Spider Plants, Easy HousePlants II

gh2Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are called this not because they attract and harbor spiders, but rather the little plantlets or offshoots at the ends of long wiry stems are “spidery”. You may see them called “airplane plants” for this reason, too.

This is one of the easiest houseplants to grow, generally being grown in a hanging container to allow the stems to cascade. They’ll form plants about two or more feet wide, and two to three feet long. A NASA study in the 1980’s found that spider plants were one of the top indoor plants for removing formaldehyde and other toxins such as carbon monoxide, common in homes and public spaces now from the off-gassing of synthetic materials.

Leaves come from the base of plants, are rather long (maybe up to a foot long), and rather narrow. It’s probably good that these are grown hanging from raised containers, as cats are fond of chewing on leaves. While the usual spider plants you see have white leaves with green stripes near the edge (the cultivar Vittatum), you can find ones with the opposite—green leaves with white edges (the cultivar Variegatum). This latter cultivar (cultivated variety) tends to have longer leaves than the former. Both will form small white flowers, usually in summer.

Once they form, the little offshoots are plants in miniature with small roots. They often form during the shorter days of fall. You can leave them on for a full plant, or remove some and pot to make new plants. If plants get quite potbound, you can divide them too. Over time, the thick fleshy roots can get so massive they’ll crack containers. Use a potting soil formulated specially for houseplants, not garden soil.

Plants grow best in bright, indirect light. An east window works well, even a south or west one that gets some shade during hot summer days.

Ideal temperatures for spider plants are between 65 and 75 degrees (F) during the day, and maybe 10 degrees cooler at night, but they are fairly tolerant of other temperatures. Just don’t let them get much below 50 degrees in winter, and keep away from drafts near doors and non-insulated windows.

Keep plants watered, but make sure that excess water drains from pots or containers. If a hanging basket, make sure that the draining water doesn’t overflow and ruin floors and furniture. For this reason, and to give plants more humidity that they prefer, water over a sink or bathtub. Too wet soil and roots will rot. Too dry soil and leaf tips turn brown. Check plants every few days for water and, if pot bound, they may need watering several times a week.

Leaf tips also will turn brown if plants get too much fertilizer, salts from such build up in the soil (look for a white crust around the inner rim of pots), or the humidity is too low. Especially during winter, and in dry homes with forced air heat, a humidifier near spider plants will help to prevent such problems. Feed plants when they are actively growing with the fertilizer of your choice, following label directions. If leaf tips still turn brown, and you’re using a public water supply, fluoride in the water may cause this problem. If you suspect this, try watering with bottled or distilled water.

Spider plants almost never get diseases, and few pests. The main insect pests to watch for are small, hard brown scale insects on leaves. Wipe them and white mealybugs off with cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol. If a plant gets too infested, it may be easier to just discard it and to get a new one, or to propagate clean plants from the offsets.