Tradescantia – Care Guide & Info

Position

There are many varieties of Tradescantia. Most of them have something special like purple leaves or multiple colors on one leaf. This group of plants is known by several nicknames. A well-known nickname is Father Plant. Others know Tradescantia by the nickname “Inch Plant”. The reason? With proper care, these plants grow quite quickly, sometimes as much as an inch a day. That’s about 2.5 inches! A lesser-known nickname is Duck Day Flower. Each Tradescantia species has the same type of flowers, sometimes a different color, and they all bloom for just one day

The nice thing about these colorful plants is that they are generally pretty easy to maintain. Of course there are things you need to take into account, you can read about them on this page. If you do, you will enjoy your Tradescantia for a long time! Incidentally, all species are hanging or creeping plants. Of course, there are also colourful houseplants that stand upright. Take a look at the Calathea, for example.

Tradescantia origin and description

The plant genus Tradescantia belongs to the plant family Commelinaceae. There are now many known species, but the very first to be discovered was the Tradescantia Virginiana. This grows native to large parts of the eastern United States. Other species grow native to other parts of the United States and Canada and even eastern Mexico.

As described above, the Tradescantia is known by many nicknames. How most of these originated is not entirely clear, but origin is known from the botanical name. In fact, the genus is named after two Britons: John Tradescant senior and his son John Tradescant junior. They were gardeners for the royal house of England.

It is difficult to give a single description for the complete plant genus Tradescantia because the species differ from each other in color and size. In general, you could say that they grow between 30 and 60 centimeters long. The leaves are oblong and narrow with a pointed tip

Some species are naturally creepers and grow very quickly. Therefore, in native areas, they are mainly used as ground covers. In our country, Tradescantia houseplants cannot be left outside all year round, but the native varieties can. A nice option, for example, is the Tradescantia Virginiana (Duckflower), which you can see in the photo below.

The flowers of the Tradescantia

Many well-known houseplants are native to tropical and warm regions. Often they do not bloom as houseplants. Even if you do your best with care, you simply cannot imitate the natural growing conditions. The Tradescantia is an exception to this rule. Depending on the species, the flowers are white, pink or purple. They have three petals with six stamens inside. The flowers bloom for only one day

Tradescantia care

Position

Even though we buy a Tradescantia as a houseplant, it is good to remember that it is a tropical plant by nature. This means that these plants grow under tall trees, usually in a tropical rainforest. Under a tall tree, these plants only get to see the sun in the early morning and late evening. For most of the day, the sun’s rays are blocked by the canopy of the taller plants.

It is good to take this into account when choosing a position in the house. So choose a spot where the Tradescantia will not see direct sunlight during the day. It is possible in the morning or evening, but during the day the sun is much too hot. You will see the leaves shrivel up.

So preferably place this plant near a window facing east or north. There is a lot of light there, but hardly any direct sunlight. A lot of light is needed to keep the colors on the leaves nice. Too little light? Then you’ll see that the color on the leaves fades. If you have a species with striped leaves you will see them fade.=> More plants with bright colors? A nice place to put the Tradescantia is in a hanging pot or on a high cabinet. This way you can let the plant grow into a hanging plant. Sometimes you will see that the tendrils first grow upwards. As the tendrils grow longer, and therefore heavier, you will see them start to droop.

Watering the Tradescantia

An important part of maintaining your houseplant is watering it. Tradescantias prefer a soil that is kept moist. However, this does not mean that the soil should remain so wet that it becomes soggy and never dries out. If the soil is too wet for too long, root rot can develop which eventually kills the plant.

Your Tradescantia is more likely to forgive you if you forget to water it than too much and too often. A good rule of thumb is to water when the top 1 or 2 inches of the soil is dry. You can easily test this by sticking your finger in the soil. If no soil sticks to it, the soil is dry enough to water.

How much water do you give then? Just as much until it runs out of the drain holes again. You will notice that in spring and summer this is often once a week (sometimes more often). In the fall and winter, this is often only once every two weeks.

Humidity

These plants originate from the tropics. There the humidity is a lot higher than here. Fortunately, a Tradescantia is quite tolerant of lower humidity.However, do you want to ensure a more beautiful and better growing plant? Then you still need to do something about the humidity. This sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is. All you have to do is mist the leaves with a plant sprayer. If you do this daily, you will see your plant improve. The colors are more beautiful, the growth is more exuberant and the leaves are more beautiful because there is less dust on them. A nice side effect of this misting is that insects, such as mealy bugs, have less opportunity to settle on the plant.

If you use tap water to mist the Tradescantia, you may notice white spots on the leaves. This is due to the minerals found in tap water. This is not a problem and can be wiped off easily. Do you want to prevent this? If you have a lot of light in your bathroom, this can be a good place for your Vader plant. Because of the high humidity and warmth your plant will feel very comfortable here.

Temperature

Although it is originally a tropical plant, it will do fine at normal room temperature. Make sure the temperature never drops below 10 degrees. This can stunt its growth. If the temperature drops below 10 degrees for a longer period of time, this can cause serious damage to the plant, which could eventually die from it.

