The tradescantia plant, commonly known as wandering Jew or spiderwort, is a creeping plant found in many gardens and inside homes as a houseplant. The plant is considered most elegant when full and bushy, so it can be frustrating to see your tradescantia get leggy. So, why is your plant growing upwards?
Your tradescantia is growing upwards due to insufficient sunlight and water, over-fertilizing, or having the wrong pot size. You can remedy a leggy tradescantia by keeping the plant under bright, indirect sunlight, fertilizing periodically in the growing months, and maintaining a pruning routine.
If your tradescantia is getting leggy and you are desperate to correct the situation, this article is for you. I’ll tell you what causes an upward-growing tradescantia and how to stop it.
How Tradescantia Plants Grow
A fuller, bushy foliage is the ideal growth pattern of a tradescantia plant. To achieve this growth pattern, tradescantia plants have specific care requirements, including:
- Being in consistently moist but well-draining soil.
- Having bright, indirect light during the day.
- Regular fertilizing in the growing months (during spring and summer, or once every 30-45 days).
- Growing in average room temperatures between 60 and 75 °F (15.6 and 24 °C).
If you don’t fulfill these care requirements, your tradescantia plant can have long, scanty foliage, commonly described as leggy. Specific oversights in plant care make it grow upwards instead of growing bushy.
Reasons Your Tradescantia Is Getting Leggy
If you notice that your tradescantia plant is growing long, weak shoots upwards, the plant probably isn’t getting enough sunlight. Wandering Jew plants require bright, indirect light to grow bushy.
Plants use light for photosynthesis, a process that converts oxygen and water into energy (carbohydrates). If your plant occupies a spot with poor light, it will grow longer shoots to help it reach any light source in the same room.
Other signs your tradescantia is not getting enough light include:
- Slow growth
- Long stems leaning towards a source of light
- Loss of variegation or washed-out leaves that look bleached.
- Yellowing leaves
- Losing leaves at the base of the stems
If a tradescantia doesn’t get enough sunlight, its water intake will slow, leading to soggy soil. Sitting in wet soil can cause growth problems such as root rot, yellow foliage, and stem rot.
Wrong Pot Size
If you have a potted wandering Jew becoming leggy with roots growing out of the potholes, the pot may be too small for the root system and the plant’s size. Your wandering Jew will grow shoots upwards as a sign it’s not getting enough nutrients from the potting soil.
Tradescantia species are aggressive growers, which is why they are considered invasive in some parts of the US, such as Florida. Tradescantia plants will overgrow pots that have become too small for them as the potting soil sustains their generous growth.
Too Much Fertilizer
The wandering Jew, like most plants, requires fertilizing to support growth in the growing months of spring and summer. Over-fertilizing can cause a sudden surge in growth, directing the new shoot upwards. This is especially true if the fertilizer has a high nitrogen level, as nitrogen supports foliage growth.
When there’s less sunlight in the winter months, your plant is not in active growth and won’t require fertilizing. Your tradescantia can survive with the feed given in the active growth months. Giving fertilizer in the resting months can count as over-fertilizing and will cause your plant to grow upwards.
Warmer temperatures support faster growth in tradescantia plants. If the surrounding temperature is too warm and the plant is kept moist, heightened growth can cause your plant to have spindly stems growing upwards.
Remember that warmer temperatures don’t mean the plant is kept under strong and direct sunlight. In fact, exposing your wandering Jew plant to direct sunlight for extended periods will ruin it and cause the leaves to turn brown.
Tradescantias thrive best in room temperatures between 60 and 75 °F (15.6 and 24 °C). Beware of letting the plant grow in too cold environments, as this can cause leaf discoloration.
The wandering Jew plant likes evenly moist soil. Allowing the plant’s soil to dry too much before watering is irregular watering. Once the parched soil is watered again, the sudden moisture will promote upward shoot growth.
A regular watering schedule will help ensure even foliage growth of your tradescantia plant. The plant should be watered when at least an inch (2.5 cm) of the topsoil feels dry to your fingers.
