Spiderwort is a very underrated garden flower. It brings lovely shades of blue, purple, and pink to the landscape from spring to early summer and has an easy going attitude.
If you’re feeling put off of this plant because of its name- don’t worry! Spiderworts don’t look anything like spiders and won’t attract any eight-legged insects to your garden. One theory (among many) is that this plant was once used as a remedy for spider bites and got its name from this.
Here’s more about the lovely spiderwort plant and how to grow and care for it in your garden.
All About Spiderwort
Spiderwort belongs to the plant genus Tradescantia, which is made up of around 75 species that are native to different parts of North America, Canada, and South America. They grow naturally in woodlands, meadows, by streams, and even in rainforests.
One common characteristic that Tradescantia plants share is a grass-like appearance that’s almost reminiscent of a small daylily.
Unlike other grassy plants, the blooms of spiderwort are noticeable and attractive. Most typically, the blooms are either purple or blue, but there are cultivars that flower in shades of pink and red.
Flowering starts in late spring or early summer and continues for 4-6 weeks. Each flower only lasts for a day (much like daylilies), but plants are constantly producing new flowers, so you won’t ever be short on blooms.
Spiderwort is a native plant in North and South America. It can be grown either as a garden perennial or houseplant, depending on which variety you choose.
Mostly a low growing plant, spiderworts can get anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet tall and tend to have a spread of 1-1 ½ feet. Their growth habit can get a little “messy” after flowering, but you can easily neaten them up with a quick haircut.
Garden Plant vs. Houseplant
There’s always some confusion surrounding spiderwort (aka Tradescantia) because it’s a popular houseplant that can also be used in the garden.
Spiderwort plants that are native to tropical areas in South America (T. pallida, for example) are the type most commonly grown as houseplants because they are sensitive to cold temperatures and inclement weather.
They are more commonly referred to as ‘Wandering Jew’ plants, although this name is going out of style because of anti-semitic connotations. A better name for these houseplants is ‘inch plant’ or more recently ‘wandering dude.’
Some of these tropical plants can also be grown outdoors as an annual, but will only last during fairly warm weather.
Other species of spiderwort are native to areas of the U.S. and Canada (T. virginiana, for example) and can be grown in the garden as perennials in USDA hardiness zones 4-7.
Because of their easy-going habit and trailing nature, certain varieties of spiderwort make great houseplants. Purple varieties are very popular as are ones with purple and green stripes.
These types tend to have a clumping habit and are perfect for mass plantings, edging, and as part of a naturalized area. They spread quickly, which can be a bonus, but can be invasive in certain areas. Check to see how aggressive spiderwort is in your area before planting.
Top Spiderwort Varieties
Spiderworts come in a range of sizes and colors. The most important tip is to make sure you choose a variety that is hardy if you want to plant it outdoors. Any kind can be grown indoors, although the tropical cultivars usually do the best.
Garden Spiderwort Cultivars:
- ‘Zwanenburg Blue’– This is a very traditional spiderwort with blue-purple flowers and green foliage. It grows 18-24 inches tall and 2-3 feet wide.
- ‘Amethyst Kiss’– This variety has large purple flowers that have just a hint of blue. It typically grows 12-18 inches tall and wide.
- ‘Sweet Kate’– This is an eye-catching cultivar with bright golden-yellow foliage that provides a sharp contrast to the blue-purple flowers. It grows only about 16 inches tall.
- ‘Concord Grape’– This variety has bright purple flowers and attractive blue-green foliage. It blooms for 8 weeks straight and grows 1-2 feet tall and wide.
Some varieties like ‘Concord Grape’ have bright purple flowers instead of the normal blue-purple. Mix them with white or rosy blooms for a pretty combination.
- ‘Red Grape’– Truly lovely, this cultivar has rose-violet flowers and silvery blue-green foliage that is purple at the base. Plants are compact and grow about 15 inches tall.
- ‘Red Cloud’– This cultivar has purple-red flowers with bright yellow stamens and green foliage. It grows about 15-18 inches tall and 18-24 inches wide.
