How to Care for Tradescantia Lilac (Inch Plant)

Tradescantia, also known as Inch Plant, Spiderwort, or Wandering Dude, is a fast-growing trailing tropical plant native to South America and Mexico.

In their natural habitat, they creep across the forest floors, creating a full, bushy look under larger tree canopies. 

There are over 75 different plants in the genus of Tradescantia, of which only a few have been adapted to grow as houseplants. These lucky few thank their popularity to their dazzling, bold leaf patterns and colors.

Their attractive foliage makes the plants stand out from other easy-care indoor houseplants, which tend to be mostly dark-green colored. 

Because of Tradescantia’s hardy nature, it is one of the easiest houseplants for beginners. Its beautiful, colorful vines can grow up to a whopping 2” a week during its growing season. That’s almost 8” every month! 

Tradescantia Overview

Scientific NameTradescantia zebrina
Common NamesInch Plant, Wandering Dude, Jew Plants, Spiderwort
FamilyCommelinaceae (Spiderwort Plants)
OriginMexico and Central or South America
Size and Dimensions (Mature)3-6″ in height and 12-14″ in trailing length
Distinguishing FeaturesFast-paced growth, boldly colored foliage
In-Home PlacementEast or West facing window

About Tradescantia Lilac (Inch Plant)

Tradescantia Lilac leaves with pink blooms

Tradescantia Is Invasive

Due to its fast growth rate, the Tradescantia is considered an invasive species in many parts of the world, including South America, Mexico, and Australia.

In their natural habitat, the plant can quickly cover a large piece of ground in dense, crowded vines, potentially blocking other plants from growing and obtaining sunlight and nutrients! 

Symbolism of the “Wandering Jew”

The plant thanks its original common name, ‘Wandering Jew,’ to a biblical character, a Jewish man who was cursed to walk the earth until the second coming of Jesus.

While the exact reason this plant was named after this character is unknown, it is suspected that the name stems from the plant’s fast-growing, ‘wandering’ vines. 

Recently, the term ‘Wandering Jew plant’ has been changed to ‘Wandering Dude’ because the original nickname of the plant would contain antisemitic ideologies.

These days, you’ll find Tradescantias in garden centers and plant shops sold under the new name Wandering Dude

Tradescantia Blooms 

In USDA zones 10-11, Tradescantia can be grown as an annual plant in your garden if your area experiences warmer temperatures in winter.

It is often used as a ground cover due to its speedy growth. In other regions, such as Central America or parts of Europe, people are growing Tradescantia as a perennial plant. 

When growing outdoors, all plants from the Tradescantia genus will likely bloom during the summer in ideal conditions. Their white or purple flowers are small and triangular.

While they only last for a few days and may not look too exciting to us, these little lilac or white flowers will attract all types of insects and pollinators to your garden! 

Tradescantia Lilac Care and Growing Conditions

Tradescantia Lilac plant with purple and green leaves in white pot placed on balcony fence

The Inch Plant naturally grows on the ground in a humid, warm, temperate climate. The fact that it is considered an invasive species in some regions of the world tells us that it is a resilient plant that will grow vigorously in various conditions. Giving your Tradescnatia the proper care it needs won’t be difficult! 

Well-Draining Soil 

Because the Wandering Dude likes evenly moist soil, your soil mixture is essential. This plant likes to live in soil with good drainage. You will want to use a mix that retains moisture well but does not stay wet for too long. 

An ideal mix is three parts regular potting mix (or peat moss) to one part perlite. The perlite will enhance drainage in the soil, which helps in preventing waterlogged soil and root rot. 

Frequent Watering

As mentioned before, this plant appreciates moist soil at all times. However, it can withstand some drought and will bounce back quickly if you forget about it briefly.

With that said, letting the soil go bone dry will result in dropping leaves and browning foliage. 

You will want to water your Tradescantia zebrina when the top inch of soil feels dry. Doing this will ensure that the soil remains moist but never becomes soggy.

