The wandering Jew plant is actually several varieties of Tradescantia that have collectively taken on the name. As the term “Wandering Jew” is controversial, they’re also frequently referred to as wandering dudes or inch plants. These fast-growing spiderwort plants can quickly become invasive, but if they’re grown indoors they’re very rewarding.
These plants are wonderful for hanging baskets or training to grow up structures, as long as they’re kept from spreading into the surrounding ecosystem. Regardless of which Tradescantia variety you end up with, care requirements are the same and you can expect the same behavior. They tolerate a bit of neglect, so they’re beginner-friendly and will survive if you decide to take a vacation but forget to set up a plant sitter for a week.
|Common Name||Wandering Jew, Wandering Dude, Inch Plant|
|Botanical Name||Tradescantia spp.|
|Native Areas||Central America, South America|
|Light/Sun Requirements||Bright, indirect sun|
|Watering||Thorough watering when topsoil is dry|
|Temperature/Humidity||50-85°F with 70% humidity|
|Soil||Well-draining, standard potting soil|
|Common Varieties||Quicksilver, Purple Heart, White Velvet, Tricolor|
|Hardiness Zones||USDA zones 9 to 11|
Because this plant is several plants falling under the Tradescantia genus, appearance varies depending on the type of inch plant you end up with. There are several common varieties, each with its own unique appearance. They range from green to purple, come in variegated forms, and are all quite striking as they trail and crawl from their pots and planters.
Most inch plants can grow up to three feet in length and up to 12” high. They’re evergreen perennials, meaning you’ll be able to enjoy your Tradescantia all year long. They make amazing groundcover, giving a bit more variety to the usual all-green fodder available, but should be kept in planters or well-groomed areas outside.
Tradescantia fluminensis, or Quicksilver, is a beloved variety of inch plant. Its leaves are mostly green but have delicate stripes of silver or white running lengthwise across them.
Tradescantia pallida, or Purple Heart, lives up to its name. This variety has bright violet stems and leaves and makes a big splash when left to cascade from a hanging basket. There is some variation in color and your plant could yield everything from its famous violet to a darker purple or even turquoise.
If you’ve picked up a Tradescantia zebrina, you have a tricolor inch plant on your hands! This is a breathtaking variety of Tradescantia. It has variegated foliage and eye-catching green and purple leaves. They sport thick white or silver stripes and look as if they take far more maintenance than this plant requires.
Tradescantia sillamontana, or White Velvet, is distinct from the other varieties on this list. Rather than smooth leaves, Tradescantia sillamontana has fuzzy leaves that are soft to the touch. If you successfully get your plant to flower, it produces multitudes of bright pink and purple flowers.
Tradescantia plants aren’t picky. They don’t have a demanding list of requirements and their needs are fairly basic for a houseplant. Because they grow and spread so quickly, you won’t be left waiting to enjoy the fruits of your labor, either. You’ll know you’re doing a great job as long as it continues to grow!
Adequate lighting is critical if you want your inch plant to maintain its bright color. After all, that’s the draw of the plant, so it would be disappointing to have it fade due to poor lighting conditions.
To keep your plant looking vibrant and healthy, opt for bright, indirect light. Too much direct sun can burn the leaves, so don’t leave it out to bake in full sun. Instead, find a great north-facing window that receives plenty of indirect light.
If your plant is outside, keep it in partial shade to take the edge off the hot afternoon sun. Full shade is fine, too, as long as you don’t notice any leggy growth or dull coloration start to come in.
Moist soil and moderate watering are the keys to Tradescantia’s continued happiness. These plants don’t do well with wet soil, but they prefer it to remain moist. A quick soil test will do the trick. Just press your fingertip into the soil, and water once you notice the top couple of inches are dry. Water thoroughly, until you see it draining from the bottom of the pot.
Cut back on watering during winter. The plant goes dormant and doesn’t require as much, so it’s easy to overdo things.
