The wandering jew plant is a fantastic houseplant to grow. It is easy to care for and it doesn’t require too much attention. If you want to grow a prosperous houseplant then this article is exactly what you need.
We’ll take a look at everything you need to know when it comes to caring, growing, and reviving a wandering jew plant.
The wandering jew’s botanical name is tradescantia and it belongs to the Commelinaceae family. You may also know it by a few other common names such as spiderwort plant, inch plant, and spider lily. It is native to warm and humid regions in Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean.
It has grown in popularity due to its stunning leaves and the tiny flowers that bloom year-round. Not only is it an attractive plant but it is fairly simple to care for too.
As a houseplant, it is a stunning, colorful and great decoration, whereas, outdoors it is considered by some gardeners as a weed. The herbaceous perennial is made up of many variations each with its own variegation and colored blooms.
Let’s get straight to it and discuss all the different types of tradescantia.
Wandering Jew Varieties
There are many variations of this houseplant, but we’ll briefly discuss the most commonly sought-after ones.
- Tradescantia fluminensis: It has deep green foliage and blooms bright white flowers.
- Tradescantia pallida: This variation is called the ‘purple heart’ due to its purple leaves and pinky-purple blooms.
- Tradescantia zebrina pendula: This type gets its name from the pattern on its leaves. The reddish foliage has bright white stripes on each half of the leaf which is finished off with a crisp, silvery edge.
- Tradescantia callisia: The long, cascading foliage is decorated with bold white stripes. This type of houseplant is perfect for a hanging basket as its stems fall over the edge.
- Tradescantia zebrina ‘red gem’: The ‘red gem’ has vibrant red leaves topped with creamy stripes on each half of them.
- Tradescantia virginiana: Also known as the ‘spider lily’, this plant produces purple flowers which are accompanied by dark green, arching leaves.
Fun fact: There are approximately 70 different species of tradescantia.
What Does It Look Like?
The color of the inch plant’s blossoms and foliage will vary depending on the type of houseplant. The plant has long, vine-like stems with little leaves covering them.
The foliage is typically oval- or heart-shaped and is an emerald green color. This is then contrasted with tiny flowers that bloom throughout the year.
The wandering jew gets its name from a folklore character created in the 1300s. A Christian folklore describes a character; the ‘wandering jew’, who mocked and taunted Jesus. He was then condemned to wander the earth until the end of time.
The houseplant is named after this character as it is tough, hardy, and produces a large spread as it crawls away from where it is planted.
A healthy tradescantia will grow around 6 to 12 inches (15 – 30.5cm) tall and produce a spread of 12 to 24 inches (30.5 – 61cm). The height and spread will differ across variations and its mature size depends on the care the plant receives.
How Fast Does It Grow?
The spider lily is regarded as a fast grower. Its spread can grow an extra 10 to 12 inches (25 – 30.5cm) during a growing season.
Fun fact: The spiderwort can reach its mature height in just under a year.
Unfortunately, the spiderwort is not known for its extended lifespan. Typically, it will survive for around 2 to 3 years.
The tradescantia sap contained in the stem causes gastrointestinal irritation and skin dermatitis, but the symptoms usually persist for a short period of time.
Below, we’ll discuss what either your cat, dog, or child may face when coming into contact with its sap.
Is It Toxic to Cats and Dogs?
Yes, this houseplant is toxic to both cats and dogs. When either of your pets ingests the sap, they may experience one of the following symptoms.
- Abdominal pain
- Pain in the groin area
- Digestive issues
The sap may also cause skin irritation such as a rash if your pet comes into contact with it.
Is It Poisonous to Humans?
Yes, this houseplant is mildly toxic when people ingest its saps or come into contact with it.
You or a child may experience one of the following symptoms:
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Abdominal pain
If the sap drips on your skin while pruning or propagating it then you may experience skin dermatitis.
Wandering Jew Plant Care
Now that we have gone over the key characteristics of the inch plant, we can move on to its care requirements. Below, we’ll discuss how to look after the plant and create an optimal environment for it.