Ensure that this plant is potted into a pot with drainage holes. This prevents excess water from remaining in the pot, preventing overly wet soil. After watering, always empty the saucer or cache pot. 

During winter, reduce watering if your plant has stopped or slowed down growing. Allow half of the soil to dry before giving it another drink. You may continue the regular watering schedule once you see lots of new growth in spring.

Room Temperature 

Ideally, Tradescantia prefers to grow in a warm environment that mimics its natural habitat. But this plant is hardy and withstands a wide temperature range without any problems.

The ideal range is between 65-80F (18-27C). But it can tolerate down to 50F (10C). Avoid anything lower than this because the plant does not like cold and cannot tolerate frost!

Bright, Indirect Light

Like most tropical plants, the Inch Plant will appreciate bright indirect light if possible. It will also be fine in medium light, but avoid low light conditions because the plant will grow leggy and pale when it doesn’t receive proper lighting. 

Tradescantia can tolerate some direct sunlight, but you should avoid placing it in the hot afternoon sun can burn delicate leaves, especially during the hot summer months.

Consider offering your Inch Plant partial shade during the hottest part of the day or moving it to a slightly less sunny location. 

If you can’t provide your Inch Plant with sufficient natural light, you may give it a grow light. This is an excellent option if your home lacks sunlight during winter.

Avoid placing your plant too close to it if you use a grow light. Artificial lights can burn the leaves. 

Average Humidity

Due to their tropical origin, Tradescantia plants will do best when grown in high humidity. They appreciate 50% humidity or higher. But don’t worry – This hardy plant will grow fine at an average humidity level, too.

Purchasing a hygrometer may be useful if you are uncertain about your home’s humidity. A hygrometer is a device that can indicate the percentage of humidity in a room! 

The average home sits around 40% humidity. You needn’t worry about humidity levels if you see no brown edges or leaves on your Inch Plant.

But, if there is some leaf browning, investing in a humidifier will be in your best interest to keep this plant happy.

Best Fertilizer for Inch Plants

Tradescantia appreciates regular feeding with a liquid fertilizer for indoor tropical plants. Feed it monthly during the growing season (March to October).

We recommend diluting your solution to half strength to avoid fertilizer burn. Alternatively, you can use slow-release fertilizers in spring. Slow-release fertilizers will not cause fertilizer burn. 

Do not feed your Inch Plant during winter when it isn’t actively growing. You may feed it again once you see new growth emerging in spring.

How to Propagate Inch Plants

inch plant with purple green leaves and herbaceous stems

Wandering Dude is incredibly easy to propagate, which is part of what makes them so attractive. Before taking any cuttings, ensure that you have a well-established, mature plant to take cuttings from.

If your plant is sick or not well-rooted, the chances of the cutting failing increase greatly! Tradescantia can only be propagated through stem cuttings.

Inch Plant Stem Cuttings in Water

  1. Choose a vine to take cuttings from. Make sure you are only cutting healthy parts of the plant! Aim for cuttings around 5 inches in length for the best results.
  2. Make your cut. Use clean and sterile scissors to do this.
  3. Remove the cutting’s bottom two to four leaves, revealing the leaf nodes. The leaf node is where the roots will grow from. Make sure to leave enough leaves at the top of your cutting!
  4. Place the cutting in a glass of water to develop roots. You can use a vase or specific propagation tube. Anything that holds water will suffice.
  5. Give your cutting bright light for the best results. Refresh the water once a week.
  6. Within a few weeks, your Inch Plant cutting will have grown new roots! When the roots are about an inch long, you may transfer the cutting into well-drained soil.
  7. Simply put the cutting into your soil mixture as you would any plant. It’s recommended to plant multiple cuttings together so that you create a fuller plant. 
  8. Voila! You’ve grown your very own Tradescantia from cuttings.

For best results, ensure you give your cutting adequate light while rooting. If you cannot provide sufficient light for your Inch Plant cuttings, consider getting an artificial grow light to ensure it receives the light it needs.

