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Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum): Home

Chlorophytum (spider plants); photo courtesy of Flickr cc/ Serres Fortier
Lush greenery of Chlorophytum comosum 'Vittatum' (spider plants); photo courtesy of Flickr cc/ Serres Fortier

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

Chlorophytum comosum is native to varied locations and conditions in tropical environments of coastal Africa, many of which experience a winter dry season. The spider plants that we grow in our home are often cultivars with long, variegated leaves. Among the cultivars available, C. comosum 'Vittatum' is a favorite, with 12-inch or longer leaves featuring a lighter, central stripe. C. comosum 'Variegatum' has white bordered, green leaves.

Spider plants are known for their sturdy and vigorous habit, longevity and the profusion of plantlets that follow flowers on long, arching stems. In nature, these plantlets would reach the soil, root themselves and grow around the parent. As a houseplant, you can separate the plantlets from the parent to create new plants.

Light:

Spider plants will live without strong sunlight, but they will lose their brightness and the sharp contrast of green and white in their foliage. Indirect, bright light, a short distance from a window is better. Avoid direct, afternoon sunlight which can bleach leaves but some morning light each day is beneficial. An east-facing window is a good choice or a south-facing window at a slightly greater distance from the windowsill.

Water and Humidity:

Spider plants appreciate consistency. When watering, moisten all the soil with room temperature water and repeat when the soil becomes slightly dry. Always remove run-off water after it drains. Dry, curling leaves, spotted and yellowing, are a sign that your spider plant needs more regular watering in the growing period.  In winter, your spider plant will be in a non-growth phase and can be watered more sparingly. It is conditioned to the winter dryness of its native habitat, and you can let the top half inch of soil dry before watering again from November to March. If the leaves look bleached, it is an indication that watering should be more consistent.

You can add humidity to your room by placing the plant container and its run-off dish on top of a tray of wet pebbles. The water will evaporate up into the leafy area of the plant from the high surface area of the pebble tray. The additional humidity will help to regulate soil moisture and reduce leaf tip browning.

Temperature:

Normal household temperatures are comfortable for this plant. Do not let the temperature fall below 50ºF. and move the plant away from the cold micro-climate near the window in winter chill.  Protect it from drafts, from air conditioning vents, open windows and heat vents.

Re-potting:

These plants have dense, tuberous roots that store water, easing the plant through its native dry season. Over time, the roots will force the soil up and out of the pot making re-potting necessary. When you re-pot, leave space for this dense root system to develop but maintain some coziness. Choose a pot with a drain hole, standard organic potting soil and settle the root ball an inch from the rim of the pot to accommodate growth. The root system is not overly delicate, and these plants can be re-potted in any season.

Propagation:

This is an easy plant to propagate, and a happy plant will present you with many opportunities. Plantlets are produced on the flowering stems of a mature plant, often following several weeks of lowered light levels in Autumn. In its native habitat, the long stems allow the plantlet to come in contact with the earth where the baby would form its own root system in a few weeks. The most successful way to propagate in your home is to duplicate this system.  Provide a small pot of potting soil for individual plantlets and allow them to sit on the surface, developing roots for about two months before you sever their connection with the parent plant. Once the young plant resists a gentle tug, you can remove the stem from the parent and grow the plant on.

Alternatively, allow the plant to grow attached to the parent plant until it has six or more leaves that are a few inches long and small rootlets emerge from the base. Cut the plantlet off of its stem, trim off the lowest leaves and keep the plantlet dipped in a glass of water until the roots reach an inch or more. If the roots have not yet formed when you sever the plantlet from the parent, dip the base of the plantlet in rooting hormone and keep it inserted in a damp, peat potting mix until roots form. In either case, with warmth and indirect light, the plantlets should be ready to move to a small pot of potting mix in about two months.

A spider plant with tight pot is apt to be more productive. If you do not plan to use the plantlets, you can remove them to spare the plant the resources it devotes to their development, though they will survive on the plant as growing adornments for many years.

Small plantlets follow delicate white flowers on arching stems of Chlorophytum comosum; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/ Maja Dumat
Small plantlets follow delicate white flowers on arching stems of Chlorophytum comosum; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/ Maja Dumat

Nutrition:

Feed mature plants (producing plantlets) with a balanced organic fertilizer, used monthly, at half strength. Too much fertilizer can cause leaf tips to brown and plantlets to be reduced in number.

Plant Hygiene:

Leaves should be wiped occasionally with a damp cloth. Without this care, the accumulating dust interferes with photosynthesis and your plant will behave as though it is getting too little light. 

What to Watch for:

Brown leaf tips are common in all but ideal circumstances. They may result from letting soil get too dry between watering or a low humidity environment. Plants may also show sensitivity to fluoride and chlorine in tap water or over-fertilization which burn leaf tips.

Bleached leaves can result from extended dryness but will improve when watered consistently. The plant will simultaneously exhibit browned leaf tips. Check that the roots haven't pushed out the soil, preventing the plant from getting enough water. In the summer, leaves may fade if exposed to strong, direct, afternoon sunlight. If leaves are bleached and limp in winter, the room may be too warm so that the plant is trying to actively grow while the light is too low for it to do this vigorously, resulting in exhaustion. Keep the plant away from heat vents.

Brown streaks in the center of the leaf can result from too much water offered during the winter rest period.

Loss of variegation happens when light is inadequate. The plant devotes more leaf space to green, photosynthesizing chloroplasts as compensation.

Reduced plantlet production can be caused by over-feeding and by light exposure at night. A loose pot will support fewer plantlets than a snug one so plantlet production may decline temporarily after re-potting.

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