The spider plant is one of the easiest indoor plants to grow. They need minimal care, and spider plants prefer to be left alone once they have a good foundation for thriving. They’re easy to propagate and look lovely in a hanging basket. These tough plants are a perfect addition to any home, whether it’s full of plant lovers or not.
Chlorophytum comosum is one of those potted plants you’ll find on patios or in offices. They come in multiple varieties and bring a burst of green to whatever space they occupy. Not only are they easy to care for, but it’s not hard to propagate more plants from a parent plant. You can produce a clone of the mother plant of a previous cultivar easily.
In this piece, we’re going to talk about spider plants, and how to care for them. We’ll discuss the basic spider plant needs, and the most common varieties out there. Then we’ll cover a few of the issues you might encounter while growing them. All this, so you can have a spider plant at home too!
Quick Care Guide
|Common Name||Spider plant, spider ivy, airplane plant, ribbon plant, hen and chickens|
|Scientific Name||Chlorophytum comosum|
|Height & Spread||Up to 12 inches tall and wide|
|Soil||Any good potting mix|
|Water||Once per week|
|Pests & Diseases||Aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, spider mites, root rot|
All About Spider Plants
Botanically known as Chlorophytum comosum and commonly as Spider plant, spider ivy, airplane plant, ribbon plant, or hen and chickens, this plant originated in tropical Southern Africa. It is now naturalized in parts of Australia as well. Most people in North America are aware of the plant as one of those easy-to-grow houseplants.
Spider plants have long blade-like leaves that form from the center of the plant and have pointed tips. The leaves or blades can get up to 3 feet long and resemble blades of grass. While most are placed in containers or hanging baskets, they can be planted directly in the ground. They do have an invasive status in parts of Australia though, so gardeners there may consider keeping them in a small pot. When planting in the garden or flower bed, they need to be sheltered from direct sunlight.
The spider plant is an evergreen perennial and has tuberous roots that can reach 4 inches into the earth, and small white flowers with 6 petals that grow atop long stems – sometimes 30 inches tall – called inflorescences. Each of these star-shaped flowers carries with it small plantlets that become new plants as they fall and touch the earth. These flowers are somewhat like tiny spiders, hence the common name, spider plant.
While spider plants are non-toxic for most mammals, they have a psychoactive effect on cats. So if you live with a feline or a few, make your spider plant a hanging plant out of their reach. Alternatively, spider plants can be grown outdoors.
Much like other houseplants, spider plants are excellent for improving indoor air quality. A study conducted by NASA indicated spider plants can remove formaldehyde and xylene from the air.
Types of Spider Plants
The standard Chlorophytum comosum has solid green leaves, though it is the least commonly seen in stores. However, it can be a much healthier plant overall, because it produces much more chlorophyll than any of the variegated types.
Chlorophytum comosum variegatum, also known as variegated spider plant is the most common type of spider plant. Each blade features a creamy white stripe with green margins. This is most likely the one that you’ve seen sold in garden centers and nurseries.
Chlorophytum comosum ‘Reverse Variegatum’ is exactly what the name implies – leaves with white margins and a green center. This is also a very common type sold at nurseries.
Chlorophytum Laxum ‘Zebra’ looks similar to ‘Reverse Variegatum’, save for the edge being a bit more yellow than white.
Hawaiian Spider Plant is a combination of all regular and variegated varieties. It starts out variegated with a broad central white stripe, but eventually, the blades turn green as the plant matures. When these mature plants produce baby spider plants, they will also start out variegated and turn green. If you can find this rare spider plant, definitely get it!
Spider Plant Care
Now that we’ve discussed some of the spider plant backstory and touched on a few varieties, let’s talk about spider plant care. Once you know what spider plants prefer, you’ll have no trouble keeping them happy.