Inch Plant Stem Cuttings in soil

If you prefer, you can root Tradescantia cuttings directly in soil. For this method, skip step 4, as mentioned above, and place your cutting into soil instead of water.

Keep the soil slightly moist until you notice new growth emerging from the top of the cutting. If you can gently pull the plant and feel some resistance, the cutting has rooted, and you can continue regular care. 

Potting and Repotting Tradescantia Lilac

Tradescantia Lilac plant in white pot placed outdoors

Wait with repotting until your Tradescantia zebrina has become rootbound. You can recognize a rootbound plant by roots poking through the bottom of the pot and the drainage holes.

When you remove the plant from its pot, you will see that the soil is filled up with roots completely. Only when you see this should you go ahead and repot your Tradescantia.

How to Repot Your Inch Plant (Step-by-Step)

  1. Choose a new pot for your plant. Opt for a pot about 2-3 inches wider than the previous pot. Avoid potting it up too big, as this can cause problems like overwatering! Ensure you are planting into a pot that has drainage holes.
  2. Remove your plant from its pot. If it is very rootbound, this may be difficult. You can gently squeeze the pot to push the plant out.
  3. Gently untangle the root ball. Try to damage as little of the roots as possible to prevent shock.
  4. Fill up the new pot with a layer of potting soil, add your plant, and fill up the sides and the top of the plant with more soil. Leave about half an inch of room at the top of the container.
  5. Give your Inch Plant a drink. Moist soil will help the roots adjust to the new medium.
  6. And you’re ready! It may take a while for your Inch Plant to put out new growth as it is acclimating to the new pot. Be patient! In no time, your Tradescantia will grow twice as big.

When to Repot Your Inch Plant

The best time for repotting is early spring because, during winter, Tradescantia goes dormant or stagnates, growing to preserve energy.

Since your plant is resting, it won’t have the proper energy to fully acclimate to the new environment. If your plant has become rootbound during winter, wait until March or April to repot!

Common Problems with Inch Plant

unhealthy inch plant placed outdoors on roadside

Root Rot

Root rot is a common issue with most houseplants, including Tradescantia. It is usually caused by prolonged moist or waterlogged soil periods.

Symptoms can include yellowing leaves (generally starting a the oldest leaves) and stunted growth. Once your plant has developed root rot, it will quickly decline! The good news is that a plant suffering from root rot may be salvageable if you act quickly. 

How to Treat Tradescantia for Root Rot

  • Remove the plant from the pot and gently remove the soil so you can see the root system.
  • You are dealing with root rot if the roots are brown and mushy. Healthy roots will appear white and firm and not break easily.
  • Clean off the roots with sterile water.
  • Take sterilized scissors and trim any mushy roots. Remove every bit of rot you see to prevent the bacteria from spreading.
  • You can use a diluted hydrogen peroxide solution to disinfect the roots.
  • Once cleaned up, repot your plant in a fresh houseplant soil mix. Do not reuse the old soil, as this will harbor the bacteria from the rot. 

The best way to treat root rot is by preventing it. Avoid waterlogging your soil and ensure that your Inch Plant is sitting in a pot with a drainage hole, as has well-drained soil.

Only water when the top few inches of soil feel dry, and always empty the saucer or cache pot after watering.

Brown Leaf Edges

Most often, brown and crispy leaves are the result of low humidity. If possible, try to create a humid environment for your Inch Plant! Set the plant on top of a pebble tray or place a humidifier near your plant collection to boost the air moisture. 

Brown leaves will likely appear more often during the winter months! This is often the result of indoor heating drying out your plant’s leaves.

Avoid placing your Tradescantia near a radiator, air vent, or drafty, cold window to ensure a healthy plant throughout the winter! 

Spider Mites

Spider mites are tiny insects that feed on plants. Depending on the species, they can be red, yellow, or orange. Spider mites attack plants through their leaves, sucking the nutrients out of them.

