Where to plant spiderwort?

Choosing the right perennials for your garden can seem a little overwhelming at first. There are so many gorgeous blooms available. Spiderwort also known as Tradescantia is a stunning addition with it’s small and abundant blooms that add beauty for months. As the blooms fade they can become almost translucent with pretty teardrop-like petals. This led to the commonly used nickname ‘widows tears’. Whether you love the blossoms in spring, the ethereal quality of the ‘tears’ as they fade, the verdant green abundance of the leaves all year, or the ease of growing it, Spiderwort should be on every gardener’s go-to list.

Contents

Spiderwort History and Use

In addition to its beauty, Spiderwort has a rich history. It is used by First Nation people throughout North America for its value as a food and medicine. Every part of Spiderwort is edible. Though bitter, Spiderwort seeds can be roasted and eaten or ground into a flour. The roots and blossoms both add to salads and the leaves can be used in salads, soups or even brewed for tea. Additionally, the blossoms have been used to treat nosebleeds. The petals are dried out and ground to a fine powder which is then inhaled to help stop the blood flow.

Varieties and Lifestyle

There are an incredible seventy species of Spiderwort native to North America. At least one of these is endangered, so always be careful if you harvest wild Spiderwort. Around 1600 it was also introduced to Europe so Spiderwort can now be found in other parts of the world. Here on the North American continent, Spiderwort is found in hardiness zones 4-9 and blooms from May until June. It prefers a soil PH between 5.8 and 6.8 so it likes things a touch acidic, though it has been known to adapt fairly readily to sub-prime Spiderwort conditions. At it’s prime you can expect the fully grown plants to reach 12-2 inches in height.

Care and Feeding

You can, of course, start with seed, though most Tradescantia seed is a mix of colors so you may want to seek out pre-sprouted plants at local nurseries if you want a specific color. Another easy option is to simply propagate from an existing patch. If you start new plants in the ground in spring they will flourish easily in a moist and well-drained soil. Spiderwort is happiest in the full sun, however, if your soil is a bit sandy you may want to plant in the partial shade instead. This may affect the number of blooms adversely, but Spiderwort is so enthusiastic that you’re likely not to notice the difference. No deadheading is ever necessary in order to get such abundance, and it will tend to self-sow enthusiastically if you aren’t careful to prune it back and limit the growth manually.

Pests and Problems

Tradescantia varieties are incredibly hardy and though they can occasionally suffer from a few leaf-spotting diseases, it’s rare. Naturally the younger plants are the most susceptible to any troubles, but generally, Spiderwort is easy to keep. Watch for slugs and snails, as they also like similar soil conditions. Beyond those minor issues, it will resist deer and has no other serious pest issues.

Design Elements

The unique three-petaled flowers are low-slung stars in any location during the long bloom season. While individual blooms don’t last very long, but they are replaced so quickly that it hardly matters. Spiderwort’s grassy looks will blend well into the background when they are out of bloom. They make fine edgings but are also happy to go wild and fill a bed of their own if you allow them to do so. Use Spiderwort as borders near taller plants that won’t block off all their light or compete too much for resources and they will be perfectly happy.

Conclusion

Hardy and enthusiastic with a variety of colors ranging from blue and violet to pinks and even white, Spiderwort is incredibly versatile. It makes excellent path edging and the pretty and unique three-petaled blossoms will fill your garden with color for a quarter of the year. Tradescantia is one of the easier perennials to cultivate, far from labor-intensive and not overly sensitive. You’ll probably spend more time holding it back than trying to make it grow and find you have very little to worry about other than directing the plant growth where you most want it.

Spiderwort

Spiderwort

While a name like spiderwort may be misleading, this resilient perennial should have a home in everyone’s garden. With slender, graceful foliage and bright jewel-tone blossoms, spiderworts are easy to use in any garden design. These plants may not have the showiest blooms, but they certainly make up for it with quantity. They are also extremely forgiving, and have no problem multiplying.

genus name
  • Tradescantia
light
  • Part Sun,
  • Shade,
  • Sun
plant type
  • Perennial
height
  • Under 6 inches,
  • 6 to 12 inches,
  • 1 to 3 feet
width
  • 8 to 36 inches wide, depending on variety
flower color
  • Blue,
  • Purple,
  • White,
  • Pink
foliage color
  • Blue/Green,
  • Chartreuse/Gold
season features
  • Spring Bloom,
  • Fall Bloom,
  • Summer Bloom
problem solvers
  • Deer Resistant,
  • Groundcover,
  • Drought Tolerant
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Good for Containers
zones
  • 4,
  • 5,
  • 6,
  • 7,
  • 8,
  • 9,
  • 10,
  • 11
propagation
  • Division,
  • Seed,
  • Stem Cuttings

Garden Plans For Spiderwort

Image zoom

Colorful Combinations

With their simple foliage and small flowers, spiderworts are great companions to many other plants. The flowers of spiderwort are generally three petals, which are born at the tips of foliage stems, and often in clusters. Usually just a few blooms in each cluster are open at once, and all of the blooms are only open for a single day. Luckily, there are generally many buds per stalk, and the bloomtime can last up to three months.

