One of the problems with common names is the resulting confusion when the same name is slapped on more than one plant. And thus was the so-called wandering Jew doubly cursed. First, the name itself is unfortunate. Second, it’s used to describe any number of plants in the Tradescantia group, including the T. albiflora, Zebrina pendula, and Callisia species. To confuse the matter more, these plants are also sometimes called inch plants.
Some of them are pendant, others grow more upright. Whatever the nomenclature, these are all fairly easy and popular houseplants that do well in baskets.
Here are some tips on growing conditions:
- Light: Bright to moderate
- Water: Water thoroughly in the growing season, but allow soil to dry between waterings. Reduce water in the winter. Root rot is likely caused by soil that remains wet between waterings.
- Temperature: Average.
- Soil: Loose, well-drained potting mix.
- Fertilizer: Fertilize in beginning of growth season with controlled-release fertilizer or use liquid fertilizer. Reduce feeding in the winter.
Tradescantia roots easily from cuttings and stems that come into contact with the soil will readily sprout roots. Rooting hormone isn’t typically necessary. There are three ways to restart or grow a wandering Jew houseplant.
- Cut off a dozen long legs and bury the cut ends in fresh potting soil. Keep the soil moist and within a few weeks, you’ll see new growth. Always make sure your soil is fresh, as the salt build up in old soil is lethal to wandering Jew houseplants.
- Even though these plants hate soggy feet in their pots, they love rooting in water. A dozen shoots placed in a glass of water in a sunny window will produce roots in no time.
- Lay your cuttings right on top of the moist soil. Make sure each ‘joint’ makes contact with the soil. Roots will form at each joint and from each a new plant will grow.
Repot as necessary in spring. Many people allow their plants to grow into full hanging plants, then take cuttings in the third year and replace the plant.
A number of plants go by the name wandering Jew, but the most common is the Tradescantia albiflora. All the plants that go by this name feature small leaves that grow close to the creeping stems. Leaves are striped on top with purple undersides. Plants that are frequently seen labeled as wandering Jews include:
- T. albiflora
- Zebrina pendula, a slightly more colorful version with reddish leaves
- Callisia species, with bold white stripes
Given time, all of these plants will form creeping or spreading habits and tend toward legginess. Keep them bushy by pinching out the growing tips. Flowers may appear in spring, but they are small and rather uninspiring (they’re pink on the T. albiflora). If the plants begin to lose their color or stretch out, they are probably getting too little light.
Wandering Jew houseplants do not age well. No matter how well your wandering Jew plant care is, they lose their leaves at the base while the long legs keep growing. Don’t be surprised if your wandering Jew plants need to be renewed once a year or so.