Tradescantia is an umbrella term which encompasses 75 different plants, many of which are grown as easy-to-maintain houseplants. Plants within this genus are often referred to as Spiderwort, Wandering Jew or Wandering Dude so it can get a bit confusing when reading up on plant care for these guys, luckily they all require similar things and are all hardy and fast growing.
With some bright, indirect light and occasional water your plant will be generally completely happy. However, there’s a few tricks that are worth knowing which I will share with you and explain completely in this article.
My experience with the Inch Plant (another one of the common names for this plant!) has been quite positive so far, I was given a little cutting of one, which quickly became an established houseplant. I took a cutting for my sister who is notoriously bad at looking after houseplants and she did in fact almost kill it – but with generous waterings and a trim the plant was completely revived!
Table of Contents
- What is the Best Care for a Wandering Jew/Inch Plant?
- Is Propagating a Wandering Jew Difficult?
- How Do You Pot Up/ Replant Tradescantia Plants?
- What Are Common Problems With Tradescantia?
- A Quick Look at Caring for Wandering Jew Plants
- What are the Different Types of Tradescantia?
- Wandering Jew Plant Name
What is the Best Care for a Wandering Jew/Inch Plant?
It’s totally fine to mess up with this plant because they are quite hardy and can handle the neglect, it’s basically an essential part of wandering jew care. As long as you give it a check over to make sure the soil isn’t too dry you won’t have any major problems with this plant.
Are There Lighting Preferences?
Wandering Jew plants do best in bright indirect light. If you have noticed that the variegation on the leaves is beginning to fade then that’s a sign that your plant needs more light. If you see the leaves are becoming more green it’s because the plant isn’t getting enough sunlight so it’s trying to compensate by producing more chlorophyll. This makes the plant greener and able to absorb more light.
If your plant is in direct sunlight there’s a good chance it will get a little bit scorched. If you notice brown patches on the leaves and stems just move your plant out of direct sunlight – and you’ll know if it’s direct sunlight when you can see a very distinct shadow around the plant. I would also note that if you are trying to get your tradescantia to flower it will need more light.
How Should I Water?
Tradescantia plants will grow best with regular waterings where you allow the soil to dry out, but only the top few inches. They won’t tolerate dry soil for long periods of time so it’s important to be checking the soil frequently.
Give the plants a deep drink and allow excess water to drain from the bottom of the pot, making sure never to leave the plant standing in water which will go stagnant.
You’ll know if you’re over watering if the leaves and stems are mushy, yellow or brown or limp. However limp stems can also be a sign of underwatering – to tell the difference you’re basically just going to have a look at the soil and consider are you watering a lot or are you not watering a lot.
If you have problems with getting this balance right a moisture meter might be a good option for you. They tend to be quite affordable and you can get 3-in-1 meters which measure moisture, humidity and temperature.
If you’re up for it, bottom-watering can be great for tradescantia plants as they tend to suffer from stem rot if overhead watering leaves behind too much moisture on the actual plant.
To bottom water, simply fill a bowl with water and leave the plant to drink. After about 20 minutes the plant can be returned to its usual location. This method only works in pots that have drainage holes so don’t forget, if needed, to take the plant out of its decorative pot first, revealing the plastic nursery pot.
Pro tip: consistently underwatering the tradescantia plant will lead to slower growth and more problems down the line, use a simple schedule or set reminders on your phone to water your plants regularly.
Consistency is key – you can’t just forget about a plant and then water it a lot to compensate!
What Are the Humidity Requirements?
The Tradescantia plant thrives in humidity, if the humidity is too low then you will see the leaves turn brown, go crispy and wrinkly, and die. This is a big issue especially during the winter months when people begin to have their radiators on. While keeping your tradescantia warm is important, radiators dry out the air in your home.
To keep the humidity high I would recommend either keeping your plant in the bathroom because hot showers and baths will create the humidity your plant needs, or grow your plants together since during photosynthesis your plant’s leaves release a little bit of water, creating a microclimate where humidity is higher.
Check out this guide for finding the best humidifier to suit you: 10 best humidifiers for indoor plants.
For another DIY alternative you can try using a pebble tray which will probably be free because you don’t need a lot to make it. You just need a tray of sorts, I tend to use a terracotta saucer, fill it with pebbles or marbles and some water, then just sit the plant on top.
Some plant owners will recommend misting but I personally don’t like wasting time with it because I find there is very little benefit and misting brings a ton of issues like fungus gnats. The issue is if you mist your plants, little droplets of water get stuck between the leaves and can cause rot so if you are going to mist them sure you mist them for quite far above which prevents bigger droplets of water on the leaves and use a fine nozzle.
What Do I Need to Know About Fertilizing Tradescantia?
Whilst Tradescantia don’t really need a lot of feeding I would recommend feeding them once in a while, maybe monthly or so. Only feed them between spring and summer (the active growth season). However, each plant is different so try not to get held back by schedules and pay attention to your specific plant needs. You eventually develop a sense of what the plant needs. Some plants will grow faster because they are getting more light and they might then need more fertilizer to support their growth.
