Sunday, April 6, 2014

Overprotecting? My Spider Plant

I am not going to remind you just how brutal a winter we have just come through. Mainly because, one, I don't want to think about it, and two, there are some parts of the country still experiencing it as I type. Suffice it to say, it was BAD!
I have had conversations with people debating whether we tend to "overprotect" our plants during cold spells. Yes, I know there are some that just won't survive certain temperatures. I can fully attest to that, in the case of trying to grow Theobroma or cocoa. The temperatures drop below 40 degrees and it is toast. I have tried three times now. Needless to say, I have given up trying to grow my own chocolate.
However, there are plants that will take an absolute beating, yet will come back. The case of the daylily comes to mind. It will completely die back, but poke it's head out in the spring and flower like crazy. I am sure you can think of a hundred plants that fall into this category.
Today, I want to discuss a plant that is VERY familiar to anybody that has ever grown houseplants. Everything you read says it likes warm temperatures. Yet, I am here today to prove it is one tough son of a gun!!
Chlorophytum comosum, often called the spider plant or airplane plant. One of the most common and easiest to grow of all of the houseplants. You probably have one hanging in your den, office or kitchen right now. 

Native to South Africa. Spider plants are fast growers. They can quickly get to be 2 to 2½ feet wide and 2 to 3 feet long, especially when grown in a hanging basket. They prefer bright, indirect light, which makes them ideal as a houseplant. They can handle some direct light, but anything after say noon, will probably scorch the leaves. 
Like most plants, a well draining soil is what it prefers. Any good potting soil is sufficient. 
Allow the plant to dry out slightly between waterings, it is susceptible to root rot. You can feed your plant during periods of active growth. A general purpose fertilizer, either slow release or water soluble is good. 
Spider plants form thick, fleshy tuberous roots. You will want to divide and repot the plants before the roots expand enough to break the container. I have actually seen this happen. They can be repotted at any time of the year. 
Also known as airplane plants, because they produce little "plantlets" that seem to take off from the mother plant. 

The great thing about these plantlets is, once they have developed roots of their own, you can push them into some moist soil and you have a new plant. Again, this can be done pretty much anytime of the year.
There are even different degrees of color, depending on the cultivar.
'Vittatum' has green leaves with a broad central white stripe. This is the most common one and is what the very first picture above is. 
 'Reverse Variegatum'. This one has a green center with white edges, as seen here:

There are all kinds of degrees of variegation, some of the white stripes are wider and paler. Some of the green is more intense. Some have multiple lines. You get the idea.

There is even an all green plant, for those of you that dislike variegation:

Did you know spider plants flower?:

Plant diseases are very rarely a problem. Too much or too little water is the main complaint. Whiteflies, spider mites, scales and aphids are the most common insect pest problems, all of which can be taken care of with insecticidal soap or a good spray of direct water.
If all of this color, flowers and ease of care were not enough for you. What if I told you that spider plants are actually GOOD for you? The National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), which tested the abilities of houseplants to remove formaldehyde from the air, found in preliminary tests that spider plants were the champs, removing 95 percent of the toxic substance from a sealed Plexiglas chamber in 24 hours. It can also battle benzene, carbon monoxide and xylene, a solvent used in the leather, rubber and printing industries.
Not too bad for something that just hangs around the house, huh?
Oh, I guess I should tell you now, WHY, I titled this article what I did. We tend to read books, articles and listen to our grandparents about the proper ways to care for our houseplants. They need to stay warm in the winter. Keep them away from drafty windows, they will get cold and die. The conventional consensus about spider plants reads like this: Temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees during the day and 50 to 55 degrees at night are ideal. They will tolerate temperatures down to 35 degrees. Well, I keep my all my plants outside during the 3 "warmer" seasons of the year. When it gets cold, they go into my greenhouse. I forgot one of my spider plants this year. Not sure how, I just missed it. Here in North Charleston, SC we bottomed out at 17 degrees on the coldest night. Had two ice storms. This plant that I missed was just hanging out, literally, in all of this cold, nasty weather. Look what I found the other day:

Do me a favor, don't tell it that it was not suppose to still be alive, it hasn't read this article!
As always, if you have any questions about this article, any of my other articles, or have a gardening question that you need answered, drop me a line:
Happy Growing!


  1. Thank you! I really enjoyed this article. We even had ice storms here in Louisiana. Crazy!
    I have tried different plants on the porch. All have died, though probably more from my black thumb. Perhaps I need to get a couple of spider plants instead.
    Have a wonderful week!

  2. Great article, Darren!! Enjoyed reading!!

  3. Hi Citrus Guy, just found your site and LOVE it. Question.... can Spider plants be planted in cactus/citrus/palm soil? I've had my SpiderMom for eight years. Last year it grew to two feet and was BIG, bushy and beautiful, and finally had babies. But Winter did take a toll on her and now she's half the size she used to be and has scale. I wanted better drainage for her and plan to use insecticidal soap to save her but I really want to know is this type of soil ok? I also use tap water that's been out for 24 hours, any advice would be appreciated, thank you in advance. :)

    1. Thank You all for the kind words!!
      Aida, Yes that soil would be fine, actually probably would be pretty good.
      What kind of scale are you dealing with?
      Is your tap water that bad? I actually water mine with the garden hose, in and out of the greenhouse and I don't seem to have any trouble.
      Just to reinforce your question, that soil should be good.

  4. Hey Darren, Finally got rid of the hornworms chomping my tomato plants -- now I'm being overrun by grasshoppers here in moist and hot miami. What's the best way of getting rid of these buggers? I've got a dog who enjoys chasing them, but that isn't quite doing the trick!!! What do you recommend?

    1. Hey PRL,
      Glad you got rid of the hornworms, the grasshoppers are a little trickier.
      The easy way is with Sevin dust or some other insecticide that is labeled for grasshoppers. They eat it and die.
      Now, there are many people who don't like the nuclear option, I understand that.
      You can let the dogs run free more, squish them yourself, get some chickens or place more bird perches around so you attract more birds that love to eat them. You can try spraying them with insecticidal soap, though that probably ticks them off, but at least they will be clean. LOL
      There are home made remedies online using such things as garlic, fish emulsion and such. I am not sure of their effectiveness.
      I have also read of keeping a place of the yard unmowed, it is easier to kill them there, they like the taller grass.
      Personally, I just squish them when I see them and hope the birds will get the rest.
      Hope that helps or at least gives you a couple of things to try.

  5. Thanks for sharing this information about spider plants.
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