SPIDER PLANT: How To Care For The Chlorophytum Comosum

The Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is a popular, familiar plant because it is a practically foolproof choice for novice gardeners. These tough little houseplants are not just easy to take care of: they are actually hard to kill!

spider plant care is easy with the forgiving Chlorophytum comosum

They grow with zeal and reproduce babies abundantly in even the most challenging of circumstances. In this article, we will discuss the types of spider plant and provide information to help you get started and make the most of growing these simple, cheery little houseplants. Read on to learn more.

How Many Types And Varieties Of Spider Plants Are There?

Although you can find almost 200 species of Chlorophytum (191 at last count) the most popular is the well known spider plant Chlorophytum comosum. There are several other cultivars of Chlorophytum comosum:

  • Chlorophytum comosum “Vittatum” – broad white stripe down the center of the leaf, popular in the 1990’s. The “Vittatum” cultivar  is the plant most people recognize. It has longer, slightly curved leaves of a medium shade of green. This type of airplane plant is very popular for growing in hanging baskets.
    Chlorophytum comosum "Vittatum" - broad white center stripe, green edges
  • Chlorophytum comosum “Variegatum” – The reverse of ‘Vittatum’, “Variegatumis generally more compact with white margins or edges and dark green leaves. Over time this striking variety has replaced the popular ‘Vittatum’ in most garden centers.
    Striking spider plant variety - Chlorophytum comosum "Variegatum" white margins or edges and dark green leaves
  • Chlorophytum comosum “Bonnie” – is growing fast in popularity this variety carries the color pattern of “Vittatum” however the leaves bend and curl. It’s also more compact than other varieties making it’s compact size a perfect addition for small areas areas like a bathroom.
    Fast growing curly leaves Chlorophytum comosum "Bonnie"

In fact, Spider plants happen to be one of the best plants for the bathroom, some people refer to them as “toilet plants.” I guess they like them since “spiders” are one of the few plants that don’t need much light!

 

The common spider plant carries many common names. You may hear them referred to as:

  • Chlorophytum Comosum
  • Variegated Spider Plant
  • St. Bernard’s Lily
  • Airplane Plant
  • Spider Plant
  • Ribbon Plant
  • Anthericum
  • Spider Ivy

Chlorophytum comosum is the formal botanical name of the plant. The basic Spider Plant has leaves of a dark to medium green. This is not the most popular variety, and in fact, only makes up about ten percent of sales of this type of plant.

Spider Plant One Of NASA’s 'Top Clean Air Plants!'

Researchers at NASA conducted a study to determine the best methods of keeping the air clean at space stations. According to this comprehensive Clean Air study, there are many excellent benefits to keeping live plants in any setting. As a result of the NASA study, the humble airplane plant has been deemed to be one of the best indoor hanging plants.

The benefits of having indoor plants include an increase in negative ion, oxygen and humidity levels, along with reduction of negative elements, such as:

  • Trichloroethylene
  • Excessive Heat
  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Airborne dust
  • Formaldehyde
  • Mold spores
  • Toluene
  • Benzene
  • Bacteria
  • Allergens
  • Ammonia
  • Xylene

While you may not have all of these contaminants in your home, you are almost certain to have some level of carbon monoxide, which is present in the exhaust of vehicles and from other carbon producing sources.

Exposure to excessive levels of carbon monoxide can be very dangerous for people and other living creatures as it causes symptoms such as:

  • Exhaustion
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Angina

Aside from these particular benefits, healthy houseplants are aesthetically pleasing and lift your spirits. Having plants around can increase productivity levels and reduce levels of stress.

Grab yourself a nice decorative container, and bring a “spider” to work! It will make a nice “desk plant”, takes up little space and does not need sunlight.

The Benefits Of Having Plants In Your Bedroom

Some people think having plants in the bedroom would not be a good idea since plants produce carbon dioxide at night and might potentially lower oxygen levels. This is really not a cause for concern.

The amount of carbon dioxide emitted by houseplants at night is miniscule, and the benefits of having beautiful, toxin-filtering, humidifying houseplants far outweighs any potential detriment.

Overall, houseplants in the bedroom can help you get a good night’s sleep by humidifying and purifying the air and emitting negative ions. If you suffer from headaches, eye irritation, respiratory problems or allergies to dust, mold or other household irritants, having plants in the bedroom can ease your symptoms as you sleep.

Do Spider Plants Have Any Medicinal Uses?

