How to Plant, Grow and Care For Spider Plants
Are you thinking of adding a spider plant to your indoor or outdoor garden? These popular plants are easy to care for, and are well known for their tolerance of a little neglect. In this article, gardening expert and houseplant enthusiast Madison Moulton walks through everything you need to know about Spider Plants and their care.
Despite their scary name, there is no need to be afraid of the easy-care, beginner-friendly spider plant. These plants got their common name from their long stems carrying small pups that look just like tiny versions of the parent plant and also, evidently, like spiders.
Luckily there is no relation to actual spiders. You may also see them labeled hens and chicks for this same growth habit, although they share this common name with several other plants.
Typically grown as houseplants thanks to their tropical habitats, these low-maintenance indoor plants are a great addition to any houseplant collection. Follow this guide to find out how to keep yours as happy as possible.
Spider Plant Overview
Plant Type Houseplant
Species Chlorophytum comosum
Native Area Southern Africa
Exposure Bright indirect light
Watering Requirements Low
Pests and Diseases Aphids, spider mites
Soil Type Airy and well-draining
Hardiness Zone 9-11
About Spider Plants
Spider plants are scientifically known as Chlorophytum comosum. There are hundreds of species in the Chlorophytum genus, but the spider plant is undoubtedly one of the most popular. As part of the Asparagaceae family, they are closely related to asparagus and a number of other well-known garden plants.
Spider plants are appreciated for their many uses, particularly as a houseplant. They adapt well to a wide range of growing conditions and despite their somewhat delicate look, give beginners and experienced plant parents no trouble.
Accustomed to growing in containers, they make wonderful plants for hanging baskets, whether kept indoors or on your balcony. Here, the long stems can be left to cascade down and you may even spot some adorable flowers in the right conditions.
These popular indoor plants are a longer commitment. They can live upwards of twenty years if properly cared for, so make sure you are prepared for the care they require long-term!
Like many plants, Chlorophytum comosum was introduced to the botanical world in the 18th century. Student of Carl Linnaeus, creator of the botanical naming system we still use today, Carl Peter Thunberg traveled across Africa and Asia in search of new species to study. The spider plant was one of those, published in Prodromus Plantarum Capensium, a study of the plants of South Africa.
But it wasn’t known as Chlorophytum comosum at this time. It was originally labeled Anthericum comosum and moved through 4 different genera before ending up in the Chlorophytum genus in 1862 where it remains today.
Spider plants have a wide spread, originating from a number of regions across Southern Africa. It is found in tropical climates – one reason why it is so popular as a houseplant – but is known for its ability to adapt to a wide range of climates and conditions.
While they are native to Africa, they have spread around the world and become naturalized in other tropical areas like Western Australia. But in most parts of the world, you will see them growing as houseplants.
Spider plants are known for their arching, strappy leaves. The color differs depending on the chosen cultivar, but the classic cascading shape remains the same.
These leaves appear thin but can hold quite a bit of water, meaning they don’t need to be watered as often as some other houseplants. They also look great in containers, hanging over the edges for a full, lush look.
To spread, Chlorophytum produces tiny versions of the main plant known as pups or spiderettes. These hang on the ends of long stems, giving the plant its spider-like appearance. Once they have grown large enough, these pups can simply be snipped off to propagate additional plants.
Small white or greenish flowers precede these pups, hanging off the ends of the plant. They can even turn into fruits if fertilized, but usually just make way for plantlets to grow. If planted outdoors, these pups form roots at the base that anchor into the soil, spreading to cover a wide area quickly with strappy leaves.
There are several cultivars available, each with slightly different color patterns. The two most common are Chlorophytum comosum ‘Vittatum’ – white in the center and green on the edges – and Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum’ – green in the center with variegated white patterns on the edges.
Spider plants don’t mind being confined to their pots and are actually more likely to flower in these conditions. But, if you want to change the container the plant came in or transfer to a hanging basket, the process is simple.
Start by choosing the right container. It shouldn’t be too large as this can make the plant look sparse and diminished. Ensure the long leaves are able to reach over the edges of the container to prevent rotting and disease.
Plant in a lightweight, well-draining soil mix. This is especially important for hanging baskets that may become too heavy when weighed down by regular potting mixes or dense garden soil. A houseplant-specific potting mix will drain well enough to keep the roots healthy and aerated.
Place at the same soil level as the plant was previously. Burying too deep can cause the base to slowly rot, spreading to the rest of the plant. Water after planting to encourage the roots to settle into their new home.
