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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 any corner of your space that could use a burst of color. 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
- Soil Type: Well-drained potting soil
- Soil pH: Any
- Toxicity: Non-toxic; may cause skin irritation in humans and indigestion in 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.
If your wandering Jew plant is crowded, you may choose to repot it in spring—but only if the roots have completely filled the inside of the pot. Be careful when handling the fragile stems during the repotting process. If any do break off, save them to propagate or root in your plant's container.
Unfortunately, wandering Jew plants don't age very well: They typically only last a few years before they begin to look leggy, bare, and untidy. When your pot is looking overcrowded after the second repotting, it's best to propagate new specimens via cuttings and discard the original plant.
Best Growing Conditions for Wandering Jew Plant
While spiderwort plants are highly adaptable, they thrive best in medium to bright, indirect light. If your plant isn't receiving enough light, the markings on the leaves may fade. If you notice this happening, move it to a brighter spot; just make sure it's out of direct sunlight. Plants in brighter conditions are more likely to produce small three-petaled flowers in purple, pink, or white.
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.
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.
Spiderwort plants trail beautifully from hanging planters, window boxes, containers on high shelves, or window sills with a western or eastern exposure. Thanks to their spreading growth habit, these plants work great in large containers, too.
Wandering Jew Plant Varieties
While there are many species in the Tradescantia genus, common varieties feature a wide variety of colors and patterns. For example, T. zebrina, also called inch plant, has pale silvery stripes on its dark purple leaves and bright purple undersides. T. padilla, or purple heart, features solid dark-purple foliage and fuzzy, elongated leaves. A popular cultivar, T. albiflora ‘Albovittata,’ displays light green leaves with thin white stripes.
How to Propagate Wandering Jew Plant
Wandering Jew plants are so quick and easy to propagate that you don't even need to use rooting hormone or a special rooting medium. You can simply propagate them in soil or water.
Propagating Wandering Jew Plant 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 four holes about two inches deep around the edge of the pot and a fifth in the center. 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. In a few months, you'll have a full, leafy new plant.
Propagating Wandering Jew Plant in Water
Step 1: Snip four-to-six-inch cuttings from healthy stems of your spiderwort plant. Remove the bottom set of leaves from each stem.
Step 2: Put your cuttings in a glass of water, ensuring that at least the bottom leaf node is submerged. You should see new roots begin to emerge within a week or so.
Step 3: After about two weeks in water, plant your cuttings in all-purpose potting mix, and care for them as usual.
Common Growing Problems
When caring for spiderwort plants, beware of root rot, which can occur when the soil in your container is too wet. Let the soil partially dry out between waterings. Both overwatering and under-watering could damage your plant. Insects like mealybugs and spider mites can also become a problem. Treat them by dabbing leaves with rubbing alcohol or spraying with insecticidal soap.
Water your wandering Jew plant when the top few inches of soil become dry. These plants prefer moist—but not wet—soil.