Episode 101: the spider plant aka Chlorophytum comosum
Spider plants are cheap as chips and common as muck, and yet Chlorophytum comosum is also a treasured plant for many houseplant growers. I find out about the wonderful world of the spider plant, from which cultivars to choose to how to keep the leaf tips from going brown.
Thanks to my guests this week: Darryl Cheng, aka Houseplant Journal, offers his tips on growing spider plants and tells me about the role they played at his wedding. Darryl’s book The New Plant Parent is out now. Leigh Larson tells me about how caring for houseplants has been so vital to her recovery from addiction. You can read Leigh’s original post and the reactions to it on the Houseplant Lovers Facebook group, and find out about her nonprofit community space at Recoverycafelongmont.org. You can see the tweets I mention in this week’s show in this thread.
Spider plant cultivars
Chlorophytum comosum, the species, is plain green and is generally less popular than its variegated cultivars, but it is gaining popularity. There’s a pale green cultivar called ‘Lemon’ (pictured right) which is worth a look.
C. comosum ‘Variegatum’ is probably the most popular spider plant of all with its green leaves with a white margin.
C. comosum ‘Vittatum’ is the reverse of ‘Variegatum’ with a cream stripe: its variegation means it has less chlorophyll than ‘Variegatum’ which does make it a slightly weaker plant, but that’s a relative thing, obviously, given how tough spider plants are. (Taking that logic further, it makes sense that the most vigorous spider plant of all is the plain green species.)
C. comosum ‘Ocean’ is compact and has striped variegation: one of my favourites.
Curly spider plant cultivars such as ‘Bonnie’ are becoming popular, and have the advantage of being more compact than either ‘Variegatum’ or ‘Vittatum’.
There are some hardy spider plants, but they are not C. comosum: check out Chlorophytum saundersiae ‘Starlight’ and Chlorophytum krookianum. If you live in California, though, you may be able to grow regular spider plants outside too.
Spider plant care tips
Spider plants are able to endure dry conditions owing to their thick rhizomes which act as water storage organs, but if you want them to thrive, water them generously during the growing season. Just make sure the potting medium has some grit, sand or perlite in it so it’s free-draining, and don’t let plants sit in water.
Spider plants like lots of indirect light: Darryl Cheng suggests their ideal spot is under a skylight. Failing that, a spot in a large east or west facing window is good.
Spider plants can survive in temperatures down to as low as 10C but they prefer regular room temperature.
Spider plants can suffer from brown tips to the leaves, which is a cosmetic problem but not a serious one. You can prevent it happening by watering with rainwater or other water that has not been flouridated.
Spider plant ‘babies’ aka plantlets are produced on inflorescences ie stems with clusters of flowers on them. These bend down to the soil as they grow and then take root.
If you want to propagate your plant you can put a pot of gritty growing medium next to a plantlet, pin it onto the soil with an opened-out paperclip of florist’s pin, and let it root, snipping away the inflorescence stem once established. You can also snip or twist off the babies and root them in cutting compost or in water.
If your plant isn’t producing babies, it may not be mature enough yet - have patience! If it is a mature plant, it may be that it’s just been repotted, as spider plants’ roots like to feel ‘snug’ in their pots before they will reproduce. Also make sure you are watering and feeding through the growing season so the plant is in the best of shape.
If your plant becomes too massive, divide it by removing from the pot, teasing apart or cutting the plant into segments and repotting.
Question of the week
Cecile wanted help with her Begonia luxurians, or palm leaf begonia, which is very spindly: she wanted to know how to beef it up. I suggest that there may be an argument to remove the growing tip of the plant (if it's tall enough you may be able to remove a large enough piece to use as a cutting) - this has a technical name, removing apical dominance - this is where the main stem/growing point of the plant is where the it is putting all its energy, so that the side shoots don't grow as fast or as well. To do this, you snip away away the growing tip, and the plant will then pour energy into the side shoots and hey presto the plant becomes more bushy. If your plant is big enough, you could use this growing tip to make a stem cutting of the plant.
I also wonder also if this plant is craving more light. Begonias don't want direct sun but won't like a dark corner either. Try moving it closer to a window and see if that helps. I got my plant as a plug and I remember supporting the stem with a small cane (the type you get sold with orchids) to support it until it got bigger, so that's also worth trying as well.
DATES FOR YOUR DIARY
The following weekend I’ll be at the Garden Museum on Sunday September 29 for their Houseplant Festival: I’ll be helping out with the houseplant clinic, and there’s also the chance to take part in workshops and browse an awesome range of stalls from some of my favourite houseplant shops!
TRUE LEAF MARKET
Thanks so much to True Leaf Market for backing On The Ledge for three whole months. This Utah-based seed company has been helping gardeners grow since 1974, so what they don’t know about sowing and raising healthy plants - well, it’s probably not worth knowing!
US listeners, get 10% off your first purchase at TrueLeafmarket.com now using the code ONTHELEDGE.
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This week's show featured the tracks Roll Jordan Roll by the Joy Drops, The Encouragement Stick by Doctor Turtle and Overthrown by Josh Woodward. Ad music is by the Heftone Banjo Orchestra: Dill Pickles and Whistling Rufus. All tracks licensed under Creative Commons.
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