Sun and Temperature
Spider plants will grow in almost any lighting condition except for very bright light or direct sunlight. They do best when kept in indirect lighting or light shade, and even grow well in artificial lighting. Plants that receive at least 12 hours of bright, indirect light per day will produce more offspring. Place them 4 to 6 feet away from a south-facing window and they’ll perform well. Keep the temperature above 60°F and avoid a breeze blowing over your plant. Though they can handle cooler temperatures down to 35°F, they’ll enter dormancy under 60°F and will slow their growth. Outside of their hardiness zones (9 to 11), they should be grown indoors, especially during the winter months.
Water and Humidity
Throughout the summer, water regularly and keep the soil moist. During the winter, the medium should be allowed to dry out briefly between waterings. Water the plant weekly in the morning on the soil surface and not on the leaves. If you water over the leaves, it will just run off and not soak into the soil. Spider plants also like slightly warm or room temperature water – cold water could damage the fleshy roots. To make sure that the plant receives enough water, sit it in a sink and allow the tap water to soak into the plant from the drainage holes of the pot it lives in. Then let it drain before rehanging it. The humidity in most homes is too low during the winter months for a spider plant to thrive. Misting them with distilled water frequently will help keep them moist. You can also try bringing it into the bathroom while you are showering for a humidity boost. They enjoy humidity at 40 to 60%. Most homes have low humidity in comparison at 30 to 50%.
The perfect soil will be well-draining, but also retain moisture. The base need for spider plants indoors is loamy, well-draining, and average. Poor quality media can stunt a healthy plant and put the fleshy roots at risk of contracting a disease. Use a small pot filled with a good high-quality potting mix or soil formulated for African violets. Spider plants grow best in soil that has a pH of 6.0 to 6.5, with the ability to grow in 7.0 pH soil.
These plants don’t need a lot of fertilizer. It’s best to only feed them water-soluble fertilizer every few weeks and dilute the feeding solution from 15-15-15 to half of the recommended strength. During the winter months, the feeding times can be reduced to once per month. Too much fertilizer at this time will stress your spider plant. Annually, add a little more potting soil just before spring growth begins to give your spider plant a boost of nutrients.
Repotting Spider Plants
Surprisingly, they do well when they are slightly root-bound in a small pot. Eventually, they have to be transplanted into a larger pot. For best results, repot them into a pot that is 2″ larger than the current pot. It should have drainage holes and be made of something sturdy – the tuberous roots have been known to burst pots! The soil moisture can let you know when the plant needs re-potting. If you have dry soil down to 1/2 inch within several days after watering, it’s probably time to re-pot. This usually occurs once every year or two. Provide a little more fresh soil to help the plants grow. Remove any plantlets from the mother plant in this process as well. We’ll talk about growing new plants from the main plant in the Propagation section.
To keep them looking their best, you can trim leaves in the spring or summer. If you want to keep them under tight control, you should also prune the spiderettes. Letting the babies grow increases the amount of water and fertilizer you’ll need to keep the plant nice and healthy.
Simply cut off leaves at the base of the plant. To prune spiderettes, just cut the longest stems back to the base.
Spider plants are easy to propagate. When the mother plant flowers in the summer, it will produce plantlets with their own roots right from the flowers! The simplest way to propagate is to cut off the babies that grow from the small white flowers and plant them into pots where they’ll develop roots. They can also be rooted in water if you suspend the plants and let the roots sit in the water. Small pots filled with soil can also be set beside the parent plant and the baby secured into the dirt. Once the baby of the mother plant has rooted itself into the soil, cut it away from the parent. The small stalks that pop up can be planted to grow new plants. As the baby plants form on these stalks, pin them down against soil in a small pot with a toothpick. As roots begin to grow, it’s time to cut the babies free. If you are having trouble getting the babies to live, try a little rooting hormone to encourage the root growth of new houseplants.
Now that we’ve discussed how to care for a spider plant, let’s talk about the minimal issues you may encounter. Overall, spider plant care is low maintenance. But look out for leaf tip burn, issues with watering, and a few pests and diseases.