Tradescantia can be a bit sensitive to chemical or artificial fertilizers so I would personally recommend using an organic fertilizer or a DIY option. My favorites are the houseplant focus range but for my tradescantia I tend to make banana “smoothies”. Soak a banana peel in water for about a week and use that water to feed the plants.
Is Propagating a Wandering Jew Difficult?
Luckily I found that tradescantia are one of the easiest to propagate. Here is my step by step guide on how to propagate your tradescantia plants.
1. Sanitize all of the tools that will come into contact with the plant, it’s definitely tempting not to do this step but eventually that will bite you in the ass so spend a few minutes now cleaning up to avoid major problems in the future.
2. Find a healthy looking stem and take a cutting with at least 5 leaves on or a cutting that’s a few inches long but has at least 2-3 leaves. Essentially, you need enough length that there’s some exposed nodes or leaves you can remove but also enough leaves to maintain photosynthesis.
If you’ve opted for a cutting with lots of leaves, remove the lower leaves so that there is an exposed stem with nodes that can go in the water- any leaves in the water will rot and attract pests.
3. Dip the cutting in rooting powder, this tends to have growth hormones like auxins which promote the formation of roots. It’s hard to tell honestly from my experience if the rooting powder has made much of a difference in the process but I think it’s helpful if the plant is reluctant to root, which some plants just are.
4. Fill ANY container, as long as it’s clean and holds water (jars,bowls,wine bottles, saucepans, whatever your heart desires) ¾ full with clean, fresh water.
5. Leave the cutting in the water, in a sunny spot.
6. Check the cutting every few days, changing the water every week or so.
7. Plant the cutting once a secondary root system has grown, this means that roots are growing out of the primary roots.
How Do You Pot Up/ Replant Tradescantia Plants?
When Do I Repot My Plant and How Do I Know If It’s time?
I always recommend repotting the tradescantia during the beginning of active growth season, for America that’s April! In general. It’s a good time to repot when the weather starts getting warmer. It’s not best practice to repot during dormancy, which is winter and autumn, because the roots aren’t actively growing. This can create problems due to shock where the plant can’t adjust to the new home and it often leads to premature plant death.
Sizing up the pot during dormancy also contributes to root rot, where the roots have not grown into the rest of the soil. Water will pool and create denser soil. This leads to a lack of airflow throughout the roots which causes rot, in turn attracting pests.
As these plants are known to grow in rocky terrain they don’t actually need a lot of soil, this means if your tradescantia is growing a lot, it’s thriving and probably doesn’t need repotting currently. The signs to look out for are roots growing out of the container and a decrease in growth.
Avoid replanting your plants for no reason or too frequently as it is stressful each time and comes with risk of plant death.
How Do I Choose a Plant Pot?
Tradescantia are susceptible to root rot so the drainage is quite important, you can definitely get away with using a plant with no drainage hole if you’re careful but I would never advise it because it’s more of a risk.
I’d recommend using a terracotta pot since they are known to be moisture-wicking. The material is porous and helps prevent overly soggy soil getting the plant down. Plus, I’ve never seen a terracotta pot being sold without drainage holes but if that were the case it would be very easy to drill one!
You’re going to want a pot that’s around 1-2 inches wider and deeper than the current pot.
Tradescantias are quite top-heavy and have shallow root systems so I would recommend a more shallow pot with a big base.
Step by Step on How to Replant Your Tradescantia
1. Water the plant thoroughly, this will help protect the roots during the process.
2. Use gloves, tradescantia have a sap that can cause skin-irritation.
3. Gently and carefully wiggle the plant out of the pot, removing as much of the old soil as possible.
4. Give the root ball a gentle shake to remove excess dirt.
5. Use well draining soil to line the bottom of the new container, place the plant in and fill the rest of the pot up with more soil.
6. Water your plant from above, bottom watering doesn’t work just after repotting because the roots are not established in the soil yet.
Wait a few months before beginning to fertilize and bottom water the plant.
What Are Common Problems With Tradescantia?
