The Wandering Jew is not a single plant — it’s the name given to a few different plants in the genus Tradescantia.
When grown outdoors it’s considered invasive in many regions of the world, but those same growing characteristics make it perfect as an indoor vining plant.
Where to Buy Wandering Jew Plants
Preventing Common Wandering Jew Pests & Diseases
Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Wandering jew plant, inch plant, flowering inch plant|
|Scientific Name||Tradescantia zebrina, Tradescantia fluminensis|
|Height||Up to 6 feet|
|Light||Bright, indirect light|
|Fertilizer||Half strength liquid|
|Pests and Diseases||Spider mites, aphids, leaf spot, botrytis, powdery mildew, root rot|
Wandering jew plants have green, heart-shaped leaves with purple stripes and a silvery sheen to them. Depending on the variety, the leaves can be solid or variegated. Blooms are small with three petals and can be violet or white.
Zebrina pendula was the original botanical name for this plant. However, it was reclassified into the Tradescantia due to its trailing growth habit. Also known as the inch plant, wandering jew plants live naturally in subtropical regions of North and South America.
The name, Wandering Jew is now considered passe due to its xenophobic nature, and many have chosen to call it Wandering Dude instead. While it may not seem bigoted to use the name to refer to an old story from the 13th century of the same name, the colloquial association of the story’s use in discrimination can’t be ignored.
Not only was the story used in the time its title was coined to discriminate against European Jewish people, it was also used in WWII by Nazis to justify various atrocities. Therefore, while we agree the name has a discriminatory history, we use the common nomenclature for the sake of simplicity only.
In some people and animals, skin irritation can occur when coming in contact with the sap from the plant. You should keep it in an area that is hard for your cat or dog to reach. A good idea is to grow it in hanging baskets that are too high up for your pets to nibble on!
Types of Wandering Dude Plants
The common name ‘wandering jew/dude’ is really referring to three different species in the Tradescantia genus: fluminensis, zebrina, and pallida.
The classic wandering jew plant. It has dark-green leaves that contrast nicely against the bright, white, three-petaled flowers.
Learn More: Tradescantia Fluminensis Care Guide
As you can probably guess, it’s named for it’s zebra-like leaves that have a deep purple sheen. The middle of each half of the leaves are a creamy white, with the outer edges tipped in silver.
This variety is unique in that the foliage is a deep purple with light purplish-pink flowers. It’s one of the most popular varieties of wandering jew. I call this one Purple Queen.
Learn More: Tradescantia Pallida Care Guide
Wandering Jew Plant Care
All types of wandering jew plants are fairly easy to care for. As long as you give them a good amount of light and prune regularly, you should enjoy your tradescantia for many years.
Light and Temperature
This is a houseplant that really thrives in bright indirect light. The brighter the light you provide your wandering jew plant, the more flowers it will produce. If it’s not getting enough light, the brightly-colored foliage will begin to fade.
Ideal temperatures for your inch plant are between 60°F and 80°F. Do not expose the plant to frost, as they don’t tolerate it. However, light frosts in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 12 may not kill a plant. If the foliage dies back in in-ground plantings in these regions, the plant may return in spring.
Container-grown plants should be taken indoors when temperatures outside are consistently below 60°F. High heat may singe the leaves of your creeping plant, but it can handle heat much more easily than cold.
Water and Humidity
These plants are happy as long as they’re not kept soaked or allowed to be completely dry too long. Keeping the soil evenly moist is the best. You’ll know it’s ready for more water when the soil is dry to at least 1/2″ deep. Give it a good drink but be sure that the pot drains well.
High humidity is fine for Tradescantia plants, and 70% is ideal. Indoors a plant humidifier or daily misting with filtered or distilled water will promote appropriate humidity levels.
You can use a standard houseplant potting mix for your wandering jew, but they’ll do even better if you give them soil that has more organic matter.
To make your own soil mixture, add equal parts of the following:
- Perlite or coarse sand
- Peat moss or humus
- Garden soil
- A light dusting of lime
- A handful of rich, organic compost
You’re looking for the perfect balance of water retention and draining ability, so give the plant a watering and watch to see which way your soil tends to go, then adjust accordingly. An acidic soil at 5 to 6 pH is best.
Fertilizer for Wandering Dudes
Use a water-soluble fertilizer at least twice a month during the growing season. Be sure to dilute it down to 50% strength to avoid nutrient burn on the foliage. You can also use a slow-release powdered fertilizer to the soil once a year.