It is also not good to expose the Tradescantia to sudden changes in temperature. This can happen if you turn on the heater or have a window open. These air currents have a temperature that differs considerably from the current temperature and the plant will not appreciate it.

An additional disadvantage of the airflow from a stove is that it is very dry. Do you turn on a stove anyway? Then place a bowl of water on it. This water will evaporate and thus increase the humidity. This reduces the damage from the dry air.

Nutrition

Tradescantias can rightly be called easy houseplants. They are ideal for beginners and at the same time still interesting for advanced plant lovers. No matter how easy a houseplant may be, it still needs nutrition to live, grow and bloom.

Only give plant food during the periods when you see the plant growing. Usually this is in the spring and summer. In the fall and winter, growth is often minimal, or sometimes stops altogether. There are exceptions. Sometimes your Tradescantia will continue to grow in the winter, for example if the amount of light and the temperature are still suitable. If this is the case, you can continue to add nutrition during the winter.

You can use a normal houseplant nutrition. These are often very strong and must be mixed with water. Always read the instructions on the package carefully. It is harmful to the roots of the plant if you add too much nutrient. This can cause burning of the roots and leaves.

Finally, about plant nutrition: If you add nutrition for a long time in a row, a surplus of salts can build up in the soil. Over time this can cause damage to the root system. Solve this by watering the plant once a year, just as long as it comes out of the bottom of the pot. You do this for a few minutes. This will flush excess salts from the soil.

Potting soil for Tradescantia

These plants like a potting soil that drains well. It is important that a potting soil drains well, because soil that is too wet will cause root rot. A normal potting soil for houseplants is usually too heavy and becomes too dense after watering several times. You can use normal potting soil, but mix it with a lighter material. This can be sand, or for example a potting soil for cacti

Pot and repot

To make sure your Tradescantia grows well, you can repot it every year. Always use a pot that is slightly larger than the previous one. If you have your plant as a hanging plant, this can be a difficult job. Then you better choose a large pot. It is important to regularly fertilize. Repotting means adding fresh potting soil with fresh nutrients.

The type of pot is not important. What is important is that there is a hole in the bottom. This allows excess water to drain away and prevents the roots from standing in soggy soil. Further improve this water drainage with the use of hydro grains.

Pruning the father plant

In English, they also call this plant the “Inch plant” because it can grow as much as an inch (2.5 centimeters) a day. So if you let this plant continue to grow for a season, it will become very tall. At the same time, you will notice that the top of the tendrils become bare and at the same time thin and fragile. For this reason it is wise to prune your Tradescantia a few times a year. This can be done quite enthusiastically, it always grows back. What’s more, pruning will make your plant come back fuller!

Pruning can be done in the spring and summer months. Simply prune the stems back to the desired length. If you want, you can easily cut off two thirds of the length. Always use pruning shears that you have disinfected beforehand. A final remark about pruning: the juice that is released from the stems can be irritating to the skin. This is not the case for everyone, but it may be wise to wear gloves as a precaution.

Tradescantia origin and description

There are about 70 known species of Tradescantia worldwide. They all grow indigenous, but a large number of them are also known as houseplants. Below is a list of the most common lower taxa.

Tradescantia Zebrina

We’ll start right off with the popular Tradescantia Zebrina. When many people talk about “Tradescantia”, they do not mean the plant genus but the Zebrina. It is also not without reason that this Tradescantia species is so popular. It is an easy to care for plant with beautiful, velvety, purple leaves.

Tradescantia Spathacea

Another Tradescantia species with purple in the leaves, but a very unknown version. Special about this variety is that in the Netherlands you see it mostly outside. It is not hardy, so after the autumn it has to go inside. Read more about the Tradescantia Spathacea?

Tradescantia Pallida

This one looks a bit like the previous species. It is not a hanging plant, but is used in gardens as a ground cover. Like the other Tradescantia species, the Pallida grows very quickly. Place a few of them in a large container or border and in no time you will have an oasis full of Tradescantia Pallida. The leaves are bright purple and are somewhat thicker than those of its siblings.

Tradescantia Fluminensis

Actually, the Fluminensis is a bit of an oddity among the others in the Tradescantia genus. This species grows the same as the Zebrina, but the leaves are completely green. The other known Tradescantia species all have some purple in the leaves. Read more about the Tradescantia Fluminensis on this page.

Tradescantia Nanouk

Are you looking for a Tradescantia that can take a beating, but is also a feast for the eyes? Then the Tradescantia Nanouk is for you. Don’t let the beautifully colored leaves fool you: this plant is a real powerhouse. More or less the same looks, but in yellow, are also available: Tradescantia Yellow Hill.

Tradescantia Tricolor

We secretly think this one is the most beautiful: Tradescantia Fluminensis Tricolor. It is a variant of the Fluminensis, but with three colors in the leaves: pink, milky white and green. Sometimes the leaves are a solid color, sometimes they have a pattern.