Spiderwort Care Must-Knows

Spiderworts are pretty simple plants that do not need a lot of special care. Native to the Western Hemisphere, there are a large variety of spiderworts on the market. With tropical and perennial options, there are many different spiderworts to choose from. Luckily, general care of these plants is fairly universal.

Spiderworts aren’t too picky when it comes to exposure. Many varieties are just as happy in part shade as they are in full sun. A few even prefer part shade, especially when protected from the hot afternoon sun. There are even some species that will do just fine in full shade.

Most spiderworts prefer to be planted in saturated, well-drained soil. Some species can handle drought much better than others and can even do fine in consistently drier soils. In very dry soils, especially in the summer, plants may go dormant, which can commonly happen in southern climates with hot summers. Foliage is generally the first thing to decline, becoming yellowed and limp. When this happens, plants can be cut back to the ground. Come fall and cooler temperatures, many species of spiderwort will happily begin again, sending up new shoots and sometimes new blooms.

See flowers that thrive in wet soils.

Potential Problems

Despite the ease of growth with spiderworts, there are a few things to note when you are planting them. Spiderworts are susceptible to leaf spot diseases, and once they begin to get it, plants start to decline. Luckily, this generally will not kill the plants, and as long as foliage is removed, the next re-sprouting should be clean. Spiderworts also tend to be aggressive seeders, which in some garden settings may become a nuisance. These seedlings can easily be removed, and by deadheading spent blooms, you can prevent aggressive seeding.

More Varietiesof Spiderwort

‘Bilberry Ice’ spiderwort

Tradescantia ‘Bilberry Ice’ offers white blooms with a lavender-purple blush at the center. It blooms in early summer and grows 2 feet tall. Zones 4-9

‘Sweet Kate’ spiderwort

Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ has bright yellow foliage that emerges in late spring. The brilliant purple flowers are dramatic against the leaves. It grows to 15 inches tall. Zones 4-8

‘Innocence’ spiderwort

Tradescantia ‘Innocence’ bears pure white flowers in early to midsummer. It grows 2 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-9

Spiderwort

Tradescantia x andersoniana has broadly grassy leaves that clasp the fleshy stems. Clusters of buds top the stems opening sequentially to jewel-tone flowers, each lasting only a day. It grows 3 feet tall. Zones 5-9

Plant Spiderwort With:

One of the longest bloomers in the garden, coreopsis produces (usually) sunny yellow daisylike flowers that attract butterflies. Coreopsis, depending on the variety, also bears golden-yellow, pale yellow, pink, or bicolor flowers. It will bloom from early to midsummer or longer—as long as it’s deadheaded.

Lady’s mantle looks great in the garden and in a vase. Its scalloped leaves catch rain or dewdrops, making them look dusted with jewels. The chartreuse flowers appear in playful, frothy clusters above the foliage. Lady’s mantle is ideal for softening the edge of a shaded path or creating a groundcover in dappled shade.

Also known as red valerian for its rosy pink flowers, Jupiter’s beard is one of the longest-blooming perennials in the garden, provided you remove spent flower heads. Deadheading not only prolongs bloom, but also prevents self seeding. In some regions, Jupiter’s beard has escaped from gardens and become a nonnative wildflower.

These vigorous growers are beautiful additions to the garden. They vary form, including types that are tall, stately plants suitable for borders and others that are more like creeping groundcovers. Flowers are tight spikes of 1/2-inch to 1-inch cups carried alone or in whorls. Humus-rich, moisture-retentive soil is recommended; some varieties enjoy wet soil and ample water. Several sorts may become invasive and need to be controlled. Note: These are not the invasive purple loosestrife, which has been banned in many parts of the United States.

Planting period

Tradescantia can either be purchased as a plant in the gardening center or it can also be cultivated from seeds. Already pre-cultivated tradescantia are not planted in the bed before the last frost in the middle of May or alternatively, at the end of September to beginning of October.

If you want to cultivate the exceptional tradescantia from seeds by yourself, you should sow them about eight weeks before planting (middle of March). A sowing in spring is also suitable for indoor plants, since the light conditions there are optimal for the growing spiderworts.

Planting in beds

As soon as the temperatures in spring are permanently free from frost, the tradescantia can be planted in the bed or in a pot as well. A good preparation of the soil provides the best conditions for a good growth and rich flowering. For this reason, it makes sense to rake the soil well before planting and remove old roots, weeds and stones.

