The colorful foliage of a wandering Jew, also known as an inch plant, is incredibly striking. So there’s no surprise that they’re popular houseplants. But sometimes, their vibrant hues fade and turn brown!
Wandering Jew plants turn brown because of 1) natural aging, 2) underwatering, 3) overwatering, 4) excessive sunlight, 5) high temperatures, 6) low humidity, 7) overfertilization, 8) pest infestation, and 9) plant diseases.
Depending on the reason a wandering Jew plant turned brown, you may be able to stop it from getting worse and prevent it from happening again. However, there are also times when you can’t do anything to avoid it. Scroll on to learn more!
1. Natural Aging
As the wandering Jew plant ages and flowers, it is natural for some of its older leaves to turn brown and die down. They may be trimmed to encourage new growth.
Some types of inch plants, like the Tradescantia zebrina, can put out dainty vibrant blooms at any time of the year under ideal conditions.
In these cases, you might not even notice how some of its leaves become dull and brown unless you look really closely.
For example, even though it’s spring some of my inch plants have brown leaves hidden within all the lush younger foliage surrounding them.
But for other wandering Jews with grass-like leaves, such as Tradescantia x andersoniana, it’s more obvious.
The leaves of inch plant cultivars, including Satin Doll and Sweet Kate, turn brown around fall once their blooming period has ended.
You will see this start to happen as the plant enters a period of dormancy during the colder months of the year.
The browning of old and dormant leaves is a normal process for spiderwort. You can’t prevent it from happening and you don’t really need to address it.
If, however, you want to keep your wandering Jew plant looking neat, you can trim back the discolored old leaves. Doing so will encourage the plant to produce new leaves and flowers once the conditions are more favorable.
Letting the soil of wandering Jew plants dry out completely between watering sessions, or underwatering, results in the browning of their leaf tips and edges.
Inch plants thrive in moist soils, regardless of whether they’re grown in a pot indoors or directly in the ground outdoors.
As such, leaving them to dry out for days at a time can be highly detrimental.
Once you see that your spiderwort seems to be on the brink of collapsing on itself and its leaves are turning brown starting from their tips and/or edges, it’s underwatered.
Besides the discoloration, your wandering Jew might not grow as rapidly or as lush if it doesn’t get enough water.
Follow a consistent watering schedule. Make sure to keep your wandering Jew plant’s soil moist by watering it once the top 2 inches (5 cm) of the soil is dry to the touch.
Overwatered wandering Jew plants can develop soft brown rotting leaves, stems, and roots due to the lack of air in their waterlogged soils.
Spiderworts do well with moist soil and moderate watering. This, however, doesn’t mean that they like getting wet all day, every day!
You also need to make sure that its soil can properly and freely drain out the excess water it gets.
In other words, if your potted wandering Jew is still heavy days after you last watered it, it likely doesn’t have enough drainage holes at the bottom. Or, the holes might be clogged up.
Discover more about proper drainage!
Unless you do something to address this, your wandering Jew plant will likely develop both root and stem rot sooner than later.
Look out for signs of overwatering like collapsed flowers, yellowing and browning lower leaves, and drooping stems.
Don’t water your wandering Jews if the top 2 inches (5 cm) of their soil are still dark and moist. Once you noticed signs of overwatering, reduce the amount and frequency of watering.
Regularly check the drainage holes of your potted inch plants and remove stuck roots and debris with a thin stick or pencil.
4. Excessive Sunlight
Exposing wandering Jew plants to the harsh sun can cause them to turn brown and dry. Leaf burns are easy to identify as the exposed side will be more affected.
Too much sunlight—direct exposure, to be more specific—is not good for inch plants. Just like humans, these plants can get sunburned.
Southern windows can provide bright light for indoor plants. However, sunlight in such locations can get too unbearable during the noon.
Browning from excess sun exposure can develop along the margins of wandering Jew leaves. It can also appear as spots on yellowing leaves.
Also, avoid watering your plants at high noon when the sun is most intense.
You see, water droplets stuck on hairy spiderwort leaves can act like magnifiers, causing even worse leaf scorching.
Move your wandering Jew to a shadier position if it’s outdoors. Place it near taller plants that can help block out excess sunlight.
Indoors, place your plants near either a west or east-facing window instead.
Furthermore, you can also use a grow light if you want to be extra safe. This will allow you to fully control the light intensity your plant receives, and for how long.
5. High Temperatures
Wandering Jew plants may display scorched leaves with brown patches as a result of their exposure to unfavorable high temperatures over 86°F or 30°C for extended periods.
Here’s the thing, consistently high temps generally equate to more intense light, drier air, and rapid evaporation of water from the soil.
Simply put, high temperatures make spiderwort plants more prone to turning brown due to unfavorable growing conditions.
Brown patches on their foliage are a typical sign of high-temperature damage.
Even though the inch plant can handle high temps for some time, they will fare much better within the 65–75°F (18–23°C) range.
Be mindful of where you place your pots of wandering Jew. They don’t do well with constant heat so don’t have them in the kitchen or near a fireplace—regardless if it’s electric or not.
Move them to a cooler and shadier spot when it gets too hot, especially around spring and summer when temperatures can go over 86°F (30°C) in states like Hawaii and Florida.
6. Low Humidity
Keeping wandering Jew plants in areas with humidity levels lower than 40% for long period can cause brown leaf tips and withering.
The thing is, inch plants do best with moderate to high humidity levels. In particular, they need humidity levels no lower than 40% and no higher than 70%.