Just as houseplants bring specific benefits to space stations, homes and bedrooms, they have also been proven to enhance healing in medical settings. Kansas State University conducted a study showing that patients staying in hospital rooms with plants had lower blood pressure and steadier, slower heart rates.

They needed less pain medication, felt less stress, were less fatigued and recovered more quickly.

Houseplants Benefit Work Settings

It only stands to reason that keeping plants in your work setting would convey a wide variety of benefits, and the Dutch Product Board for Horticulture conducted a study proving this to be true.

The study found that workers in workplaces with plants were sick less often and did not suffer from problems such as headaches, fatigue and allergy symptoms.

A similar study conducted by Norway’s Agricultural University bore out these findings and also found that workers in offices equipped with plants took 60% fewer sick days.

Are Spider Plants Poisonous To Cats And Humans?

According to the American Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals (ASPCA) Chlorophytum Comosum is non-toxic to both dogs and cats. In fact, these enthusiastic, easy-to-grow plants are actually edible.

Aside from its healthy effect on your immediate environment, the Chlorophytum comosum imparts a wide variety of other health benefits. The Chlorophytum originates from South Africa, and in Africa it is considered more than just a pretty face. It is also a healthy, green, leafy veggie!

The leaves of the Ribbon Plant are just chock full of micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, such as:

  • Powerful anti-oxidants
  • Beta-carotene
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Protein

For these reasons, it makes up a significant portion of the daily diet of many rural Africans. If you grow yours in great abundance, you can use them to enrich your daily diet by preparing them as you would tough greens, such as mustard greens.

Pick young, tender leaves. Wash them thoroughly and cook in boiling, salted water for about ten minutes. Sauté the boiled greens with sliced onions, carrot and garlic in coconut oil until all veggies are tender. Some people find the greens bitter. Serve with a white gravy (milk and flour gravy) to counteract this quality.

Why Choose Spider Plants?

It’s easy to see that keeping houseplants is a great way to make your home, work or school environment healthier and more pleasant. However, many people are very concerned they just cannot keep houseplants alive. With Chlorophytum comosum, you needn’t worry.

Even if you have never kept a plant before, you are very likely to have good luck with a spider plants. Only the most egregious neglect and abuse can kill them, and when you start with one, you are sure to have a whole family of little spiders in no time at all. Growing spider plants is an enjoyable, easy, satisfying, affordable way to fill your home with happy greenery.

What Light Does Chlorophytum Grow Best In?

You don’t need a lot of space or an elaborate setup for spider ivy. They are very happy in hanging baskets and pots, and they do fine in indirect lighting. For this reason, they are an excellent choice as a bedroom plant. They are also very nice to keep in the bathroom where lighting may be a bit dim.

If you have a bright sunny window you want to fill with plants, your Ribbon Plants will do well there, too! They also do nicely under fluorescent lighting (as in an office or school setting) or with full spectrum artificial light or grow lamps.

The type of lighting you provide will affect your plants’ appearance, but all types of light work well to keep these hardy little troopers healthy. Generally speaking, more sun will produce more pronounced variegation in striped varieties and darker green in solid varieties.

Lighting also affects the rate of blooming and reproduction. Plants kept in brighter light tend to produce more flowers and offspring than those kept in dimmer settings.

Too much blazing, direct sunlight can be detrimental and will tend to burn the leaves. If planting or setting your plant outdoors, keep it out of the midday sun.

Airplane Plants Like Consistent, Moderate Temperatures Best

Chlorophytum comosum are tolerant of a range of temperatures, but you should provide a consistent temperature. Sudden changes in heat and cold are always to be avoided.

Also, simultaneous contrasts in temperature are to be avoided. For example, you should not place any plant in a location where it will receive a chill from a window and a blast of heat from a heating vent.

Generally speaking, your plants will do best at consistent temperatures ranging from 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit; however, they can tolerate lower temperatures.

A plant kept at a consistent 65 degrees Fahrenheit will live nicely, but it won’t grow or reproduce much. If the temperature accidentally drops as low as 35 degrees occasionally, the plant will survive, but these low temperatures are not at all recommended. The plant will not survive freezing.

Occasional extreme heat can be tolerated, but consistent temperatures higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit are not recommended.

Where Are The Best Places To Keep Spider Plants?

