Commonly called wandering Jew, the name refers to three species in the spiderwort genus. Tradescantia zebrina is a popular houseplant known for its vigorous growth and colorful, variegated foliage. Consisting of purple and deep green colored leaves with silver streaks, it is the most common variety grown indoors. Tradescantia pallida is a striking deep purple, with light purplish-pink flowers. Tradescantia fluminensis has dark green leaves and white, three-petaled flowers. In subtropical areas such as the southern United States, it is known as an invasive species, so most gardeners chose to avoid it.
Wandering Jew is also called inch plant, or wandering dude. They produce a striking effect in hanging baskets or pedestals where the colorful vines can cascade down. In the summer months, they make great decorations to a shady front step or porch. During the winter, they can be easily brought in and grown as a houseplant. The wandering Jew is native to Mexico and Central America, but has been naturalized in Asia, Africa, Australia, South America, and various oceanic islands. They are very hardy and low maintenance plants. If you are looking to grow wandering Jew plants, they can be obtained easily. You can ask around for some cuttings or buy at your local store.
Light Requirements: Wandering Jews flourish in bright but indirect sunlight. If it is not getting enough light, the vibrant foliage will fade. However, if placed in direct light, the leaves will burn. The ideal location is an east or west facing window. When grown outdoors, keep it in partial shade. They are not tolerant of cold, and will die when it is below freezing if left outside.
Soil: Wandering Jews prefer light-weight, well-draining soil. You can use a standard houseplant soil mix, but make sure that it doesn’t leave the soil too soggy, which will increase the chance of root rot. Use can also experiment and create your own soil mix by adding equal parts of the following:
- Compost and potting mix
- Compost, peat, and potting soil
- Perlite or coarse sand, compost, and potting soil
Watering requirements: These plants require moderate watering. Make sure the soil is kept moist but not completely saturated or dried out. Usually when the top few inches of soil feel dry, it is ready for watering.
Fertilizing: Although wandering Jews do not require fertilizing, they will benefit from the occasional fertilizing. They only need to be fertilized during the growing season, which is spring though summer. Do not fertilize them during the winter or fall. Since they can be sensitive to chemical fertilizers, you should use an organic one. Apply a water-soluble fertilizer monthly during its active growing period, making sure it is diluted down to 50%. Fertilizer can encourage flowers in purple, pink, or white to bloom, which are small but interesting to see.
Pruning, Propagation, and Repotting: It is important that you regularly prune your plants as they grow quickly and drop older leaves, which can give it a spindly appearance. To prune a wandering Jew and increase its fullness, pinch or trim off new plant growth as well as weak or dead growth. They do not age well, typically only lasting two to three years because they look bare and unkempt. If your plant is starting to look unattractive, it is time to propagate new specimens from cuttings.
It is very easy to propagate this plant, as it is extremely durable and will regrow from any piece that has a node. Use stem cuttings that are 4 – 6 inches long. Cut the plant below the leaf node, which is where the roots will grow. After you have removed the bottom leaves from your cuttings, place them in a pot of fresh, moist soil. You can expect to see new growth after several weeks. Alternatively, you can place them in a vase of water, and watch as the roots start to form.
If the plant starts to become crowded, you can repot it by transplanting it to a wider pot. Simply remove the plant and gently set the root ball into a new pot that is at least one to two inches wider. Fill the pot with soil and water lightly. Be careful when handling with their stems, which are fragile and can easily break off.
Some Considerations and Issues
Wandering Jew is not overly toxic, but can cause digestion irritation for cats and dogs if they eat it. The sap of wandering Jew can cause skin conditions in pets similar to dermatitis. Make sure to place your plants in a location that cannot be reached by your pets. Hanging containers are a good choice to display wandering Jew plants.
Many problems can be attributed to watering. If the leaves are curling and drying, then it is likely that it has been underwatered. Start watering your plant regularly and adjust your watering schedule. Wandering Jews prefer humid environments, which can be an issue during winter months. To increase humidity, you can place a humidifier near the plant. If you find the stripes of your plant fading, it may be because it has limited light exposure. Place it in a sunnier spot to invigorate it.
Another common issue is root rot, which is commonly identified by rapidly yellowing leaves, stunted growth, and soft, rotting stems. When this happens, cut off the rotted parts and replant the healthy cuttings in a new pot of soil. If your soil retains too much moisture, add perlite or coarse sand to the soil to improve drainage.
Pests: Although wandering Jews are rarely prone to pests, you may occasionally spot spider mites and aphids. Since spider mites prefer warm dry areas, keep your plants misted and watered regularly. You can wash the leaves with water to get rid of pests. For more serious infestations, you can cut the infected area and dispose of it or apply natural insecticides.
Growing Wandering Jew Outdoors
Wandering Jew can be planted outdoors if you live in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 through 11. They prefer warm temperatures ranging between 60 – 80 degrees and high humidity. The are commonly used as ground covers because the low-trailing leaves easily cascade over large areas. Tradescantia pallida is the type used for ground cover.
They can also be grown in raised containers as a quick growing complement to taller plants, as shown in the photo. As wandering Jews have a tendency to spread quickly, a container makes it easy to prune and trim them. In areas with cool summers, situate the plant in full sun. In hotter areas, place them in partial shade, like on the porch.
The care instructions for plants outdoors are similar to those grown indoors. Plants grown in containers become unsightly over time, so it is recommended that you start new plants from cuttings. Make sure to use well-draining organic soil. If you decide to change your plans or want to get rid of it, it is easy to pull out old plants.