For most of my life, I only ever saw wandering Jew plants being grown outside. During extremely hot summers, I knew that they can dry out easily. But I wasn’t sure how fast they would get scorched and wilt. So today, I’ll be sharing with you the results of my little experiment!
Wandering Jew plants can rapidly dry out in less than a week with 1) insufficient water, 2) direct sun exposure, and 3) high temperatures. When all these unfavorable growing conditions are combined, drying and browning of inch plant leaves and stems can be noticeable after only 3 days.
The effects of neglect that lead to the drying out of my tradescantia happened much faster than I had originally expected. It was also far worse than I had imagined! Keep reading to understand what I mean.
Wandering Jew Plant Sample
For this experiment, I made sure to first pick out a very lush and healthy pot from my wandering Jew plants.
My selected plant has several new leaves developing on them. Their stems and leaves are also covered with tiny little hairs as they should be.
My Tradescantia zebrina sample also has a great variegation of greens and purples on its leaves, with their undersides all a vibrant shade of purple.
I keep it in a thick black plastic pot with numerous drainage holes at the bottom. This cheap but durable pot is 8 inches (20 cm) wide and 6 inches (15 cm) deep.
Before the start of this simple experiment, the wandering Jew plant was watered regularly whenever the top 2 inches of the soil was already dry to the touch.
The growing medium of this potted tradescantia is a mix of packaged potting soil, perlite, coco coir, and vermicast. As such, it drains well while staying relatively moist and airy.
The closest ready-to-use mix I could find is this one on Amazon.
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Experiment Setup for Drying Out the Wandering Jew Plant
The objective of this experiment is to understand what happens to a wandering Jew plant after suffering from drying out. Results from this simple experiment will help gardeners spots the first symptoms so they can recognize them straight away and fix them.
The potted bushy wandering Jew plant was moved outdoors to speed up the drying process for the experiment. It was placed in a southwestern location, where it received 1–4 hours of direct sunlight. The temperature averaged 77–98°F (25–37°C) and the humidity stayed within 40–80%. It was not watered for 2 weeks.
If you’ve ever gone around outside during the height of noon on a very hot summer day, you know how sweltering it can get—especially if there are little to no clouds in sight!
So to test just how fast an inch plant can dry out, I placed it in an area where it is directly exposed to sunlight at its most intense. It stayed relatively bright throughout the day there too.
More specifically, I place the plant sample right outside our front door, on the southwest side of our house. On the hottest day, the temperature soared to 98°F or 37°C for about 2 hours.
I also moved it away from other plants that I grow outdoors so that I could monitor it on its own. Nevertheless, it stayed relatively humid. On cloudy days, the humidity even when up to 80%.
The Experiment Results: Dried Wandering Jew Plants
After only 3 days of the drying experiment set-up, the potted wandering Jew plant immediately showed significant drying and browning from the tips. Once the 2-week time frame ended, more than 50% of the plant dried up and wilted. The dry inch plant’s leaves also lost their bright coloration and the variegation faded substantially.
Despite initially thinking that it would take at least 1 full week until any visible changes can be seen, this short and easy-to-replicate experiment proved me wrong.
To further emphasize the drastic changes to the wandering Jew sample I selected for this test, I will also be comparing it with my other potted tradescantias!
Week 1: Yellowing, Browning, Curling, and Drying of Leaves
During the first 2 days, I didn’t really see much of a change in the wandering Jew plant.
But on the 3rd day, I immediately noticed signs of sunburn on the leaves by the side that was most exposed to the afternoon sun.
Then, I rotated the spiderwort to see if the same will happen to the other side which was mostly shaded and protected by the shadow of the exposed side of this bushy plant.
At the 7-day mark, the other side also had browning and crying. Upon checking the inner part of the potted wandering Jew, I also noted the yellowing and drying of lower leaves.
Week 2: Final Results, Serious Drying and Wilting
Starting from the 8th day, the deterioration of the drying potted wandering Jew plant progressed even more rapidly!
Even just looking at it from afar, you can readily tell that it’s suffered quite a lot.
Most of its leaves have turned dull and faded—even the underside of the have turned pale, and some have even completely become brown and dry.
Many of the succulent stems also started drooping, others easily fall off with very little effort.
Just a simple tug or movement could make the incredibly dry leaves and stems drop to the ground.
Top 3 Causes of Very Dry Wandering Jew Plants
A wandering Jew plant can quickly become dry because of 1) insufficient water, 2) direct sun exposure, and 3) high temperatures. Hence, a proper watering schedule, partial shade, and mild temperatures can prevent browning and wilting.
I know that all of these may seem like common sense. However, we need to remember that not all people are experienced with caring for plants such as inch plants.
So whether you’re a complete newbie or it’s just your first time growing tradescantias, try to remember these 3 key factors to avoid having your plant burn to a crisp!