The plant can directly be planted in humous, well permeable gardening soil. Very sandy soils should be improved by adding a good portion of compost or humous gardening soil. Heavy substrates become more permeable when adding sand or grit.

  • planting distance: one half of the plant’s height
  • depending on the variety, between 20 and 30 cm
  • in the case of heavy soils, add a drainage layer made of gravel or grit

Press the soil slightly and water the tradescantia penetratingly. If tradescantia are watered regularly in the beginning, they will quickly grow new roots. The bushy growing plants are prone to rapid, large-scale growth, which is why initial gaps will close in a short time. In order to prevent the tradescantia from overloading the garden bed after a couple of years, it should be cut off at regular intervals, or a root barrier should be installed right from the beginning.

Planting in pots

All tradescantia can be kept as indoor cultures, but the species that do not tolerate frost and therefore require warm temperatures all the year, are especially predestined. The plants can also spend a couple of days or weeks in a sheltered place outside when the weather is warm. All pots have to be equipped with a drainage hole, so excess water can be released.

The pot is filled with a layer of grit or expanded clay to form a good drainage. You should only use a high-quality substrate or a self-made substrate mixture, in order to provide the plant with the ideal prerequisites for a good start.

Watering

Tradescantia like it a little more moist, but not wet. You should therefore pour your plants regularly, especially those that grow in pots. A quick thumb test can be done to determine whether the substrate is still moist enough.

If the upper soil layer has already dried, the tradescantia needs water. Excess water has to be removed from the saucer after a couple of minutes to prevent waterlogging. Outdoor plants require additional water only when there are longer periods of drought. A layer of mulch protects the soil from drying too fast.

Succulent species such as Tradescantia navicularis or Tradescantia sillamontana are watered somewhat more sparingly, but must not dry out for a longer time either. It is best to pour as soon as the substrate has dried off about halfway through.

Fertilizing

Bedding plants can be supplied with nutrients for the whole season by adding compost in spring. As an alternative, it is also possible to mix the soil with some horn shavings. Potted plants or indoor plants are fertilized with some liquid fertilizer via the pouring water every four weeks during the growth period between April and August.

Trimming

Tradescantia that grow inside, do not need to be cut back. However, the plant tolerates being shortened all the year, in the case that it has grown too high or uneven. But more than a third of the shoot length should not be cut back. If faded plant parts are removed regularly, the tradescantia will flourish persevering and for a long time.

Garden plants, on the other hand, should be radically cut back once a year. As the tradescantia calms in autumn and the leaves wither, all the overground plants can be cut back to about 10 cm above the ground.

However, you should not do this too early, because after the flowering period, the perennial stores nutrients in the root in order to be strong enough to shoot healthily and vigorously the next spring. So wait with cutting back, until the leaves are faded or dried. Also for outside plants, the regular removing of withered flowers provides a large replenishment.

Overwintering

Overwintering the tradescantia is very simple. Indoor plants just have to be watered a little less, since the growth period ends in September. Also, fertilizing is stopped until spring. Garden plants remain where they are and do not require winter protection in sheltered locations, because they can usually easily stand frosts down to -20 degrees Celsius.

Potted plants can either be taken inside to overwinter in the warm from the beginning of September or they can spend the winter in a protected area outside.

  • indoor plants: inside during the whole year, just stop fertilizing
  • bedded plants: no need of winter protection in sheltered places
  • cover all other plants with some brushwood or foliage
  • potted plants: place them on polystyrene board, cover the pot with fleece

From the end of March or the beginning or April, depending on the weather, the winter protection can be removed. Tradescantia that have been overwintered inside, get habituated to the outside temperatures and the sun slowly from the beginning of May. When the weather is warm, they are initially left outside during the day, before they may remain outside from mid-March.

Propagating

Tradescantia can be propagated by using scions or seeds. The easiest is to propagate by dividing older perennials.

Dividing

Since the tradescantia shows a strong and fast growth, it should be divided about every three years. This rejuvenation does not only support its willingness to flower, but produces a second plant at the same time.

  • time: From spring to autumn
  • divide the root ball with a spade
  • cut off dead roots and plant parts
  • plant both parts immediately
  • add some compost
  • water well

This method is of the advantage that you receive two plants with the same properties by dividing. A single-origin propagation is often not possible when using self-collected seeds. In addition, the plants already have a pleasant height.

Scions

The spiderworts can be multiplied by using terminal-cuttings all year round. For this purpose, an about 10 cm long, strong shoot is cut off. In the case of outdoor plants, propagation through cuttings is of course only possible during the vegetation period.

  • time: all year (preferably in early summer)
  • remove the leaves from the lower third
  • place 6 to 8 cuttings in one pot
  • substrate: peat moss and sand in equal parts
  • moisten the substrate slightly
  • choose a bright location (without direct sun)

When the rooting has taken place, which is indicated by the bud of new leaves, the scions can be separated. From then, the young plants are treated and cultivated just like adult tradescantia.

