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Within the Tradescantia genus, you'll find 75 herbaceous perennials commonly referred to as wandering Jew plants or spiderwort, including the popular houseplants T. fluminensis, T. pallida, and T. zebrina—each of which has numerous common names of their own. No matter which variety you're drawn to, these are hardy, fast-growing, and low-maintenance species. Their attractive colorful foliage will trail, spread, or climb, making them especially striking in hanging planters—or in any corner of your space that could use a burst of color. That said, some varieties of the Tradescantia family are toxic to pets, so keep it away from furry family members. Here's how to care for and propagate these beauties in your own home.
- Botanical Name: Tradescantia (T. fluminensis, T. pallida, T. zebrina)
- Common Name: Wandering Jew, spiderwort, inch plant, flowering inch plant
- Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
- Mature Size: 6–9 inches high, 12–24 inches wide
- Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
- Soil Type: Well-drained potting soil
- Soil pH: Any
- Toxicity: Toxic to pets
Wandering Jew plants can do well even with a bit of neglect, so you can let the soil just dry out between waterings. Cut back on watering during the winter months, when growth slows. To fertilize, feed your wandering Jew with a water-soluble fertilizer, diluted to half-strength, every two weeks during the spring and summer, if needed.
After the first year of growth, your spiderwort plant may lose some foliage near the base of the stems. Rather than cutting back the plant to make it look fuller, simply take cuttings from healthy branches when it’s looking leggy, and root them in the same container with the mother plant. Periodically remove dried-out or discolored leaves.
Best Growing Conditions for Wandering Jew Plants
While spiderwort plants are highly adaptable, they thrive best in medium to bright indirect light. If you notice the markings on the leaves fading, move it to a brighter spot; just make sure it's out of direct sunlight. Plants in brighter conditions are more likely to flower.
Plant your wandering Jew in a well-drained, all-purpose potting soil. It'll grow best in a warm, temperate space with temperatures between 55 degrees and 70 degrees.
Spiderwort plants trail beautifully from hanging planters, window boxes, containers on high shelves, or window sills with western or eastern exposure. Thanks to their spreading growth habit, these plants work great in large containers, too.
Pinch off the growth tips at the ends of the plant's branches to encourage bushy growth and discourage leggy growth. These tips can be saved to propagate new plants.
Types of Wandering Jew Plants
While there are many species in the Tradescantia genus, common varieties feature a wide range of colors and patterns. For example, T. zebrina, also called inch plant, has pale silvery stripes on its dark green and purple leaves and bright purple undersides. T. padilla, or purple heart, features solid dark-purple foliage and fuzzy, elongated leaves. Another popular cultivar, T. albiflora ‘Albovittata,’ displays light green leaves with thin white stripes.
How to Propagate Wandering Jew Plants
Tradescantia plants can be propagated any time of year and it's so quick and easy that you don't even need to use rooting hormone or a special rooting medium. You can simply propagate them in soil or water. Here’s how:
How to Propagate Wandering Jew Plants in Soil
Step 1: Take several cuttings at the ends of branches, using a clean, sharp blade to make a cut at a 45-degree angle just under a leaf node. The cuttings should be four to six inches long. Remove the bottom set of leaves from the stem of each cutting.
Step 2: Fill a six-inch pot or hanging basket with all-purpose potting soil to one inch below the top of the container. Poke holes about two inches deep evenly spaced around the pot and plant one cutting in each hole, gently patting the soil around the stems to hold them in place.
Step 3: Water your cuttings, and keep the soil evenly moist. Place in a spot with bright, indirect light. In a few months, you'll have a full, leafy new plant.
How to Propagate Wandering Jew Plants in Water
Step 1: Snip four-to-six-inch cuttings from healthy stems of your spiderwort plant, using a clean, sharp blade to make a cut at a 45-degree angle just under a leaf node. Remove the bottom set of leaves from each stem.
Step 2: Put your cuttings in a glass or jar of water, ensuring that at least the bottom leaf node stays submerged. You should see new roots begin to emerge within a week or so.
Step 3: After about two weeks in water or when the new roots are a few inches long, plant your cuttings in all-purpose potting mix, and care for them as usual.
Common Problems With Wandering Jew Plants
While wandering Jew plants are generally easygoing, making them a great choice for first-time plant parents, they're still prone to problems stemming from poor care and environmental issues like any other houseplant.
Leaves fading or losing variegation is often a sign that your wandering Jew isn't getting an adequate amount of light. Relocate your plant to a brighter area of your home.
Stem Rotting and Leaves Turning Yellow
Keep an eye out for soft, rotting stems and yellowing leaves—commons signs of root rot, which can occur when the soil in your container is too wet. Let the soil partially dry out between waterings, making sure that at least the top two to three inches of soil is dry.
Leaves Curling and Dropping
If you notice your wandering Jew leaves are curling up, drying out, or dropping altogether, this is likely due to under-watering. Adjust your watering schedule to give your plant more regular hydration. Note that some leaf drop close to the base of the plant where older leaves are found is normal.
Believe it or not, it's natural for your Tradescantia to become leggy and spindly after a few years. They're known to have a limited lime span of just two to three years, so if this is the case, it's best to propagate as many stems as possible and discard the parent plant. If your plant is still young, however, leggy growth can also be caused by too little light or water.
Insects like mealybugs and spider mites can also cause leaf drop, loss of color, and rotting stem. Treat an insect-infested plant by dabbing leaves with rubbing alcohol or spraying with insecticidal soap.
Potting and Repotting Wandering Jew Plants
Tradescantia are fast growers and may need repotted every couple of seasons. If your wandering Jew plant's roots are crowded, you may choose to repot it in spring—but only if the roots have completely filled the inside of the pot.
Select a pot that is at least one to two inches wider than the current container. Line the new pot with fresh soil. Carefully loosen the plant's root ball around the edges of the current container before gently pulling it out. Place it in the new pot and fill with more fresh soil, then lightly water.
Be careful when handling fragile stems during the repotting process. If any do break off, save them to propagate or root in your plant's container.
How to Get Wandering Jew Plants to Bloom
Many varieties of wandering Jew plants may produce small, three-petaled flowers in purple, pink, or white when they're happy. Plants in brighter conditions with enough (but not too much) water are more likely to produce these dainty blooms, so adjust accordingly if your flowering variety isn't producing.
Are wandering Jew plants easy to care for?
Yes, members of the Tradescantia family are known for being easygoing and low maintenance, making them excellent beginner houseplants. They're adaptable to many environments as long as they're receiving adequate light and water.
How fast do wandering Jew plants grow?
Given proper care, these plants are enthusiastic spreaders, often growing up to an inch a week—some even credit the nickname "inch plant" to this statistic. You can expect a full-grown plant about six months after planting as a seedling, or in even less time if you start with a sprout or cutting.
How long can wandering Jew plants live?
Unfortunately, wandering Jew plants don't age very well—they typically only last two to three years before they begin to look leggy, bare, and untidy. If your plant is looking worse for wear, it might be time to propagate new specimens via cuttings and discard the original plant.