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Growing Wandering Jew Plants – How To Care For Spiderwort Plants

Many horticulturalists claim that the wandering Jew plants are the perfect houseplants no matter where you live or how little skill you have with plants. There are many facts to support this claim even if it sounds outlandish and we’ll go through in detail. But the question here is which wandering Jew plants to grow? This umbrella name refers to a wide variety of plants in the Tradescantia family. Each one of them has some value to add to your home. From brighter blooms to more colorful foliage. But all these varieties of the wandering Jew plants share one thing in common and that is they are easy to grow and care for. 

Wandering Jew Plants
Image from Melissa Jernakoff – Flickr.

Reasons to Consider Wandering Jew Plants in your Home

So let’s dissect this claim that the wandering Jew plants are perfect for all homes. We have covered many plants that were easy to grow and didn’t need much attention. What makes the wandering Jew plant so special? Well, there are a few reasons for that.

  1. These plants are natural air purifiers. The wandering Jew plants absorb carbon dioxide and toxic particles out of the air leave your house smelling fresh and healthy.
  2. In the realm of houseplants, this species likes to get attention with their showy foliage.
  3. They also absorb heavy metals out of the soil.
  4. The wandering Jew plants are known to self-propagate. They practically ask for no input from you when they reproduce and make new plants.
  5. They are hardy plants that can handle drought, fluctuating lighting, poor soil, and many other adverse conditions.
  6. Even if they happen to die on your watch, you can still start a brand new plant just with a leaf node from the old one.
  7. They thrive in small pots or hanging from baskets where they make a real colorful splash with these delicate tendrils.
  8. Finally, there are many varieties to choose from and they are easy to find in your local nursery.

Wandering Jew Plants Basics

Native to South America, the wandering Jew plants (Tradescantia) are perennial evergreens that combine three types of plants under this common name. They’re sometimes called spiderwort, purple queen, and inch plant depending on whom you ask. But the fact that they’re tropical plants doesn’t mean you can’t grow them in your home. That’s the beauty of houseplants. You have control over the temperature and humidity levels allowing you to grow such exotic plants as these.

The one thing you need to keep in mind is that the wandering Jew plants are considered invasive species in many places. This is why you can’t grow them in your garden. Remember what we said about their self-propagation? Once they establish roots in an area, they spread out and claim new territories all the time. In a garden, this means they will soon take over and smother other plants in the garden before they jump over the fence and reclaim the neighbor’s garden as well. 

Some of the species are flowering plants while others rarely bloom indoors. But even those that don’t flower, they still have dazzling foliage that renders the flowers redundant. Some varieties have striped green leaves with silver streaks that are a delight to look at.

Wandering Jew Plants Varieties

So which variety of the wandering Jew plants should you grow? The answer to that depends largely on your personal taste and preferences. So let’s take a closer look at each variety of this exotic family.

  • Tradescantia Zebrina: One of the most popular varieties whose leaves compete for your attention with its awesome blooms. In general, the leaves are usually heavily patterned while the three-petal flowers are white. But the contrast is often breathtaking. The center of the leaves is striped in creamy patterns just like a zebra, hence the name. The rim of the leaves is usually silver that contrasts the blocks of dark green color.
  • Tradescantia Fluminensis: This evergreen originates from Brazil and flowers throughout the year. With proper care and attention, it will stay with you for many years. The leaves are usually oval in shape and have a distinct glossy green look. At the end of each leaf is a node that grows out of a fleshy stem and develops into a root. If you don’t prune the plant regularly, it will spread out and claim every inch of space available. It has USDA hardiness zones between 9 and 12 and favors warm climates and plenty of sunlight.
  • Tradescantia Pallida: A showy variety that hails from Mexico. Its leaves are the source of its pride. Each leaf is about 7 inches long and when it matures, it turns purple with red or green tips. The small flowers bloom in various colors from pink to white and lavender. Unlike other varieties, the pallida plant doesn’t grow tendrils, rather its fragile stems break easily and grow into new plants on their own. It doesn’t tolerate cold temperatures well especially if the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. 

