Spiderwort or Tradescantia is a particularly gratifying perennial because this plant is one of the longest bloomers in the garden – carrying flowers from early June right through until fall if treated properly.
It is a North American native plant named for John Tradescant senior (he died in 1638) a famous English gardener who received the species from Virginia sometime before 1629.
There is also the possibility that it was named after his son, John Tradescant junior, who was himself a notable gardener and who visited Virginia in the 1650’s.
Both men were head gardeners to King Charles I of England and both were very serious plant collectors, traveling around the world in search of new plants for the King’s garden.
Spiderwort – The Name
The common name Spiderwort (some folks like to use a space spider wort) is presumed to come from the way the flowers hang like spiders from a web off the main stem and “wort” is the Saxon name for ‘plant’.
I like this plant because while it blooms almost all summer, (with heavy flushes in the early summer and again in the fall) spiderwort requires next to no special care in the garden. I prune it to the ground in the fall and the rest of the time, we co-exist and enjoy each other’s company.
For Heavy Blooms
There are two conditions however spiderwort must have if it is to bloom heavily.
- The first is full sunshine. The more shade you present spider wort with, the fewer blooms it will produce. A light dusting of shade in the early morning or late afternoon is acceptable but you do want this plant to get as much sunlight as possible.
- The second and equally important variable is soil moisture. Spiderwort demands constantly damp soil if it is to bloom continually. You can not put this plant in the full sun and allow the surrounding soil to dry out. It will quickly stop blooming if you do.
I plant my spiderwort around the pond where they are available for regular waterings as I top up the water level. I also mulch them heavily so the soil moisture stays constant and even below the mulch.
If It Dries Out
Here’s a tip. If you mistreat spider wort by allowing it to dry out and it stops producing flowers, simply cut it back by half and start a weekly watering program. It will respond with new growth and flower production in the fall.
A lack of water will also produce brown tips on the leaves rather quickly
If grown in a moist and fertile soil, not a boggy poorly-drained soil, spiderwort will grow to 24 inches tall and spread the same amount.
You’ll find spider wort in most garden centres and the better ones will have the newer varieties.
- ‘Charlotte’ is a clear pink flower and a delightful grower.
- ‘Concord Grape’ is one of the better dark flowering varieties with a deep purple flower. It also features frosted blue-green foliage that makes it stand out in the garden.
- ‘Hawaiian Punch’ is another good rebloomer and it has ‘magenta-pink’ flowers.
- ‘Isis’ has white flowers although there is a flush of violet-blue in the centre of the flower. Many of the lighter varieties have this blue flush to the bloom; the breeders haven’t bred out the native blue flower genes yet.
- ‘Little Doll’ is a compact variety for those of you with smaller gardens and the blooms on this plant are a delightful light blue colour.
- ‘Purple Dome’ has been around for many years now and it features a very dark purple flower. You should be easily find this variety; it is still a good one.
- ‘Zwanenburg Blue’ is another older and easily found variety that still graces my garden with its clear blue flowers.
- Rubra’ is a one of the newer red flowering introductions and I confess I don’t like it as much as I like the purples and blues. The “red” in the bloom has too much blue in it for my tastes.
- Two brand new varieties you’ll want in your garden are ‘Bilberry Ice’ and ‘Blue and Gold’.
- ‘Bilberry Ice’ is a light violet flower with darker centres on the three-petalled flower. An attractive plant, it has just entered my gardening world.
- The star attraction and one of the newest spiderworts to hit the garden is ‘Blue and Gold’ or ‘Kates Gold’ (same plant – different name). The foliage on this plant is golden green (chartreuse) and the flowers are a dark violet blue. The foliage holds its colour best when the temperatures are cooler so a touch of shade (rather than hot noonday sun areas) will help keep its yellow tones. The contrast between the leaves and flower is delightful and this will be a hit in your garden. This is the plant that started blooming for me this morning and I confess I put it right on the top of my favourite plant list.
Chicago Botanic Garden Research
If you’re a fan of spiderwort – Tradescantia – as I am, you’ll want to click here (right click for Windows users – save as) to download your own copy of the Chicago Botanic Gardens research trial on a ton of different cultivars.
The one part of the report I found interesting was the work on cutting back the plants in summer to improve their fall appearance (didn’t work – don’t bother) 🙂 It’s this kind of stuff I thrive on where a garden group takes on a 5-year project like this and tries all kinds of ways to grow the plants.
Download the report and go hunting for this plant.
Remember – this is not a drought-area plant – if you keep it moist, it will bloom all summer for you.