- ‘Snowcap’– A pure white variety, ‘Snowcap’ has snowy blossoms that stand out against deep green foliage. Grows 18-24 inches tall and 24 inches wide.
- ‘Purple Queen’ or ‘Purple Heart’– Very attractive varieties with purple to purple-green foliage. Blooms are pink and small, but this cultivar really shines for its foliage.
- Tradescantia zebrina– Also known as ‘inch plant,’ this species has lovely green and purple leaves with silvery stripes on the upper sides. The foliage often shimmers when light hits it.
- ‘Green Ghost’– This is a cultivar of T. zebrina that has dark green foliage and a thin silver line on each leaf. The undersides are purplish.
- ‘Lilac’– A stunning cultivar, this spiderwort has variegated leaves that are lilac, green, and cream colored. Tiny flowers bloom pink.
How to Grow Spiderwort
You can grow spiderwort from transplants bought at a nursery, but it’s also easy to grow from seed and from cuttings. Here’s more about each growing option.
Starting from Seed
There are two options for starting spiderwort from seed: indoors or outdoors.
To sow seeds outdoors, your best option is to do this in the fall. This gives the seeds a natural cold period that helps to stimulate germination in the spring. (Keep in mind that the seeds must be a cold-hardy Tradescantia variety, not a tropical one.)
Before planting your seeds, prepare your garden bed by weeding, adding compost if necessary, and raking it smooth. Sow seeds so they are barely covered, about ⅛ inch deep. Then, simply mark where you planted them and wait for seedlings to pop up in spring.
If you prefer to start seeds indoors, here’s a list of what you’ll need:
- Spiderwort seeds
- Seed starting tray
- Seed starting mix
- Plastic bag
- Space in a refrigerator
- Grow lights (optional but recommended)
To help your spiderwort seeds germinate, you’ll need to mimic the cold period they would go through during winter. (You can skip this step if you don’t have the time for it, but you’ll most likely have lower germination rates.)
Easy to grow from seed, you can start your own spiderwort at home, either indoors or outdoors. Plants often flower their first year, although they may be later than nursery bought plants.
To do this, fill your seed starting tray with a soilless mix that is just damp. You can mix it with water first to add moisture if your seed starting mix is dry.
Then, sow your seeds on top of the soil, pressing them gently in but not covering them by much. Put a plastic bag (or plastic wrap) over the tray to hold moisture in, and place the entire tray into a refrigerator.
Keep the seeded tray refrigerated for 3-4 months. Check it occasionally to make sure the soil stays damp. If it seems to be drying out, spray it with some water, but make sure it doesn’t get soggy.
Take the tray out about 6-8 weeks before your last average frost date in the spring and set it somewhere warm (70-80°F). The seeds can take up to a month to germinate, so be patient and spray the soil as needed to keep it damp.
Once your seedlings do come up, remove the plastic and put the tray under grow lights or by a very sunny window.
Continue to water as needed, but always avoid getting the leaves wet. When seedlings are at least 4 inches tall, they can be transplanted to your garden after the danger of frost has passed.
Though hardy once established, spiderwort seedlings should be transplanted after all danger of frost has passed in the spring. Harden them off before planting outdoors.
Another method for propagating spiderwort is through cuttings. This is especially effective if you want to propagate a Tradescantia for a houseplant.
For this method to work, you need to have access to an established spiderwort plant. This could be one of your own that you want to replicate or a neighbor’s, friend’s, etc. (Just make sure you have permission before taking cuttings.)
Take 3-4 inch stem cuttings using a sanitized pair of garden clippers or sharp scissors. Don’t try to take cuttings when the plant is flowering, and take leaf-only sections.
Remove the bottom ⅓ of leaves from your cuttings and root them in small jars of water or small pots filled with potting soil. Cuttings usually take a few weeks to root and should be kept in indirect light during this time.
Once your cuttings have rooted and put out new growth, they can be transplanted out into the garden or into bigger pots to go inside your house.