For those in tropical climates or USDA Zones 9 and above, you can also plant your Chlorophytum comosum outdoors. They are great additions to leafy tropical beds where they have enough space to spread their spiderettes. They can adapt to a wide range of conditions but need protection from harsh sun and well-draining soil to prevent permanent damage.
How to Grow
If you’re looking for something low-maintenance, spider plants are the answer. They have become so popular as houseplants because of their ease of growth. Evidenced by the variety of native conditions they have adapted to, they will be happy almost anywhere as long as temperatures don’t dip too low.
Their adaptive nature begins with their sunlight requirements. Like many houseplants, they typically grow best in areas with bright indirect light throughout the day. This describes areas close to bright windows but away from the path of direct sun.
East or west-facing windows are preferred, but south-facing is also suitable if filtered by a sheer curtain or hung high enough to escape the path of the hot sun.
For even stronger growth and more flowers, you can also give your spider plant a few hours of morning sun. As long as the light is gentle, this direct light won’t scorch the leaves and will boost the energy of the plant. Avoid any midday or afternoon direct light as this can cause the leaves to burn.
Although they can adapt well to medium light conditions, they are not ideal for low light areas. They may not die quickly, but they certainly won’t thrive. The leaves will become sparse and you won’t see any pups forming for propagation.
When planted outdoors, aim for areas with partial or dappled shade. These plants look great hung from balconies that get a flush of morning sun or tied to trees without dense leaf growth to create a real jungle look.
Spider plants don’t need watering as often as some more demanding houseplants. They do enjoy lightly moist soil, but can be left to dry out before watering again.
For the happiest plants possible, wait until the top layer of soil has dried out before watering again. This depends on the size of the pot and the plant, but you can aim for around an inch or two of soil.
Test with your finger every few days rather than watering on a strict schedule. These ignore changes in environment such as temperature and light levels that can influence the levels of moisture in the soil. Watering on a schedule will likely lead to under or overwatering at some point which can be fatal if not resolved quickly.
An underwatered plant will begin to droop and wilt. As the cells lack the moisture they need to fill out, they will lose structure and the once upright leaves will start to drop. Since water is also a vital part of photosynthesis, lack of it can also lead to stunted growth if the problem is not resolved.
Overwatering, on the other hand, is far more dangerous. These plants are very sensitive to excess moisture in the soil and will quickly rot when waterlogged. To avoid this tricky problem, never water when the top layer of soil is still dry. Also make sure the container has enough drainage holes and that the soil is airy and well-draining.
Planting in the wrong soil can quickly lead to the death of your plant. For those grown indoors, this is especially important as the wrong soil mix can quickly lead to waterlogging and root rot – an incredibly difficult problem to solve.
Standard garden soil is usually quite dense, limiting airflow and holding onto too much moisture. It can also carry weed seeds and pests and diseases that negatively impact growth.
Potting soil is an improvement, but also doesn’t quite meet the needs of this plant. Designed for plants growing outdoors in bright conditions, it holds onto a little more moisture than Chlorophytum comosum prefers. When water sticks around in the soil rather than draining away, it essentially suffocates the roots, leading to an early demise.
To make sure the soil drains well enough, look for a houseplant-specific potting mix with large spaces between soil particles. These mixtures cater to the lower light levels found indoors by improving aeration and draining all unneeded water away.
Houseplant potting mix is available to purchase online or potentially at your local nursery. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can also make your own.
I typically combine two parts potting mix with one part perlite for aeration and one part coconut coir to retain moisture without weighing down the pot, but you can adjust the materials and ratios according to the conditions your plant is placed in.
Temperature and Humidity
Growing in USDA hardiness zones 9 and above, spider plants prefer tropical warm and humid environments. Although they are slightly more tolerant of cold than some fussier houseplants, they cannot be left in temperatures below 50F. This can permanently damage the leaves, leading to unsightly spots on the foliage.
To make sure temperatures remain warm and consistent, keep them away from drafts. Open windows or air conditioners can change surrounding temperatures dramatically and suddenly, leading to stress and potentially causing the leaves to brown.
Contributing to their low-maintenance nature, spider plants aren’t too fussy about humidity. They prefer higher moisture levels in the air but will survive in anything above 30%. If you want to increase humidity, place them on a tray with pebbles and water or invest in a humidifier.
Spider plants experience the strongest growth when they have the nutrients they need to develop. After spending a few months in the same container, their nutrients deplete and they need a top-up in the form of fertilizer to continue growing.
