The Houseplant Lover's Guide to Spider Plants: Tips, Tricks & Care

The Houseplant Lover's Guide to Spider Plants: Tips, Tricks & Care

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Rachel Jacks
Aug 17, 2016
(Image credit: Rachel Jacks)

Spider plants were perfect for the macramé plant hangers that were everywhere in the 1970s, and with the resurgence of macramé and the indoor jungle, spider plants are making a comeback, too. These tolerant plants are easy to grow and propagate, and look great even without the macramé.

Spider plants, also known as airplane plants, are native to tropical and Southern Africa. The long, grass-like leaves of this flowering perennial are often striped with white down the middle or edges, but there are solid green varieties, too, and the "Bonnie" variety features curly leaves. Often grown in hanging baskets due to their cascading growth, they produce small white flowers in response to increasing daylight.

According to a NASA clean air study, spider plants can filter formaldehyde, xylene, and toluene from the air. They're non-toxic to pets, although if your pet eats large amounts due to the similarity to grass, they can suffer stomach irritation (a vet visit with a vomiting cat taught me this lesson).

Where to Grow

Spider plants can be grown outside in zones 9-11, where they prefer light shade and well-drained soil. Indoors, they thrive in lots of indirect light, between 55 and 80 degrees F, and they love humidity. So the perfect spot is near a sunny window in a steamy bathroom, but as long as they have access to some sunlight, they're relatively tolerant to many conditions. If the temperatures are right, a summer vacation outdoors in the shade can help an indoor spider plant put on some growth.

Care and Planting

Spider plants have a reputation for being impossible to kill, and while they don't need much attention, they're not invincible. The most common cause of death is too much water. Spider plants are susceptible to root rot if waterlogged, so they need to be planted in a pot with drainage holes. Cover the drainage holes with broken pottery to keep the soil from washing out, and plant in standard potting soil. Allow the soil to dry before watering (once a week is usually enough), and dump out water that drains from the bottom of the pot.

Fertilize three to four times a year with an all-purpose liquid houseplant food during the growing season. Skip fertilizer during the winter, or if your plant is outgrowing its pot.

Spider plants actually do well even when they're pot-bound, and it may even help stimulate the production of baby plants. But if the roots are threatening to break the pot, or preventing water from soaking into the soil, you'll need to repot. You can either move the plant to a bigger pot, or divide it. Remove the plant from the pot, and cut it vertically into halves, thirds, or quarters with a sharp knife. Re-plant in standard potting soil.

One of the most common problems with spider plants is brown leaf tips. This tip burn is often blamed on minerals in the water supply, but it can also be due to insufficient water or humidity. Although it's generally harmless, you can trim affected leaves if it bothers you. Flushing the soil with distilled water can help wash out excess salts or fertilizer if the tip burn is excessive.

How to Propagate

Although you can divide an overgrown plant into multiples, you don't have to wait for the plant to double in size to propagate it. The flowers that form in response to increasing day length will develop into mini spider plants, called "spiderettes," which are easy to grow into new plants.

The best way is to leave the spiderette attached to the mother plant, but place it on a new pot of soil so that the nodules and tiny roots on the bottom of the plantlet are touching the soil. Keep the new soil moist, and cut the stem between the new and old plant after the spiderette has rooted.

Spiderettes can also be cut off and rooted. If you see spiderettes on a plant in a business or a friend's home, asking if you can take a baby plantlet is a great way to increase your home jungle size. They can be rooted in soil or water. They will root faster in water, but sometimes plants rooted in water have difficulty adapting to soil, especially if they've been in water for a long time.

Even if you don't want more plants, if your adult plant isn't as full as you'd like, you can root spiderettes and plant them in the same pot as the mother to help fill it out.

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