By: Jackie Rhoades
Years ago, before raising plants for profit became a business, every housewife knew how to grow wandering jew houseplants. Gardeners would share cuttings from their wandering jew houseplant (Tradescantia pallid) with neighbors and friends, and like the Jews from long ago, the wandering jew houseplant would travel from place to place.
Wandering jew plant care requires bright, indirect light. If the light is too dim, the leaf markings will fade. Keep the soil slightly moist, but don’t water directly into the crown as this will cause an unsightly rot in your wandering jew plant. Care should be taken, particularly in winter, that the plant doesn’t become too dry. Mist wandering jew plants frequently. Feed your plant monthly with a half-strength liquid fertilizer.
An important part of growing wandering jew plants is pinching back the long, vining tendrils. Pinch back about a fourth of the plant to encourage branching and increase fullness.
One of the main reasons for asking, “How do I care for my wandering jew?’ is the short life of the plant. 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.
There are three ways to restart or grow a wandering jew houseplant.
The first is, to me, is the most efficient. 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.
The last way to re-root your wandering jew plant is to 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 wandering jew houseplant will grow.
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Within the Tradescantia genus, you'll find 75 herbaceous perennials commonly referred to as wandering Jew plants or spiderwort, including the popular houseplants T. fluminensis, T. pallida, and T. zebrina—each of which has numerous common names of their own. No matter which variety you're drawn to, these are hardy, fast-growing, and low-maintenance species. Their attractive colorful foliage will trail, spread, or climb, making them especially striking in hanging planters—or any corner of your space that could use a burst of color. Here's how to care for and propagate these beauties in your own home.
Here’s how to care for a wandering jew plant, one of the easy house plants to own.
In the wild, the wandering jew plant thrives without assistance but under the right conditions. It likes filtered sun so indoor fluorescent light is enough. Placing them by the window and turning the plant every two weeks will keep the leaves colorful and the growth even on all sides (3).
The plant spreads easily in damp areas that’s why it naturally grows along riverbanks and roadsides. When potted, the soil should be kept moist but well-drained. Saturated soil often causes the roots and stems to soften and rot.
Spiderworts like it warm but there should be enough air circulation or else the leaves will sag. During the heat of the summer, taking the plant outside under shade will provide the necessary cool to the plant.
Mist the hanging plant early in the morning and late in the afternoon. If the plant is on a table, place a glass of water beneath the leaves or put the pot on a wet pebble tray. This will humidify the immediate vicinity of the plant aiding in its photosynthesis and transpiration processes.
The most common living enemies of the wandering jew are aphids, mealybugs, scale, white flies, and spider mites. Manual removal at the onset of infestation is effective but they should be closely monitored as serious attack may lead to the plant’s death. If left unnoticed and the infestation has become severe, get rid of the plant by burning to avoid contamination.
Since the plant is mainly soft almost like a succulent, soggy soil and too wet conditions lead to root and stem rot (4). As long as the plant is receiving just enough moisture, this disease will be avoided.
Propagating wandering jew plants is very easy. They can grow from seeds but will take years to establish so the more convenient stem cutting is best. The trailing or creeping stems form nodules where the roots will eventually grow as it comes in contact with the soil (2). When the hanging plant has longer trails than intended, it can be trimmed and the resulting stem cuttings can be rooted to form new plants.
There will be times that the potted wandering jew will become leggy, especially if it’s been receiving more shade. To promote a bushier growth pinch back by literally pinching the tip of the plant where the new growth occurs (4). This practice allows the formation of lateral stems.
In two or three years, the plant may become pot bound, with the roots taking up most of the space in the pot. Repot in a larger container with a good mixture of soil, sand, and compost to replenish the nutrients and provide room for the roots to breathe. Additionally, fertilize once every two months by foliar application just to improve plant vigor.
Here’s a brief overview of the three species of this perennial plant.
This species is native to Mexico and gets its binomial name from its zebra-like leaves. T. zebrina leaves are paired, creamy white in the middle of each half, and silvery green on the edges. The leaves develop a purple patch on the upper surface and underneath and are asymmetrical at the base. Its flowers are light purple.
This Spiderwort species is also native to Mexico and is arguably the most popular of the three. Its leaves are sheaths, clasping, ciliate, and oblong. T. pallida leaves are deep royal purple on the upper surface, and underneath are violet and pink. Its flowers are light purple.
This species is native to South America. T. fluminensis leaves are ovate to oblong-lanceolate leaves that are dark green or flushed purple beneath its bright white flowers.
If you should end up with root rot, pinch several stems off at the leaf node and start your plant over again. Tradescantia is ridiculously easy to propagate. Basically, any leaf node that is touching soil will begin to grow there.
Choose a leader that has a new leaf growing from between two larger leaves.
To start new plants, you’ll want to use leaders with new leaf growth and cut them just below a leaf node.
Wandering Jew practically propagates itself.
Each node has root cells and will begin to develop. Trim off the bottom few leaves, leaving a stem of around 2-4” to work with.
If you are propagating in water be sure to change the water regularly.
While you can start Wandering Jew in water, and I do, its susceptibility to root rot makes it a great candidate to propagate directly in the soil. Plant several of your trimmed stems in a pot so you end up with a lovely bushy plant.
Cuttings will root directly in the soil.
Wandering Jew isn’t necessarily poisonous to cats and dogs, but if they ingest it, it will cause an upset stomach and can cause a skin reaction.
Some people also experience a rash from the plant’s sap (when the plant is cut open). It’s best to keep this plant up away from pets and small family members, just to be safe.