However, a light hand is needed to prevent damage. They are sensitive to excess salts in the soil, typically caused by overfertilizing but also from overuse of tap water.
Feed once every 4-6 weeks during spring and summer, especially if the plants are growing quickly. Stop fertilizing in fall and winter to give the roots a break while growth slows down. Use a low-concentration fertilizer to prevent any root damage or apply your regular fertilizer at half strength.
If you notice brown margins on the leaves soon after feeding, you have likely fertilized too much. Flush the soil with distilled water until it runs clear and hold off on fertilizing for the next few months to give the roots time to recover.
If you want to grow additional plants, the process is simple. As long as your plant is healthy, it will do the hard work by making smaller versions of the parent plant. Using those to propagate, you can grow many new plants at one time. If your plant is crowded or you want to increase your stock instantly, you can also try dividing.
Propagating From Pups
If your spider plant has a few pups, the propagating process is super simple. Start by identifying pups that are an inch or two tall. They should also have small amounts of root growth for the strongest possible start.
Using a pair of sharp shears, trim these pups off the main plant. Fill a small pot with houseplant potting mix to root the plantlet. Water immediately to encourage the roots to grow down into the soil and keep the soil moist over the next few weeks while the plant settles.
If your plantlets haven’t developed roots yet, it doesn’t mean you can’t use them to propagate. It does mean they will struggle to grow on their own though, so you’ll need to keep the plantlet attached to the parent plant while it roots.
Leave a container filled with propagating mix (equal parts coconut coir and perlite) next to the pot and trim off the plantlet once root growth has formed.
To divide your spider plant, start by removing it from its current container. Gently tease the roots to loosen them and get rid of some of the surrounding soil.
Identify areas where the plant can be split into equal sections with enough root growth to survive on their own. Then, simply pull these sections apart or use a sharp and disinfected knife to cut through the roots.
Replant each section into individual pots with the right houseplant potting mix and water immediately.
Growing From Seed
If you are lucky enough to have a healthy spider plant with small fruits after cross-pollinating by hand, you can also try growing from seed. Although this doesn’t have the highest success rate when compared to the other methods, it does make a fun gardening experiment.
Once the seed pods have dried, trim them off and open them to reveal the flat black seed inside. Plant the seed in a tray with seed starting mix and keep moist until new growth appears.
As they grow and look their best in smaller containers, they don’t need repotting often. You can generally wait around two years before you need to change the container, potentially sooner if your plant is growing quickly.
To repot, follow the planting instructions above. Never choose a container more than one or two sizes up max. A container that is too large will make the plant look sparse and can hold onto too much water, leading to root rot.
As they are not fussed and adaptable, spider plants don’t face many problems. But with incorrect care or a problematic environment, you may encounter one of these issues:
- Spots on leaves: typically caused by pests like aphids or spider mites.
- Brown leaf edges: caused by underwatering or lack of humidity.
- Brown spots on leaves: the result of exposure to direct sunlight.
- Wilting: caused by underwatering and overwatering.
- Brown leaf tips: potentially caused by salt buildup in the soil.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is Chlorophytum comosum called spider plant?
The plant is named after the small pups it produces, known as spiderettes. These small versions of the main plant have small leaves shooting off that look like tiny spiders, giving them their common name. The long stems they emerge from are also thin and add to the web-like look of the entire plant.
Are they safe for pets?
Spider plants are not toxic to cats or dogs. If you have any pets that tend to nibble on any new friends you bring home, you don’t need to worry about keeping them out of reach.
Will they grow in low light conditions?
They can adapt to many different lighting conditions. This means they have the ability to survive in lower light. However, these conditions are not recommended as growth will slow dramatically and the plant will look diminished over time. Aim for bright indirect light for the best growth and potential pups.
Can they be grown outdoors?
Spider plants can only grow outdoors in tropical climates where temperatures remain warm and humidity is high. If you live in a USDA Zone lower than 9, it’s better to keep these plants indoors to protect them from the cold.
Why isn’t my plant producing pups regularly?
Lack of pups on a spider plant could be the result of insufficient light levels. Move the pot to an area with brighter light but protected from harsh direct sun and rotate the pot frequently so all sides get equal sunlight exposure.
Spider plants are rewarding houseplants to grow for everyone from absolute newbies to experienced plant growers. From growing in hanging baskets, to container arrangements around your home, it’s hard to beat the ease of care that these versatile plants require. Make sure you keep propagating these beauties to expand your collection.