How to Grow and Care for Tradescantia Zebrina (Wandering Jew)

Tradescantia Zebrina

Quick Overview

Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Tradescantia - Spiderwort
Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial sun
Watering: Average. Moist but well-drained soil
Colors: Green, Purple
Size: 6-12 in. tall, 12-24 in. wide
Hardiness Zones: 9–12 (USDA)
Soil Type: Loam, Sand.
Soil pH: Neutral to acidic
Propagation: Very easy, from stem cuttings
Toxicity: Mildly toxic

Tradescantia Zebrina is one of the most popular house plants that can grace the inside of a home. This trailing evergreen is well-loved for its stunning green and purple and silver stripes on the leaves and its fast viney growth. It looks beautiful in a hanging pot or flowing down a bookcase.

Tradescantia Zebrina does well if the soil is allowed to dry a little between waterings. Remember to fertilize once a month during the growing season. This plant loves bright filtered light without any direct sunlight as it risks burning the leaves. It thrives in slightly humid environments but always make sure to protect it by keeping it away from heating vents and air draughts.

This plant is a recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Award of Garden Merit. This is not surprising, as the varietal is not only a feast for the eyes, but it is fast-growing and easy to care for. The species is native to Southern Mexico and Guatemala and makes a gorgeous ground cover when grown outside in warm climates.

Tradescantia Zebrina can be a mouthful to pronounce. So it not surprising that the varietal has acquired many nicknames over the years. This bold, striking plant is also known as:

  • T. Zebrina
  • Spiderwort
  • Zebrina
  • Inch Plant

But most people call it by the shortened name of Zebrina.

Wandering Jew has also been a very popular nickname over years. However, that name has recently become politically charged. Many people have no issue with the use of this common name as they interpret it as a reference to the Jewish people wandering in the desert. But some feel that the name originates from a European folk story about a mythical Jew who mocked Jesus and was condemned to wander the earth. Recently, there has been a concerted effort to turn the Wandering Jew nickname into Wandering Dude. We like the name Zebrina and will refer to it herein as such.

Zebrina is not cold-weather hardy. If your climate reaches low temperatures in the winter, this varietal is best kept as a house plant. It particularly thrives in hanging baskets or containers, where its branches can trail gracefully over the edges.

When in their native habitat, tiny rosy-purple flowers will bloom in small clusters throughout the year. But only when grown in their native habitat.  Zebrina rarely blooms when grown indoors. But its bold purple and green leaves create enough visual interest on its own.

Read also: How to Grow and Care for Philodendron

How to Care for Your Tradescantia Zebrina

Water and Soil

Zebrinas like small breaks between watering. Allow your soil to dry to the top 50% before watering. Then water until liquid flows through the drainage hole and accumulates at the bottom of the pot. Discard any water that has accumulated in the saucer.

Take care not to overwater your Zebrina plant. Overwatering can lead to root rot, which is a common issue with this varietal. If your soil is soggy, it has been overwatered, and you need to cut back. Pour out any excess water from the pot and let your soil dry out a little before watering again. If your roots are damaged, you may need to re-pot in a well-draining potting mix to get your roots out of their overwatered soil.

Humidity

Your bathroom or kitchen is a great choice for your Tradescantia Zebrina as it does best in a slightly more humid environment. Feel free to mist your plant frequently. If the humidity is too low the leaves will start to brown.

Fertilizer

You may want to fertilize your Zebrina once a month during its peak periods of growth, which are the spring and summer seasons. To do so, choose a liquid fertilizer and dilute with water according to the package instructions. You can fertilize every other week. It is not necessary to fertilize during the cooler months, as the plant is naturally in a resting phase during those times.

Light

Zebrina plants love bright, indirect light. The more natural the sunlight it can receive, the more vibrant purple its beautiful leaves will be. However, take care not to place your plant directly into sunlight. This species cannot thrive under direct sun.

Pests

Zebrinas are not prone to pests, but they can occasionally get spider mites (teeny tiny arachnids that lay their eggs on leaves and eat plant tissue). To avoid the occurrence of mites, keep the humidity high (spider mites like it dry). 