How to Plant Spiderwort
This section is about planting spiderwort in the garden. If you want to grow it indoors, check out the ‘Growing Spiderwort as a Houseplant’ section.
Spiderwort works equally well in a flower garden and in a container garden. Plants can go in relatively small pots, but keep in mind that you’ll need to water them more frequently.
When and Where to Plant
You can transplant spiderwort into your garden after the danger of frost has passed in the spring. Make sure you harden off seedlings started indoors before planting outside.
Spiderwort is a very forgiving plant as far as location goes. It usually prefers partial shade but can take full sun if you keep it well-watered and can also take more shade, although you may notice that flowering decreases with too much shade.
Soil should be well-drained, but spiderwort is very tolerant of many less than perfect soil conditions. It doesn’t need much fertility but will appreciate some compost mixed in.
You can plant spiderwort as part of a container garden, where it will be quite happy, but you’ll probably need to give potted plants more water and more shade.
Plant your spiderwort by digging holes that are slightly wider than the root balls of your seedlings and just as deep. Space holes 12-18 inches apart, and plant seedlings so that the soil just covers the top of their roots.
Firm in each seedling with your hands, and water them well when you’re finished.
Low maintenance, spiderwort plants will thrive with little attention. Just keep an eye on ones planted in the ground to make sure they don’t spread themselves too quickly.
For containers, make sure your pots have drainage holes drilled in the bottom and use a well-drained, good quality potting soil.
Spiderwort Plant Care
Once established, spiderwort is a very low maintenance plant. Make sure you water seedlings as they develop root systems, but after that, spiderwort is considered drought tolerant.
No need to fertilize spiderwort, except by side dressing with compost each spring, and no need to deadhead.
After plants bloom, they can become a little messy looking. To neaten them up, cut them back in midsummer after flowering is completely finished. This helps them look more tidy, decreases self-seeding, and also encourages a repeat bloom period.
A final task is to divide your plants every 2-3 years. This keeps them from getting too aggressive in the garden and also keeps them from getting too crowded. You can replant extras after dividing your plants or give them away.
Pests and Problems
Another bonus of growing spiderwort is that it rarely has pest or disease problems. Most varieties are even resistant to deer and rabbits.
Snails and slugs are the biggest pests you’ll run into with spiderwort. It repels deer, rabbits, and most insects but is susceptible to slug damage in springtime.
The biggest problem you may deal with in spring is from slugs and snails that eat through the tender leaves of your plants (especially when they are small). Avoid putting mulch down until the weather gets warm and dry because wet mulch is a slug magnet.
You can also put down crushed egg shells around your plants to discourage slugs and snails, or try putting out some slug traps.
Growing Spiderwort as a Houseplant
Spiderworts are also extremely easy to grow as houseplants. They can go in any type of pot but look especially nice in hanging containers so that their stems can trail over the sides. Use a good quality indoor potting mix for your plants.
Indoors, spiderwort is still forgiving as far as location goes but does prefer bright, indirect light. This means beside a full sun, curtained window or right next to a north or east facing window. However, you can get away with growing one just about anywhere that gets sunlight.
Spiderworts grow well in normal indoor temperatures, but avoid exposing the tropical varieties to temperatures below 50°F (such as from an open door or window during the winter).
Water your spiderwort only when the top 1-2 inches of soil dries out. This is typically about once a week but does depend on how humid and warm it is inside your house.
Because most indoor spiderworts come from a tropical climate, they will appreciate a misting a few times a week (or a humidifier during dry weather) but this is optional.
Fertilize occasionally with a weak fertilizer during spring and summer, but avoid fertilizing during the winter months. You can prune as needed and repot when plants become rootbound.
Whether you want it as a houseplant or a landscaping plant, there’s a lot to love about spiderwort. If you’re worried about it becoming too aggressive, keep it in containers or divide it often.
Outdoors, plant spiderwort with other flowers like coreopsis, lady’s mantle, yarrow, or foxglove.