Seeds

Mature seeds can be collected and sown. However, in the case of special breeds (hybrids), it is very likely that the seedlings no longer show certain characteristics of the original tradescantia, such as a particular flower color. Pre-cultivation on the window sill takes place about eight weeks before planting, which is in the middle of March.

The seeds from outdoor plants can directly be sown outside either in autumn or in March. Garden tradescantia reliably propagate by themselves through self-seeding, without ever getting invasive and displacing other plants.

  • time: Middle of March (outside cultivation and pre-cultivation)
  • in the case of outdoor also in autumn
  • outdoor: Seeding rows with a distance of about 15 cm
  • propagators or indoor greenhouse
  • substrate: Cultivation soil
  • moisten the substrate and sprinkle the seeds on top
  • germ-time: 10 to 20 days
  • location: bright without direct sun

Varieties

For tradescantia, you differentiate species that require warm locations all year round (indoor plants) and those that can be planted as perennials in the garden, as they are hardy.

Indoor plants (not hardy)

  • Tradescantia blossfeldiana: succulent species
  • Tradescantia discolor (purple-leaved tradescantia)
  • Tradescantia fluminensis (white-flowered spiderworts, Rio-tradescantia)
  • Tradescantia navicularis: succulent variety
  • Tradescantia pallida (Red leaf tradescantia)
  • Tradescantia sillamontana: Slightly succulent
  • Tradescantia zebrina

Garden plants (hardy)

  • Tradescantia bracteata
  • Tradescantia pilosa
  • Tradescantia subaspera
  • Tradescantia virginia (Virginian tradescantia)

Diseases

In addition to its ease of care, the tradescantia – whether cultivated inside or outside – has another pleasant characteristic: It almost never gets sick. Once mistakes in plant care such as drought and waterlogging are excluded, tradescantia are almost never being diagnosed with diseases. If the multi-colored varieties lose their color, this is because the plant stands too dark.

Pests

In the case of indoor plants, the usual pests like aphids or mites occur in rare cases. In the initial stage, they can be washed off with lukewarm water.

Spiderwort Flowers – Tips For Growing And The Care Of Spiderwort Plant

Yet another wildflower favorite and must-have for the garden is the spiderwort (Tradescantia) plant. These interesting flowers not only offer something different to the landscape but are extremely easy to grow and care for.

So how did such a lovely plant get such an unusual name? While no one may know for certain, some people think the plant was named for the way its flowers hang down like spiders. Others believe it comes from its medicinal properties, as it was once used to treat spider bites.

Regardless of how the plant got its name, spiderwort is well worth having in the garden.

About Spiderwort Flowers

The three-petaled spiderwort flowers are usually blue to purple, but may also be pink, white or red. They only remain open for a day (blooming in morning hours and closing at night), but the multiple flowers will continually bloom for up to four to six weeks in summer. The plant’s foliage consists of arching grass-like leaves that will grow about a foot or two in height, depending on the variety.

Since spiderwort plants grow in clumps, they’re great for use in borders, edging, woodland gardens and even containers. You can even grow spiderwort as an indoor plant if garden space is limited.

Growing Spiderworts

Growing spiderworts is easy and you’ll find the plants to be quite resilient. They’re hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 4-9 and will tolerate more than what one would expect. Spiderworts typically grow in moist, well-drained and acidic (pH 5 to 6) soil, though I have found the plants to be quite forgiving in the garden and tolerant of many soil conditions. Spiderwort plants do best in partial shade but will do equally well in sunny areas as long as the soil is kept moist.

Spiderworts can be grown from purchased plants or propagated through division, cuttings or seed. Plant them in spring about 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm.) deep and 8 to 12 inches (20-30.5 cm.) apart. Stem cuttings in summer or fall will easily root in the soil. Seeds can be sown outdoors in either fall or early spring and should be lightly covered.

If starting spiderwort seeds indoors, do so about eight weeks prior to transplanting outside. It should take anywhere from 10 days to six weeks for germination to occur. Hardened seedlings can be transplanted outdoors about a week after the last spring frost.

Spiderwort as an Indoor Plant

You can grow spiderwort indoors too as long as suitable conditions are given. Provide the plant with either a soilless mix or loam-based potting compost and keep it in bright filtered light. You should also pinch out the growing tips to encourage bushier growth.

Allow it to spend warm spring and summers days outdoors, if feasible. During its active growth, water moderately and apply a balanced liquid fertilizer every four weeks. Water sparingly in winter.

Care of Spiderwort Plants

These plants like to be kept fairly moist, so water regularly, especially if you’re growing them in containers. Cutting the plants back once flowering has ceased can often promote a second bloom and will help prevent re-seeding. Cut the stems back about 8 to 12 inches (20-30.5 cm.) from the ground.