|Symptom||Potential Causes||How to fix|
|Yellowing leaves||Main causes of yellow leaves are to do with under-watering or nutrient deficiencies||Give the plant a big drink of water with some liquid feed|
|Brown leaves||Can be causes by over or under watering or too much light||Make sure the plant is situated in indirect light and ensure you are checking the soil moisture often|
|Leggy Growth||Too Little light or feeding during winter||Plants will stretch to grow towards the light if needed so just move the plant closer to a source of light. Grow lights are a great alternative to sunlight if the room doesn’t have much in the way of windows.|
|Stem Collapse||Overwatering or root rot||Addressing root rot can be difficult and sometimes there’s not much to be done. I’d recommend using rubbing alcohol or diluted hydrogen peroxide to treat the roots as well as cutting away any dead growth before repotting the plant into dry soil.|
|Brown and yellow leaves||Dry air and lack of humidity||This is a big problem, especially during the winter months so try using a humidifier or moving the plant away from any central heating/ breezes.|
|Curling inwards||Dehydration||If the leaves of your plant are curling inwards, like a folded tortilla, and the plant is saggy and faded it’s probably due to dehydration. Give the plant a thorough water and move into a shadier spot. A more humid environment will also help to prevent dehydration.|
A Quick Look at Caring for Wandering Jew Plants
|Common names||Wandering Jew (contested), Wandering Dude Plant, Inch Plant, Spiderwort|
|US Hardiness Zones||7-11|
|Water||Aim to keep the soil moist but not wet|
|Light||Prefers bright, indirect light|
|Humidity||Thrives in moderate to high humidity (perfect for bathrooms)|
|Common Problems||Spider Mites, aphids, fungus gnats|
|Toxicity||Toxic when consumed for animals and for humans (only if invested in large quantities)|
What are the Different Types of Tradescantia?
One of the most popular houseplants from this genus, and the one taking the headline today, is the Tradescantia zebrina. I’ve chosen to showcase this plant in particular because it’s striking, easy to grow and super easy to come across in plant stores.
The purple under the leaves is particularly unique and makes the plant feel as if it should be rare or hard to grow but it isn’t!
This plant is often referred to as the Purple Wandering Jew.
However, if you’re not a fan of the Tradescantia zebrina or want to expand your collection I also love all of these tradescantia too!
Tradescantia zebrina Burgundy is a cultivar of the T. zebrina with a deeper hue and less green on the top side of the leaf.
Green ghost is a plant with dark green foliage with silver variagations and purple undersides, it is also a cultivar of the T. zebrina.
Green glow is a lime/ neon green version of the beloved houseplant.
Lilac cultivars of the T. fluminensis plant are gorgeous, they have off-white leaves with blush undertones and stripes of green. It’s worth knowing that it is considered an invasive plant in some places in the world and can’t be planted outdoors which is why it didn’t make it to the #1 tradescantia.
Wandering Jew Plant Name
You might be aware of the public movement that is going on currently to stop using the name Wandering Jew. One of the many alternatives such as Inch Plant, Wandering Dude, and so on. In this article I used the term tradescantia throughout in order to avoid confusion but it’s worth knowing other common names too.
The story starts a very long time ago, around the 13th century. The Wandering Jew is a man in mythology who denied Jesus rest on the way to his Crucifixion. He was then cursed to walk the Earth until the second coming of Christ. There’s so many variations of the story and the details differ each time depending on which source you read.
It is now commonly accepted that the myth of the Wandering Jew is rooted in antisemitism. This is due to the idea stemming from the fact that these plants are invasive species and can grow and take over almost anywhere. It speaks to the historic and current prejudices held against Jewish communities. Jon Greenberg, a Jewish botanist, argues the stance that the name reflects a perception of Jewish people to be unwelcome.
There have been multiple interpretations of the meanings embedded in the story of the Wandering Jew. Although the overwhelming consensus is negative and therefore it seems inappropriate to still be used. Especially considering the historical practices of naming pests and invasive species after enemies. However, the issue runs deeper because of the reclamation of the name, beginning in the 19th Century, where many Jewish people now say they do not find the name offensive.
Neverthless, it still remains unclear why there was an intent to nickname the Tradescantia after the Wandering Jew.
FAQ About the Wandering Jew
Does tradescantia like full sun?
Tradescantia love light and are most happy with periods of bright, indirect light and periods of partial shade. Keep an eye out because the leaves will wilt and brown if exposed to too much light.
How often should you water a tradescantia?
Depending on where you live and the conditions of your home, the tradescantia might only need watering about once a week. Try to water once the top inch of soil has dried out.
How do I make my tradescantia fuller?
If you’re aiming for a bushy look I’d recommend cutting off a few inches of the stems, two stems will grow where you pruned the plant. Use those cuttings to propagate more tradescantia, you can even plant those props in the same container for an even more fulsome appearance.
How long do Wandering Jew plants live?
As beautiful as these plants are, they don’t last as long as we’d like them to. Their usual lifespan is about 2-3 years. You’ll be able to tell when your plant is reaching its end when it starts to look leggy and untidy.
Is Wandering Jew an indoor or outdoor plant?
This plant is definitely an indoor plant, however, if you live in growth zones 9-11 it can thrive really well outside.
Do You Want to Beautify Your Home With the Wandering Jew?
Tradescantia, aka Wandering Jew/ Inch Plant/ Spiderwort are super easy plants that grow rapidly when given a steady flow of water and bright, indirect light. They grow along the shadowy depths of the forest floor which are normally very moist. They like high humidity and the occasional feeding.
Now you know how to keep a tradescantia happy, go and get all of the different cultivars!
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