How to Plant and Grow Tradescantia

These long-stemmed plants can be grown as groundcovers or houseplants.

boat lily houseplant tradescantia
Photo:

BHG / Kelli Jo Emanuel

Growing tradescantia (also known as spiderwort) might cause flashbacks to the 1970s but it still merits its popularity as a houseplant or a groundcover. This tough tropical plant can have trailing or upright stems and colorful foliage. Depending on the species, tradescantias are typically purple and often variegated with silvers, greens, creams, even pinks, and occasionally gold. Many of the light-foliage varieties have dark purple undersides, which creates a dramatic effect.

Though not the main reason they are grown, many varieties produce small flowers that grace the attractive foliage. Most often these three-petal blossoms are pink, purple, or white and typically at the stem tips. However, in some species these flowers are at the base of the leaves in oysterlike clusters, hence the common name of oyster plant.

Tradescantia Overview

Genus Name Tradescantia
Common Name Tradescantia
Plant Type Annual, Houseplant
Light Part Sun, Shade, Sun
Height 6 to 12 inches
Width 1 to 3 feet
Flower Color Pink, Purple, White
Foliage Color Blue/Green, Gray/Silver, Purple/Burgundy
Special Features Good for Containers, Low Maintenance
Propagation Division, Layering, Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Groundcover

Where to Plant  Tradescantia

If you're planting tradescantia indoors, put it near a window that gets bright, indirect sunlight. If your tradescantia is planted outside, you'll need to check which variety you have before deciding where it will go. For the most part, these plants do best in full sun (except where it's very hot in the summer), but do well in shade, also.

Tradescantia Care Tips

Members of the Tradescantia genus are some of the simplest plants to grow, requiring little maintenance. They're also super easy to propagate and makes a wonderful pass-along plant for friends.

Light

Tradescantias are quite tolerant of different sun exposures. For the best coloring, plant in full sun, which generates the most blossoms possible. Inside, they tolerate just about any light level, but in shade, they may become washed-out looking. Too little sun causes leggy growth, meaning the stems grow in a stretched out way with few leaves on them. Indoor plants will benefit from spending some warm, sunny days outside in summer.

Soil and Water

Provide tradescantia with general-purpose potting mix and good drainage. When planted in the garden, most tradescantias prefer growing in moist soil with a pH pf 5 or 6. In warmer climates, they work beautifully as groundcover. Many of the trailing varieties form dense mats and will root everywhere the plants touch the ground.

Because of their fleshy stems, tradescantias can withstand an occasional drought. If they wilt, they'll usually perk up quickly after a good watering. In containers, water these plants regularly to keep the soil consistently moist.

Temperature and Humidity

Tradescantia will be happy in the same type of environment most people like. An indoor temperature of between 60-80°F is best for them. If tradescantia is grown outdoors, bring them in before the first frost, which can kill them.

Fertilizer

You don't have to feed Tradescantia, but they'll grow more robustly if you do give them a little fertilizer. Only add fertilizer to Tradescantia in the spring and summer. Use liquid fertilizer at half strength each month, or use a controlled-release fertilizer at planting time.

Pruning

Though it may not be necessary, an occasional pruning and grooming of tradescantias will make for a more appealing plant. Some types tend to lose their lower leaves, creating unattractive naked stems. This is easily remedied by pinching the growing tips to encourage more branching.

Potting and Repotting Tradescantia

Choose a pot with drainage holes and use fresh potting mix when you are planting tradescantia in a container. These plants don't need repotting very often, but if you notice roots poking out of drainage holes, choose a slightly larger container to move your plant into. The best time to repot tradescantia is in the spring.

Pests and Problems

The biggest pest for tradescantia is aphids, which can be washed away with a strong spray of water. Other than that, there aren't a lot of issues that affect these plants. Keep an eye on their leaves for any signs of bugs, but diseases are rare for this genus.

How to Propagate Tradescantia

Tradescantia can be propagated by division or from cuttings. Older plants with lots of growth are perfect for starting new plants from cuttings. This is easily done by snipping off a few inches of stem, removing the lower leaves (leave a few at the tip), and sticking the cutting in water or damp soil. When starting cuttings in water, once roots emerge, transplant to evenly moist soil. Cuttings in summer and fall will respond best to replanting.

Types of Tradescantia

There are 75 types of Tradescantia. Here are just a few of the most popular varieties you can grow.

Boat Lily

rhoco spatnacia houseplant
Marty Baldwin

Tradescantia spathacea has striking foliage, green on top and purple-maroon beneath. Its small white flowers are cradled in leaf axils, giving it the other common names of Moses-in-the-cradle and oyster plant. It is also sometimes called Rhoeo spathacea.

Silver Inch Plant

Jew Tradescantia plant
Mike Jensen

Tradescantia zebrina is a traditional easy-care houseplant with variegated olive and silver foliage with purple undersides. There's also a variety with leaves that are purple on both sides with silvery green stripes on the upper surface. Stems root readily in water or where they come in contact with soil.

Purple Heart

purple heart houseplant
Marty Baldwin

Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea' also goes by the name Setcreasea purpurea. It is sometimes grown as a groundcover outdoors. Indoors it needs bright light to bring out its attractive deep purple coloration. It can form small, short-lived, bright pink flowers.

Striped Inch Plant

Tradescantia fluminensis
Dean Schoeppner

Tradescantia fluminensis is a fast-growing vine with creamy yellow striations on its leaves. It is also known as Tradescantia albiflora.

'Tricolor' Boat Lily

setcresea houseplant
Jay Wilde

Tradescantia spathacea 'Tricolor' is a striking white, magenta, and green variegated form of boat lily. It has a finer texture and trails more readily.

White Velvet Spiderwort

white velvet wandering jew
Marty Baldwin

Tradescantia sillamontana has medium green leaves densely covered in woolly white hairs. Magenta-pink flowers in summer stand out against the silvery-white foliage.

Tradescantia Companion Plants

Giant Wood Fern

Giant wood fern is a shade-loving tough plant with a bold texture.

Foamflower

Foamflower is a low-growing perennial with white flowers.

Corydalis

Perfect for shade, corydalis is a perennial with showy blossoms.

Garden Plans for Tradescantia

Woodland Garden Plan

Lush Woodland Garden Plan
Illustration by Mavis Augustine Torke

Add color and foliage to a shady spot with this garden plan that includes three spiderworts.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is tradescantia considered invasive?

    If left unchecked, some groundcover tradescantia plants can become invasive. In fact, in South Africa and the Galapagos Islands, it's been classified as invasive and is no longer allowed to be planted or propagated. In the United States, the white-flowered spiderwort has been found to be invasive in some parts of the country, especially in Southern California and parts of South Florida.

  • Where did the name tradescantia come from?

    Tradescantia gets its name from Englishman John Tradescant, who first brought the plant to England from its native Mexico in the 17th century when he was documenting plants he found in the New World.

  • Does tradescantia have any medicinal uses?

    One type of tradescantia, the Virginia spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) was used by the Cherokee people and other Native American tribes for treating bug bites and rashes, as well as cancer.


Was this page helpful?
Related Articles