How to Grow and Care for Virginia Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)

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Virginia Spiderwort, also known as Tradescantia virginiana, Common Spiderwort, or Spider Lily is a beautiful, hardy perennial that can add charm and color to your garden.

In this post, we will provide you with all the information you need to successfully grow and care for the Virginia Spiderwort. We shall cover topics such as light and soil requirements, watering and fertilizing tips, pruning techniques, and propagation methods. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your Virginia Spiderwort thrives and brings joy to your garden for years to come.

A member of the Commelinaceae (dayflower) family, Tradescantia virginiana forms dense, unbranched clumps up to 2-3 feet tall originating from thick roots and rhizomes. Straight, unbranched stems bear narrow olive-green blades that are pointed at the tips.

Reaching up to 12 inches long and 1 inch wide, each blade has parallel veins and often droops toward its end. The overlapping sheaths that wrap around the stem provide the plant’s architectural framework.

Habitat and Growing Conditions

Native to the eastern and central United States, Virginia Spiderwort occurs naturally from Maine to Georgia and as far west as Minnesota to Louisiana. Within this range, it inhabits diverse ecosystems including blackland prairies, sand prairies, forest edges, thickets, riverside bluffs, meadows and remnants of disturbed woodlands or pastures.

Typically growing alongside small trees and shrub-like plants, spiderwort thrives in open or partly shaded areas with rich, well-draining soil. This easy to grow woodland wildflower adapts happily to a wide range of garden conditions while requiring minimal care. Whether naturalizing among trees or massed along borders, clumps of this lush plant add months of subtle beauty.

When establishing spiderwort in home gardens, aim to mimic its woodland habitat. Grow plants in locations receiving partial shade to full sun, transplanting in spring or fall. Its graceful habit and blooms fit well beside taller plants like Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Stonecrop (Sedum).

Spiderwort grows strongly in average, moisture-retentive soil but also succeeds in leaner conditions. While it prefers acidic humus-rich environments, the adaptable plant withstands a wide pH range from acidic to slightly alkaline conditions. Once established, spiderwort proves heat and drought tolerant while remaining frost hardy as far north as USDA zone 4.

Flowers and Bloom Time

During late spring or early summer, Virginia spiderwort produces clusters of flowers at the ends of its stems. These clusters, called cymes, contain small, tightly packed violet to pale blue flowers occasionally exhibiting pink or white hues. Each individual flower has three rounded petals and six bright yellow anthers.

The flowers, which bloom for about six weeks, are very delicate, opening in the morning and closing by afternoon. They only last for a short time, but new flowers come out each day. After the flowers are pollinated, the seed capsules split into three segments to release numerous tiny brown seeds.

Virginia Spiderwort care

It is relatively easy to grow and care for, making it a popular choice among gardeners. Here are some tips on how to grow and care for this hardy perennial:

Light

Virginia spiderwort thrives when given a minimum of 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day. It has a moderate light requirement and can tolerate some shading, such as morning sun with afternoon shade. The dappled light of part shade suits it well too.

Full shade will cause the foliage and flowers to become leggy and sparse. While the plant may linger in deep shade, it won’t flower as profusely without sufficient light exposure each day.

For optimal growth and flowering, aim to position clumps where they receive morning to midday sun. This replicates the lighting conditions found on woodland edges or openings in its native habitat. Southern or southwestern exposures usually meet the light needs.

East or west-facing sites offer intense morning and evening sun with shade during the hot afternoon hours. This set up prevents scorching that could damage delicate leaves and buds.

Depending on your planting zone, you may want to provide filtered shade during the hottest summer months so sun doesn’t become excessive when conditions are very warm. This ensures good hydration and prevents wilting.

Water

Tradescantia virginiana has moderately high water needs, especially when establishing new plants. Keep the soil consistently moist for the first year until an extensive root system develops.

Established clumps are quite drought tolerant once past the initial growth phase but young clumps appreciate regular water. Addtionally, they’ll continue blooming more prolifically with regular water during flowering time.

Aim to water lightly every 5-7 days during the growing seasons of spring and summer, or more frequently if rainfall is absent. Heavy, infrequent soakings are best to encourage deep root growth.

During particularly hot or dry spells, increase water to 1-2 times per week. Be sure the top inch or two of soil dries slightly between waterings. Using a mulch will help retain moisture in soil.

