How to Grow Wandering Jew Plants

Growing plants is not only a great pastime but it also keeps you physically fit and benefits your mental health and well being. If the prospect of taking on an entire garden is too daunting for you why not start with a houseplant or two? Caring for these little plants is just as beneficial and adds a bit of colour to your home.

The Wandering Jew is a houseplant that not only has attractive foliage but is also very easy to grow. Requiring little care they are an ideal house plant draping either from a hanging basket or an indoor plant stand. Alternatively some people opt to use them as ground cover in a conservatory.

A colourful perennial they are a great choice if you have never cared for a plant before or you just seem to kill every other plant that you touch. Either way the Wandering Jew is a simple and attractive place to start. If you follow the advice in this guide you will soon be wowing your friends with your attractive display of plants.

Wandering Jew Types

The name Wandering Jew refers to not one plant but three different plants in the Tradescantia genus. These are the Tradescantia Fluminensis, the Tradescantia Zebrina and the Tradescantia Pallida.

Tradescantia Fluminensis

The Tradescantia Fluminensis is the classic Wandering Jew plant. Sometimes called Quicksilver it is the one that your grandmother probably grew. It has dark green leaves and white 3 petal flowers.  Like other types of Wandering Jew it will flower a couple of times throughout the year.


The classic Wandering Jew.

Common Name(s) Quicksilver, Spiderwort
Family Commelinaceae
Genus Tradescantia
Species Fluminensis
Foliage Green, Blue-Green
Flower Colour White
Flowering Period Throughout the year
Water Requirements Average, water regularly
Light Sun to partial shade
Temperature 50-80°F (10-27°C)
Height 12 to 24 in (30 to 60 cm)

Tradescantia Zebrina

The Tradescantia Zebrina has distinctive white, green and purple striped leaves. As the name suggests it’s patternation is similar to a zebra’s markings. The flowers are either pink or light purple in colour.

The colourful striped leaves of the Zerbina are similar to the markings of a zebra.

 

Common Name(s) Inch Plant
Family Commelinaceae
Genus Tradescantia
Species Zebrina
Foliage White, Green, Purple stripes
Flower Colour Rose, Mauve, Magenta
Flowering Period Throughout the year
Water Requirements Average, water regularly
Light Sun to partial shade
Temperature 50-80°F (10-27°C)
Height 12 to 24 in (30 to 60 cm)

Tradescantia Pallida

The final variety, the Tradescantia Pallida is also known as ‘Purple Heart’. This is because this variety has light purple-pink flowers and distinctive purple coloured leaves, that become more distinctive if the plant is kept in a bright spot. The foliage of the Purple Heart is slightly narrower than other Wandering Jew varieties and it is also slightly hairy.


The Purple Heart variety boasts light flowers to complement its purple foliage.

Common Name(s) Purple Heart, Purple Queen
Family Commelinaceae
Genus Tradescantia
Species Pallida
Foliage Burgundy, Maroon
Flower Colour Pink
Flowering Period Throughout the year
Water Requirements Average, water regularly
Light Sun to partial shade
Temperature 50-80°F (10-27°C)
Height 12 to 24 in (30 to 60 cm)

Wandering Jew Care and Growing Tips

Part of the attraction of Wandering Jews is that they are very easy to care for. Thriving best at room temperature, placing the plant in a bright and airy location means that with regular watering and pruning you be able to enjoy it for many years.

Light

The best place for a Wandering Jew plant is on an east or west facing windowsill. This allows the plant to get a good dose of light in the morning or the evening and lots of nice, indirect light during the rest of the day. Just make sure that the plant doesn’t get too hot during the high afternoon sun.

A bright spot also encourages more flowering. Remember to turn the plant occasionally so that all sides get an equal amount of light.

If your chosen variety has a coloured leaf then placing the plant in a brighter spot will help the colours thrive. Wandering Jews with green leaves do better in a semi-shaded position.

Don’t place your plant in direct sunlight as this can burn the leaves.

You will know if your plant is not getting enough light as the foliage will begin to fade. If you can’t provide your plant with enough natural light then a regular light or lamp, or a special light lamp, can be used.

Water

This may sound difficult but Wandering Jew plants are at their happiest when their soil is evenly moist. This means neither soaked nor completely dried out. If you are unsure when to water, wait until the top 1/2 inch of soil is dry before giving the plant a good watering. If you want a more scientific means of knowing when to water then a soil moisture gauge or plant watering gauge will help you determine when the soil is drying out.