Some good locations to place your Spider Ivy plant around the house and office include:

  • Hang one or several baskets above your shower in your bathroom.
  • Set small, potted plantlets on the back of your toilet.
  • Place a potted plant on a corner shelf near a small bathroom window.
  • Keep potted spider ivy under a fluorescent, full spectrum or grow light in a windowless room.
  • Keep a potted airplane plant your office desk under fluorescent and/or natural direct or indirect sunlight.
  • Keep plantlets in small pots or rooting in cups of water on a sunny kitchen windowsill.
  • Shade your bedroom window with an arrangement of hanging spider plants.
  • Fill hanging baskets on your sun porch or patio.
  • Plant airplane plants in large, sheltered outdoor planters.
  • Establish sheltered beds outdoors during warm weather.
  • Plant in a tall cylinder planter for a unique look in a small space.

Clearly, your Chlorophytum comosum will be happy almost anywhere you choose to place it. No plants really do well without light altogether, but the rugged spider plant is flexible and accommodating to just about any level of artificial or natural light.

What Soil Type Do Airplane Plants Grow Best In?

As with most indoor house plants, good aeration and a well-draining soil will produce good plant growth. However, aside from that recommendation, there are few strong suggestions in growing medium. Airplane plants are very tolerant of a wide variety of types and textures of soil.

A standard potting mix made for African violets seems to be best, or try creating your own mix using potting, container or garden soil mixed with light ingredients such as:

  • Vermiculite
  • Pine Bark
  • Coco coir
  • Perlite
  • Peat

Limestone and/or dolomite are good additions to help raise the pH level. Chlorophytum comosum prefer a fairly neutral pH of 6.0-6.5. If you are an experienced gardener, you may wish to try mixing your own soil, but this is not at all necessary.

Any good, light potting or container mix will do fine. As mentioned, using a soil mix designed for African violets will serve the plant well.

Can You Grow Spider Plants In Water?

To a limited extent, spider plants will grow in water or using the system known as hydroculture. This is a method of growing in which an inert type of growing medium (e.g. clay pebbles or LECA – lightweight expanded clay aggregate) is used in the place of soil.

Use this method to root baby plants (plantlets) and keep the plants growing this way. However, plants can be transferred to a regular potting medium.

How To Root Spider Plants In Water

Root small plantlets by popping them into a small glass or bowl of filtered or distilled water. Simply place them in the water as you would flowers in a vase. The water should cover the roots without contacting the leaves.

Place the container in a still location with indirect lighting. Change the water daily to prevent bacteria and mold growth. Once the plantlets develop good roots, transfer them to a pot, hanging basket or planter with appropriate growing medium.

Rooting your airplane plants in water can be a convenient way to keep a number of plantlets alive while you arrange for a more permanent setting. But it is not a good way to keep these plants long term. They like a well-drained growing medium, and water does not meet that description.

Additionally, in the long term the plants will need more nutrients than plain water can provide. While you can purchase specially prepared fertilizer mixes for hydroponic gardening, these are not ideal for spider plant care. This type of plant kept in water on an ongoing basis will not thrive and will live a short life.

How To Root A Spider Plant In Soil

Propagating Chlorophytum comosum naturally, in soil is dead-simple. These plants naturally send out multiple runners from the mother plant with white, star-shaped flowers become little plants dangling from the end. In the wild, these little plants come in contact with the soil, sink their roots and take off on their own.

spider plant "Vittatum" babies on mother plant

Spider plant “Vittatum” babies ready to be separated from the mother plant

Replicating this process is easy. Simply clip the little plants off the ends of the shoots with a sharp pair of scissors or pruning shears like these and set them lightly in loose soil in their own pots, planters or hanging baskets.

Keep your little plants in a sheltered area with a consistent temperature and indirect lighting. Water as needed. Before you know it, they will begin to take root and start growing.

If you want to be “more like nature”, set up host pots of soil around your parent plant and guide the babies into their own pots. Peg them in place if needed and firm the soil around them. When they sink roots, cut them loose from the parent by clipping the connecting runner with sharp shears or scissors. Clip close to the baby plant.

It’s really very hard to go wrong when propagating spider ivy. If your plant is happy and healthy, you are sure to find it weighed down with plantlets in fairly short order.

If you see the mother parent plant being pulled to one side by a horde of little plants, you’ll know it’s time to remove or redirect those babies to their own homes. With any luck at all and a modicum of skill, you are sure to have astonishing success.

How Often To Water Spider Plants

These plants don’t require lots of water. Your specific watering schedule will vary depending upon the temperature and level of lighting you maintain.

Generally speaking, check the soil weekly by poking it with your finger. If the top inch of soil is dry, give your plant a moderate watering.