Tradescantia Green Hill

You probably know the Tradescantia as a colorful houseplant. As such, most species are colored. The Tradescantia Green Hill proves that a completely green variant can also be beautiful!

Tradescantia Sillamontana

This is a truly unique species within this family. The Tradescantia Sillamontana has almost the same growth habit, but is completely covered in a silver-gray fluff.

Tradescantia under the microscope

Below is a photo of the leaf of a purple Tradescantia under the microscope. Here the magnification is 100x.

How to buy Tradescantia?

Where can you buy the Tradescantia? There are many suppliers to be found. A large number of them can be found on Bol.com. This way you can easily see the current offer and compare them. The button below will take you to the overview page:

Frequently asked questions and problems

Can you take cuttings from the Tradescantia?

You certainly can. In fact, it is a very easy plant to take cuttings from. Ideal for beginners. This website has a page about it: read more about Tradescantia cuttings.

Is this plant poisonous?

A double answer: a number of official bodies report that this plant is not poisonous. Nevertheless, it is not desirable for children, cats or dogs to ingest plant parts. This is because the leaves and stems contain a component that causes irritation of the esophagus and stomach, mainly in children and animals. This can be experienced as very unpleasant and cause vomiting, among other things. So keep this plant away from your children or beloved four-legged friend. It is better to choose a non-toxic houseplant, such as a Grass Lily.

Can you keep Tradescantia outside?

In principle you can keep Tradescantia as a garden plant, but to keep the plant healthy you will have to meet a few conditions. First of all, it is important not to keep the plant outside in temperatures below 10 degrees. It is after all a tropical plant by nature. Choose a sheltered location outside, out of the wind. It is also best to avoid the full sun, which can cause the leaves to burn. Do you have such a spot in your garden or on your balcony? Then the Tradescantia is a great outdoor plant!

The plant has yellow leaves

Yellow leaves are often the result of too much water. This can happen after only a few times. If there is no hole in the bottom of the pot, the water will stay in the soil and it will remain marshy. This actually barely dries up anymore and so the roots remain in wet soil for a long time. This causes root rot, yellow leaves and eventually leaf loss.

You can solve this by removing the Tradescantia from the pot. If the soil is very soggy, you should replace it. Drill a hole in the pot, or choose another pot with a hole, and put the plant back. In time the plant will recover. You can see this because new leaves are growing on it.

The most common reason for brown or dry leaves is too dry air. Remember that this is a tropical plant by nature. A Tradescantia is an easy houseplant and can take a bit, but too dry air is still a real problem. Mist the leaves daily with the plant sprayer. Unfortunately, the brown leaves will not recover, but the new leaves will be beautiful again.

Brown spots on the leaves are often precisely the result of direct sunlight. This can cause the leaves to burn and you can see this in the brown spots. Move your plant to a place out of the sun, but where there is still plenty of indirect sunlight.

The colors on the leaves fade

The nice thing about these plants is that they come in many different colors. Of course you want these colors to stay as beautiful as possible. Sometimes it happens that these colors fade. The cause is usually that the plant gets too little light. A lot of light is needed to keep the colors nice and sharp. Move the plant to a place with more light, but never in direct sunlight.A second possibility can be a shortage of nutrition. Check for yourself whether the Tradescantia gets enough light. Is this not the case? Then a little plant food can help to make it beautiful again.

The leaves are falling off

If the plant’s leaves begin to fall off, there are two things that could be going on. First, it could be a problem of too little light. A second cause could be too low a temperature. Find out for yourself what the cause is and move the plant if necessary.

Summary

Botanical nameTradescantia
Also known asFather Plant, One Day Flower, Inch Plant, Walking Jew
Light RequirementLots of indirect light
Water RequirementLet the upper part of the soil dry out
Toxic?Unknown
Inside or outsideCan go outside in summer, if shaded

FAQ

How do I care for my Tradescantia?

– Use a well-draining potting mix.
– Let it shine in a hanging basket.
– Give it plenty of indirect light to keep its stripes.
– Don’t allow T. zebrina to get too dry between waterings.
– Feed it plant food to give it a boost.
– Pinch back leggy stems to encourage new, fuller growth.

How much light does a Tradescantia need?

bright indirect light

How do you care for a Tradescantia?

– Use a well-draining potting mix.
– Let it shine in a hanging basket.
– Give it plenty of indirect light to keep its stripes.
– Don’t allow T. zebrina to get too dry between waterings.
– Feed it plant food to give it a boost.
– Pinch back leggy stems to encourage new, fuller growth.
– Grow more T.

Are Tradescantia hard to care for?

Tradescantia plants originated in Central America, Mexico, and South America, but Tradescantia Nanouk originated in Sappemeer, The Netherlands. While it’s the new “it” plant, it’s not a difficult plant. In fact, it’s one of the easiest houseplants to care for, which makes it a great choice for beginners!

Is Tradescantia easy to care for?

Tradescantia plants are fast-growing easy going and low maintenance, vining plants perfect for shelves and hangers.

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