Tradescantias are great house plants known for their rich colors. The most popular varieties have variegated leaves. These leaves can shimmer with stripes of purples, silvers, pinks, whites, or yellows. Even the undersides are often of a deep purple.
My first Tradescantia had stunning purple and silver leaves. I loved it.
Until the colors started fading. Those leaves, once striking, suddenly turned a pale green.
It left me wondering, what happened? Why did my Tradescantia lose its color?
In general, a Tradescantia loses its color when it doesn’t receive enough light. Variegated leaves have less chlorophyll, which a plant needs for growth. So, when a plant with variegated leaves, such as a Tradescantia, doesn’t have the right growing conditions, the leaves will revert back to green. This helps the plant conserve energy and produce more chlorophyll.
Read on to learn more about why your Tradescantia is losing its color and how to keep it more vibrant.
Why Does Your Tradescantia Lose Color
The name Tradescantia refers to the plant’s genus, or grouping. Roughly, 85 different species fall under the term Tradescantia.
But, regardless of which variety you have, if your Tradescantia has variegated leaves it’s going to need light to maintain its color.
Signs Your Tradescantia Isn’t Getting Enough Light
There are several signs that your Tradescantia might not be getting enough light.
- The first and most obvious sign, of course, is the plant’s leaves losing their color and reverting back to green.
- Your plant may also seem weaker and thinner. And you may find new leaves are smaller in size. This was something I noticed myself when my Tradescantia didn’t have enough light.
- Lastly, your plant may become leggy. In other words, you’ll notice fewer leaves with a lot of stem between each leaf. You may also find your plant stretching towards the light.
How Much Light Does Your Tradescantia Need
In general, Tradescantia plants need bright, indirect light. They need at least six to eight hours of light per day to maintain their dark colors.
Many species of Tradescantia develop red or purple pigments (anthocyanins). These pigments act as sun protection for the plant. When they combine with the green pigment (the chlorophyll of the leaf) the result is the Tradescantia’s beautiful colors.
How much sun protection the plant needs, will determine how much red or purple pigment it needs. In other words, the higher the light the more red and purple pigments. The more red and purple pigments, the more vibrant the colors.
So, what this means is you can change your plant’s color by changing the light level.
If you want a deeper color, place your plant in high light. If you want more shades of green, give it less light.
During the summer months, you can put your Tradescantia outside to give it that extra boost of light. I usually do this with my plants.
But, be careful. You shouldn’t put your plant where it will receive direct sunlight for more than an hour or two a day. Too much direct sun can burn your plant’s leaves and stunt its growth.
How much direct sunlight your Tradescantia can take will depend on the variety. Some varieties tolerate direct sunlight better than others. So, if you live in a southern climate, or your plant will be in direct sun for longer periods, chose a variety that can withstand the heat.
If you’d like to learn more about caring for your Tradescantia, take a look at my guide to Tradescantia care. You’ll find it helpful.
Indoors, however, it’s very hard to give your Tradescantia too much light.
Tradescantia indoors do best in a bright, sunny window. East, west, or south facing is preferable. A Tradescantia will survive in a north-facing window, but there might not be enough light to maintain its vibrancy.
I placed one of my Tradescantia on a northeast-facing windowsill. The plant did okay, but the light wasn’t ideal. Once I moved it to a northwest-facing window, where it received more afternoon sun, it did much better.
5 Ways to Give Your Tradescantia More Light
- If your plant sits several feet back from a window, move your plant closer to the window.
- If your plant is in a window without a lot of light, or a north-facing light, move it to a brighter window.
- Place your plant under a grow light. Affiliate link & eventually internal link if doing a grow light review
- Rotate your plant on a regular basis so it gets a balanced amount of light. ( I rotate all my plants on a monthly basis.)
- Place your plant outside during the summer months.
Tip – When moving a plant from a darker spot to a lighter area, or from indoors to outdoors, do this in gradual steps over a few days. This gives the plant time to adjust to its new light conditions.
3 Common Tradescantia Varieties
There are many species of Tradescantia. Here are three common ones.
- T. Pallida – Has thick upright stems and large tough leaves. The most common cultivar, purple heart, has dramatic purple foliage.
- T. Zebrina – Has beautiful stripes of purple, green, and silver. One of the most popular houseplant varieties.
- T. Nanouk – This is a new cultivar developed in the Netherlands. It’s more compact & upright, with light purple, green, and greyed green-colored leaves.
This is just a sampling of the many Tradescantia varieties. For additional ones, check out this video from Ana Tv.
- Tradescantia leaves usually fade because the plant isn’t receiving enough light.
- In general, Tradescantia plants need bright, indirect light for 6 to 8 hours per day.
- You can deepen your Tradescantia’s color by moving it to a spot with greater light.
- A Tradescantia can be placed outside during the summer months but should receive no more than an hour or two of direct sunlight.
- There are many varieties of Tradescantia, but all need light to maintain their color.
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