Keep the soil lightly moist during the warmer months when the plant is actively growing and reproducing. Cut back watering in the cooler months to give the plant a chance to rest and go semi-dormant.

Do Spider Plants Need To Be Fertilized?

Spiders do not require lots of much fertilizer. However, spider plants respond well to an application of liquid food every few weeks during the spring and summer. Use a good, general purpose, water-soluble houseplant fertilizer like these. Mix it half strength.

Another option is to apply a granular balanced time release fertilizer in the spring when plants begin to grow and another in 3 months. Personally, I’ve found the best results with liquid fertilizer applications.

The fertilizer you choose should have no fluoride and very little boron. Be sure not to overdo the strength or frequency of fertilizing because this can cause brown leaf tips.

Once spring and summer are over, stop fertilizing through the fall and winter.

Repotting And Transplanting Spider Plants

Just as with propagation, Chlorophytum easily transfers to larger pots and containers or even transplant them outdoors to a sheltered bed in the warmer months.

Remember, transplanting or repotting spider plant ivy is optional, though. These types of plants don’t mind being root-bound at all.

Don’t worry when you begin to see the rhizomes (tubers) protruding from the soil. Simply thin them out with a sharp spade and plant them in new pots (or in the ground during warm weather).

There is really no need to replant or repot your original parent plant. It can remain perfectly happy in its original pot indefinitely. Unless they get like the spider plant below which is root bound!

How Long Do Spider Plants Live?

A happy Chlorophytum comosum can live for decades. These sturdy indoor houseplants make spiders plants wonderful “test plants” for those looking to learn about houseplant care.

Once you establish the right conditions your spider plant enjoys, you will never lack for botanical companionship again.

Care Of Your Spider Plant: What To Do When Things Go Wrong

For the most part airplane plants are impervious to disease and pests. The main causes of problems are overwatering, poor drainage and excessive fertilizer treatment. Here are some of the symptoms to watch for, along with some simple fixes.

Red Spider Mites: Look for dull, gray leaves with webby substance on the underside. Treatment with a natural pesticide (we like neem oil) should do the trick to eliminate them.

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Hunger: Dull, floppy leaves may indicate your plant is ready for feeding with a balanced, liquid houseplant food. Remember to mix it half strength and apply only a couple of times monthly.

Brown Rotten Vegetation: If the center of your plant is brown and rotten, it’s probably from over-watering. Try allowing the plant dry out and see if it will make a comeback. However, once rotting and root rot sets in you have probably lost the plant. Hopefully, it will have produced some offspring to take its place.

Soft, Transparent Leaves: If your plant has been exposed to very cold or freezing temperatures, the leaves may be damaged. Move the plant to a warm, sheltered area and monitor it closely. If the roots were not damaged, the plant may rally.

Drought Damage: If your plant has dry, colorless, lanky, weak leaves it has probably been damaged by excessively hot, dry conditions. Relocate the plant to a cooler, sheltered area and provide it with more water.

Brown Leaf Tips: This symptom can be caused by a lot of different things. Among them are:

  • Too much direct sunlight
  • Fluxes in temperature
  • Chemical laden water – use distil water over tap water
  • Excessive draft
  • Drought stress
  • Spider Mites
  • Aphids

No matter what caused the problem of brown tips, moving your plant to a sheltered area with a consistent, desirable temperature and indirect lighting will probably help. Water using filtered or distilled water only. If you see signs of pest infestation, treat with a natural pesticide.

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Bleached Leaves: If the area near the bend or flex of the leaf is faded or bleached, it is probably the result of excessive sun exposure. Move the plant to a protected area with indirect light or provide shade.

Caterpillars: You are unlikely to have this problem indoors, but outdoors if you find holes in the leaves, you may be having trouble with caterpillar infestation. Caterpillars can usually be picked off successfully. If re-infestation occurs, move the plant or protect it with netting.

Where To Buy Spider Plants

Because Chlorophytum comosum is so easily self-propagating, you may not have to buy your first plants. You are very likely to know someone who has babies to give away. If not, little “spiderlets” are often available cheap or free at springtime plant sales, farmer’s markets, flea markets and the like.

If you don’t have any of these resources close at hand, you can surely find lovely specimens offered at your local garden center or in the garden department at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart or any other big or small store offering houseplants.

When choosing airplane plants, seek out healthy, robust looking “spiders” with clean, untorn, undamaged leaves and NO brown lips on the leaves. Check the leaves for signs of illness and infestation as described above. Stay away from plants that may introduce a disease or pests to your home and garden.

