The wandering Jew, or Tradescantia zebrina, is a popular, fast-growing houseplant with variegated silver and iridescent purple leaves growing abundantly from vining stems.
It is a low-maintenance plant native to Mexico and South America, and is commonly grown as ground cover because of the density of its foliage.
One of the most common problems encountered by owners of wandering Jew plants is when their plant turns brown. This color change is due to some environmental factor that is stressing the plant, and the most common of these are underwatering, low humidity, too much sun, and natural aging.
In this article, we will discuss each of these possible causes and what you can do to fix them. So, if you are experiencing this problem with your own wandering Jew, keep reading to learn more about it.
Why is my wandering Jew turning brown?
If your wandering Jew has developed dry, brown leaves, it might be underwatered.
You can tell that the plant is underwatered by checking the soil in its pot. If the soil is very dry and looks like it has shrunk, that means all of the moisture has been depleted.
If you think your wandering Jew is underwatered, you need to water it immediately by soaking all of the soil thoroughly until water starts to flow out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
Sometimes, the soil has been dehydrated for so long that the top layer becomes hydrophobic and will repel any water that you pour on it. Instead of being absorbed by the soil, the water will just flow down the sides of the pot and out of the drainage holes, leaving the roots just as thirsty as before. If this is the case, try bottom-watering your plant. Place the pot in a shallow basin filled with three inches of water and leave it there for 10 to 15 minutes. The soil will slowly absorb the water through the holes at the bottom of the pot. After 10 to 15 minutes, remove the pot from the basin and allow it to drain on a rack before placing it back in its usual spot. Your wandering Jew should show signs of recovery after three to four watering cycles.
In order to avoid underwatering your plant in the future, you need to be able to tell when it wants to be watered. Touch the top two inches of soil in the pot and, if the soil is dry, water the plant. If the soil is still a bit damp, wait one or two days before checking it again.
Wandering Jew plants prefer moderate levels of humidity and will struggle to thrive in homes with excessively dry air. If you live in a dry climate, your plant’s leaves may start to turn brown, starting from the tips and the edges and spreading to the rest of the leaf if the problem is not addressed.
In the winter, you should be especially cautious about dry air, because central heating and reduced ventilation will further reduce the humidity in your home, making it difficult for your wandering Jew to thrive.
There are some simple methods to increase the humidity in the room where you keep your plant, and to prevent its leaves from turning brown. Misting the plant’s leaves with water is one of the most straightforward methods of increasing the humidity around the plant, albeit only for a short period of time.
A water pebble tray can also be used. Place your wandering Jew on top of a tray filled with small pebbles. Fill the tray with water until the water reaches halfway up the pebbles. As the water evaporates from the tray, it will moisten the air around the plant. If the water in the tray starts to smell bad, just replace it with fresh water.
If you have other houseplants that also like moderate humidity, you can place them next to your wandering Jew so that they can all create a microclimate around each other.
The humidity in your kitchen and bathroom is generally higher than in the other rooms of your home, thanks to the steam from showering and cooking. Putting your plant in these rooms is an easy way to provide it with the moisture it needs. Just make sure that there is adequate lighting in the room, too.
If you have the means, you can also purchase a humidifier to automatically regulate the humidity around the plant. This is a great option for those that are always busy and may not have time to mist the plant or replace the water in a pebble tray.
Too much sun exposure
If your wandering Jew is exposed to bright, direct sunlight every day, you may notice yellow or brown patches appearing on the leaves. This probably means that the plant is being scorched by the intense sunlight. Wandering Jew plants prefer bright, indirect light, and even a few hours under full sunlight can result in significant sun damage.
If you think that your plant’s brown leaves are caused by excessive sun exposure, you will need to move it to a spot where it gets less intense light.
Also check whether the soil in the pot has dried out under the heat of the sun, and if so, water it generously. If you do not want to wait for the brown leaves to fall off on their own, you can prune them off to preserve the plant’s aesthetic.
Place the plant next to an east-facing window: these windows let in bright, indirect light in the morning and shade in the afternoon.
If the only windows in your home let in harsh light, you can still keep your plant near them, but place a sheer curtain over the window to diffuse the light’s intensity.
When it comes to losing leaves through aging, wandering Jews are a little different to many other houseplants. As they grow longer, wandering Jews struggle to maintain the health of their middle leaves, which are typically the oldest, and these middle leaves will begin to turn brown before falling off.
The best course of action is to prune the vines back to a point above the browning area and to propagate the healthy surviving stems. You can either replant the propagated vines in the same pot with the mother plant, or start over with a fresh wandering Jew in its own pot.
Wandering Jew plant care
The wandering Jew requires plenty of bright, indirect light to maintain its leaves’ variegated colors. If the lighting is too dim, the colors on the leaves will start to fade.
Do not expose the plant to direct sunlight, because this can lead to leaf scorching.
If you live in a place where sunlight is scarce for a few months each year, you can help your plant out with a grow light.
The wandering Jew can tolerate periods of drought better than some other plants, so you do not need to water it very often. To know whether the plant needs to be watered, poke your finger into the top two inches of soil. If the soil is dry, water the plant, but if the soil is still damp, wait one or two days before checking again.
During the warmer months, the plant is actively growing and will require more frequent watering. In the winter, when its growth is much slower, it will naturally need less water.
The wandering Jew plant likes moderate humidity, which is present inside most homes anyway. But, if you live in a particularly dry area, you may need to take certain measures to increase the humidity around your plant.
As mentioned above, you can mist the plant once in a while, use a water pebble tray, place the plant next to other humidity-loving plants, keep it in the kitchen or bathroom, or use a humidifier in the room.
Fertilize your wandering Jew only once or twice a year, at the most. If you give it fertilizer too frequently, the variegation on the leaves will fade. Over-fertilization can also lead to root burn and soil toxicity.
If you suspect that you have overfertilized your plant, flush the soil with water to remove any mineral salts that have built up around the roots.
Wandering Jews thrive in temperatures between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Provided the temperature around the plant does not get any lower than 50 degrees, the plant should still be happy.
Do not leave it outdoors in the frost, because such low temperatures will kill it. Keep the plant indoors until the start of spring, in stable room temperature and protected from the elements.
The wandering Jew plant, orTradescantia zebrina, is a fast-growing houseplant native to Mexico and parts of South America. It has beautiful, purple and silvery, variegated leaves.
This plant is typically grown as a groundcover, but it can be kept indoors as a houseplant because of its pretty foliage.
One of the most common problems encountered by owners of wandering Jew plants is when their plant starts turning brown. The most common causes of this change in color are insufficient watering, low humidity, too much sun exposure, and the plant’s natural aging process.
The sooner you can determine the exact cause of the problem, the faster you will resolve the issue and return your plant to full health.
Image: istockphoto.com / pixynook