Spider Plant Growing Problems
Occasionally, the tips of the leaves might turn brown. This is typically due to inconsistent watering, too much sunlight, or insufficient humidity. It could also be due to chemicals in tap water. Try switching to distilled water and this should solve the problem. Cut off the brown leaf tips as they appear and adjust the light, humidity, or water quality. Let the soggy soil dry, and move the plant into low light or indirect light if the green leaf tips are singed by too much light. Another reason for brown leaf tips atop dark green leaves or mid-green leaves is overfertilization. Do not fertilize more than a few times a month in the growing season and not at all in winter. Check out our piece that discusses the reasons why the tips of spider plants turn brown for more details.
Funnily enough, spider mites are a big problem for this plant. They attack when the indoor air is warm and dry. To get rid of them, use insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Repeat every 3-4 days until they stop attacking your plants. You may need to repeat up to three times for full treatment. Avoid watering your houseplants overhead, as this attracts spider mites.
Whiteflies are known to chomp on the edges of the leaves giving them brown tips. Apply insecticidal soap or pyrethrin, then do it again a couple of weeks later. Clip the damaged leaves off at their base.
Mealybugs are a common houseplant pest and they can attack your plant. The simplest way to get rid of them is to treat them with rubbing alcohol or a systemic insecticidal spray so that the entire plant becomes a mealybug-killer.
Aphids can feed on the sap and quickly destroy your plant if left unchecked. They often show up in the crevasses of the plant, so be sure to inspect your plant closely, especially during planting, for signs of aphids. To treat an aphid infestation, first aggressively rinse your plant with water. Then, treat the plant with cotton swabs of rubbing alcohol to kill the rest of the aphids. A little neem oil sprayed on the plant will kill any remaining aphids and prevent future infestations.
The only disease that is a serious problem for spider plants is root rot, which can cause small brown discs that are actually blemishes on the leaves. Fortunately, this is easy to prevent by simply watering your plant correctly. The two main causes are watering too often, or the medium isn’t well-draining enough. Figure out which of these two is the problem, stop doing it, and you shouldn’t have any rot issues in the future. One thing to note is to not propagate any plantlets from the mother plant that have root rot. This will only spread this fungal disease.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is a spider plant a good houseplant?
A: It truly is. It’s so easy to care for and propagate.
Q: How much sun does a spider plant need?
A: Spider plants need bright, but indirect light for about 12 hours per day.
Q: Do spider plants need sun?
A: See the answer to the last question!
Q: How do you take care of an indoor spider plant?
A: Give it a good foundation, and repot it as needed. A little light fertilizer will help you as well.
Q: Where is the best place to put a spider plant?
A: Put it several feet away from a brightly lit window.
Q: How long do spider plants live?
A: They live 20 to 50 years.
Q: Should I cut the brown tips off my spider plant?
A: Yes! There’s a section on this above with an accompanying article on this very topic.
Q: Does a spider plant flower?
A: Yes. In summer, spider plants produce lovely white flowers that make new spider plants.
Q. My cat chewed off almost all the leaves of my plant. What should I do?
A. New leaves will grow, they just may take more time as the plant is seriously damaged. Cut all damaged leaves to the base of the plant and put it in bright, indirect light for as much of the day as possible.
Q. My plant feels sticky. What’s happening?
A. If the plant’s leaves begin to feel sticky it could be a sign that the plant is infested with either scale or aphids. Both of these plant pests secrete a sticky substance.
Q. Is it OK if my spider plant is root-bound?
A. Yes! They like to be root bound and will grow much better if there’s just a little extra room around the roots. Potting a small plant into a large pot can actually kill the plant!
Q. My spider plant has lost its variegation! Is this normal?
A. When a variegated version begins to turn a solid color, it simply requires a bit more sunlight. The variegation will return.
Q. The leaves of my chlorophytum comosum are soft and transparent…is it going to survive?
Cold will turn the leaves transparent and soft. Assuming the roots have not frozen, you can clip off the damaged leaves and let it regrow.
Q. Can I use tap water to water my plant?
A. Some indoor plants can be sensitive to the chlorine found in tap water. Sodium can also damage the plant. If you’d prefer you can water your plant with distilled water, filtered water or allow tap water to sit over night before using it.