Since spiderwort is a vigorous grower, it’s probably a good idea to divide the plants in spring every three years or so.

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer

4 ratings

Monday – February 25, 2008

From: Rochester, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of plant that looks like a spider plant
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Okay Mr. Smarty Pants, I have an identification for you. I have no pictures, but I’ve been staring at this plant for weeks trying to figure out what it is. I got it as a cutting from a friend who got it as a cutting from a friend and so on. It grows very similarly to a spider plant. Offshoots hanging down, but growing up. The leaves are wider and more uniformly colored than a spider plant as well. Overall has a more “lush” look. In the two years I’ve been seeing my friend’s, I’ve never seen a flower of any sort on it. Seems to do fine in moderate lighting, with weekly waterings. In my new little baby cuttings, the very edges of the leaves are a slightly reddish purple. Not much info, but any ideas?

ANSWER:

First, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s focus and expertise are with plants native to North America. Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are native to South Africa and your plant that looks like a spider plant is probably not native to North America. Since it probably isn’t native we aren’t going to be able to tell you much about it, but we can point you in the right direction to find out about it yourself. Since there are close to 200 species of spider plants in the Genus Chlorophytum, yours could be one of those other species. However, since Chlorophytum comosum is the most common species, you probably have one of its many varieties. If you scroll down on the Glasshouse Works page, you can see several different varieties of C. comosum. Look especially at C. comosum ‘Mandianum’. You can also search for more varieties by Googling on the scientific name of the plant. If none of these looks like your plant, perhaps you or your friend could take a photo of her more mature plant and send it to us to identify. You can find instructions for submitting photos for identification on the Ask Mr. Smarty Plants page under “Plant Identification”.

By the way, purple leaf edges can be caused by environmental or nutritional conditions and are not necessarily normal for your plant and, thus, not an identification feature.

More Plant Identification Questions

Visual difference between Strophostyles umbellata and S. helvola
September 06, 2012 – I know that Strophostyles umbellata is perennial and S. helvola is an annual, but can you tell me how to visibly distinquish between S. umbellata and S. helvola.
view the full question and answer

Plants indigenous to Sedona, AZ
July 07, 2010 – I live in Sedona AZ and I want to plant indigenous plants in my garden. Is there a list of AZ native plants shrubs and trees that are indigenous to Sedona? If there is no list that is specific f…
view the full question and answer

Difference between Oxalis debilis and Oxalis violacea
June 22, 2015 – There are two species of pink oxalis reported to grow here in Jefferson County, Oxalis debilis (introduced) and O. violacea (native). How can I positively identify which one I have growing in my yard?
view the full question and answer

Identification of possible toxic plant in Austin, TX
June 20, 2014 – When we hike with our dogs along Turkey Creek in Austin, they seem to make a bee line to a small green leafy plant when they find it along the trail and eat a few leaves of it. We assume it’s not dan…
view the full question and answer

Plant identfication for Roosevelt Park, NY
August 28, 2009 – Looking for the name and chemical breakdown of a tree. Its leaves are green with heart like puffs blooming out. This tree was seen at Roosevelt Park, Long Island NY 11575
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

How to divide Spiderworts – and lots of other perennials

Spiderworts in their May and July glory.

by Susan Harris

The violet flowers were no more, the foliage was looking ratty, and it was time to prune these Spiderworts (Tradescantia virginiana) and prune ’em hard. With any luck, they’ll grow new foliage and look good again in a couple of weeks or so. Anyway, it beats letting them look ratty for the rest of the season.

But while they have their new haircuts it’s a great time to also divide the two larger clumps in order to cover some bare ground in my perennial border and simply produce a larger, fuller mass of this perennial favorite of mine.

Newly pruned

These clumps are big enough to divide into four pieces each.

How to Divide Spiderworts, Hostas, Tall Sedums, Liriope, etc.

1. Dig up completely, as in the picture above.

2. Slice through the root mass with a knife to produce good-sized chunks. My favorite perennial-dividing knives are steak knives from the dollar store – 4 for a dollar. They gradually get dull, so I have to buy another 4-pack every few years but it’s still the cheapest tool in the shed. All the perennials listed above are easy to cut through but none easier than this Spiderwort, which I’d never divided before. After the first slice I declared aloud: “Cuts like buttah” (with apologies to a famous Saturday Night Live sketch).

3. Place the new divisions in the garden where you want them, then step away from those plants! Literally – step back so you can check to make sure that’s where you want them. (This step is especially important for plants that are harder to replant – like trees and shrubs. unfortunately, it’s a step I’ve sometimes ignored it in my haste.)

