Air plants are beautiful specimens, best viewed from eye-level and close-up. Planting air plants (though you don’t really plant—you “place”) in a hanging terrarium is a fun way to create a garden with these unusual plants.
The container used for this project is a Roost TM recycled glass terrarium, but you can find other blown glass hanging terrariums. Alternatively, you could create the same type of project in a tall hurricane-style vase.
In addition to the Garden at the Beach, this is another good project with which you can display your vacation beachcombing finds.

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This recycled-glass hanging terrarium can be planted with anything, but it makes a good showcase for large specimen air plants.


Materials

Main materials

Seashells are a must for this underwater aerium, but please never harvest live shells. When beachcombing, determine whether there is a creature inside the shell or if it is empty. If there’s a mollusk living inside of it, throw the shell back in the water.

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Accessories

  • Sea urchin shell
  • Driftwood
  • Tumbled glass mulch
  • Sand dollar
  • Spanish moss
  • Polished stones
  • Sea glass
  • Rope

Tillandsia usneoides, or Spanish moss, grows in the trees of humid southern locations. One long strand is actually many separate living plants. You can collect your own to use in projects, but if it’s going to be used inside your house, you should clean it first by boiling it or microwaving it to kill insects that live in the plants.

Container

Air plants can be large. A big container allows you to showcase several of them and make a little underwater scene. This is a Roost recycled glass hanging terrarium (used here as an aerium), but any hanging terrarium would work.
This container can hang from the ceiling or sit on an end table.

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Plants

Use a variety of air plants (Tillandsia spp.) to create this garden. It’s becoming easier to find these plants at garden centers, but you can also order them online. If you want a variety of colors and sizes, order single plants. If you order a “package deal,” unless the different types are specified in the product description, you could end up with all of the same type.

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Air plants come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors.

Tools

A pair of long terrarium tweezers (with rubber grips on the end) and a spray bottle come in handy for assembling and watering the aerium.

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Potting Soil

This garden doesn’t require potting soil. I used aquarium sand to create the “ocean floor” above which the “creatures” (air plants) will float. You wouldn’t have to use sand, but I think it “grounds”
the garden and makes it look more like a scene and less like a collection of plants hanging around.

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You can find aquarium sand at a pet store.


Mini Project: Floating Jellyfish

Use a sea urchin shell, an air plant, and a piece of fine-gauge wire or fishing line to create a jellyfish to float in your aerium.

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A jellyfish swims through the aerium.

Bend the wire

Bend the wire so that it forms a T and check the air plant for size in the bottom sea urchin opening by sticking the air plant in the bottom of the sea urchin. If the plant is too large, you’ll need to carefully chip away at the bottom so that you can fit the air plant in it.

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From the inside of the shell

From the inside of the shell, thread the two ends of the wire through the top hole and pull it so that the T is just inside the top
of the shell.

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Hot glue the air plant

Hot glue the air plant inside the sea urchin. Now you have a jellyfish.

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Underwater Aerium Step by Step

Pour enough aquarium sand

Pour enough aquarium sand into the vessel so that there is 1 inch in the bottom of the aerium. Place the driftwood. If you make a
jellyfish, this is the time to hang it by wrapping the wire around the rope.

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If you’re not using a jellyfish

If you’re not using a jellyfish, you can anchor an air plant, upside-down, by wedging it between the rope knot and the top of the
aerium. If you’re using a different type of hanging aerium, you could wire, or even glue, an air plant upside-down.

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Place the other air plants and accessories

Place the other air plants and accessories. You don’t have to “plant” air plants in the sand. You can just sit them artfully around the aerium. The long-handled tweezers come in handy for this part, as it is difficult to get your hand all the way inside the aerium, particularly as you add more plants

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Care and Maintenance

Air plants do need to be watered in order to live. Because it is impractical to take them out of the aerium once it is assembled, use a spray bottle to mist the plants until they’re dripping twice a
week. Air plants do bloom, though not on any particular schedule. Once the plant blooms, it will die and a “pup” will form and grow from the bottom side of the plant. Once the parent plant is dead,
clip it off and water the baby plant.

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Keep a mister handy to water the air plants.

Set the air plants so that their most colorful side is facing out.
Overall, this project isn’t complicated. It just takes patience to place all of the plants where you want them, especially in a hanging container that swings while you’re working on it. (You can set the container in a bucket or enlist help from a friend to hold it while you decorate.)


Details

You can find sea urchins and clean them, or buy them for the mini-project. Always look for sustainably harvested sea urchins. (They’ve been picked up from the beach after they’re dead and then cleaned, not harvested while they’re alive.)

Look around your yard for twigs that have lichen growing on them. Lichen looks a little bit like seaweed. If you don’t have driftwood, a lichen-covered twig will add some height and structure. You can hot glue air plants to twigs or suspend them from wires or fishing line.