Choosing the right perennials for your garden can seem a little overwhelming at first. There are so many gorgeous blooms available. Spiderwort also known as Tradescantia is a stunning addition with it’s small and abundant blooms that add beauty for months. As the blooms fade they can become almost translucent with pretty teardrop-like petals. This led to the commonly used nickname ‘widows tears’. Whether you love the blossoms in spring, the ethereal quality of the ‘tears’ as they fade, the verdant green abundance of the leaves all year, or the ease of growing it, Spiderwort should be on every gardener’s go-to list.
Spiderwort History and Use
In addition to its beauty, Spiderwort has a rich history. It is used by First Nation people throughout North America for its value as a food and medicine. Every part of Spiderwort is edible. Though bitter, Spiderwort seeds can be roasted and eaten or ground into a flour. The roots and blossoms both add to salads and the leaves can be used in salads, soups or even brewed for tea. Additionally, the blossoms have been used to treat nosebleeds. The petals are dried out and ground to a fine powder which is then inhaled to help stop the blood flow.
Varieties and Lifestyle
There are an incredible seventy species of Spiderwort native to North America. At least one of these is endangered, so always be careful if you harvest wild Spiderwort. Around 1600 it was also introduced to Europe so Spiderwort can now be found in other parts of the world. Here on the North American continent, Spiderwort is found in hardiness zones 4-9 and blooms from May until June. It prefers a soil PH between 5.8 and 6.8 so it likes things a touch acidic, though it has been known to adapt fairly readily to sub-prime Spiderwort conditions. At it’s prime you can expect the fully grown plants to reach 12-2 inches in height.
Care and Feeding
You can, of course, start with seed, though most Tradescantia seed is a mix of colors so you may want to seek out pre-sprouted plants at local nurseries if you want a specific color. Another easy option is to simply propagate from an existing patch. If you start new plants in the ground in spring they will flourish easily in a moist and well-drained soil. Spiderwort is happiest in the full sun, however, if your soil is a bit sandy you may want to plant in the partial shade instead. This may affect the number of blooms adversely, but Spiderwort is so enthusiastic that you’re likely not to notice the difference. No deadheading is ever necessary in order to get such abundance, and it will tend to self-sow enthusiastically if you aren’t careful to prune it back and limit the growth manually.
Pests and Problems
Tradescantia varieties are incredibly hardy and though they can occasionally suffer from a few leaf-spotting diseases, it’s rare. Naturally the younger plants are the most susceptible to any troubles, but generally, Spiderwort is easy to keep. Watch for slugs and snails, as they also like similar soil conditions. Beyond those minor issues, it will resist deer and has no other serious pest issues.
The unique three-petaled flowers are low-slung stars in any location during the long bloom season. While individual blooms don’t last very long, but they are replaced so quickly that it hardly matters. Spiderwort’s grassy looks will blend well into the background when they are out of bloom. They make fine edgings but are also happy to go wild and fill a bed of their own if you allow them to do so. Use Spiderwort as borders near taller plants that won’t block off all their light or compete too much for resources and they will be perfectly happy.
Hardy and enthusiastic with a variety of colors ranging from blue and violet to pinks and even white, Spiderwort is incredibly versatile. It makes excellent path edging and the pretty and unique three-petaled blossoms will fill your garden with color for a quarter of the year. Tradescantia is one of the easier perennials to cultivate, far from labor-intensive and not overly sensitive. You’ll probably spend more time holding it back than trying to make it grow and find you have very little to worry about other than directing the plant growth where you most want it.