4. Plant, and mulch around them.

5. Water well. In this heat, I’ll keep watering daily for a few days, then keep an eye on them for the rest of the season. Mid-summer is a terrible time to move or divide anything, but I think these guys will survive – thanks to good watering and the severe haircut they’d already received. That’ll keep them from losing lots of moisture through the leaves.

Divisions placed where I want them, before planting.

Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

I received this question from a reader:

I have several spiderwort (transcandentia) in a variety of colors. I love the plants, however, their bloom only lasts until late afternoon, then they close up.

Is there anything I can do to extend their bloom time or is this just typical of the plant?

Also, can they be cut back to bring another full blooming young plant at a certain time during the summer?

Thanks,

Dawn Brennan

I have spiderwort, and mine close up in the afternoon, too.

My spiderwort seems to be done for the season, so if there’s a way to get more blooms out of it, I’d like to know!

Readers, can you help with these spiderwort questions? If so, please share by leaving a comment below.

Background:

I’m not a gardening expert. I’m a writer by profession who interviews knowledgeable people in order to provide you with great articles on Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com.

So when someone asks a question I can’t answer, I post the question and rely on my readers to share their expertise.

A more efficient route for getting your questions answered is to turn to Master Gardeners with Cornell Cooperative Extension or to turn to your local garden center.

There are helpful Cornell Cooperative Extension offices in other counties, too. Find contact information here for your county’s Cooperative Extension office.

The businesses that support this magazine have very knowledgeable staff. Check out our Gardening Directory and Garden Resources or click on an ad to get their contact information.

How to Grow Tradescantia Plants

Guide to Growing Spiderwort, Wandering Jew, and Trinity flower

Tradescantia are grown in the garden as hardy or half hardy perennials.

They range in height from 30 to 90 cm.

Many Tradescantia species have attractive foliage, which may be variegated or a lovely plummy purple colour.

Plants bloom in the summer, and with a little effort can be encouraged to bloom a second time in the autumn.

Some Tradescantia species carry beautiful tri-petalled flowers; these may be purple, blue or white.

Tradescantia ohiensis – Common Spiderwort by wackybadger.

Common names for Tradescantia include Spiderwort, Wandering Jew and Trinity flower.

Tradescantia Growing and Care Guide

  • Common Names: Spiderwort, Wandering Jew, Trinity flower, Purple queen, Wild Crocus.
  • Life Cycle: Hardy perennial. Half-hardy perennial.
  • Height: 12 to 36 inches (30—90 cm).
  • Native: Americas.
  • Growing Region: Zones 4 to 10.
  • Flowers: : Summer. Will repeat blooms in autumn if treated right.
  • Flower Details: Bright blue, pink, purple, white. Three petals. Six anthers. Flat.
  • Foliage: Monocot. Herbaceous. Alternate. Blade-like. Variegated. Plum, green.
  • Sow Outside: Cover seed. Start of spring – before the last light frost, or towards the end of autumn.
  • Sow Inside: Germination time: one to six weeks. Temperature: 70°F (21°C). Seven or eight weeks in advance. Transplant outdoors following the last frost. Space at 12 to 18 inches (30—45 cm).
  • Requirements and care: Partial shade, or full sun in cooler areas. Good drainage. Acidic soil pH 5 to 6. Fertile, moist soil. Regular watering. Deadhead to promote a second bloom. Tidy dead leaves and flowers. To maintain vigor, divide plants every three years. Propagate: by dividing in the spring in cooler areas or the autumn in warmer areas. Self-seeds freely.
  • Family:
  • Closely Related Species:
  • Miscellaneous: Genus is named after the English naturalists John Tradescant the elder and the younger. May cause allergies in pets. Can grow aggressively in rich soils.

How to Grow Spiderwort and Other Tradescantia

The seeds of Tradescantia plants such as Trinity flower, Wandering jew, and Spiderwort can be sown outdoors in either autumn or in early spring. The seeds should be lightly covered once sown. Depending upon their size Tradescantia should be spaced from 30 to 45 cm apart. Ideally the soil that they grow in will be moist, rich, well drained and acidic (pH 5 to 6). The plants do best in a partially shaded are but will tolerate sunny areas as long as the soil is kept moist.

If starting plants indoors, then sow about seven weeks in advance. It should take from 10 days to 6 weeks for Tradescantia seeds to germinate at a temperature of about 20 degrees centigrade. Transplant them outdoors about a week after the last frost of spring.

Caring for Tradescantia Plants

It is easy to care for Tradescantia species. They like a moist soil so water regularly. Cutting back once they have flowered should result in a second bloom in the autumn.

To maintain vigorous growth, plants should be divided every three years. Cut back dead foliage.

If you require more plants then they can be propagated by division in the spring.

Spiderworts can be compared to daylilies and dayflowers — each blossom lasts only one day. The common name refers to the many glistening hairs on the sepals and the buds. They resemble a spider’s nest of webs, especially when covered with dew (“wort” is an old English word for plant).

