I love plants that offer an eye-catching burst of color. They sure put a smile on my face!
Recently, I found a plant at my local nursery that has the most glorious blue flowers. It also comes with the tongue-twisting Latin name Tradescantia occidentalis.
For those of us who don’t enjoy hard-to-read words, it is better known as the Prairie Spiderwort or the Western Spiderwort.
Here are two theories on how it got its name – you decide which you prefer. The first is that the flowers hang downwards like spiders. The second is that the medicinal properties of the plant can be used to treat spider bites.
It is native to the western Great Plains of the USA and is also found in New Mexico, Arizona, and south Utah.
Tradescantia occidentalis is very easy to grow at home. I have planted it as an attractive border along a pathway. I also have it growing in a large container on my patio.
Let’s learn a little more!
- 1 Tradescantia occidentalis Care
- 2 Soil
- 3 Common problems with Tradescantia occidentalis
- 4 Tips to grow Tradescantia occidentalis problem-free
- 5 Frequently asked questions about Tradescantia occidentalis
- 6 Conclusion
Tradescantia occidentalis Care
For ideal Tradescantia occidentalis care, give it fertile, moist, well-draining soil. Fertilize with a mix of peat, humus, compost, mulch, bark chips, pumice or perlite. It is hardy and not fussy and will do well in partial shade with some hours of direct sunlight.
Tradescantia occidentalis thrives best in average humid conditions with temperatures between 65°F to 75°F (18°C to 24°C). This plant grows vigorously and will need some care to keep it in shape.
Tradescantia occidentalis enjoys fertile, moist, well drained soil. Well drained soil allows the water to drain at a moderate rate and you should not see puddles forming.
Very compacted or clay soils do not drain fast and the roots of the plants will eventually start to rot. Very loose soil allows the water to drain too fast, and your plant won’t get a chance to absorb it.
The acidity of the soil is important and can be easily tested with a PH home testing kit. Your soil should be slightly acidic, with a PH level of 5 to 6.
Fertile soil benefits most plants and the Tradescantia species is no exception. To create a luscious, fertile soil I use a mix of natural materials including peat moss, compost, shredded bark, coco husks, mulch, and manure.
I mix this into the soil before planting. If you are planting your Tradescantia occidentalis into a container, create a mix of potting soil and perlite in a ratio of 60% to 40%. Ensure that your container has drainage holes at the base. This will allow excess water to run out.
Tip for ideal Tradescantia occidentalis care: If you are using chemical fertilizers, why not consider a weaning-off process?
Use only half the stated amount of chemical when mixing. Start adding natural fertilizers. If your plants remain healthy you can slowly reduce the chemicals and increase the organic fertilizer until you are no longer using chemicals.
Dilute your chemicals to double that stated in the instructions. Slowly start to introduce natural fertilizers. If your plants remain happy and healthy, do away with the chemicals.
The Western Spiderwort is a hardy perennial and is not overly picky about light conditions. It will do well in sun or shade, although I find that it does prefer partial shade.
Don’t give it too much shade though, it will need at least a few hours of full sun per day. If exposed to all-day sun, you will need to ensure that it gets enough water.
You will notice that amount of light directly affects the blooming of the flowers. More sun means more flowers. The lovely blue blooms last only a day. They open in the morning and wither during the late afternoon.
If your plant is indoors, place in a position where it gets bright, filtered light and a few hours of direct sunlight.
Tradescantia occidentalis light care tip: Giving your plant the correct balance of light will ensure a steady show of flowers through the Summer months.
Tradescantia occidentalis enjoys moist soil. You don’t want a pot that that is drenched. Nor do you want a pot that is dry.
During the Summer months, watering once a week should be adequate. Reduce watering to once every two weeks in Winter.
For indoor plants, ensure that you have a plant saucer under your pot to catch any water that flows out. You don’t want to create a mess.
Tradescantia occidentalis care tip for watering: When watering in Winter, use lukewarm water. Plants, like most people, do not enjoy an icy blast.
