I know that some people love the trailing habit of tradescantias. However, not everyone is a fan of excessively leggy inch plant stems. To avoid this from happening to your very own precious plants, familiarize yourself with the most common causes of spindly stems!
A wandering Jew plant can become leggy because of 1) lack of light, 2) small pot, 3) underwatering, 4) low humidity, 5) frost temperatures, 6) high heat, and 7) excess fertilizer. For some, however, this makes the inch plant ideal to grow as a hanging plant with its trailing stems.
With great care, your wandering Jew plant won’t grow super leggy and unsightly. If you want it to trail more though, you need to be careful with how you achieve that. Otherwise, your plant could die!
1. Lack of Light
The most common cause of legginess in wandering Jew plants is insufficient exposure to light. Tradescantias need at least 2 hours of bright indirect light.
Much like most other plants, the beautiful inch plant needs plenty of bright light—direct or indirect—to thrive and become bushier as it grows.
So when it doesn’t receive enough light, its stem will start stretching out more and more, growing much longer than 1–1.5 inches (2.5–3.8 cm) between each node.
It stretches out in search of light to be able to make food for itself through photosynthesis!
Wandering Jew plants need at least 2 hours of sun or grow light exposure each day. Otherwise, they will become weak and really leggy.
Learn more about grow lights in our article on the photosynthetically active radiation spectrum!
As someone who has grown tradescantias both indoors and outdoors over the years, I can say that those grown in the house are more likely to turn scraggly. This is especially true when they’re placed in a dark corner of a room.
Besides etiolation, inch plants receiving insufficient light are also more likely to develop smaller leaves and lose their vivid coloration.
Move the leggy wandering Jew plant to a sunnier location, one that gets more or less 2–6 hours of sunlight.
When that’s not an option for you, provide supplemental lighting for your thin and spindly plants. A full-spectrum grow light like this one from Amazon will be great.
2. Small Pot
Due to their relatively fast growth rate, wandering Jew plants can easily outgrow small pots and turn leggy when there is no more enough room for growth.
So when they are kept in pots that are too small, you can expect them to outgrow those containers in less than one year. The same can be said when inch plants are overcrowded.
You see, most tradescantias grow by creeping on soil and rooting along their nodes for anchorage and better, fuller growth.
Hence, when they no longer have available ground to cover, they will start trailing and stretching out of their container in search of more soil to latch on to.
In other words, it’s much easier for potted indoor spiderwort to become leggy as it ages.
Other people do this intentionally, growing their spiderwort in small hanging planters to add brightness to a room using their bright-colored and variegated leaves. But the issue with this is that they’re more likely to become pot-bound faster.
Choose shallow but wide pots when growing wandering Jew plants to allow them to creep and establish their roots in plenty of soil without trailing too much.
A pot that’s at least 8 inches wide will generally give the inch plant enough space for growth for a year or so and prevent legginess.
When underwatered, a wandering Jew plant can become leggy, drop leaves, and develop discoloration.
The sweet spot for inch plants is moderately moist soil that drains well over time so that it doesn’t become waterlogged.
Simply put, they don’t like getting too dry. With a lack of water, they will stretch out their stems and become leggy. Upright spindly growth is usually a sign that your spiderwort is so thirsty!
Also, keep in mind that wandering Jew plants receiving more direct sunlight exposure will require more frequent watering.
This is important so that they don’t get leggy and wither away due to lack of water.
Make sure to water your wandering Jew plants whenever the top 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) of their soil are dry to the touch.
It may also be helpful to give them a good soak at least once a week in especially hot summer months. Do this in the morning so that water left on the leaves can evaporate before sundown. Otherwise, you may get crown rot.
4. Low Humidity
Humidity levels that constantly dip below 40% can be detrimental for wandering Jew plants and can cause spindly growth.
Similar to the reason in the previous section, consistently low humidity levels tend to turn wandering Jew plants incredibly leggy.
Their stems will stretch out in search of more moisture in the air.
Oftentimes, this happens during the colder winter months, especially when there’s central air conditioning or you have an air conditioning unit near your spiderwort plants.
Besides scraggly stems, consistently low humidity can also cause the plant to turn brown, and even die.
Discover the other reasons in our article on brown inch plant leaves!
If you have other plants at home, position them near your wandering Jew plants. This will help boost the humidity in the space.
