Ah, the Tradescantia zebrina plant! This amazing bright color plant has the common name of the inch plant or wandering jew plant. They’re easy indoor plants to grow and look after. This is just the right plant to begin your gardening adventures.
The wandering jew is super easy to propagate. You can grow it in a pot à la bonsai, or you can let it grow wild enough to put in a hanging planter and let its tendrils trail off from your window sill for a rustic look.
It is one of the hardiest plants, notable for its bright, attractive foliage. You don’t have to worry about killing this plant. If your wandering jew has root rot, you can simply take a leaf node and grow a new one.
First let’s talk about how to care for a wandering jew. Let’s dive in and learn the basics of taking care of one.
A species of the spiderwort plants, the wandering jew goes by many names. You may know it as “inch plant” or by its Latin name “Tradescantia zebrina.” Its former Latin name was “Zebrina pendula.” It is also nowadays called “wandering dude.”
Native to Mexico, this species of the wandering jew has traveled across the world from South America and Africa to Asia and Australia. Usually grown indoors, this these tropical plants grow well outdoors in warmer climates.
The wandering jew is a herbaceous perennial that can grow 6 to 9 inches high and 12 to 24 inches wide. It has gorgeous, colorful foliage and dangling tendrils. Its purple and deep green leaves are thin and heart-shaped. They have beautiful silver stripes, which are the reason for the “zebra” in its Latin name.
It has small flowers with three petals, usually white or violet.
Note that while this is the most common variety of the plant, other plants in the Tradescantia genus are also called wandering jews. It includes the Tradescantia pallida, also known as purple heart, purple queen, or purple secretia, with deep purple foliage, pointy, elongated leaves, and pale flowers.
The third species, Tradescantia fluminensis, is notable for its long, dark green leaves and white flowers with three petals. You can also refer to them as the wandering gypsy, wandering willie, small-leaf spiderwort, and river spiderwort. This variety of Tradescantia is considered more invasive than the others, often considered a pest rather than an ornamental houseplant.
Wandering jew plants may be toxic to animals, causing adverse skin reactions or upset stomach. This plant’s sap can also trigger skin rashes, so keep it away from children and those with sensitive skin.
General Wandering Jew Plant Care Instructions
Now that you know exactly what the wandering jew is. Here are some care tips:
The wandering jew grows best in bright indirect light. For its optimal growth, place them on an east-facing windowsill. They can also grow in low-light conditions but expect them to lose their silver streaks over time. Aside from reverting its leaves to green, not enough light can also prevent it from blooming.
Conversely, too much direct bright light and heat may stunt its growth. Make sure it’s getting an adequate amount of light. Turn your pot about a few times a month to ensure that the plant grows evenly.
The wandering jew loves a good watering, but not consistently moist soil. It’s best to let the soil partially dry out before the next watering.
A good rule of thumb is to water it when the top two inches of the soil feels dry, or when the plant’s leaves look leggy, brown, or crispy, or are curling up or dropping. However, some leaf drop near the plant’s base is normal.
Avoid overwatering, too, or else the leaves will turn yellow, and the stems will start to turn soft and rot. Don’t water directly into the center of the plant. Allow the pot to drain completely after watering.
During winter months, growth becomes slow, so reduce your watering sessions in these months.
As mentioned earlier, this plant can grow indoors or outdoors as long as it’s kept in a warm, humid environment. It thrives in temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It would do best in a room with a high humidity level such as a bathroom.
Type of Soil
For this easy-to-care-for plant, a good, all-purpose potting soil with any pH will do, as long as it drains well. This is because the plant needs to stay moist but not soggy. Too much moisture can lead to root rot.
You can also add a little sand and perlite to your soil mixture to enhance drainage.
How to Take a Cutting
These house plants grow extremely fast. Pruning is necessary so they can grow healthy. Pruning your plant encourages new growth.
It’s best to cut off long stems from a healthy, mature plant and root it in the same container beside the mother plant.
To take a cutting, aka slip, use a pair of clean, sharp scissors rubbed with alcohol and cut the stem below a node, a small protrusion that looks like a bud. It’s where a bud or leaf starts to grow and where roots develop during propagation.
If you can’t find a node, cut the stem right below the newest leaf. A cutting that is 4 to 6 inches long propagates well.
How to Propagate in Water
Propagating plants in water is a traditional gardening method apt for hardy plants like the wandering jew. It’s also an easy way to get new plants from your original one! To propagate this plant in water, follow the steps below:
Fill a propagation station or another container, such as a jar, vase, glass, cup, or test tube with water.
Using a pair of scissors, cut off a 4- to 6-inch-long stem of the plant at a 45-degree angle just below a node. Remove the old leaves from the base of each stem.
Place the cuttings or slips in the container filled with water. Ensure that the leaf node at the bottom stays submerged in water and that the leaves stay above the container’s rim. You’ll see new roots start to grow within a week or two.
Change the water every three days to keep pests away.
After around 2 or 3 weeks, the new roots would be a couple of inches long. At this point, plant the stem cuttings upright in a pot filled halfway with potting soil mixture. Place the new plant on a sunny windowsill. Water and fertilize it as usual.
How to Propagate Directly in Soil
To propagate a wandering jew in soil, here’s what you need to do:
Fill a pot, hanging basket, or another type of container with moistened, all-purpose potting soil mix to about an inch or two below the rim.
Take plant cuttings that are 4 to 6 inches long by cutting at a 45-degree angle just below a leaf node, using a sharp, clean, sterilized blade or pair of scissors. Remove the old leaves from the bottom of the stems. You can dip the stems in rooting hormone before planting if you wish to speed up the propagation process.
Make 2-inch-deep holes in the soil. Plant a cutting in each hole. Now gently pat the soil around the cuttings.
Seal the container with a plastic bag or sheet and secure the plastic with a string or rubber band. Care for the cuttings as usual. You don’t need to water them, though, as the plastic will keep the soil moist for a few weeks.
Once you see new roots in about a month, you can remove the plastic covering and start watering the plant.
Care After Rooting
Follow the guidelines above related to soil, temperature, watering, and light to care for the plant. Fertilizing the plant every month promotes healthy growth.
To fertilize the plant, take about 1/2 teaspoon of water-soluble fertilizer and add it to a gallon of water. Mix it well and feed this mixture to the plant. Once the plant matures, fertilize every other week during the spring and summer months and once every month during autumn and winter.
Spider mites and mealybugs are a few pests commonly seen on wandering jews. If you see any on your plant, rinse them off with water and spray the plant with insecticidal soap or rubbing alcohol more often to keep them at bay.
After about a year, the plant may begin to look leggy and drop leaves near the base of the stems. At this stage, take cuttings from healthy branches and plant them near the aging plant in the same container. Do the same if you see root rot.
Remove discolored, dried, brown, and crispy leaves regularly.
Are They Easy to Propagate?
Wandering jews are incredibly hardy and adapt well to different humidity levels and conditions, making them easy to propagate. Just a little care is all they need.
Can You Propagate Wandering Jew from a Leaf?
A leaf node is all it takes to propagate the wandering jew. Simply cut off a healthy stem at the leaf node and plant it in a pot, as outlined earlier.
Why Is My Wandering Jew So Leggy?
Despite your best efforts, your wandering jew will naturally grow spindly and leggy after a few years, as the plant has a short lifespan of 2 to 3 years. In this case, take a few cuttings from healthy branches and plant them in the same container or another one.
However, if your plant is not even a year old, the leggy growth may be due to insufficient water or light. Place the plant in an area with more sunlight, water it a bit more often, and see the difference after a week or so.