These creeping plants aren’t picky when it comes to soil. Get something well-draining and neutral and they’re satisfied. Standard potting soil is perfectly adequate. If you notice that it’s retaining too much water, you can always add perlite or other drainage material to prevent root rot from setting in.
Slow-release fertilizers are excellent options for Tradescantia. You can also apply a well-balanced fertilizer once per month (or every four weeks). Dilute your fertilizer to half-strength and feed your plant during the growing season. There’s no need to continue over winter, and doing so can actually harm your inch plant.
Wandering Jews don’t face cold temperatures or frosts in their native areas, typically, but household temperatures are perfectly acceptable. If you’re growing your plant indoors, you likely won’t need to adjust the temperature to suit them. They’ll adapt to you, instead. Anything from 50°F to 85°F is suitable, so most homes fit the bill without extra effort!
If you leave your Tradescantia outdoors and live in a climate that gets cold winters, bring them indoors. Frost can kill this plant, though there’s a possibility that it will return in spring. It’s best not to take the risk if you can just bring it inside, instead.
To keep your Tradescantia vibrant and plentiful, keep humidity levels high. Around 70% humidity is ideal. It’s simple enough to achieve with a well-placed humidifier or even daily misting. If you keep your inch plant in a hanging basket or pot, situate it near other plants to maintain humidity levels more easily.
If you’re struggling to maintain the perfect humidity level, don’t fret too much. This plant is fairly hardy and as long as you’re keeping up with its watering requirements, dropping below ideal humidity levels isn’t the end of the world.
Pruning is necessary to help your Tradescantia look its best. Regular pruning allows this plant to become full and bushy, rather than full of leggy growths. Remove any dead or decaying stems as you see them and cut away leggy areas with clean, sterilized pruning equipment. You can cut back the stems and pinch down the tips to promote new growth and help your plant look like a real showstopper.
The sap does irritate some people. If you’re new to caring for Tradescantia, it’s best to wear proper gardening gloves rather than take chances.
Propagation for this type of plant is exceedingly easy, which is why they seem to spread so quickly if left free to roam outdoors. Take a cutting between three and four inches long (make sure it has a handful of nodes) and place the cut end into your moist soil. Dipping it in rooting hormone before adding it to the soil helps, but it isn’t necessary. Water your cutting and place it into bright, indirect light. Keep the soil moist and wait for your new plant to grow!
If you prefer the water method, you can remove the bottom few leaves and place the cutting into a clean glass of water. Replace the water every few days and leave the container in indirect light. Once you see roots begin to grow, follow the same steps in the previous paragraph.
It’s okay for Tradescantia to get a little crowded, so you won’t need to repot frequently. Every two years will suffice. Upgrade your container by one size, and ensure that it has adequate drainage. Any type of container will work, but monitor its watering needs closely if you choose unglazed terracotta!
Pests and Insects
Tradescantia stand up well against pests, especially if they’re kept as indoor plants. Still, infestations can happen, and there are a few insects to look out for.
- Spider Mites – The best way to ward off spider mites is by keeping humidity levels high. Luckily, that’s what inch plants prefer! If you do notice the tell-tale spider mite webbing, notice brown spots or leaf damage, or even catch sight of one of the tiny red or brownish insects, take action. Rinse the leaves of your plant and treat it with plant-safe soaps or oils. Neem oil is great for many types of pests, spider mites included.
- Aphids – If you keep your plant outdoors, it’s at a higher risk for aphid infestation. They gather on the stems of your plant and drain its energy. If left to do their dirty work for long enough, you risk losing your whole plant. Wipe down the leaves and stems with a damp cloth and treat them with insecticidal soap or neem oil to keep aphids away.
Tradescantia plants are a marvelous addition to any plant lover’s collection. They’re easily kept indoors or outdoors and offer a wide range of colors and patterns. For a gorgeous spray of color, creeping cover, or a beautiful hanging basket, consider bringing home one of these plants.