirements they will flourish. Primarily they need the correct amount of sun exposure. Bright indirect light is optimal in our climate.

They will burn easily if exposed to our afternoon. Drainage is essential. That is one of the reasons they perform better when mounted instead of planted. Lastly these need to have a consistent water schedule.

If you are diligent with hand watering, lightly spray them with a hose or water bottle. Otherwise provide each plant grouping with drip irrigation.