Keep watering your plant until water is dripping from the bottom of the pot. Make sure that the pot has fully drained because Wandering Jews don’t like to stand in water. Alternatively watering from the bottom up allows the plant to soak up as much water as it needs. Just make sure that it doesn’t stand in water for too long.

During the spring and summer your plants will need to be watered more often than during the dormant winter months.

Humidity

Wandering Jews like it humid. If humidity levels are too low then the leaves of your plant will turn brown and die.

Keeping a high level of humidity is a big problem in the winter months as our centrally heated homes can become very dry. An indoor humidity monitor or air quality monitor will help you to monitor humidity levels around your plant.

Pebbles can not only add interest but will help the plant to retain moisture, keeping humidity levels high. 

If you don’t want to run a humidifier then there is a far more low fi solution, which can also be made to look part of an attractive display. Place your plant on a tray of pebbles and water, just be careful not to put the pot directly into the water. Alternatively regular misting, covering the plant with a small cloche or placing it inside a mini indoor greenhouse can all help to keep humidity levels high.

Repotting

Occasionally you will need to repot your plant. This will definitely be the case if your Wandering Jew becomes pot bound. There are several indications that your plant may be pot bound:

  • The plant dries out quickly even during cool periods
  • Roots are popping through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot
  • Growth slows or stops, even after feeding, during the summer months.

If your Wandering Jew was bought from a garden centre or other plant retailer you may also wish to repot the plant soon after purchase.

Choose an appropriate, clean plant pot- either a similar size to the one that your plant is currently in or a slightly larger one. Remove the plant from it’s old pot. If the roots are tightly bound together, in a “root ball”, gently tease them free. You don’t have to release them all just allow for some movement so that they are not all densely packed together.

Next, put some fresh potting mix or all-purpose compost into the new pot. You should aim to put enough in there so that the top of the plants roots sit just below the lip of the new pot when it is placed inside.

When you have positioned your Wandering Jew in the centre of the pot add more compost or potting mix. While you want to fill the pot try not to pack in so much that it becomes compacted. Also try to leave some space between the compost and the top of the pot to allow for watering and growth. After you have planted your plant water in well and return the it to its usual spot.

To learn more about repotting house plants this is a useful guide.

Soil

A standard houseplant potting mix will be just fine for this unfussy plant. If you find that, during watering, the plant is drying out too quickly add peat moss or vermiculite will help retain moisture.

Feeding

Strictly speaking, Wandering Jews don’t need to be fed. However doing so will encourage growth. Use a good general purpose, water soluble houseplant fertilizer. Dilute it to 50% strength and apply at least twice a month during the spring and summer.

Organic fertilizers are preferred over chemical ones as the latter can harm the plant.  If you are already a keen gardener then you can try making your own compost tea fertilizer. If your plants are outside fish emulsion or liquid kelp are both good organic fertilizers. However they have a distinctive odour so perhaps don’t use them inside.

Flowers

Fertilizing your Wandering Jew will also encourage flowering. While some people consider them to be small, compared to the size of the plant, they add a lovely spot of colour.

While they may be small the Wandering Jew’s flowers are not insignificant.

The Wandering Jew’s flowers vary in colour between purple, pink and white. There is no set time for when these plants will flower, sometimes they will even blossom during the dormant winter months.

Pruning

Wandering Jew plants spout long, vining tendrils. This means that they can get leggy. Pruning them on a regular basis allows the plant to stay healthy. It will also encourage branching and increase the fullness of the plant. Pruning is done by simply cutting back the stems and pinching off the stem tips. You will notice that right below the pinch point the plant will sprout two shoots. These will grow making your plant bushier.

While you are pruning it is also a good time to remove any thin or weak growth and dead leaves.

To ensure a healthy plant it is wise to prune your plant on a regular basis. The best time to prune is during the spring and summer months. Dead or dying growth can be removed at any time.

Either a bonsai pruning shears or a regular pruning shears will allow you to make precision cuts or all purpose shears.

Propagation

Propagation is easily done from stem cuttings.

Take a cutting that is a good few inches long and has a couple of leaves. Place it in a small pot with moist fresh potting soil. Some people like to dip the cut ends into a rooting hormone before planting but this is not necessary.

Put the pot in a warm and bright area. Water regularly so that the soil doesn’t dry out and make sure the humidity levels are good. You should see new shoots in a month to six weeks.

