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Tradescantias are fantastic plants, known for their vibrant colors and trailing vines.
These plants are native to the Americas. Nowadays, though, they are found all over the world.
In nature, Tradescantias are creeping plants. They spread outwards along the ground, laying roots as they go. In warmer climates, they can be grown outdoors. But, be careful because they can become invasive.
Although they can grow outdoors, most often, you’ll find Tradescantias kept as houseplants. You’ll usually see them hanging in baskets or sitting atop plant stands with their vines trailing over the side.
There are roughly 85 species of Tradescantia. Leaf colors range from purples to silvers, greens, whites, or pinks.
Some of the more favored houseplant varieties include T. zebrina, T. fluminensis, and T. pallida. For additional popular varieties, take a look at this article from Homeplants Guide.
- Watering Your Tradescantia
- Light & Temperature Needs of Your Tradescantia
- Tradescantia Soil
- Maintaining Your Tradescantia
- Propagating Your Tradescantia
- Tradescantia Pests & Problems
How to care for your Tradescantia
1. Watering Your Tradescantia
Tradescantia stems have the ability to store water. So these plants are somewhat succulent in nature. This makes them a bit more drought tolerant than other tropical plants.
When watering your Tradescantia, water the plant thoroughly, then let the soil partially dry out before watering again. On average, the top inch or two of soil should feel dry.
But, although Tradescantias are more drought tolerant, that doesn’t mean you should let the soil dry out completely. They do like to retain some moisture.
Signs your Tradescantia is thirsty can include,
- The leaf color becomes a bit dull.
- The leaf texture becomes smoother and shinier.
- The leaf, itself, starts thinning out.
With a Tradescantia, you can either top or bottom water the plant.
Top watering, as the name suggests, means watering your plant from above. It’s the most common way to water a plant.
With bottom watering, the plant sits for a period of time in a tray or saucer filled with water. The plant’s roots then drink from the moist soil at the bottom of the pot.
With either method, make sure you use a pot with drainage holes. You can’t bottom water if the water can’t reach the soil. And if top watering, you don’t want water pooling at the bottom of the pot with no way for it to exit.
Although you want to retain some moisture, you don’t want the roots constantly wet. Your Tradescantia won’t like it.
So, it’s important to not overwater your plant.
Now, don’t fret too much if you accidentally overwater on occasion. Although they’re more succulent in nature, Tradescantias are not as prone to root rot as a true succulent would be.
The main thing is to not let overwatering become a habit. Before watering, check the soil. If it still feels moist, then leave off watering for a few days.
And keep in mind, in hotter weather you may need to water more often.
To learn about how to water your indoor plants, take a look at my watering guide. You’ll find it helpful.
Tradescantias like humidity. In winter, if possible, keep them away from heat vents and the like, where the air may be drier. I wouldn’t be overly concerned on this point, though. Properly watering your Tradescantia is the most important task.
2. Light & Temperature Needs of Your Tradescantia
Tradescantias like bright, indirect light. If possible, keep them in a south, west, or east facing window.
Signs your Tradescantia is not getting enough light can include.
- The leaf color starts to fade.
- The plant becomes thin and leggy.
- The vines start stretching toward the light.
I speak from experience when I say, you’ll know when your plant isn’t getting enough light. The first time I kept my Tradescantia in a darker spot, it quickly lost its color and started looking poorly.
Although all Tradescantias prefer brighter areas, different species have different light needs. If your home tends to be on the darker side, pick a variety with predominantly green leaves. It will better tolerate the lower light.
And don’t be afraid to put your plant outside during the summer. I know my plants really enjoy this. But, make sure it’s not in a spot with extended periods of direct sunlight. This can potentially burn your plant’s leaves.
As for temperature, Tradescantias do well in temperatures that range from 60 to 80 degrees. So they’re suited for most indoor settings.
3. Tradescantia Soil
Luckily, Tradescantias aren’t too picky about their soil. Overall, an all-purpose, well-draining soil will do fine.
You can add a bit of perlite for aeration and some peat moss to help keep the soil from drying out too quickly.
4. Maintaining Your Tradescantia
Most people have their Tradescantias in hanging baskets or sitting atop plant stands, where their vines can trail over the side.