Can Spider Plants Be Planted Outdoors?

In addition to being happy-go-lucky, trouble-free houseplants, your spider plants can make a superb addition to your summer garden and/or a year-round ground cover or exotic food crop if you live in a very temperate setting such as Florida.

It’s easy to start a stand of Chlorophytum comosum in your yard if you already have one or more in pots. Transplant your parent plant and/or your plantlets into a prepared bed. Alternately, simply set your parent plants out in a sheltered area with prepared soil and let nature take its course.

In an ideal setting, your plants will thrive and send out runners with pretty, white, star-shaped flowers. Each of these will develop into a plantlet that will take root in the ground surrounding the potted parent plant.

When a sufficient number have taken root, can cut them loose and return the parent plant to your home, patio or office.

Another interesting “look” or idea is to plant Chlorophytum on a topiary frame like the one below.

If you live in an area that is warm year-round (zones 9-11) maintain your bed and thin your inevitable extra plants from time-to-time. Used in this way, they make a great ground cover or border plant. Be advised, under ideal conditions, this plant can become invasive.

9 Smart Outdoor Spider Plant Care Tips

#1 – Start with a good location! For best results when planting your Ribbon Plants outdoors, choose a location with filtered sunlight or partial shade. Avoid excessive, harsh sun exposure as this can cause sunburn.

#2 – Avoid excessive sun exposure. Because Chlorophytum comosum grows from thick, water storing rhizomes, they are somewhat drought tolerant, but they do not do well with relentless sun exposure.

#3 – Make the most of the plant’s natural habits. Enjoy these plants outdoors in hanging baskets and planters. Their rampant trailing, tumbling aspects make them particularly attractive when used in this manner.

#4 – Start plants indoors in cold climates. Start plantlets indoors during the winter months and set them out in a bed after all danger of frost has passed.

#5 – Establish and maintain the right soil conditions. Be sure the soil is light, well draining and slightly acidic. Keep it evenly moist until the young plants are completely established.

#6 Avoid chemicals. Remember the spider plant is sensitive to fluoride and to chlorine. It is best to gather rainwater for them. If not, allow tap water to stand for a full 24 hours so chemicals can dissipate before watering.

#7 – Fertilize lightly. Outdoor fertilizing guidelines are very similar to indoor. Use a balanced (10-10-10 ) fertilizer every other week. It is better to err on the light side than to overdo it. Apply fertilizer at half strength.

#8 – Make your own natural insecticide. When kept outdoors, these plants become more susceptible to pests such as spider mites, whiteflies, scale and aphids. These can be treated using an insecticidal soap or make your own by combining:

  • 2 ounces of dish soap (Dawn is the classic)
  • 4 ounces of mouthwash (Listerine or knock-off)
  • 1 gallon of filtered or distilled water
  • Put into a spray bottle and spray liberally as needed.

#9 – Decide whether to grow your plants as perennials or annuals. If you live in an area with warm spring and summer months but freezes in the winter, plant your spider plant outdoors as an annual. Take them up and keep them indoors in the winter time or simply let them die back and start over again in the spring.

Is The Spider Plant The Ultimate Beginner’s Plant

They may not be the ultimate beginner plant. Some would argue for the other “easy to grow” houseplants like the snake plant, zz-plant or aspidistra, but it ranks right up there.

Even if you have never had success with plants, you are bound to do well with Chlorophytum comosum. In fact, you are very likely to end up with more than you need!

Luckily, these sturdy little plants are versatile and can enjoy luxuriant growth in any home, office or garden setting. If and when you are overrun, share the wealth with your friends and relations. Just think of the money you’ll save on gifts for all occasions!

Spider plants make excellent houseplants for learning about plant care. They are truly forgiving plants. Most if the time only flat out neglect can kill them. However, they do require some attention and make excellent plant teachers!

Don’t confuse the inexpensive spider plant with the “Spider flower” (Cleome hassleriana) – easy to grow, inexpensive to purchase and wonderful plants to learn from.

Also there is another commercially grown “spider plant” the variety is Chlorophytum amaniense, also known as Chlorophytum orchidastrum. One selected cultivar known as “Fire Flash” came to the foliage trade from Thailand on the 1990’s. It’s bright orange mid-veins produce a striking appearance.

Chlorophytum amanuenses 'Fire Flash' - Gaylord Hotel, Orlando Florida Nov 2016

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