1. Insufficient Water
Because they thrive in moist soil, underwatered wandering Jew plants easily dry when they are not given enough water. Even with high humidity, insufficient watering will lead to drying, browning, and wilting.
Using my little experiment as an example, not giving your inch plant water can result in very drastic changes.
After the first few days of not providing any fresh water for the plant, the leaves may turn pale—from green and purple to brown and black.
Then, if you leave it without water for several more days, its leaves will start curling in on themselves and turn brown and dry.
Discover other causes of browning in spiderwort!
In extreme cases of drying due to not watering, the tradescantia will start collapsing in on itself. Don’t expect to see new growth in such cases either.
Once the top 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) of its growing medium is already dry, water the wandering Jew plant. During very hot summer days, they may require water 1–2 times a day.
If you already have a good watering schedule in place but the plant still dries up fast, add more water-retaining materials to its potting mix like coco coir. You might also want to consider moving it to a plastic container if you haven’t already.
2. Direct Sun Exposure
Excessive exposure to direct sunlight, especially during noon when it is at its strongest intensity, can easily dry and burn wandering Jew leaves. They can be moved to another area with dappled sunlight or partial shade instead.
What not a lot of people—mostly newbie home gardeners—seem to know is that wandering Jews can run wild really fast with lots of direct sunlight.
This is why they may be tricky to control when used as ground cover in warmer regions including states such as Florida or Hawaii.
However, when the light becomes far too strong for them to handle, inch plants can quickly dry up and wilt.
You see, although the hairs growing all over their stems and leaves can reflect light, they can’t survive under too much intense afternoon sunlight for far too long, for days on end.
In fact, from my experiment, I have noticed that some of the remaining leaves have become smooth. So they likely lost their hair due to the continuous full afternoon sun exposure.
Protect your wandering Jew plants, especially ones grown outdoors, by placing some shading net on top of it around noon. In doing so, they’ll still receive plenty of sunlight, with little to no negative effects.
Alternatively, you can move your plant indoors gradually and grow it as a houseplant instead. Just make sure it still gets at least 2 hours of bright light daily—natural or artificial.
3. High Temperatures
Constant exposure to temperatures above 86°F (30°C) will rapidly dry out a wandering Jew plant. Direct sunlight and lack of water can further exacerbate drying and wilting.
Ideally, the hairs of your tradescantia plants will provide enough protection from extreme heat by providing them with some insulation.
But, similar to the previous case, it may melt and fail to serve its purpose under prolonged unfavorable growing conditions—which, of course, includes very high temperatures.
I mean, sure—tradescantias are known to handle the heat quite well. But when it becomes too much for them to bear, they will start drying up and getting discolored.
Let your wandering Jew plant slowly acclimate to outdoor conditions if you want to grow it there. This will help lessen, if not prevent, the extensive drying of the plant.
Otherwise, you can also opt to give it some shade to help it stay cool even when it’s quite hot outside. Consider growing it completely indoors if you want to stay on the safe side.
Remember, tradescantia generally do best with mild temperatures between 65°F (18°C) and 75°F (23°C).
Find out more in our detailed care guide for wandering Jew plants!
Should you repot dry wandering Jew Plants?
Once a wandering Jew plant has outgrown its growing container and its soil begins to dry up much more quickly, it needs to be repotted. It’s best to only move it to a pot that’s 1–2 inches or 2–5 cm bigger than the old one to prevent water-logging and root rot. More often than not, this will only be necessary once a year or every 2 years.
What is the wandering Jew plant’s leaf shape?
Tradescantia or wandering Jew plants have 2 main leaf shapes: 1) linear and 2) elliptical. Species and varieties with long grass-like foliage include the Ohio spiderwort, they often have hairless stems and leaves. Meanwhile, variegated tradescantias like purple heart and zebrina have showy elliptical leaves with tiny hairs.
How tall can purple wandering Jew plants grow?
The purple wandering Jew plant (Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Heart’) can grow to an average height of 1–2 ft. (30–60 cm) without any trellis to latch on to. But when provided with a structure to cling to and grow along, it can grow much taller and bigger than just 2 feet.
Summary of Why Wandering Jew Plants Dry Out
Exposing wandering Jew plants to extremely high temperatures and intense afternoon sun can quickly result in drying and wilting, especially if it receives little to no water when necessary. The effects of such conditions can be noticed after just 3 days.
During really hot and sunny days, wandering Jew plants must be watered once or twice a day, protected with a shade net, and/or moved to a shadier and cooler location to prevent them from rapidly drying up and deteriorating.
- “Tradescantia” by n/a in NC Cooperative Extension
- “Tradescantia zebrina” by Susan Mahr in the Wisconsin Master Gardener
- “Tradescantia vs Calthea” by Alexia Larlee in Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California
- “Plant Microstructures” by Demetra Kandalepas in Louisiana State University
- “Care of Houseplants” by Gerald Klingaman and Janet Carson in the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service
- “Caring for Houseplants” by n/a in the University of Missouri Extension