Many people have seen a spider plant but never actually knew its proper name. Spider plants can commonly be seen as house plants or spiky growths that are frequently seen in hanging baskets on houses and shops.
The spider plant is a perpetual favorite among amateur and experienced gardeners alike because it is easy to care for. All it really requires is the right type of soil, a reasonable amount of water, and a comfortable environment. Caring for spider plants should be a simple process, but you might need to clear out the cobwebs upstairs to remember how.
What Is a Spider Plant?
The spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is one of the most adaptable house plants because of its adaptability and capability to grow in almost any environment. Spider plants produce spiky green and white ‘leaves’ that help give them their distinctive name. These plants are so named because of their distinct spiderettes, which are tiny white flowers sometimes called ‘pups.’
Although many think the spider plant is a succulent because of its leaves and fleshy roots, it is actually a perennial native to tropical and southern Africa. Sometimes it can be found growing in Australia as well because humans brought seeds with them when moving between continents.
In general, spider plants are characterized by their long, spiky leaves that can be either plain green or green with a long white stripe running down the center. Fleshy, tuberous roots help the spider plant grow in hot climates.
These roots tend to be the most difficult part of caring for a spider plant because they were designed to absorb as much freshwater as possible in coastal areas. These roots can outgrow pots easily, so it’s necessary to re-pot spider plants on a regular basis unless you get a confined pot. Avoid clay pots because they shatter easily and the roots will literally break the material. Instead, go for stone or durable plastic.
How to Care for a Spider Plant
Spider plants are favored in many homes because they are simple and easy to care for. Many gardeners describe them as being something you spend five minutes planting, and then you can leave it alone with only a periodic checkup every other week. However, there are still a couple of elements that need to be controlled when caring for a spider plant. Once it has been planted, follow these instructions for the best advice on keeping it healthy and alive.
How to Water
It’s best to use distilled water when taking care of the spider plant. This is because most regular tap water tends to have additives designed to improve human health and wellness. What is good for humans is not good for this plant, so it’s important to try and keep water as pure as possible.
If you have a brand new spider plant that is trying to grow, then it’s going to need a ton of water on a regular basis. This means watering every few days, or whenever the soil starts to get dry. As the plant grows and matures, it will need water less frequently, especially as winter approaches. A good rule of thumb is to only give the plant water every 10-14 days depending on the dryness of your climate.
Once an adult, it’s actually best to let the soil dry between waterings since the roots hold a ton of moisture. This gives the spider plant the opportunity to use its reserves and become ready for the next round of waterings.
Spider plants are truly summer creatures, enjoying bright light. Some people describe their love of the sun as being downright scorching, which makes sense since they grow close to the equator and are used to receiving hours of bright light. However, when possible, it’s best to give the spider plant at least partial shade so it has a break from the sun’s heat and radiation.
Ideal Soil and Fertilizers
Spider plants actually survive a lot of abuse and can handle most soils and fertilizers. However, these plants are native to coastal regions in South America, which means they are used to thriving with various levels of moisture. Because they have tuberous roots, these plants are used to storing water and don’t tolerate having overly damp or wet soil for long.
The best soil to use for these is something of a medium variety, meaning there is an even mix of peat, rocks, and other goodies. Free draining is ideal, meaning water runs through the pot when the soil has been saturated. This helps prevent having the plant sit in water, which can drown the roots and cause mold and mildew to grow in the pot.
If possible, it’s recommended to use a mix of soils. For example, filling the bottom of a pot with inorganic material like rocks help with drainage. Regular potting soil can then be scooped on top for the best results.
When it comes to fertilizer, it’s actually best not to use any. Spider plants are sensitive to the chemicals in their environment, and many cannot tolerate ingredients like fluoride that are common in most varieties. Instead of sprinkling fertilizer for extra nutrition, it’s best to instead just let the spider plant enjoy their regular soil and stock their tuberous roots with water.
Repotting a spider plant is an essential part of regular care. As the plant grows, it’s necessary to switch it to a larger pot so the roots have room to expand and the plant can become more comfortable. In general, a basic rule of thumb when picking pots is to avoid those made of clay and to choose one that is 1-2 in. larger than the spider plant’s current living space.
Besides not being made of clay, the ideal pot will be one that has drainage holes at the bottom so excess water can flow right out. Plastic is ideal because it is firm enough that the spider plant’s large, tuberous roots won’t break through – the fragility is another problem with plain clay pots.
To transplant a spider plant, completely remove it from its current location and knock loose dirt off of the roots. It’s best to inspect them for disease and damage before repotting. Dark sections typically indicate disease, so cut these spots before moving the spider plant to its new pot.
When in the new pot, carefully fit the area with medium soil, as well as some good drainage material like small rocks. Do not tightly pack the soil, as that will stop water from seeping through to the bottom. Ideally, there should be enough soil to just cover the roots. Add some distilled water, and then put a little more soil on top.
Because the spider plant might be shocked by the move, consider spraying the plant with a little bit of liquid fertilizer.
Like any other plant, the spider plant has some natural enemies that like to feed on the leaves and roots. One of the most pernicious is the spider mite which, despite its name, has no business being on your plants. Besides spider mites, other common enemies include aphids, whiteflies, and mealybugs.
Spider mites are annoying. They are close relatives of the arachnid family but not real spiders. They have a tendency to hide underneath the leaves of the plant and feed on the soft flesh, resulting in yellow and brown spots where they have been eating. Some gardeners recommend using a gentle warm water rinse to get rid of them before attempting to use pesticides.
Aphids are also common. Aphids again like to eat the leaves of spider plants to sustain themselves. Their most recognizable calling card is holes left in the leaves from where they have been chewing. Similar to spider mites, the best way to dislodge these bugs is by vigorously (this time) rinsing the plant with warm water.
Whiteflies are tiny, measuring barely 1/12 of an inch. This means they can be difficult to see and treat when they attack a spider plant. If you do see them, they are entirely white and tend to feast on the underside of leaves. As with other pests, they are best removed by a thorough rinse with warm water. A simple pesticide might be necessary to keep these flying menaces from coming back.
Mealybugs are another small pest, this time characterized by their small, segmented bodies. They like to eat leaves and stems, just like the other invaders. As with the rest, focus on trying to rinse them off before turning to a pesticide, just because they can’t grip the leaves well and can be forced away without resorting to chemicals.
Spider plants are beautiful and easy to care for. If you’re an amateur gardener and want to grow your collection, or if you are experienced and just want to add, consider getting a spider plant. These South American beauties can be planted with ease and require little care, making them a great addition to any home.