Pruning in the Wrong Seasons
Wandering Jew plants are best pruned in summer and spring when in active growth. The plant may make up for the reduced foliage by growing weak leggy stems if pruned in the resting winter season.
Regularly pruning your plant in the growing seasons promotes a bushy appearance. As such, it’s better to leave the pruning for warmer weather. However, removing dead leaves and stems can be done at any time of the year.
Solutions to Prevent Upward Growth
Optimize Light Exposure
Ensure that your tradescantia plant is in a location where it receives bright, indirect light. If your houseplant is currently in the shade, you must relocate the plant to a brightly lit room.
However, your tradescantia’s room must be lit with natural light. Indoor artificial light sources will attract a wandering Jew plant and cause it to grow spindly stems, especially in a room that doesn’t receive any sunlight. To prevent this, move your plant away from lamps and heat sources.
More importantly, all sides of the plant should receive natural light to prevent some stems from growing too long to reach for the light. You can rotate the pot by 90-180° every time you water your plant. This will ensure even growth and prevent legginess.
If you would like to explore your options for giving enough light to grow, check out my article: How to Give Indoor Plants Enough Light to Grow
If your tradescantia is outdoors, place the plant in a part-shade location but not under direct sunlight. Wandering Jew plants will not tolerate direct sunlight for long, as intense sunlight will cause the leaves to turn brown.
Your tradescantia must be fed with fertilizers in the correct doses. If you provide your plant with too little fertilizer, it may not get enough nutrients from the soil. If you feed it too much, you risk the roots suffering from chemical burns, which can lead to plant death.
Luckily, tradescantias are not heavy feeders so they will do well with half-strength liquid fertilizers every 4-6 weeks during the growing season. As the season progresses, you can increase the interval by a week until just before the plant becomes less active in early fall.
Repot Your Tradescantia
Since tradescantias grow fast, repotting them once every one or two years will prevent them from outgrowing the pot. Overgrowing makes your plant leggy because the plant only receives a limited amount of nutrients and moisture from insufficient pot soil.
It’s best to repot your wandering Jew in early spring before the peak of the active growth season in summer. Use a pot at least 2 inches (5 cm) larger. Avoid choosing a pot that is too large, as it causes the potting soil to get soggy and may lead to root rot.
For more information on properly potting houseplants, you can read my article here: How To Properly Pot Any Type of Houseplant
When choosing a new pot for your tradescantia, remember to pick one with drainage holes.
Keep a Regular Watering Routine
Water your wandering Jew plant regularly, so the soil is consistently moist. You will know when to water your plant if the upper 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) of the soil feels dry when you touch it. Water the plant until you can see the excess moisture seeping out from the drainage hole under the pot.
Don’t leave the soil to dry out completely. This will preempt irregular shoot growth when the plant is watered after a long dry period.
Prune Your Tradescantia and Pinch off New Stems
I left pruning for last because, when all the other conditions are right, you should consider it the ultimate solution for stopping your tradescantia from growing upwards.
Considering they grow consistently, regular pruning is the key to a bushy, healthy tradescantia.
Proper pruning entails three different actions:
Routinely Cutting off Any Spindly Stems
You can use routine cutting to decide how big you want your tradescantia to be. Cut the stems to the same length as the other tendrils or up to where the foliage looks bushier. Avoid trimming the shoots in the soil, as this can reduce foliage density at the plant’s base.
Pinching off New Stems
By pinching off new stems, you can encourage the growth of two new stems, making the plant look bushier.
Deadheading Spent Flowers, Leaves, and Unhealthy Stems
Deadheading will preserve the soil’s moisture and nutrients for the plant’s healthy parts, promoting a fuller tradescantia plant.
Tradescantias are fast-growing plants and require the right conditions to keep their healthy, bushy look.
Your tradescantia can grow upwards when it experiences these adverse growth conditions:
- Insufficient sunlight
- Wrong pot size
- Too much fertilizer
- Warm temperatures
- Irregular watering
- Pruning during the wrong season
You can stop your plant from growing upwards by correcting the situations causing the unintended growth. Provide your plant with proper lighting, moist soil, adequate fertilizer, and regular pruning to help it grow full and bushy.