Tradescantia are much loved for their variegated leaves, deep purple color (although there are also green varieties!) and for how extremely easy they are to propagate. They make a lovely, understated statement in outdoor garden beds or planters, and are perhaps even more striking indoors when allowed to trail in hanging baskets. Here's how to make sure they thrive and put their best foot forward.
As with most plants, it's hard to pin down and distinguish between the different types. You might now these guys by other names, like inch plants, Purple Heart or Wandering Jew. There are many different varieties including: Tradescantia fulminensis, Tradescantia zebrina, and Tradescantia albiflora. The most popular ones have green or silvery variegated leaves with purple undersides, although they can also come in pink as well.
Light and Temperature
Tradescantia like bright, indirect light. They need a good amount of light and if they don't get it, you'll notice that their leaf markings begin to fade. Direct sun, however, will scorch their leaves (with the exception being the purple queen variety, which loves full sun).
Tradescantia thrive in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees, so they do well in typical indoor temperatures. Outdoors, they prefer a mild climate that doesn't drop below 50 degrees. Frost will kill them.
The Best Soil
Tradescantia are not picky about their soil and will grow just fine in all-purpose soil. However, because they like to stay moist, you might consider mixing a moisture retainer such as vermiculite or peat moss in with the soil.
Watering and Fertilizing
Tradescantia love moisture. Don't ever let your plant get too dry, especially in winter. To keep soil evenly moist, a regular watering schedule is best. Water until water drains through the bottom of the pot, taking care that your plant won't sit in water.
Tradescantia thrive in humidity and they love a regular misting. Leaf tips will turn brown without adequate humidity. Placing the plant on a tray of pebbles in water is one way to ensure ambient moisture.
Fertilizing your Tradescantia isn't absolutely necessary, but they will reward you with better growth if you do feed them. Fertilize only in the spring and summer with a half-strength liquid fertilizer monthly or a controlled-release fertilizer.
Due to the vining nature they're named for, Tradescantia need regular pruning to maintain a pleasing, bushy appearance. Gardening Know How recommends pinching back about a fourth of the plant to "encourage branching and increase fullness."
A special note: No matter how well you care for your Tradescantia, they tend to get dry and leggy after about a year or so. But the plants are so easy to propagate that keeping your plant "going" is just a matter of planting cuttings.
Tradescantia are one of the types of plants that can be passed from friend to friend from pinched-off leaf cuttings, producing full-blown, trailing houseplants for a whole host of people. Propagation is also an easy and effective way to "refresh" your Tradescantia when it begins to show its age.
There are a few ways to propagate your Tradescantia. You may simply pinch of a branch or a few branches and submerge the cuttings in fresh soil. With regular watering, you'll begin to see new growth shortly. You can also root your cuttings in water if you prefer. Alternately, you can lay a longer stem of an inch plant across the soil and it will root where the nodes touch the soil.
Where to Buy
Tradescantia are commonly found in nurseries, large hardware stores, and online.