Reduce water gradually in autumn as nights grow cooler. End supplemental watering before your region’s first frost to promote winter dormancy. Hold off on water again until active spring growth appears.

Temperature and Humidity

Virginia Spiderwort grows well in zones 4-9 where summer heat is not excessive. It prefers temperatures between 65-80°F for optimal growth.

Plants can tolerate brief dips to 30°F when dormant in winter. Provide snow cover or mulch if severe cold is expected.

Hot summer conditions above 85°F cause the foliage to deteriorate, so partial shade is recommended in very warm climates. Good air circulation also helps prevent issues.

As a native wildflower, T. virginiana thrives in average outdoor humidity levels between 30-60%. Excessively high humidity can lead to mold or fungus problems.

Proper drainage and air movement help reduce disease risk. Smaller pots may require more frequent watering to prevent drying out quickly.

Misting or grouping pots together raises local humidity for plants that need higher levels, like other species from tropical rainforests. But spiderwort is very adaptable humidity-wise.

Soil and Drainage

This plant thrives in soil that is rich, moisture-retentive but well-draining. Adding compost to native soil creates the perfect conditions. The soil should also be loose and porous. Spiderwort prefers a neutral pH between 6.0-7.0. It can tolerate slightly alkaline or acidic soils as well with a pH of 5.5-7.5.

Proper drainage is key to avoiding root rot issues. If your soil is dense clay, add generous amounts of organic matter like shredded leaves or compost to improve drainage.

Raising the root zone above ground level in a raised bed or planting on a berm also assists with water movement. Ensure container plants have holes in the bottom for excess water to escape.

Fertilizer

Virginia Spiderwort generally does not require much fertilizer. A single application of a balanced fertilizer in early spring should be sufficient. If desired, you can add an annual compost top dressing to the soil throughout the summer to provide additional nutrients.

Virginia Spiderwort Propagation

Here are a few methods for propagating Tradescantia virginiana (Virginia Spiderwort):

Division: Division is the easiest and most common way. In early spring or fall, lift and divide the root clumps with a garden fork or knife.

Remove outer sections with shoots and roots. Make sure each division has 3-5 stems. Replant and water regularly until established.

Seeds: You can collect seeds in late summer from dry pods and sow outdoors immediately. Seeds need light to germinate.

Transplant seedlings 18 inches apart next spring. Seed germination can be spotty, so division is a more reliable propagation method.

Cuttings: Take soft tip cuttings in spring or early summer. Remove 4-6 inch stem sections and strip lower leaves.

Insert cut ends into well-draining potting mix. Keep soil moist in partial shade. Rooting takes 2-4 weeks. Overwinter cuttings in a cold frame.

Pruning and Maintenance

To encourage repeated blooming, deadhead the old, faded flowers by cutting them at the base of the stem. This not only helps maintain the plant’s appearance but also gives you more time to enjoy spiderwort’s delicate violet clusters.

In mid-season, you can shear back the plant by one-third to prevent self-sowing and promote late-season blooms. This will also help rejuvenate the plant and keep it looking tidy

Planting and Repotting

Repotting is typically done when the plant has outgrown its current container or when you notice roots poking out of the drainage holes. Virginia Spiderwort doesn’t need to be repotted very often, so only repot when necessary.

When repotting, use fresh potting mix. This will provide the plant with the necessary nutrients and ensure good drainage. Avoid using garden soil, as it can be too heavy and may not drain well

Virginia Spiderwort prefers moist to wet fertile sites but can adapt to average garden soils in sun to shade. Prepare the soil by adding organic matter such as compost to improve drainage and fertility.

Dig a hole that is deep enough to accommodate the root ball of the plant. Place the plant in the hole and backfill with soil, gently firming it around the roots.

Common Problems

Spiderwort faces few pest issues other than potential chewing by deer. Prevent problems by mixing clumps with unpalatable companion plants or protective fences if deer pressure is high.

The foliage and flowers themselves attract mainly pollinators like bumblebees and hummingbirds rather than pests. Mulching in fall with 2-3 inches of organic matter such as shredded leaves protects roots during winter and adds nutrients as it breaks down in spring.

Is Virginia Spiderwort toxic?

Virginia Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) is not considered highly toxic, but it does contain needle-like crystals called raphides in its internal tissues. While these crystals may cause minor skin irritations in some individuals upon contact with the plant, they are not typically harmful if ingested in small quantities.

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