If I had to label any houseplant as “foolproof” it would probably be Tradescantia zebrina — aka the wandering Jew. Not only is this trailing foliage plant simple to care for but it’s also incredibly easy to propagate.
This plant’s common name is outdated, to say the least. Most people have switched to more tasteful names like inch plant or variegated spiderwort. You can also use the genus name, Tradescantia, and almost any plant enthusiast will know exactly what you’re talking about.
Regardless of what you like to call this attractive houseplant, I strongly recommend it to propagation beginners. In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know about how to propagate a wandering Jew plant for the best results possible.
Methods of Propagating Wandering Jew
In the wild, all types of Tradescantia grow vigorously. It can quickly become invasive in the right climate. It’s this exact quality that makes Tradescantia such a great houseplant for beginners. (If you live in a warmer climate, I strongly advise against growing these plants outdoors, even in containers!)
Meanwhile, propagating Tradescantia is incredibly easy because this plant roots at the slightest sign of moisture. You might see roots growing out of your inch plant’s stems if it’s kept in a humid room. Cuttings will readily root in soil or water with zero coaxing.
1. Propagating in Water From a Cutting
In most cases, there aren’t any tangible benefits to rooting a stem cutting in water versus potting soil. However, it’s extremely rewarding to be able to see new roots grow in real-time. If you’re new to propagating, I strongly recommend trying out this method just for the experience.
To root a Tradescantia cutting in water, first select a clean, glass jar that is an appropriate size. I like to use a mason jar-style container. I recommend using filtered tap water or distilled bottled water for the best results.
Place the cutting somewhere with bright, indirect light exposure. It’s best to keep your propagation setup away from heat sources and drafts.
One thing many people forget to do when rooting cuttings in this way is to change out the water. You should replace the water every week at a minimum. I recommend changing the water as often as every 3 days.
2. Propagation in Soil From a Cutting
Rooting stem cuttings in potting soil is simple and straightforward. The only downside is it doesn’t offer the instant satisfaction you get from propagating Tradescantia in water.
Place individual cuttings in small pots with drainage holes. Regular potting soil can be used to fill the containers. Be sure to use a material that drains well and retains moisture.
Peat moss works extremely well for propagation. I even know of some gardeners that prefer to root stem cuttings in 100% peat moss.
Coconut coir also works well. Just keep in mind that it won’t sustain the nutrient requirement of your Tradescantia cuttings for long, as they mature.
You can purchase special potting soils for propagation that retain extra moisture but I don’t think these are necessary for inch plants. You can reserve such products for plants that are more difficult to root from cuttings.
I often use a hairpin and pin stem nodes just under the surface of the soil. As long as you keep the soil moist but not wet, the node will root. You can then simply transplant the newly rooted stem into a separate pot.
This is also a great technique to use for creating a bushier plant. Take existing long stems, ideally pick out any that look leggy, and double them back over the plant pot across the soil surface and pin them.
When Will Roots Appear?
Tradescantia roots often start to appear 1 to 2 weeks after planting or placing a cutting in water. Extensive root development will occur within 4 weeks. Plan to transplant your Tradescantia cutting to a more permanent container once the roots reach a couple of inches long.
How To Propagate – Step by Step
The secret to propagating any houseplant is to start with the right materials. That includes the actual cuttings you take from the parent plant.
While Tradescantia is much more forgiving than other plant species, it’s still worth the time and effort to take high-quality cuttings. This simple step will ensure you get the best results possible from all propagation efforts.
1. Check Your Plant’s Health
All stem cuttings should be taken from mature, healthy plants. I never advise taking cuttings from houseplants that show signs of pests or illness. These issues should be treated before moving forward with propagation.
2. Locate The Stem Nodes
When taking cuttings, select established vines that have many leaves. A cutting must contain viable nodes to produce roots and grow. Since leaves emerge from stem nodes, this is the best way to ensure your cuttings will be successful.
Locate a healthy node at least 5 inches from the end of a stem. Make your cut just below this node. Be sure to use a clean, sharp blade or scissors to prevent the spread of disease.