The Prairie Spiderwort is not fussy when it comes to temperature. You are probably noticing that this plant is very un-fussy! In fact, it does tend to grow prolifically in outdoor areas, spreading very fast.
Some people tend to call it invasive, but I find that keeping it under control is worth the effort to have these glorious colors adorn my living space.
They are hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 to 9. The Tradescantia species thrive best at temperatures ranging from 65°F to 75°F (18°C to 24°C).
Prairie Spiderwort can withstand higher or cooler temperatures for limited times. Extreme temperatures for longer times will affect the blooming of the flowers.
Your Tradescantia occidentalis is not fussy about humidity. It is not a desert plant that requires low humidity, nor is it a tropical plant that requires high humidity. It does enjoy moisture and can do well in more humid conditions. If the weather is dry for a long time, give it a fine spray with a hose to cleanse the leaves and introduce some moisture.
If you are growing your Prairie Spiderwort indoors, be aware that running warming air-conditioners in Winter can dry out the air and cause a change in humidity.
Tradescantia occidentalis is hardy and grows vigorously outdoors, spreading over large areas if not kept in check. Likewise, in a pot, it will quickly start covering your shelf or window sill.
You do need to worry about following a serious fertilizing program. If your outdoor soil is not fertile, add in a natural organic mix once or twice in early Spring and at the beginning of Summer.
Sometime I like to give my plant an extra boost during the Summer months. I do this by adding in some organic compost.
I enjoy creating environmentally-friendly living conditions. So, I try not to use chemical fertilizers if I can avoid it.
Here is a fun care hack for Tradescantia occidentalis: If you have a small garden or outdoor area, why not buy a home compost-making kit? You can fill it with grass cuttings and fallen leaves and create your own natural fertilizer.
For an indoor plant, fertilizing is important. In Spring and Summer, apply a liquid fertilizer once a month. In winter, you can do this less often.
The easy-to-grow Prairie Spiderwort is also easy to propagate. You will even notice that outdoor plants self-propagate via seeds. You can propagate through division, cuttings, or seeds.
Stem cuttings easily root in fertile soil. The best time to plant is during the Spring months. Plant outdoors about 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) apart, and about 4 to 6 inches (8 to 10cm) deep.
If you have seeds, sow them in Fall or early Spring under a light cover of soil.
If you have never tried propagating your own plants, why not give it a try? It is a rewarding experience.
Tradescantia occidentalis grows vigorously, spreading over large areas. It offers a delightful, interesting flower that is about an inch wide. The flower is made up of three ovate, blue-purple petals set around six thick, purple stamens with bright yellow anthers.
The flowers appear in small clusters on the upper section of the stem. Only one or two bloom at any one time. In hot weather, they open in the morning and close at night.
A healthy plant will offer blooms continuously for 4 to 6 weeks during the Summer months.
The leaves are long and thin with a lovely deep-green color. The plant can grow up to 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60cm) high. Because spiderwort plants grow in clumps, they are ideal for edging, borders, and larger indoor containers.
Tradescantia occidentalis care tip: If your plant starts sprawling too much and becomes invasive, you need to do a mid-season shearing. This prevents the plant from self-sowing. It also reinvigorates the plant, encouraging late-season blooms that will impress your guests!
Tradescantia occidentalis prefers a larger pot as it grows and spreads fast. Plant into fertile, moist soil in Springtime. Ensure that you water at least once a week during the growing period but do not drench.
Incorporating some gritty sand into the potting mix will allow it to drain more easily. Ensure that your container has drainage holes in the base to allow excess water to run out.
The plant does best in soil with a slightly acidic PH level of 5 to 6. If your soil is too acidic, you can add some ground limestone. Look for a finely ground mixture as that will work faster than larger chunks.
Tradescantia occidentalis care tip: Prune back your indoor plant mid-season. This prevents self-seeding and encourages a second bloom.