Placing a potted tradescantia on top of a tray with water and pebbles can also effectively boost humidity. To further ensure ideal humidity levels, get a good humidifier!
5. Frost Temperatures
The wandering Jew plant cannot tolerate frost for long periods, its stems can become very spindly and may die in such cold temperatures.
Sure, inch plants can thrive in both warm and cool weather. But this doesn’t mean that they can handle the cold well.
Overall, most inch plants can’t withstand frost temperatures at −30°F (−34°C) and lower for an extended time.
In fact, a wandering Jew plant can not only grow leggy but also die when it is exposed to particular chilly weather.
A friend of mine almost lost her spiderwort to the cold after forgetting to bring it in before the frost set in in their state.
Fortunately, she was still able to save some of the stems for propagation. Now, her potted plant is once again lively!
When growing in cool areas that can become very cold in fall and winter, it’s best to bring in wandering Jews that were grown outdoors to allow them to overwinter safely.
Be sure to take note of the USDA plant hardiness zone for the variety of Wandering Jew you have as well. Tradescantia ohiensis, for instance, can fare better in cooler zones from 4 to 9.
6. High Heat
Overly hot growing conditions can make a wandering Jew plant unattractively leggy, especially when placed close to a heat source.
Even if it can grow well with pretty warm temperatures between 77–86°F (25−30°C), it doesn’t like unbearably hot temperatures.
Combined with very little light, heat can cause substantially scraggly growth in inch plants. I’ve seen this happen when they are exposed to temperatures over 95°F (35°C).
To be more specific, a potted tradescantia that’s kept next to a fireplace, heating vents, radiator, space heaters, or the stove and oven have a high chance of stretching out.
If you look closely, you’re likely going to notice that the plant stretches away from the heat source in such conditions. It may also develop browning as it basically gets roasted in heat!
Check out its ideal growing temperatures in our tradescantia care guide!
Extremely high summer temperatures can also cause long leggy wandering Jew stems and inhibit blooming.
Keep your wandering Jew in a relatively cool or warm area, away from sources of direct heat.
Opt for more heat-tolerant varieties, such as Tradescantia pallida, if you live in a warmer region as well.
7. Excess Fertilizer
Applying too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen-rich ones, can result in long spindly stems for wandering Jew plants. This symptom is also common in other houseplants.
This applies to both plants planted directly in the ground and the ones grown in a container. However, this is more likely to happen when potted inch plants are given too much fertilizer.
Many feed their tradescantia with lots of nutrients in hopes of producing a much fuller and more bushier potted plant.
But the thing is, excessive fertilization causes plants to grow too rapidly than ideal. This result in long, weak, and leggy stems with smaller-than-normal leaves.
Using nitrogen-rich fertilizer, in particular, leads to legginess if too much is applied too frequently.
Don’t fertilize wandering Jew plants when it goes into dormancy during fall and winter. In spring and summer, they can be fertilized as often as once every 2–3 months.
Remember that potted plants grown indoors require little to no fertilizer as normally also receive less light.
What can you do with leggy wandering Jews?
Leggy wandering Jew stems can simply be cut or trimmed from the mother plant for propagation. These can be placed right into the same pot or in another container containing soil or water. Regular pinching can also promote a denser growth of the stems and foliage of the plant.
How do you stop leggy wandering Jew plants?
Stop leggy wandering Jew plants by providing at least 2 hours of light, providing a big enough pot, and providing proper growing conditions for it. Keep in mind that lights such as fluorescent grow lights lose brightness as they age, so they must be replaced after some years. Long and spindly stems can no longer revert to their compact state.
Summary of Reasons for Leggy Wandering Jew
Wandering Jew plants, especially potted ones, will become leggy as a result of too little light, being grown in very small pots, not being watered enough, humidity levels constantly below, frost temperatures of −30°F and lower, high temperatures over 95°F, and excess application of fertilizer.
As such, it’s best to balance proper care of wandering Jew plants to prevent them from becoming overly leggy and weak due to such reasons. Though they look beautiful as hanging plants, it is best to still keep them healthy and full so that they don’t die from neglect.
- “Tradescantia zebrina” by Susan Mahr in the Wisconsin Master Gardener
- “Tradescantia vs Calthea” by Alexia Larlee in University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources
- “Growing Plants Indoors” by n/a in the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service
- “Chapter 12: Indoor Plants” by the Virginia Cooperative Extension in Pressbooks