3. Prepare Cuttings For Rooting
After collecting your cuttings, carefully remove the bottom leaves from the stem. Leave at least 2 or 3 leaves intact so the cutting can continue to photosynthesize and grow.
Applying a rooting hormone to the end of each stem cutting is optional. If you have some on hand, however, it certainly doesn’t hurt to use it. But to be honest Tradescantia Zebrina generally roots very quickly, without too much fuss.
4. Place Cuttings In Desired Medium
Now your Tradescantia cuttings are ready to be placed in potting soil, peat moss, or plain water. I recommend doing this as soon as possible to prevent the stems from drying out. (You can wrap the cut ends in damp paper towels for a short time if necessary.)
My preferred method is to simply place cuttings into a glass or jar containing clean water. Wandering Jew cuttings tend to shoot new roots very quickly and without any issues. Just change the water every 3-5 days and keep the cutting on a bright window sill, but out of direct sunlight. Make sure all of the nodes are submerged under water and you will find more than one node will root.
Common Problems Propagating Wandering Jew
It’s easy to sing the praises of Tradescantia, especially in the context of propagation. However, no plant species is without its problems.
There’s a small chance that your propagated Tradescantia could encounter pests, disease, or leggy growth. Here’s what to know about these issues:
Pests And Disease
Tradescantia is susceptible to all common houseplant pests. Aphids and spider mites are particularly attracted to the foliage. But you shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a trip, scale, or whitefly infestation.
Pests don’t spontaneously appear after propagation. What often happens, however, is that small infestations of the parent plant go unnoticed and are inadvertently spread via cuttings. Note that newly propagated Tradescantia are less able to fight off infestations and must be treated quickly if symptoms emerge.
While Tradescantia is not particularly vulnerable to any diseases, they may fall victim to root rot when grown in waterlogged soil. Well-draining soil should be used for all plants, including fresh cuttings. I have also seen root rot symptoms appear when cuttings rooted in water are left too long without transplanting to the soil.
Leggy growth is a common complaint among Tradescantia growers. This issue is both unsightly and a sign that your plant isn’t in peak health.
On trailing stems, the leaves of your inch plant should not be spaced much more than an inch apart on average — by the way, this is where the name “inch plant” comes from. More space between the leaves is usually a symptom of too little sunlight.
Leggy growth can also be mitigated by periodically pruning thin or weak growth from plants as they mature. This will encourage a bushier shape overall. NC State University recommends using cut sections of stems for further propagation.
With that said, pruning and shaping will only go so far. For the best results, ensure your Tradescantia receives adequate sunlight each day.
Tradescantia Care After Propagation
Tradescantia is forgiving but you should still do your best to create a healthy growing environment. Propagation will be much more successful if all of your plant’s needs are met from the start.
From lighting to fertilizer, here’s what you need to know about caring for wandering Jew plants:
Like most popular houseplants, Tradescantia prefers bright but indirect light. A west- or east-facing window would be perfect for this plant.
Tradescantia is fairly resilient when it comes to different lighting conditions. If the foliage appears faded, too much sunlight is likely to blame. Meanwhile, leggy growth is a common symptom of too little light exposure.
Temperature & Humidity
This plant grows in average household temperatures between 55 and 75°F. The ideal temperature is above 65 degrees. Cooler temperatures may slow growth and will place unwanted stress on your Tradescantia.
Optimal growth occurs when the ambient humidity is above 50%. However, lower humidity levels won’t drastically impact your Tradescantia’s health.
You can grow Tradescantia in any all-purpose potting soil formulated for indoor plants. Ensure your chosen container has drainage holes. This plant looks particularly great in a hanging basket.
Inch plants require a balanced watering approach. They do not like to be constantly wet but also can’t survive extended drought conditions. I recommend letting the soil dry out about halfway between waterings.
Tradescantia needs less water in the wintertime due to a natural dormancy period. During this time, water is just often enough to keep the soil from completely drying out.
Tradescantia often grows well without any fertilizer. For maximum growth, fertilize once or twice per month during the spring and summer. Avoid fertilizing during the dormant season. Use a balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half its strength.
FAQ How To Propagate Wandering Jew
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.