The gardening world has many instances where a single common name is associated with more than one plant species, and such is the case with the houseplant we know as spiderwort. The unique name is actually used to refer to several different plant species within the Tradescantia genus, which includes at least 75 different herbaceous perennial plants.
Native to the tropical climates of Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean, some spiderwort plants are regarded as noxious weeds, some are prized as garden plants, and some, like Tradescantia zebrina are grown primarily as indoor houseplants. Like their garden-varieties counterparts, the houseplant varieties produce flowers with three petals, although they are not particularly showy in these species. The blooms are white, purple, or pink—depending on species and variety—and appear regularly.
When tended to indoors, spiderwort plants can be started and grown year-round (though they should be planted in early fall if grown outdoors). They will grow rapidly and can become invasive in their outdoor environment if left to their own devices—however, indoors the plants remain more contained.
|Common Name||Spiderwort, inch plant|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||6-12 in. tall, 12-24 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Flower Color||White, purple, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||9–12 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Mexico, South America, Caribbean|
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Spiderwort Plant Care
Spiderwort plants are some of the easiest houseplants to grow, and they will reward you with a lush, full appearance for very little work. One of the only difficult aspects of growing spiderwort plants as houseplants is achieving the right moisture level. These plants liken consistently moist soil but don't like being soggy or waterlogged.
Spiderwort plants are best suited for hanging containers, and they thrive in a location with plenty of indirect natural light. They can become leggy and scraggly, with large sections of bare stems, if they are not pinched back regularly to keep them bushy.
Even with the best of care, spiderwort plants have a somewhat short lifespan. Within a few years, almost all specimens become leggy, scraggly, and unkempt-looking. Luckily, they are very easy to propagate from small stem cuttings, so you can provide your home with a near-constant supply of them if you plan a bit ahead.
Spiderwort plants do best in bright but indirect sunlight. Place them nearby a window that boasts at least eight hours of sun a day, but be careful to avoid any direct rays, which can cause the leaves to scorch. If you notice the color or variegation on your leaves is beginning to fade, that's a sure sign that the plant isn't getting enough light.
Spiderwort plants can grow well in ordinary potting soil, as long as it's not over-watered. Overall, they prefer soil that drains well—their roots can easily develop rot if they remain too wet. To aid in drainage, mix a small amount of sand into a commercial potting soil blend that also boasts an ample amount of organic material.
These plants prefer to be kept consistently moist and will thrive if watered weekly in the summer and less frequently in the fall and winter. To check if your plant is ready for watering, feel the soil a few inches down in the pot. If it's dry, it's time to water your plant.
Temperature and Humidity
Any of the species of spiderwort plants will thrive at temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit; they'll also do fine in warmer temperatures, too. However, the plants should not be kept in sustained temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, as it might discolor or damage their leaves.
When it comes to humidity levels, spiderwort plants love above-average moisture. Start by keeping them in a typically-humid area of the home, like a bathroom or kitchen. You can also mist the plant lightly every few days, or invest in a small humidifier. If you notice the plant's leaves browning, it could be a sign that humidity levels in your home are too low.
Spiderwort plants don't require much, if any, feeding. At most, use a water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half-strength bimonthly. More aggressive feeding can cause the plant's leaves to lose their variegation.
There are dozens of varieties of plants in the Tradescantia family, each boasting its own unique characteristics, benefits, and difficulties. Some of the most commonly-grown varietals include:
- T. pallida 'Purple Heart': This varietal features eye-catching solid purple foliage.
- T. Zebrina pendula: This species is a slightly more colorful version of zebrina, with reddish leaves.
- T. Callisia: This version differs yet again in variation, this time featuring bold white stripes.
Spiderwort is an aggressively growing plant that can get overly leggy if left untamed. To keep your plant in check (and encourage it to grow wider and fuller), cut the stems back periodically, trimming back to a joint. To avoid legginess, regularly pinch back the stems by at least 25 percent.
Nearly all plants in this family are very easy to propagate using stem cuttings. To do so, take a one-inch piece of stem containing at least one leaf and set it cutting-side down in fresh potting soil (no rooting hormone is necessary). Water the cutting regularly and you should notice it take root within a few weeks.
Like many other houseplants, spiderwort plants can encounter issues with both aphids and spider mites. Keep an eye out for signs of infestation—if you suspect your plant is infected, separate it from your other houseplants and treat it with a mild insecticide or horticultural oil like neem oil.