Repotting Tradescantia Plants
If your wandering jew is beginning to become a bit crammed in its pot, select a pot that’s 1-2″ wider than its current one. Prepare your pot with a little fresh potting soil around the sides.
Remove your inch plant from its existing pot, setting the root ball into the new one. Add or remove soil as necessary to get it in place. Then, fill to 2″ below the pot’s rim. Lightly tamp down the potting soil to anchor the plant in place.
Wandering jew plants have a tendency to get leggy, so pruning them becomes a must if you want to maintain a healthy appearance. Simply prune back the stems and pinch off stem tips. The plant will send out two shoots from right below the pinched area, making it grow into a bushy wandering jew.
Whatever you do, don’t waste your cuttings! Wandering jew propagation is easily done from stem cuttings from a mother plant. Remove all but a few leaves off of the stem cuttings and then place them in a smaller pot with moist potting soil in a warm, bright area.
You’ll start seeing new shoots growing after 1-1.5 months. Wandering jew plants are one of the easiest houseplants to propagate!
Now that we’ve discussed wandering jew plant care, let’s touch on a few of the issues that can arise while you’re growing one. Most of these are common issues that other houseplants face.
Faded foliage and yellow leaves can occur in plants that get too much sunlight. In this case, move your inch plant to an area with bright indirect light or propagate a cutting that can be planted elsewhere. If the soil around your plant is too wet for too long, it could stress the plant and create conditions where rot can develop.
The most prominent pests you’ll deal with on wandering jew plants are spider mites. They love warm, dry areas, so one good way to counter them is to keep humidity high or mist your wandering jew plant.
If that doesn’t work, you can wash the plant off with water to knock the mites off of the plant. For even more serious infestations, you should remove infested areas and use a systemic insecticide.
Aphids also suck the sap from wandering jew plant leaves. If you’re growing your plants indoors, you can take them outside and treat them with neem oil or a strong stream of water. Follow up and reapply treatments in 7 to 10 days if aphids remain.
Most diseases you’ll run into are related to over watering. Root rot is a big problem with most houseplants, and has two causes:
- You are watering too much
- Your soil retains too much water
If you have problem #1, simply water less often! If you have problem #2, add some perlite or coarse sand to your soil mix. You can also add rocks to the bottom of the pot to improve drainage.
Other fungal issues, like leaf spot, botrytis, and powdery mildew appear on leaves as dark spots, water-soaked lesions, and white powdery substances, respectively. If any of these appear, remove damaged foliage. These diseases thrive in the same conditions as rot, so treat them similarly.
If none of your treatments yield results, remove the plant from the pot and dispose of it. Sanitize the pot before repurposing it, and do not reuse any of the soil.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. I’m trying to take cuttings of wandering jew, but they keep rotting. How can I prevent this?
A. Your cuttings are probably suffering from a fungal infection. To prevent this, make sure to use a sterilized cutting instrument and dip in chlorox, then rooting hormone before you place your cuttings in soil.
Q. How do I know how far to place my wandering jew away from a window or light source?
A. Leave your plant where it is and monitor the color of the leaves. If they start to lose their bright colors, it’s a clear-cut sign that the plant needs more light. Move it closer to the window and keep watching the leaves until the color starts to come back on new growth.
Q. I’m having trouble rooting cuttings in soil. Can I do anything else?
A. Many gardeners have success rooting their wandering jew cuttings directly in water. Just be sure to sterilize and change the water every so often so it remains fresh and free from any pathogens. When you see roots, plant in potting mix.
Q. Is wandering jew plant toxic to cats?
In short, no, but it’s also not deadly either. It irritates the digestive tract of pets if consumed, and also produces a dermatitis-like effect on their skin.
Q. Can I grow wandering jew plant outdoors?
A: Absolutely! It can be a bit tricky if you’re outside USDA growing zones 9-11, but if you’re in that range, it’s easy to grow outside!
Q: Will wandering Jew survive winter?
A: While these plants are somewhat hardy and established plantings can survive some light frost, consistent cold will kill the above ground parts. It may return in spring, but the likelihood of that is slim.
Q: Does wandering Jew spread?
A: Yes. Several Tradescantia species will spread rapidly and outcompete native vegetation. Consider this and whether or not the plant you’re working with is classed as an invasive species before planting in the ground. Thankfully all Tradescantias look lovely in containers.
Q: What does it mean to pinch a plant?
A: Pinching is a pruning technique that generally occurs on young plants and new growth stem tips. For Tradescantias, pinching promotes bushier growth.