Planning to have wandering jew plants outdoors as ground cover? Yes, it’s possible!
Overall, wandering jews are relatively easy to take care of and are really adaptable. Although it is commonly grown as a hanging houseplant, you can also have them as a cover for big outdoor areas.
Wandering Jew is not a single type of plant. Actually, its name is given to a wide variety of plants under the genus "Tradescantia". The most common wandering jew type is "Tradescantia pallid" The Purple Heart plant.
You’ve probably heard of Tradescantia zebrina and Tradescantia fluminensis too since all of them are also called wandering jew.
How to plant wandering jew outdoors? Things to consider
Varieties of wandering jew basically have the same needs and requirements so you don’t have to worry about the difference.
If you already have them as a houseplant, caring for them as a ground cover will be fairly easy.
Temperature and Growing Zones
Before considering planting these plants outside, you must first know if they can withstand the environment outside.
If you live in growing zones 9 to 11, which is the wandering jew’s growing zone, then you don’t have the harsh winters to worry about. Your plants can stay safe outside all year long.
Take note that these plants like warmer temperatures that range between 50 to 80 degrees F. So How do you take care of a wandering Jew in the winter?
Since you’re planting them on the ground, it can be tricky to relocate them if in you’re in areas that have lower temperatures especially during winter. Using cold frames can help you in this predicament.
If you have a piece of woven cloth, it can also help in giving them warmth of approximately 2 to 5 degrees F.
Can Wandering Jew take full sun?
During the day, it’s best for your wandering jew to be in partial shade. Since you’re growing them as a ground cover, try to position them in a patio, shady front, or covered porch where they can get some bright and indirect sunlight.
If you plant them in spaces where there is too much sunlight, the leaves will ultimately bleach out. Wandering jews are used as ground covers because of their beautiful green to purple leaves with silvery-white stripes. Exposing them to too much sun can cause discoloration and sunburn.
On the other hand, wandering jews will stretch toward the nearest light source if you place them in total shade or areas with too little light. You wouldn’t want them to become bony, uneven, and thin either!
Soil Moisture, Humidity, and Watering
Wandering jews prefer rich and moist soil that drains well. If you’re planting them outdoor as a ground cover, mulch around the soil to maintain the moisture.
Keeping the soil damp helps in maintaining the humidity that your plant absolutely loves.
If the humidity is too low, your plant’s leaves will eventually turn brown. In some cases, some plants die. Mist them from time to time to provide their much needed moisture.
They can survive dry conditions but remember not to neglect their watering needs too.
However, it is better to underwater them instead of overwatering your plants. Keep your plants moist but not wet as it will eventually lead them to rot.
Maintenance for your Outdoor Wandering Jew
Some gardeners consider wandering jews too invasive. Since you’re using them as a ground cover, this exact growing characteristic is just perfect especially when they are underneath some taller plants or trees.
Since they're invasive, it doesn't mean that you should just let them spread haphazardly. Before you knew it, wandering jews have taken over spaces that they’re not supposed to inhabit.
To solve this, you have to make sure to prune them as necessary to avoid spreading them from spreading too much.
Pruning and Propagation
Pruning should be a part of your plant's regular care. You can remove the long tendrils so your ground cover can stay thick and compressed. Also, remember to trim the thin and weak stems as well as the dead leaves.
To help your wandering jews grow healthier, you can also pinch the stems. Pinching is another form of pruning and this promotes plant branching. You can also grow new plants from this method.
When pruning or pinching healthy stems to make a new plant, make sure that you have a glass of water nearby.
Place the stem cuttings in the water to let them root. Rinse the stem and replace the water daily until the roots are good enough to plant in another location that you prefer.
Is it necessary to fertilize them?
For newly planted wandering jews, you can apply liquid fertilizer every week to help them produce a good root system. After that, it isn’t really necessary to always fertilize them.
During your wandering jew’s growing season you can give them water-soluble fertilizer two times a month.
Dilute the fertilizer to halve the strength so you can prevent nutrient burn. From then on you can just fertilize the soil once a year using any slow-release fertilizer.
Do not fertilize them during winter or fall. The best time to do so is from spring to summer.
What else should I worry about?
Since you’re growing wandering jews as ground cover, there’s a big chance that your plants will get grazed and trampled on by your pets, if you ever have one.
If you’re planting them in your patio or on your porch, you obviously don’t have to worry about a deer nibbling on your plant.
Keep your pets away from your plant since it can have some effects on them too especially on their skin. If you don’t have pets, then your plants are safe.
Wandering jews are low maintenance. With that said, you don’t have to worry much about having this beautiful purple and green ground cover on your vacant space.
Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she attended University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. She has supplemented her formal education by working on various organic farms, including spending a semester abroad in India.
Growing and/or raising just about anything gets her excited. She is especially passionate about environmental justice and low-tech, sustainable ways to better run small-scale farms and homesteads. Lindsey started Urban Organic Yield to discuss gardening tips and tactics.