How Often to Water It
The tradescantia thrives in moist potting soil, however, they’re sensitive to overwatering. Ideally, you should water it once a week during the warmer months, but as it gets cooler you can water the plant once every 2 to 3 weeks.
The best way to avoid over- or underwatering the plant is by feeling the soil. If the top 2 inches (5cm) are dry then you may water the houseplant. It is important to allow some time for the soil to dry out in between waterings so that the plant doesn’t become waterlogged.
Additionally, you must water it deeply until the water begins to flow through the drainage holes at the bottom of the container.
Top tip: When growing the spiderwort in a hanging basket, always place a saucer beneath the pot to catch any excess water.
Just like the rattlesnake plant, this houseplant cannot stand sitting in soggy soil. It is imperative that the plant is grown in well-draining soil and that the pot allows for any excess water to flow out.
Drainage is important as the roots need air to survive. They need oxygen for cellular respiration and when the soil becomes waterlogged, this limits the amount of air they receive.
To improve drainage you can add a layer of gravel at the bottom of the container and use a pot with 3 to 5 drainage holes at the bottom.
How to Prune It
An inch plant requires regular pruning to remove leggy growth. It may need a trim every now and then to maintain its size and encourage new growth.
It is best to prune it during the springtime when it is actively growing. This way healthy growth can emerge before the plant is dormant during the winter.
Follow the steps below:
- Sterilize a pair of scissors and look for any unhealthy growth.
- Simply, snip off the unhealthy, leggy, or overgrown leaves and stems.
- Water the plant well and place it back in its original position.
How to Make It Bushy
Frequent pruning will encourage bushy growth. Keep in mind that when you pinch off leaves, make sure to leave a leaf node on the stem to allow for new growth. This node will then sprout two shoots below the pinched area.
This will then give your plant a bushier look and promote healthy growth.
A spiderwort plant needs to be transplanted once a year during the spring or summertime so that there is enough space for new growth. When the roots begin to grow out through the drainage holes then this is a sign that your plant needs a bigger container.
You only need to increase the pot’s size by 1 or 2 inches (2.5 – 5cm). If the pot is too large then your plant is at risk of developing root rot, so don’t pick one that is too wide or deep.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to repotting it:
- Gently slide the plant out of its container or carefully tip it over and pull the plant out.
- Fill the new container with fresh soil and plant the spider lily at the same depth that it was previously.
- Pat down the soil with your fingertips to firm and anchor the plant in place.
- Position it back in its spot and water it the next day.
How Much Light Does It Need?
The wandering jew flourishes in bright, indirect sunshine. Much like the snake plant, it requires plenty of bright light to grow and flourish.
The more sunshine that it soaks in, the more flowers it will bloom. Unfortunately, when the plant is placed in a shady location then its foliage will begin to fade.
Ideally, it should get around 8 hours of sunshine a day during the spring and summertime. Be careful that it isn’t placed under direct sunlight or its leaves will burn.
The spider lily prefers well-draining and peat-based soil, which is ideal for the parlor palm too. It also grows well in soil with a pH level between 5 and 6.
You can create an aerated soil by adding one of the following ingredients to an all-purpose potting soil; perlite, vermiculite, coarse sand, humus, peat moss, and compost.
Tradescantia should be fertilized regularly just like the rubber plant. Typically, you need to feed it once every 2 to 4 weeks during its active growing seasons.
When feeding it, you should use an all-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer that has been diluted to half its strength. This will prevent the plant from experiencing a fertilizer overdose. You will know when the plant is being fed too much as it will lose its variegation.
You can also make use of a slow-releasing fertilizer. It is preferable to apply it once a year at the beginning of spring.
Best Pot Size and Type
The houseplant likes to keep cozy and snug in its container. It only needs 1 inch (2.5cm) of space between the rootball and the pot’s edge. A smaller pot means that the roots can soak up the water quickly which prevents root rot from occurring.
Any type of pot will suit this houseplant, as long as it has drainage holes. If you decide to opt for a clay pot then you may need to water the plant more frequently.