Considering the fact that outdoor weather conditions can highly affect environmental conditions indoors, it can be a struggle to maintain a favorably humid growing area at home.
Around fall and winter, it can become substantially drier both indoors and outdoors due to the cooler weather.
However, the use of heaters and furnaces can make it even more difficult to keep the humidity high enough for tradescantias that are growing within the house in small containers.
If you think misting will help solve this, you’re sadly wrong.
Read more about it in our article on misting houseplants!
During the cold and dry months of the year, you may move your inch plant in the bathroom or near the kitchen—but away from the heat of stoves and ovens. These areas are generally more humid than other parts of the house.
Additionally, you could invest in a good humidifier for your plants to keep the air around them humid enough to their liking. I personally like this small and quiet humidifier on Amazon.
You can also position your plants closer together in certain parts of the house to create a more humid little space where they can thrive with the help of each other!
The wandering Jew plant is not a heavy nutrient feeder, so applying too much fertilizer too frequently can cause toxicity, resulting in browning leaves.
Whether it starts from the margins, the tips, or both, the browning of plant tissue caused by too much fertilizer is something that all plant enthusiasts want to avoid at all costs.
Unfortunately, giving our houseplants—including inch plants—too much love and attention by fertilizing them too often with excessive nutrients can harm them.
This is because the accumulation of salt in the soil as a consequence of overfertilization can also reduce a plant’s ability to effectively absorb enough water to stay strong and healthy.
Other than damaging the leaves, excess fertilizer can also cause leaf drops, root damage, reduced growth, and wilting in tradescantia.
Opt for liquid and water-soluble fertilizers if you plan on feeding your inch plant to make it bushier.
Find out the correct way of applying fertilizer in our wandering Jew care guide!
Using such diluted fertilizer solutions can help you reduce the likelihood of fertilizer burns.
8. Pest Infestation
Brown spots and patches on a wandering Jew plant may appear because of the damage some pests, often dark in color, have caused from feeding on it.
Although inch plants are not commonly seriously affected by insect problems, this doesn’t mean that they’re completely invincible to pest infestation.
Pests known to attack tradescantia are
- Root mealybugs
- Spider mites
They can cause serious damage to your plants when left unchecked and unresolved.
Some of them are dark in color and very small. For instance, scales and spider mites are both dark-colored pests that may look like simple brown debris on your spiderwort.
Once they suck out essential nutrients from your plants, you may see brown patches and spots all over the leaves and stems of your plants.
Use a soilless potting mix if you want to grow your wandering Jew plant in containers. You can do this whether you’re planning on keeping them in the house or your garden.
Give your potted wandering Jew a good shower once a month to get rid of any pests before they make serious damage. You can also hose down outdoor inch plants with a spray nozzle.
9. Plant Disease
Though uncommon, plant diseases can lead to a wandering Jew plant turning brown. Leaf-spot disease, for example, causes dark brown spots that dry up and disintegrate.
I have—fortunately—yet to personally struggle with a diseased inch plant. Hopefully, I’ll never have to in the future either.
However, under unfavorable weather conditions such as excessively high humidity over 70% as well as constantly wet soil and leaves, the inch plant will likely succumb to fungal disease.
Some of the common diseases associated with wandering Jew plants include root rot, powdery mildew, botrytis, and leaf-spot diseases.
Out of the 4, bacterial leaf-spot diseases commonly cause brown spotting on damaged leaves. These spots are commonly outlined with yellow plant tissue.
As time passes they darken to black and the center of each spot dries up and falls creating holes through the foliage and other parts of the plant.
Be careful with how you provide humidity and how much water you give your wandering Jew plants to avoid the development of plant diseases like these.
You could also spray some fungicide containing either copper or streptomycin to prevent the onset of such conditions.
Can you prevent browning in spiderwort?
Browning of spiderwort plants can easily be prevented with proper care and monitoring. Whether they’re grown as a groundcover on lawns or in containers as houseplants, spiderwort needs moist bright light, well-draining soil, moderately high humidity, and cool to warm growing temperatures to retain vividly colored leaves.
Why do wandering Jew stems turn brown?
A wandering Jew plant’s stem may turn brown due to waterlogged soil, overwatering, lack of or insufficient drainage holes, soil mix with high water retention, pest damage, and diseases. These generally can’t be revived and should instead be cut off from the plant so that it doesn’t waste any energy or resources in trying to keep the dying stem alive.
Should I remove brown leaves from my wandering Jew?
It is not necessary to remove brown leaves from a wandering Jew plant unless there are live spores on them which could cause the spread of fungal diseases. Brown leaves resulting from natural aging and improper watering can simply be trimmed off. However, the part that has turned brown can’t turn back to green again.
Summary of Why Wandering Jew Plants Turn Brown
Browning wandering Jew plants aren’t always a sign of a problem. Rather, it’s normal for such a plant to have its lower leaves turn brown before wilting and falling as a result of aging and spending much of its resources to ensure flowering during the blooming period.
For the most part, though, improper care can result in brown wandering Jew plants that may no longer be revived when the damage is too serious. Such causes include underwatering, overwatering, excessive sunlight, high temperatures, low humidity, overfertilization, pest infestation, and plant diseases
- “Caring for Houseplants” by Kathy Kelley in PennState Extension
- “Interior Plants: Selection and Care” by Elizabeth Davison in the College of Agriculture, The University of Arizona
- “Caring for Houseplants” by David H. Trinklein in the University of Missouri Extension
- “Houseplant Care” by David Hillock in the Oklahoma State University