The prettiest variegated indoor plant is the Tradescantia. Tradescantia plants go by many names; they are commonly called inch plant, speedy henry, and spiderwort, and formerly known as the “wandering Jew plant” (see my thoughts on this name at the end of the post). These plants native to South America can be quickly identified with their colorful variegated leaves and pink and purple flowers. If you want to grow these lovely house plants the following article will take you through everything you need to know for tradescantia care.
In this article, we provide all the information you need to grow these beautiful plants indoors.
Good inch plant care is simply providing the plant with what it needs. Tradescantias require indirect light, consistent watering, good soil, and high humidity. Provide these things, and your tradescantia plant will thrive beautifully.
Start with the Healthiest Tradescantia Plant you can Find
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Tradescantia care starts with finding healthy vibrant specimens to grow indoors. When searching for a healthy tradescantia houseplant, (tradescantia fluminensis) there are a few things you should look for:
- Check the leaves: Look at the leaves; are they shiny, colorful, and is the green leaves dark and rich? These markers will indicate that the plant is healthy.
- Check the plant for insects: Is there evidence of bugs? Look for tiny flying insects, silks or webs, or insect eggs on the backside of the plant leaves. If you see evidence of insects, do not buy the plant, especially if you have more houseplants at home. Bringing home an infested plant is a sure-fire way to spread those little pests all through your home.
- Check the stems: Are they thick and robust or tall and leggy? Tall and leggy plants will always look poorly, and fixing a leggy plant can be a challenge. When shopping for a tradescantia lilac plant (or any tradescantia plant), always look for plants with thick, strong stems.
Learn More: Caring For Houseplants Book Recommendations
Place Your Tradescantia Indoor Plants in the Best Location Possible
Keep your inch plants away from cold drafts, blowing air, heat sources, and bright hot windows.
The best place for your new houseplant is on the left or right side of the west or east-facing window where it can get all the indirect sunlight it requires to maintain its color, but not where it will be subjected to harsh light or cold drafts.
These lovely plants grow very well in bathrooms where humidity is high so long as some natural light is available.
Provide Bright Indirect Light For Best Growth
Tradescantia care requires the availability of filtered or bright indirect light. The plant must receive enough light to maintain its variegated color and to bloom.
The delicate leaves are easily scorched under direct full sun exposure, so avoid those bright windows.
The ideal location for your plant is positioned on either side of the west or east window. This will provide the plant with sufficient light to thrive.
The exception to the rule: The popular purple heart plant (tradescantia pallida) will do best panted in direct sunlight. The foliage of this plant is deep dark purple. Growing purple heart plants in shade or indirect light can cause the plants to lean more green than the showy purple leaves of plants grown in direct sunlight.
Plant in Fertile well-draining Soil
Tradescantia plants require very fertile soil that is well-draining. If the plant is being transplanted, use fresh potting soil.
And on the topic of well-draining, make sure your pot has a drainage hole!
Water to Keep Consistently Moist Soil
Tradescantia plants dislike dry soil. They require soil that is evenly moist and may require daily watering to keep the soil moist if the temperatures are high.
Underwatering is as bad as overwatering. Typical signs of underwatering include wilting, yellowed leaves, and poor growth.
Like most houseplants, the tradescantia plant does not enjoy having wet feet. Overwatering can cause diseases like root rot, so well-drained soil is a must!
It’s good to water your tradescantia plant from the bottom of the pot by adding water to the tray and allowing the plant to wick up what it needs. But keep an eye on the plant as you don’t want to add more water than the plant can handle.
Provide or Create a High Humidity Level for Your Spiderwort Plant
Spiderwort plants enjoy a humid environment. Without high humidity, the leaf tips can turn brown and die. It’s not a good look!
This won’t be a problem if you live in a humid area, but if your home is dry during the winter, you could have issues with your tradescantia plants. But don’t worry, there are ways for you to increase the humidity around the plants to keep them comfortable :
- Place the plant pot pebble tray that has been watered. The water in the tray will evaporate and create a higher humid environment around the plant.
- Use a humidifier. Humidifiers will work very well in rooms with plants that require higher humidity, especially during dry winter seasons.
- Use a spray mist: You can mist water directly on the plant’s leaves a few times a week to help increase humidity.
Feed Bi-weekly With Half-strength Liquid Fertilizer
Use a good house plant fertilizer diluted to half strength every other week during the growing season in the spring and summer months. Cut back on fertilizer during the winter months.
Before fertilizing, ensure the soil is moist. Adding the fertilizer to damp soil will ensure the fertilizer doesn’t burn the roots.
Propagate your Inch plant through stem cuttings
You can propagate your inch plant with cuttings or seeds. We’ve included the instructions below for how to propagate by stem cuttings in both soil and water:
How to Propagate A Tradescantia Plant in Soil
- Take cuttings from a mature plant, using a sharp sanitized blade. Make sure your cuttings are at least 5-6 inches long. Leave only a set of two leaves on the cutting and remove everything below the top set of leaves.
- Fill a 6-inch pot with all-purpose potting soil. Place the cuttings in holes 1 inch deep.
- Water your cuttings. Place your cutting pot in a spot with bright, indirect light.
How to Propagate A Tradescantia in Water
- Take cuttings at the ends of stems, using a sharp sanitized blade. Make sure your cuttings are at least 5-6 inches long. Leave only a set of two leaves on the cutting and remove everything below the top set of leaves.