Perennial Flowers Image Gallery

Advertisement

Description of spiderwort: Spiderworts are weak-stemmed plants that grow up to 1 foot long. They produce a watery juice and have folded, straplike leaves. The 3-petaled flowers, opening at dawn and fading by mid-afternoon, are surrounded by many buds. Spiderwort ease of care: Easy.

How to grow spiderwort: Spiderworts want a good, well-drained garden soil in full sun or partial shade. In dry summers, they will need extra water. In too-rich soil, they grow quickly and tumble about. Even the newest types can become floppy by midsummer — so when flowering is through, cut the plants to the ground, and they will often flower again.

Propagating spiderwort: By division in spring or by seed.

Uses for spiderwort: Although fine in the sunny border, the newer spiderworts are best in areas of open shade, especially under tall trees.

Spiderwort related species: Tradescantia virginiana is the original species and is still found in many old country gardens. The flowers are usually 1 inch wide, violet-purple, and often very floppy.

Scientific name for spiderwort: Tradescantia x Andersoniana

If you love the spiderwort’s heliotropic flowers but don’t have an outdoor garden, consider growing it as a house plant. We’ll show you how in the next section.

Spiderwort spreads easily, thrives in sun and shade

The rain that descended on this area in the spring gave all of our plants a much-needed boost after last year’s drought. In our landscape, perennials and flowers that reseed themselves from year to year are prolific, especially Mirabilia jalapa (four o’clock), Monarda (bee balm), Aquilegia (columbine) and Tradescantia (spiderwort).

I’ve been growing spiderwort, a plant that some people in this area call blue-eyed grass, for years. I received my first hand-me-down spiderwort plants 16 years ago. I generally remember where I received a gifted plant, but the acquisition of this one escapes me.

Spiderwort is a perennial wildflower that spreads easily by reseeding, and thrives in both sun and shade. However, the plant blooms less prolifically in shade. Spiderwort propagates easily from root division and from stem cuttings. Once established, it thrives with little assistance.

The plant’s blue, three-petaled flowers decorate the garden all summer long. The blossoms open in the morning and close in late afternoon, but they reopen for two to three days. Spiderwort grows best in moist, well-drained, acidic soil, but will tolerate many types of growing conditions.

Most of our spiderwort grows in a bed of mixed wildflowers, but a few of the plants grow in a planting bed along the edge of the woods and in other areas of our landscape.

Spiderwort seeds may be sown by hand in fall or early spring. All that is necessary is to cover the seeds lightly with soil and water them when rain is scarce. They may take several weeks to propagate in early spring.

In our wildflower garden, spiderwort plants are combined with orange daylilies, yellow flag irises, multiple colored bearded irises, red bee balm, a large oakleaf hydrangea, salmon and purple-flowered columbine, and ornamental grass.

In mid-summer, once flowering slows, to rejuvenate spiderwort, cut the stems back to a few inches. The stems and foliage will grow and the plant will present a new round of flowers.

Carol (Bonnie) Link is an Etowah County Master Gardener and an experienced garden writer. Her weekly column is designed to help and encourage others in their gardening endeavors. Send questions or comments to [email protected]

Plant Database

Martin, Edwin M.

Tradescantia virginiana

Synonym(s): Ephemerum congestum, Tradescantia brevicaulis, Tradescantia congesta, Tradescantia rupestris, Tradescantia speciosa, Tradescantia virginiana var. alba, Tradescantia virginiana var. barbata

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (I)

Virginia spiderwort is a large but dainty perennial to 3 ft. with long, bright-green, narrow leaves. The thick clump of slender, branched stalks are topped by groups of blue or purplish, three-petaled flowers up to 2 in. across. Spiderwort flowers close by mid-day and last only one day. Blue-violet (sometimes white) flowers with showy, yellow stamens in a terminal cluster above a pair of long, narrow, leaf-like bracts.

Spiderworts are so named because the angular leaf arrangement suggests a squatting spider. The flowers open only in the morning; the petals then wilt and turn to a jelly-like fluid. Each hair on the stamens of this showy spiderwort consists of a chain of thin-walled cells; the hairs are a favorite subject for microscopic examination in biology classes because the flowing cytoplasm and nucleus can be seen easily. Other spiderworts with similar structure are Zigzag Spiderwort (T. subaspera), found from Virginia south to Florida and west to Missouri and Illinois, with blue flowers and a zigzag stem to 3 feet (90 cm) high; Ohio Spiderwort or Bluejacket (T. ohiensis), occurring from Massachusetts to Florida and throughout the Midwest, with rose to blue flowers and whitish bloom on the hairless stem and leaves; and Hairy-stemmed Spiderwort (T. hirsuticaulis), a hairy plant with light blue flowers, found from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Texas.