However, in nature Tradescantia plants don’t trail or climb. Instead, they spread outwards, along the ground.
Because of this, their vines don’t like to be a long distance from the soil. If left on their own to continuously trail, the leaves and stems near the soil eventually turn brittle and break off. This is the plant’s way of searching for soil to lay down more roots.
So, to keep your Tradescantia looking full and healthy, it’s important you regularly prune your plant.
Start by pinching off any thin and leggy vines. If the leaves and stems near the soil seem dry and brittle, that’s a sign the vine needs pruning.
You should plan on often monitoring and pruning your plant for leggy growth.
Tradescantias are fast growers (one of the reasons they need pruning so often). As such, they may need repotting every 1 to 2 years, depending on their pot.
Take a look at my article on plant pots to find out which pot is best for your plant.
It’s a good idea to periodically give your plant a once over. Check to see if you spot any roots coming out of the drainage holes, or the top of the soil. That can be a sign the pot is getting too small for the plant.
Mainly, you don’t want your plant to become rootbound. A rootbound plant does poorly because the soil can no longer support the amount of roots and size of the plant.
I was once given a rootbound Tradescantia. Because there wasn’t enough soil for the plant, the soil became compacted and wouldn’t hold water. Luckily, once I removed it from the pot, separated the roots, and replanted it into a new pot, it did fine.
When choosing a new pot, pick one that is 1 to 2 inches larger than your current pot.
Fertilizing your Tradescantia is not a must.
However, Tradescantias are hungry plants because they’re fast growers. To help maintain their growth, consider fertilizing during spring and summer when the plant is growing.
When fertilizing, use an all-purpose fertilizer. The fertilizer can be either a slow release or water-soluble fertilizer.
Slow release fertilizers are usually granular and are mixed into the soil. The fertilizer then releases nutrients slowly over a period of time.
Water soluble fertilizers, on the other hand, are diluted with water and the plant is then watered with the mixture.
Regardless of your choice of fertilizer, make sure to water your plant when you fertilize. And don’t overfertilize. Never use more than the recommended amount. Excess fertilizer can burn a plant’s roots.
If you want to keep pruning to a minimum, though, then I would suggest keeping your fertilizing to a minimum.
5. Propagating Your Tradescantia
Tradescantias are ridiculously easy to propagate. Which is good, considering the amount of trimming they need.
Start by pruning your plant. Using a clean pair of pruners or scissors, cut the stem just below one of the nodes. The node will feel like a little joint on the stem. If you have a particularly long stem, you can make several cuttings from the one stem.
Once you have your cutting, strip the bottom leaves until you’re left with 1 or 2 inches of bare stem.
You can propagate your Tradescantia cuttings in either soil or water.
If propagating in soil, simply stick the cutting back into the pot’s soil, wherever there’s a bare spot. Alternatively, you can start a new plant in a new pot.
If propagating in water, place the cutting in a glass or vase filled with water. Within a week or two, you’ll see new roots. At that point, you can transplant the cutting back into soil.
If the vine you’re pruning is a little dry, then I suggest you water propagate. This will give the cutting more humidity, which should help with the dryness.
Or, you can place the cutting back into the soil, then put a clear plastic bag over the top of the pot to create a kind of humidity dome. Make sure you open the bag at least once a day to allow in some fresh air. When you’re cutting perks up, you can remove the bag.
6. Tradescantia Pests & Problems
Overall Tradescantias are fairly resistant to pests and disease.
The most common problem people run into is root rot, which is caused by overwatering your plant. Yellowing leaves can be a sign of too much water.
As for pests, keep an eye out for the usual suspects such as mealybugs, spider mites, scale, and thrips.
Tradescantia plants are mildly toxic to humans and pets. Ingestion can cause some stomach irritation and, for some people, the plant’s sap can be a little irritating to the skin.
Tradescantias make great houseplants. Although they do require some care with regard to pruning, they’re still a good plant for a beginner. They’re very easy to propagate and overall resistant to pests and disease.
Water your Tradescantia thoroughly, then let the soil dry out a little bit. Keep it in a spot with bright, indirect light. Prune and propagate regularly.
Do these steps and you’ll be enjoying your Tradescantia for many years.
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