A propagation chamber lowers the risk of shock after planting cuttings and is worth a try if you’ve had a hard time with your cuttings. If you don’t want to invest in one a homemade version is just as good and can be made from a plastic food container like these.

You can also root the cuttings by placing them in a vase of water. A clear vase will enable you to see roots sprouting within a few days. However be careful as when you transplant the cutting to soil the plant may go into shock.

Placing the cutting in water will encourage roots to sprout.

Finally you can place your cuttings on top of moist soil. Make sure that each “joint” contacts the soil. Roots should then form at each joint and a new plant will grow.

Placing Your Wandering Jew Outside

During the warmer summer months some people like to place their Wandering Jew plants outside where they can thrive and increase dramatically in size. Placing them in pots in a light spot that also has some shade from the heat of the afternoon sun will allow them to thrive, you can even train their vines to climb obelisks for a stunning visual effect. Or maybe they will compliment your new patio furniture.

In milder climates Wandering Jew plants will thrive outside, however make sure they are either protected from winter frosts or brought back inside.

If you do chose to take your plants outside for the summer remember to bring them back inside as the days get colder. Even a slight frost will be enough to kill your plant. If you live in a mild climate Wandering Jews may be planted outside all year round. If it does get unnaturally cold a cloche or frost blanket over the plant will provide protection from a light frost.

Common Problems And How To Deal With Them

While these plants are generally easy to care for there are a few things that you should be aware of. However these problems are all easily resolved.

Leggy Plants

During the winter months your plant may become leggy. By this I mean that the plant will get too long or start to look like it is stretching. You may notice more space between the leaves than usual. It will just look wrong. An especially common problem during the winter months, while there are a few potential causes for legginess it is easily remedied.

Wandering Jew plants look great trailing from hanging baskets but be careful not to let the plant get too leggy.

Your plants becoming leggy is a sign that it is not getting either enough water, humidity or light. Or possibly a combination of all three. Depending on the cause. legginess is easily solved either by moving the plant to a brighter spot, watering it more often or increasing the humidity levels around it. See the “Humidity” section further up the article for some ideas on how to do this.

Brown or Faded Leaves

You may notice the leaves on your plant starting to become dull or the colour beginning to fade. Either of these can be a sign that your Wandering Jew is not getting enough light. This problem is easily remedied by placing your plant in a different location.

If you think that your Wandering Jew is getting a decent amount of light then check it for pests. Browning or fading leaves can also be caused by common pests like aphids. We will discuss how to get rid of pests in the next part of the article.

After you have determined that your plant is getting enough light and seems pest free, check that it is getting enough moisture. Brown leaves are a common problem for Wandering Jews during the winter months and is an indication that the plant is too dry. Increase your watering or adjust the humidity levels of the plant to counteract this.

If you have tried all these solutions and you plant is still producing brown leaves remember that as the Wandering Jew ages it tends to die in the middle. When this starts to happen it is time to take cuttings and propagate.

Pests

The most common pest is the spider mite. Spider mites love warm, dry areas so keeping the humidity high or regularly misting your plant will help.

If the spider mites persist or aphids strike spray the plant with warm soapy water. An insecticide spray may also be applied. Neem oil can be used as a natural alternative.

A final, common pest is the soil gnat. Soil gnats thrive in wet soil. While they are a nuisance these pests rarely damage the plants. If you wish to get rid of soil gnats let the soil dry out slightly more between waterings. Sticky fly paper will help control the adults.

If your plants have been outside remember to debug them before bringing them back inside.

Disease

The most common diseases that affect Wandering Jews are related to over watering.

Root rot is a major problem that is caused either by overwatering or soil that retains too much water. If you are overwatering, just water less. If the soil is the problem, mix perlite or coarse sand into the soil. Adding rocks to the bottom of the pot will also improve drainage.

Finally some people and animals can suffer from skin irritations if they come into contact with Wandering Jew sap. If you have pets place you plant in a place that is hard for the pet to reach. If you are particularly worried then placing your plant in a hanging basket will render the plant pretty inaccessible to most pets.

The Wandering Jew is a simple but stunning flower and a pleasing addition to your home.

And that is pretty much all you will ever need to know about caring for your Wandering Jew houseplant. With regular watering, in a sunny position and occasional pruning this little plant will be a colourful and interesting addition to your home as well as benefiting your mental wellbeing.

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