There are a huge variety of tradescantias widely available, ranging from the oft-sold tradescantia zebrina with green and/or purple leaves, to the lesser found tradescantia fluminensis ‘quicksilver’ with long green and white striped leaves.
They can also flower, usually small pink, purple or white flowers appearing on the end of their stems.
Light for tradescantia
Ideally bright, indirect light, though they’ll tolerate a range of lighting conditions. Too much direct sunlight can scorch or ‘bleach’ the leaves’ and too little means it’ll grow slower, get ‘leggy’ (long stems with big gaps between new leaves as it reaches for light), and lose variation.
Ours sit in various positions, never much more than a metre from a nearby window, but also never more than an hour or two of direct sunlight.
Again I can’t recommend Darry Cheng’s excellent book The New Plant Parent enough for understanding how plants ‘see’ and receive light – their main food source.
What I’d call moderate watering – usually about once a week. I generally water from the bottom to allow the plant to wick up as much as it needs, then after an hour or two pour away any excess that sits in the outer pot.
As with most foliage plants, they can tolerate a little dryness in the soil, but overwatering will quickly lead to root rot and permanent damage – so if in doubt, err on the side of watering less rather than more.
Soil and potting for tradescantia
Rich but free draining soil is ideal – I use regular houseplant soil, with a handful of perlite thrown in to allow water to drain through freely.
Humidity for tradescantia
They are generally easygoing about humidity (but like most foliage plants will be happier in slightly more humid conditions when they’re given them).
Tradescantia are ridiculously easy and rewarding to propagate – they were the plant that first started me on the propagation journey. All you have to do is snip off a cutting (with a clean pair of scissors or a knife), and look at where the leaves meet the stem. These are nodes, and when placed in water, will sprout new roots.
Strip the leaves off the lowest one/two nodes that will be submerged in water in the vessel of your choice (old beer bottles or jam jars are great for this!), and pop somewhere out of direct sunlight for a few weeks.
Change the water once a week, or when it starts to get a bit green/murky, and you’ll see new roots appear.
Once the roots are at least an inch long, it’s safe to plant the cuttings in soil – either in a new pot to create a new plant, or they can be added to the original one to create a fuller or bushier mother plant.
Common issues with tradescantia
Losing leaves at the base of the plant – many trailing plants will start to get straggly over time, and lose some of the original leaves at the base of the stem. If nothing else is wrong with the plant, it might be time for a haircut to encourage fresh growth (see propagation above).
Losing colour in new leaves – depending on the location, it could be too much direct sun, which can ‘bleach’ the leaves’, or too little sun, which means they can lose their variation.
Legginess – if the new growth is mostly longer stems, with small leaves, it means the plant is reaching for light. Move it to a brighter spot, and it will grow more ‘compactly’ with bigger leaves at shorter intervals on the stem.
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