- Place the stem cuttings in a glass of water. Be sure that the bottom leaf node is underwater. New roots should be visible within a week.
- When the new root growth is at least 2 inches long, plant your cuttings in an all-purpose potting mix.
- New growth will vigorous!
Repot Your Tradescantia
Tradescantia is a vigorous fast grower and may require repotting every spring.
The best way to know if the plant requires re-potting take a look at the roots. If the roots are crowded or growing out of the drainage holes it may be time for a bigger pot.
- When selecting a pot for your tradescantia it’s a good idea to choose one that is only 1-2 inches larger than the current pot.
- Fill the base of the new pot with fresh potting soil.
- Loosen the root ball gently with your fingers before placing it in the new pot.
- Fill with fresh soil and water.
Prune your Inch Plants for Bushier Growth and Healthier plants
Pinch off the growth tips at the ends of the plant’s branches to encourage bushy growth and discourage leggy growth. These tips can be saved to propagate new plants.
When the tips are pinched, the new growth at the pinched spot will double, encouraging the plant to grow lower and out with double the leaves nodes. This type of pruning will create well-shaped plants.
You will also want to remove yellow or dying leaves, and plant debris to encourage better-growing conditions. While pruning, always use sanitized tools or shears to reduce the chance of spreading diseases.
Deal with Pests and Diseases as Soon as You Discover Them
Watch out for spider mites, aphids, whitefly, root mealybugs, and thrips.
Typical diseases associated with Tradescantia are leaf-spot disease, botrytis, powdery mildew & root rot.
Root rot is one of the primary diseases to affect a tradescantia plant. Visual signs include rapidly yellowing leaves, stunted growth, and stem failure.
Root rot is easily prevented by avoiding overwatering and keeping the plant in pots with good drainage and good draining soil.
GIve your plant a dormancy period to encourage Flowering
Tradescantia will readily flower in the summer only if the plant had a dormancy period in winter.
To replicate its dormancy period indoors you can do the following:
- Reduce temperatures down to around 15°C (59°F) from late autumn until early spring. Provide very little water or fertlization during this time.
- Allow all of the soil to dry completely for at least two weeks in between waterings. Apply room temperature water to avoid shocking roots.
- Provide a few hours of late after-noon or early morning direct sunlight until the first bud develops at the end of spring.
Care for your Tradescantia Outdoors
Tradescantia thrives in temperate conditions in moderately humid environments, and is hardy within USDA Zone 9-11. The tradescantia tricolor provides good ground cover in partially shaded areas like under trees.
Inch plants make excellent containers and look lovely growing in windowboxes and hanging baskets or sitting on a shaded porch.
Warning: Invasive in Some Areas Check Before you Plant
Troubleshooting and FAQs related to growing and caring for Tradescantia
Why is my Tradescantia plants Growing Leggy?
The primary reason why tradescantias grow leggy is due to lack of sunlight. Although the plants do not like direct sunlight, they still require some sunlight to grow well.
When the plant becomes leggy it means it is putting its energy into reaching for the sunlight.
A secondary reason your inch plant is becoming leggy is too much nitrogen fertilizer. Tradescantia care will require fertilizer, but be sure to choose one with lower nitrogen levels, especially during spring and summer.
Are Tradescantia Toxic to Pets?
Yes, the plants are mildly toxic to humans, cats, dogs, and horses. The plant can cause skin irritation so wear gloves while handling.
For More Information: ASPCA Toxicity of Inch Plants
Why are my Tradescantia Leaves Dull and Faded?
Too little light will cause your tradescantia plant to fade. It’s a careful balance between finding the spot with enough light to keep the color and bloom without providing too much sunlight which will damage the plant.
Tradescantia care for fading leaves requires moving the plant to a slightly brighter location.
Recommended Varieties to grow as an indoor plant
There are so many wonderful and beautiful plants in the tradescantia genus. Here are three that come highly recommended:
Tradescantia Nanouk also known as Fantasy Venice, is a new popular variety that is a little difficult to track down. If you manage to track the lovely plant down you will be rewarded with big pretty bright green, pink & purple leaves. Tradescantia nanouk is a hybrid plant grown for its beautiful bushy appearance and purple flowers. These plants look absolutely beautiful in a hanging basket.
Lilac Tradescantia has beautifully variegated foliage in striped shades of green, white, and lilac pink. This variety is equally easy to grow and propagate as traditional inch plants.
The tradescantia zebrina plant has paired, silvery-green leaves with purple on the upper surface. It blooms with bright pink flowers with three petals.
Tradescantia spathacea (common name Oyster plant) is a short-stemmed plant that makes attractive small spreading clumps It forms a solid groundcover of upright leaves. The leaves are green and purple and bloom with tiny white flowers.
Formerly Known as “Wandering Jew Plants”
Some veteran gardeners may be wondering at this point; why aren’t you using the common name for this plant? Many folks refer to tradescantia as the “Wandering Jew plant”. While folks likely don’t intend offence using that name, the term has anti-Semitic roots, casting the Jewish people as the enemies of Christianity, and being used in medieval and modern times to justify persecution of Jews.
For that reason we acknowledge the old name, but decline to use it.
Looking For More Indoor Plant Inspiration?
You can grow so many wonderful plants indoors, from flowers to vegetables and of course houseplants. Growing indoors will always be a bit different from growing outside in a garden but it can be done, and it can be done well!
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Editorial Note: This post was originally published on March 23, 2022, and was updated on January 11, 2023.