Propagate through division
Tradescantia occidentalis has a clumping growth habit and can be propagated through division:
- Do this in early Spring or Fall
- Dig up an entire clump
- Carefully divide the crown and rootball into 1 or 2 sections
- You can use your hands or a sterile sharp knife
- Shake off excess soil
- Remove any dead growth
- Prepare your new planting area with a rich, fertilized soil and water well
- Make a hole about 3 inches (7.5cm) deep and place the division into the hole
- Fill soil around the plant
- Water with a fine spray
Propagate from cuttings
This is best done in early Spring to late Summer .
Prepare a container filled with a mix of potting soil, perlite, peat moss, and gritty sand for drainage.
- Water well
- Use a sterile sharp knife, scissors, or cutter
- Select a healthy well-formed stem
- Carefully cut it off at the base
- Remove the lower leaves on the stem by snipping them off
- The base of the stem will now be clean
- Using your finger, push a hole about 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 4cm) deep into the soil
- Place the cutting into the hole and pack the soil around it to hold it firm
- Place a plastic bag over the container and put in a spot with a temperature of 55°F to 75°F (13°C to 24°C)
- Open the bag daily to allow for air circulation
- Keep the soil moist
- Roots should appear within 3 to 4 weeks
- Replant into its permanent spot
Common problems with Tradescantia occidentalis
Tradescantia occidentalis does not have serious pest or disease issues – one less thing to worry about. You can, however, watch out for aphids or mealy bugs.
An easy way to deal with these pests is to give your plant a medium spray with a hosepipe and wash them off. If this does not get rid of them, mix up a solution of insecticidal soap and spray lightly onto the leaves.
Plant grows out of control
The Western Spiderwort grows vigorously. You will need to prune it back regularly to prevent it from becoming invasive. Do this mid-season. Cut back flowered stems as this will prevent self-seeding.
Removing dead or damaged stems will make it look neat and healthy. If possible, cut back the stems to 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30cm).
If your roots rot, you have too much water! Tradescantia occidentalis does not enjoy drenched soil. If you are planting it outdoors, clay-type soil is not a good choice. If it is indoors in a container, make sure that it has drainage holes that will soil to dry out.
Leaves turn brown and look like rust
This is a sign of an overly moist growing condition. The leaves may start to grow rust. Try to reduce watering. If your plant is in a very moist position that does not dry out, consider moving it to a sunnier spot. Giving your plant a boost of Nitrogen fertilizer can help.
Very few flowers
If your Prairie Spiderwort is not flowering, it probably is not getting enough sunlight. Try moving it to a sunnier spot, or cutting back surrounding plants that may be creating shade and blocking the light.
Tips to grow Tradescantia occidentalis problem-free
- Avoid overwatering your Tradescantia occidentalis
- Keep soil moist but well drained
- Plant in a bright spot with a few hours of direct sunshine if possible
- Prune back after the flowering season to prevent self-seeding
- Fertilize during the growing season with organic mixtures
- Cut back fertilizing during Winter
- If it gets too thick and scraggly, divide and replant every 2 years
Frequently asked questions about Tradescantia occidentalis
Is Tradescantia occidentalis a pest?
No, it is not a pest. It does grow vigorously and can appear to be invasive. Regular trimming will keep it under control.
Can Tradescantia occidentalis grow indoors?
Yes, it makes a very attractive indoor plant in a large pot. Once again, ensure that you trim it back regularly. Place it in a bright spot with direct sun for a few hours per day.
Is Tradescantia occidentalis easy to care for?
Yes, Tradescantia occidentalis is easy to care for and is a great plant for new gardeners. It is hardy and only requires trimming to keep it in shape. It grows fast, bringing new life and color to spaces that are bare and unattractive.
Is Tradescantia occidentalis poisonous?
No, it is not poisonous. In fact, the stem sap can be used for many medicinal purposes including treating insect stings and spider bites.
Do you have a dull spot in your home that needs some TLC? The lovely Tradescantia occidentalis will soon fill it with gorgeous blue-purple flowers. It is hardy and easy to care for. Use it to enhance a patio, a bare window sill, or grow next to a water feature.
I have placed mine next to a Tradescantia zebrina. The Tradescantia zebrina has green-purple leaves with two wide, silvery-white stripes, and a lower leaf surface that is a deep magenta. The two make a fabulous combination.
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.