If you do find mites on your plant, try rinsing your Zebrina under running water to remove the mites. If this does not work, try a solution of soapy water. Mix 5 tablespoons of dish soap with 4 cups of water in a bottle and spray plants with the solution. 

Pruning

The fast growth rate of this species can also cause legginess. To address this, pinch off the stems. The plant will reciprocate by developing two new stems. Pinching back the long vines encourages branching and increases the fullness of the plant.

Zebrina looks better when full and bushy, but some growing conditions can make the plant “leggy.” These include poor lighting, poor watering, and low humidity. If any of the above conditions are occurring, it is best to address the root cause. When you prune, bear in mind that you can keep the cuttings to propagate them using the methods below.

Tradescantia Zebrina propagation

How to Propagate Your Tradescantia Zebrina

Zebrina is a very easy plant to grow from cuttings. People especially love that that this species propagates quickly. Always make your cuttings with a sharp, sterilized knife or shears. Your cuttings should be 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10 cm.) long.

To start, find a vine that looks healthy and choose leaf nodes on it. (Nodes are the points on a stem where the buds and leaves develop. Cut just below the leaf node. Note that you can make several cuttings from one long vine. Make 10-12 cuttings to ensure that at least a few will root well.

Place your node cuttings in a wide jar and add fresh water almost to the top. Be sure to remove any bottom leaves from the cuttings that will end up underwater. Only the nodes should be submerged. This will prevent leaf rot below the water’s surface. Place your cuttings in a jar in a bright, sunny area.

You should begin to see little roots form under the water surface in a week or so. The roots will come out of the nodes. Be sure to top the jar off with more water as the water level goes down and replace the jar with fresh water if necessary. The water contains nutrients that your cuttings need to absorb in order to grow. After about two weeks of root growth, you should be ready to transplant your Zebrina cuttings.

You can also plant your cuttings directly into the soil. If you choose to propagate with a container, be sure to water the soil often to keep the nodes moist while they work hard to develop a root system.

Once your cuttings have developed roots, you can transplant them into a container, and fill it with all-purpose potting soil. Place your newly planted cuttings in a location that receives medium to bright light, with indoor temperatures between 65- and 75-degrees Fahrenheit (13-24 C).

Tradescantia Zebrina Additional Care

Your Tradescantia Zebrina is mildly toxic to humans and pets so do take care to keep pets away. Ingestion may cause mouth and stomach irritation. If you have curious pets, it is best to keep your Zebrina plant high on a shelf or hanging from a basket.

It is also important to maintain an average room temperature of between 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit for your plant. Extreme changes in temperature can shock it, causing damage to the root system. Also, take care to keep your Zebrina safe from drafts and vents, such as those found around windows and heating systems.

You can train your Zebrina to encourage fullness. If the vines of your Tradescantia become too long, simply trim them with sharp, clean scissors. Then plant the cut ends an inch or two into the soil. Roots will develop and your plant will become more full over time.

Tradescantia Zebrina

Troubleshooting Your Tradescantia Zebrina

Fading Leaves

It can be alarming to notice that the bold purple and silver stripes on your Zebrina are starting to fade, but this is probably due to a lack of light. Find a sunnier spot for your Zebrina, such as a window sill that does not get direct light or a bright shelf.

Yellow Leaves

Drooping yellow leaves on your Tradescantia Zebrina are likely caused by overwatering. Your Tradescantia Zebrina does not need much water to survive. To avoid this condition, water your plant only when the top 50% of soil is dry.

Curling Leaves

Zebrina loves bright light but cannot handle direct sunlight. Getting direct sun will cause the leaves on your plant to curl around the edges. In this case, the solution is not to move to a dark area. Move your plant to another bright area where the direct sun does not come through a window.

Final Thoughts

Gorgeous, eye-catching colors make Tradescantia Zebrina an ideal addition to your indoor plant collection. Remember that this varietal likes bright indirect light and little breaks between watering. But it also appreciates humidity and/or frequent misting. Keep these considerations in mind to be sure that your Zebrina will remain lovely for years to come.