A tradescantia does best in temperatures ranging from 50 to 75°F (10 – 24°C). It can withstand 45°F (7°C), but it is native to warmer regions so it cannot be grown in cool temperatures for an extended period of time.
The colder the plant is the slower its growth. So, it is important to maintain a warm home if you want to see healthy growth.
A spiderwort plant can tolerate the average household humidity level but it truly prospers in a humid environment. When it is grown in 40 to 60 percent relative humidity, you will see pretty blooms and vibrant foliage.
To enhance the humidity levels surrounding the plant, you can mist it a few times a week or place it on a tray with pebbles and water. You can also invest in a humidifier and place it near the plant.
Outdoors vs. Indoors
You can grow a spider lily outside in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 12. It may even sprout more blooms as it basks in the sunshine and warmth.
When growing it outdoors you must make sure that temperatures never dip below 50°F (10°C). To lock in some warmth and add nutrients, you can cover the soil with a layer of mulch.
Be aware that the plant is a climber and may crawl up surfaces nearby.
An inch plant blooms year-round and produces small white, purple, pink or red flowers. The flowers only have 3 petals and last for a day as each bloom opens in the morning and closes at night.
The great thing about this plant is that it will continue to bloom new blossoms for up to 4 to 6 weeks.
How to Encourage Blooms
There are a few ways to encourage blooms. You can promote blooming by cutting off the flowers once they begin to die. This will encourage repeated flowering and improve the plant’s appearance.
When the plant is kept in bright sunshine and is fed regularly, this too will increase the number of blooms. Adding a handful of organic matter like compost to the potting mix is also a fantastic way to encourage your plant to flower.
How to Grow It
There are plenty of ways to grow a new houseplant such as propagating its cuttings or divisions, and you can plant its seeds.
Ideally, you should plan on growing your collection of houseplants during the springtime. Always make sure to clean your tools before cutting the plant as you don’t want to spread bacteria.
Wandering Jew Propagation
This houseplant can be grown and multiplied using a variety of methods. You can propagate the inch plant from cuttings and by division. You can either propagate it in soil or water, and we’ll guide you through both methods.
Propagating in Soil
When propagating the cuttings or division in soil, it is best to use peaty and rich potting soil. Additionally, it must be well-draining too.
Growing from a Leaflet
You can grow an entire plant from a small leaf. The steps below will explain how to cut and plant a leaflet in soil.
- Use a sterilized pair of scissors to cut the leaf at a 45° angle right below the node.
- Take out a small container and prepare it with a rich potting mix.
- Plant the cut area of the leaf in the soil and mist it.
- Keep the soil moist and position it in bright sunlight.
- In 2 to 3 weeks, new root growth will emerge.
- You only need to repot it when the plant has produced new leaves and is becoming rootbound.
How to Plant Stem Cuttings
Before cutting a stem, choose one that will have 1 leaf attached to it and make sure that the stem isn’t limp or unhealthy. Ideally, you should aim to use a stem that is roughly 2 inches (5cm) long.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to planting a cutting:
- Snip a stem and plant it in some moist soil. Make sure that it is planted about 1 inch (2.5cm) deep.
- Place it in indirect sunshine and water it every 2 to 3 days. You will want to keep the soil moist for the first 3 weeks.
- After the cutting has rooted (which should take 3 weeks), you can then care for it as you did its mother plant.
Propagation By Division
Dividing the rootball will involve slicing it into separate clumps. This method of propagation is very beneficial when the plant has become rootbound and you don’t want to repot it in a bigger container.
Follow the steps below:
- Remove the plant from its current container and dust off the soil clinging to the rootball.
- Look for logical areas of division that will cause the least amount of damage to the roots.
- Clean your blade and slice through the rootball, and pull apart the divisions. Be careful to untangle the roots as you don’t want to damage them.
- Fill the necessary containers with fresh potting soil and plant each division.
- Water the divisions thoroughly and place them in a sunny home.
- After about a week the divisions will settle and you can care for them as you would a mature plant.
How to Propagate in Water
You can propagate a leaf or stem cutting in water too. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you may need to replace the water every couple of days. This will prevent algae from building up or bacteria infecting your plant.