Infested plants suffer yellowing and browning of their leaves as spider mites create webbing while feeding on them. 

Depending on the extent of the infestation, you may notice your plant leaves are covered in a web-like substance, you may see specks on the leaves, or you may notice that whole portions of your plant start to curl and wither.

How to Treat Tradescantia for Spider Mites

To treat spider mites, quarantine your plant to prevent spread. You can wash your plant with water to rinse off any living bugs walking around on the foliage and then use insecticidal soap or neem oil to spray your plant and wipe off spider mites. Repeat this process daily until the infestation is gone.

Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats are fruit-fly-sized insects that lay eggs in the soil of your houseplants. They are gray to black-gray in appearance and can be hard to distinguish from regular fruit flies.

Fungus gnats love to live in humid, warm environments. Because Tradescantia likes moist soil, they are prone to fungus gnat infestations. If your plant is infested with gnats, follow the guide below to treat your Tradescantia. 

How to Treat Tradescantia for Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats do not cause much damage to your plant. However, they reproduce incredibly fast. The females can lay up to 150 eggs in their short, week-long lifespan! Not to mention, the bugs are annoying.

Placing yellow sticky traps will help you control the population by catching the adults if you have a fungus gnat infestation.

Topdressing the soil with a sprinkle of food-grade diatomaceous earth to treat the eggs. This powdery substance is made of prehistoric ground fossils, and these particles are sharp.

It works like tiny razor blades in the respiratory system of any bug that inhales it and causes them to suffocate and dehydrate, eventually dying. 

Creative Ways to Display Inch Plants

inch plants in white and black pots hung on colorful wooden planks ourdoors

In a Hanging Basket

Tradescantia is a beautiful and unique plant that can add a touch of elegance to any home. This plant is a great choice for those seeking a trailing plant to add to their hanging basket collection.

Its beautiful bright colors and striped foliage look striking when paired with fully green plants. Place the plant in an ideal location to keep it lush and happy.

A spot where it is protected against drafts, cold winds, and air vents but still receives plenty of bright sunlight is optimal! 

As an Outdoor Plant 

This plant will enrich your, patio or entryway with its lush, purple, and green leaves. They can be grown in hanging baskets or tall planters, where they can drape their beautiful vines over the edges of the pot.

When placing your Wandering Dude outdoors, for example, in backyard pool landscaping, it is a good idea to put it in a sheltered location to protect it from intense sun and rainfall, as too much water can cause root rot and kill your plant! 

Other Attractive Species of Tradescantia 

Apart from the well-known and loved Tradescantia zebrina, there are many different varieties in the genus Tradescantia.

Each variety has unique, brightly colored leaves, ranging from deep purple and silver to bubblegum pink with white stripes.

Tradescantia Fluminensis / Tradescantia Albiflora 

Tradescantia Fluminensis plant leaves with white flowers

Also known as ‘Small-Leaf Spiderwort,’ this Tradescantia variety is not commonly sold as a houseplant. It has fully green leaves and is easily the most invasive Tradescantia.

In most regions, it is considered a very invasive weed! It’s a difficult plant to get rid of once it has infested itself in your garden. 

However, this plant has a variegated cousin known as Tradescantia Tricolor. Despite having many of the same characteristics, the Tricolor is welcomed in many people’s homes due to its beautiful pink-and-green variegation. 

Tradescantia Nanouk

Tradescantia Nanouk plant with green and pink leaves in a pot near window

Tradescantia Nanouk is a relatively new cultivar, and it was created through cross-pollinating Tradescantia Albiflora seeds.

The result is a beautiful, vibrantly pink-purple plant that has become incredibly popular in the plant community. Tradescantia Nanouk care is the same as all the other Inch Plants, which is part of what makes this genus so attractive. 