How to Grow Wandering Jew Plants

As with exotic or tropical plants, you need to recreate conditions similar to the plant’s original habitat. This ensures the wandering Jew plants will keep growing and flowering year after year in your house. The good news is, these evergreens are easy to grow. As we have seen, they even self-propagate. Here are the easy steps to grow the wandering Jew plants.

  1. The easiest way to grow any species of the wandering Jew plants is through a cutting. 
  2. Use a clean and sterilized knife to cut a healthy stem of a mature plant. 
  3. Remove any dried or crispy leaves and only keep one set of leaves near the top of the stem.
  4. Put the stem in a glass full of water and keep it in a lit spot without being exposed to direct sunlight.
  5. After about a week the stem will grow roots. It might take longer than a week if the room is too cold.
  6. When the roots are about 2 inches long, it’s time to pot the plant.
  7. Fill a medium-size pot with a general-purpose potting mix. You can add peat moss, worm castings, or oak bark. However, make sure not to include peat.
  8. Make a hole about 4 inches deep and two and a half inches wide. Place the seedling in it and cover the hole with soil.
  9. Water the pot well until the water flows out of the drainage holes at the bottom.
  10. Keep the soil moist for the next couple of weeks to help the roots grow and establish.

Wandering Jew Plants Care

And that’s all you need to do to grow the wandering Jew plant. It’s that easy. But now, of course, comes the hard part. How to keep it growing and at the same time manage that amazing fast growth rate.

Soil

Most houseplants need well-drained soil. The wandering Jew plant thrives in loamy or sandy soil while it struggles in clay or alkaline soil. If you’re not sure that the soil drains well, add one-third portion of perlite and mix well. Many experts recommend you add a layer of gravel at the bottom of the pot to improve drainage. 

Light

Sunlight is important for the success of the wandering Jew plant. In fact, those bright three-petal flowers will not bloom without sunlight. In that respect, this perennial makes a distinction between morning sun and afternoon sun. It prefers the afternoon sun so always keep it on a window sill that faces the south or west. North and east-facing windows get the morning sun. The leaves of the plant will tell you if it’s not getting enough sun. Their color will fade and they turn yellowish. If the sun-deprivation continues, the plant might die.

Water

Moisture is the operative word when it comes to watering. You wouldn’t want the soil to get wet but if you let it dry out, that will hurt the wandering Jew plant too. So it’s more of a balancing act. You wait for the top 3 inches of the soil to go dry before you water it. When you irrigate it, you don’t soak the soil. The roots are sensitive to water and don’t function well in waterlogged soil. This could lead to root rot, drooping leaves, and wilting stems. 

Fertilizer

Many horticulturalists recommend that you use worm castings as a slow-release fertilizer that feeds the wandering Jew plant slowly for weeks at a time. As an alternative, you can apply general-purpose liquid fertilizer at half strength. This means you should dilute it by adding about 50 percent water or using half the recommended dose. The best times to apply fertilizer are in the growing season. If you notice the tips of the leaves turning brown or looking dry, that could be the result of using strong fertilizer.

Pruning

That’s where it gets serious. The wandering Jew plants are known for their fast growth rates. If left alone, they’ll grow all over the place and project a messy look. Not to mention that the plant becomes leggy. That’s when it focuses on growing long stems while leaving the base bare and ugly. Use your pruning scissors regularly to trim new shoots and keep the foliage dense and in good shape. Pinch the tip of the new shoots to encourage the plant to grow bushy.

Pests and Diseases

You need to watch out for spider mites. These little bugs feed on the leaves and flowers of the wandering Jew plant. You’ll notice small webs between the leaves, that’s a dead giveaway that you have a pest problem. Use neem oil to clean the stems and remove the webs. You could also dip a swap in alcohol and gently rub it over the leaves and stems to kill the pests. 

As for diseases, the only two common ones are root rot and brown leaf tip. The first is the result of overwatering or poor-drainage soil. The second is caused by sun deprivation. Move your pot to a window that gets the afternoon sun to give the leaves their healthy and glossy look.    

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