Growing Leaflets in Water
When propagating a leaf in water, always make sure to choose a healthy-looking leaf and use a clear glass jar. A glass jar allows you to monitor root growth easily which will be important when you need to repot the cutting in soil.
Follow the guide below:
- Use a clean pair of scissors and cut the leaf just below the leaf node. Make sure to cut it at a 45° angle.
- Place the leaf in a jar with room temperature water, and find a sunny spot for it.
- In 2 weeks, the cutting will sprout tiny roots. This is your sign to repot the leaflet in moist potting soil.
- You can then care for the plant as a mature houseplant once the roots have settled.
Stem Cuttings in Water
When choosing the right stem to propagate, make sure that it is healthy and has at least 1 leaf attached to it. You will also have to remove any leaves that may become submerged in the water.
Carry out the following steps:
- Cut a 2 inch (5cm) long stem at a 45° angle.
- Fill a glass jar with clean water and place the stem in it.
- Place the jar in bright, indirect sunlight and change the water every 3 days.
- In 2 to 3 weeks, new root growth may develop, and once they’re long enough you can repot it.
- When repotting it in soil, you will need to keep the soil moist until the roots have established themselves.
Growing the spiderwort plant from a seed is fairly simple. All you will need is a shallow tray, some peaty soil, a plastic bag, and a heat mat.
Below, we’ve set out a list of steps to plant its seeds:
- Fill a tray with potting mix and moisten it.
- Gently press the seeds into the soil and lightly cover them with some additional potting mixture.
- Mist the seeds, place a plastic bag over the tray, and put it on a heat mat. Make sure that the seeds are kept in temperatures ranging from 70 to 80°F (21 – 26°C).
- Position the seeds in bright sunshine and keep the soil moist.
- The seeds will take around a month to germinate and you can then remove the plastic bag and heat mat.
- Once 2 true leaves have sprouted, you can transplant the seedling to its own container and care for it like an adult plant.
Why May It Be Dying?
If you’ve noticed that your plant’s foliage has begun to brown or wilt, its stem is dying, or its leaves are dropping then it isn’t receiving the necessary care and is running into some problems. All you’ll have to do is tweak your care regime to revive the houseplant.
Below, we’ll guide you through what may be wrong with your plant and how to solve the problem.
A lack of humidity is the most common reason for the houseplant’s foliage to turn brown. It loves a humid environment and if the area is too dry then the foliage browns and may even wither away. You will need to spritz the leaves regularly or purchase a humidifier and place it around the plant.
Brown foliage may also be caused by direct sunlight. The harsh sun rays will burn the leaves, so you will need to relocate the inch plant. Try to find an area or windowsill where it’ll only receive indirect sunshine.
Stem rot is caused by extreme overwatering. The spiderwort plant’s stem will become soft and limp when it is waterlogged.
Immediately remove the plant from its container and cut back any diseased roots. You must then repot it some potting soil with coarse sand. After 2 or 3 days, you can water it again but be careful to not overwater it going forward.
Overwatering and direct sunshine are the two main causes of wilting foliage. If the soil is soggy then you should cease watering the houseplant and wait until the top 2 inches (5cm) are dry before watering it again.
During the summertime, your plant is more sensitive to direct sunshine as it will burn the houseplant’s leaves. Simply find a new spot for it and make sure that it sits in indirect sunlight.
Apart from natural aging, leaves may fall if the plant is underwatered or not soaking in enough sunshine. As the houseplant ages, a few leaves may drop off here and there, however, if many are falling then you need to adjust your care routine.
If the soil is completely dry then give the plant a deep watering. In the future, you’ll need to make sure that the soil does not dry out.
The inch plant cannot survive for a prolonged period of time in a shady area. It needs bright sunlight to thrive and survive. All you need to do is look for a new spot where it will receive plenty of bright sunshine.
This carefree beauty is very hardy and can withstand a little neglect. The two most important things to keep in mind are that the houseplant thrives in a humid environment and be wary not to overwater it.
When optimally cared for, you can expect your wandering jew to bloom stunning, little flowers year-round.