Tradescantia Pallida (Purple Heart)

Tradescantia Pallida plant with pink flowers

The Purple Heart, or Purple Queen Tradescantia, is a unique specimen and one of my personal favorites! It has bright purple-colored leaves that are more elongated than many other Tradescantia varieties.

If you’re a lover of colorful vines, make sure to keep an eye out for this beauty! Bonus points: it produces the most adorable pink flowers in the right conditions. 

Tradescantia Blossfeldiana (Bubblegum / Lilac)

Tradescantia Blossfeldiana plant in a pot

Tradescantia Bubblegum, or ‘Lilac,’ appears very similar to the previously mentioned Tradescantia Tricolor. However, true Tradescantia lovers will be able to tell the difference upon close investigation (I know I can!).

The Tradescantia Lilac has much brighter colored variegation, and its leaf undersides are a vibrant pink to lilac shade. 

Tradescantia Spathacea (Oyster Plant)

Tradescantia Spathacea plant in a pot with white background

The Oyster Plant is one of the more common Tradescantia species. Similar to the Purple Heart Tradescantia, it has large, purple-colored leaves.

However, this plant’s leaves tend to be a more soft shade of purple mixed with green. Further, this plant has similar care requirements as other Tradescantia varieties. 

Other Useful Information About Tradescantia 

Tradescantia zebrina plant in outdoors with brick wall in background

Are Inch Plants Toxic to Cats?

Yes, this plant is reported as toxic to cats. Ironically, many cats will love to chew on these plants! Their vines are bouncy, and their silver stripes can look fun.

However, you must keep this plant out of reach for your feline roommate! Cats may develop skin irritation after being in contact with Inch Plant. Ingestion may cause nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting. 

If your pet has come in contact with your Tradescantia, please contact your vet immediately.

Are Inch Plants Toxic to Dogs?

Wandering Dude is considered toxic to dogs. Most dogs are not too intrigued by the plant, but if you have a puppy or a very playful dog, please keep him away from your Tradescantia! A dog may develop abscesses and irritated red skin upon exposure to the plant.

Contact your vet as soon as possible after your dog has been in contact with your Tradescantia plant!  

Do I Need to Prune My Inch Plant?

Yes, it is recommended to prune your Inch Plant regularly. Cuts will result in new branches emerging. It can help reduce leggy-ness and baldness and create a fuller, more attractive plant.

You should also regularly remove dead leaves or unhealthy foliage, promoting plant health. Because this plant is a fast grower, we recommend pruning it annually. 

Do Inch Plants Grow Best Indoors or Outdoors?

Tradescantia can be grown outdoors, granted you live in USDA zone 9 or higher. Due to these plants being from a tropical climate, they do not tolerate cold, drought, and dry air well.

Temperature ranges between 50-80 degrees create perfect conditions for this plant. When placing your Inch Plant outside, remember that you might need to tweak its care regimen to keep it healthy. 

Outdoor plants will generally need to be watered more often than indoor plants. Outdoor plants require more water because the light outside is much brighter than inside, and when a plant receives more light, it will produce more energy and thus need more water to sustain itself.

Avoid placing your Inch Plant in full sun, especially when growing outside. The sun will quickly dry out and burn the foliage. 

How Do I Get My Inch Plant to Flower?

Inch Plants only flower when they are provided with particular conditions. Give your Tradescantia zebrina enough light – they need a lot of bright indirect sunlight to blossom. 

Keep the temperature above 50F, and stay on track with watering your plant during the spring and summer. Fertilizing your Tradescantia monthly during the growing season will encourage it to produce flowers.

Where Can I Find an Inch Plant for Sale?

There are wide tradescantia varieties readily available in most nurseries and plant shops. They should be easy to find. When purchasing a new Tradescantia, make sure you choose a healthy specimen.

Look for full and bushy plants that are putting out new growth. You want to avoid bringing home new plants that appear sick, dying, or have a bug infestation. 

When buying online, ensure you are buying from a trustworthy seller. When something seems too good to be true, it likely is. 

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