Tradescantia is a genus of 75 species commonly known as Spiderwort, Wandering Jew, or Indian Paint. These interesting plants offer something different to the landscape and are extremely easy to grow and care for.
So how did such a lovely plant get such an unusual common name? While no one may know for sure. 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 they were once used to treat spider bites. At any rate, it is well worth having in the garden.
The three-petaled flowers are usually blue to purple but may also be pink, white, or red. They only remain open for a day, blooming in the morning and closing at night, but the multiple flowers will continually bloom for up to four or six weeks in summer. The plant's foliage consists of arching, grass-like leaves that will grow about a foot or two (30 to 60 cm) in height, depending on the species.
Since Tradescantias grow in clumps, they are great for use in borders, edging, woodland gardens, and even containers. You can even grow it indoors if garden space is limited.
Growing Tradescantias is easy, and you will find the plants quite resilient. They typically grow in moist, well-drained, and acidic (pH 5 to 6) soil. These plants do best in partial shade but will do equally well in sunny areas if the soil is kept moist.
Tradescantias can be grown from purchased plants or propagated through division, cuttings, or seed. Plant them in spring about 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) deep and 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 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 Tradescantia seeds indoors, do so about eight weeks before transplanting outside. It should take anywhere from 10 days to 6 weeks for germination to occur. Hardened seedlings can be transplanted outdoors about a week after the last spring frost.
Tradescantia as an Indoor Plant
You can grow Tradescantias indoors as long as suitable conditions are given. Provide the plant with a soilless mix or loam-based potting compost and keep it in bright filtered light. Pinch out the growing tips to encourage bushier growth.
Allow it to spend warm spring and summer days outdoors, if feasible. Water moderately during the active growth period and apply a balanced liquid fertilizer every four weeks. Water sparingly in winter.
These plants like to be kept fairly moist, so water regularly, especially when growing in containers. Once flowering has ceased, cutting the plants back can promote a second bloom and help prevent re-seeding. Cut the stems back about 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) from the ground.
Since Tradescantias are vigorous growers, dividing the plants in spring every three years is a good idea.
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