The genus is named after John Tradescant (1608-1662) who served as gardener to Charles 1 of England.

Tradescantia species will hybridize in just about any combination.

From the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Venation: Parallel
Leaf Margin: Entire
Size Notes: Usually around 2 feet tall.
Leaf: Green
Flower: Flowers 1 to 2 inches across
Fruit:
Size Class: 1-3 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Blue , Purple
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun , Jul , Aug
Bloom Notes: Flowers typically blue to lavender but occasionally white. Bloom period normally from early spring to June.

Distribution

USA: AL , CA , CT , DC , DE , GA , IA , IL , IN , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MO , MS , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , SC , TN , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: ON
Native Distribution: W. CT to WI, s. to GA, TN & e. MO; escaped in New England
Native Habitat: Meadows; open woods; limestone outcrops

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low , Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Very adaptable plant prefers humus-rich soil but will grow in a wide range of soils: moist/dry, clay/sand, acid/alkaline.
Conditions Comments: Juglones tolerant.

Benefit

Use Ornamental: Attractive seasonal color for a shady or sunny area.
Use Wildlife: Attracts bees.
Warning: POISONOUS PARTS: Leaves. Minor skin irritation if touched. Symptoms include skin irritation with redness and itching, but of low risk. Toxic Principle: Unidentified, possibly oxalate crystals. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Attracts: Butterflies
Nectar Source: yes

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Native Bees
Special Value to Bumble Bees
This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Propagation

Propagation Material: Root Division , Seeds
Description: Seeds sown fresh outdoors germinate in two weeks. Alternatively, seeds may be stored over winter and sown after a period of cold-moist treatment. A faster method of propagation is divide a large clump into several pieces. Divide in early fall or very e
Seed Collection: The small light-green capsule, surrounded by three green bracts is mature 2-3 weeks after flowering. A few days prior to splitting, the capsule becomes dry and papery. Collecting seeds is easiest by tying a small bag around the unsplit capsule. Store in sealed, refrigerated containers.
Seed Treatment: Cold-moist stratify.
Commercially Avail: yes
Maintenance: Under favorable conditions, these plants spread so rapidly by seed that they may need to be controlled. By dividing the plants every second year and by regular removal of slumping stalks (which root at the nodes when in contact with soil), the plants can be confined. Deadheading will encourage a second flowering in late summer.

National Wetland Indicator Status

Region: AGCP AK AW CB EMP GP HI MW NCNE WMVE
Status: FAC FAC FACU UPL UPL

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241).Click herefor map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Texas Discovery Gardens – Dallas, TX
Delaware Nature Society – Hockessin, DE
Mt. Cuba Center – Hockessin, DE

Bibliography

Bibref 928 – 100 easy-to-grow native plants for Canadian gardens (2005) Johnson, L.; A. Leyerle
Bibref 1620 – Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 1294 – The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.
Bibref 328 – Wildflowers of Texas (2003) Ajilvsgi, Geyata.
Search More Titles in Bibliography

From the Archive

Wildflower Newsletter 1987 VOL. 4, NO.1 – One Million Bequest Announced, Lady Bird Johnson On Celebrating Four Years, Spri…

Additional resources

USDA: Find Tradescantia virginiana in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Tradescantia virginiana in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Tradescantia virginiana

Metadata

Record Modified: 2013-09-09
Research By: TWC Staff

Go back

Spiderwort comes in many varieties, some with smooth leaves, others with hairy ones. All have trailing stems. Many are striped in white or white and pink. All have stalkless, pointed leaves. Some varieties produce white to bright pink flowers.

Spiderworts tend to lose their lower leaves as they age and should be pruned regularly or started from cuttings. Fast-growing, they can be grown from cutting to adult plant in only a few months.

Advertisement

Spiderwort Quick Facts:

Scientific Name: Tradescantia sp.

Common Names: Spiderwort, Inch Plant, Wandering Jew

Light Requirement for Spiderwort: Bright Light to Filtered Light

Water Requirement for Spiderwort: Evenly Moist

Humidity for Spiderwort: Average Home

Temperature for Spiderwort: House

Fertilizer for Spiderwort: Balanced

Potting Mix for Spiderwort: All-Purpose

Propagation of Spiderwort: Layering, Stem Cuttings

Decorative Use for Spiderwort: Hanging Basket, Table

Care Rating for Spiderwort: Very Easy

Want to learn about house plants by type? Try these:

Learn how to care for house plants:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Larry Hodgson is a full time garden writer working out of Quebec City in the heart of French Canada where he grows well over 3,000 species and varieties. His book credits include Making the Most of Shade, The Garden Lovers Guide to Canada, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, Houseplants for Dummies, and Ortho’s Complete Guide to Houseplants, as well as other titles in English and French. He’s the winner of the Perennial Plant Association’s 2006 Garden Media Award.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *