The spider plant is one of the most popular indoor houseplants. It might come as a surprise to many that Chlorophytum comosum (kloh-roh-FY-tum kom-OH-sum) is excellent for outdoor settings as well. Yes, you can grow spider plants outside.
Better known by the common name spider plant, this perennial member of the Asparagaceae family goes by several common names, including:
- Airplane plant
- Anthericum comosum (previous classification)
- Hen and chickens
- Ribbon plant
- Saint Bernard’s Lily
- Spider ivy
- Walking Anthericum
It originates in subtropical and southern Africa but has become so popular it is naturalized in many parts of the world.
Additionally, there are currently more than 190 cataloged varieties and cultivars of Chlorophytum, such as:
- Chlorophytum comosum var. bipindense – petiolate leaves with stripes underneath and larger inflorescences
- Chlorophytum comosum var. comosum – narrow, strap-shaped leaves
- Chlorophytum comosum var. sparsiflorum – leaves that broaden to the tip with stripes underneath with larger inflorescence
- ‘Bonnie‘ – ‘Vittatum’ with curled leaves; AKA “curly spider plant“
- ‘Mandaianum‘ – short, dark green leaves with a central yellow stripe
- ‘Milky Way‘ – white to cream leaves with green margins
- ‘Ocean‘ – light green leaves with white margins
- ‘Picturatum‘ – green leaves with central yellow stripe
- ‘Variegatum‘ – white to cream-colored leaf margins
- ‘Vittatum‘ – green leaves with central white stripe
- ‘White Stripe‘ – cream to yellow stalks and central white to cream stripe on leaves that fade with age
Spider Plant Outside Care
Size & Growth
There is a lot of variation to spider plants, depending on the cultivars or variants you own.
In general, these plants will grow 12″ to 15″ inches tall, with some specimens reaching 24″ inches.
On the ground, they tend to spread between 1′ and 3′ feet across, although they’re best known for being allowed to trail downwards from hanging containers.
Most types will have a moderate to fast growth rate, slowing down upon reaching maturity, although a few of the more heavily variegated versions (such as ‘White Stripe’) tend to grow slowly due to the lack of chlorophyll.
The showy leaves may be lanceolate or linear and range inside from 8″ to 18″ inches long and about 1/2″ inch wide.
With the exception of ‘White Stripe,’ the stems of this plant are green.
Flowering and Fragrance
Contrary to popular belief, spider plants do flower, and their chances of doing so are greatly improved when grown under the proper conditions.
Depending on the variant or cultivar, there’s a bit of variation to the inflorescence.
Flowers tend to be white, greenish-white, or yellow with 3 to 6 tepals measuring .2 to .4″ inches long and bear no scent.
While it is possible for the plant to bloom at any point in the year, it will most often produce its short-lived flowers in the spring or summer, especially when grown outdoors.
The blooming phase will only last a few weeks, and spent flowers will give way to seeds and spiderlings, which may be replanted.
Light & Temperature
Spider plants are very forgiving when it comes to light.
Ideally, you should keep them in bright, indirect sunlight, but they will also tolerate partial shade and even low-light conditions.
Check out this article on the Lighting Requirements For Spider Plants
Direct sunlight will burn the sensitive leaves, and it should be noted that variegated plants will lose their variegation in lower light levels, as the plant must produce more chlorophyll to gather adequate light.
A semi-shaded spot hanging from a porch roof is perhaps ideal, although the plant will also fare well hanging from an ivy-covered trellis or another source of shade.
When growing outdoors, it’s important to stay between USDA hardiness zones 9a to 11b, although the plant may do well in zone 8 if brought indoors to overwinter.
Spider plants will survive temperatures below 45° degrees Fahrenheit but suffer damage. They prefer regular temperatures between 60° and 75° degrees Fahrenheit.
Avoid places where sudden variations can happen, such as windswept corners of your porch or patio.
When outdoor temperatures exceed 90° degrees Fahrenheit, bring the plant indoors to avoid it overheating.
Watering and Feeding
Spider plants require a moderate amount of water during the summer growing season and will benefit greatly from exposure to natural rainfall.
Natural rainwater is actually far healthier for spider plants as it contains no fluoride or chlorine.
Avoid placing them where streams of water will hit, such as under non-guttered roof edges.
Make sure the pot or ground is well-draining to avoid standing water.
During dry or hot times, make sure the soil remains slightly moist and reduce the amount of water in late autumn.
Moderate humidity is preferred, so you should spray your spider plant regularly in more arid environments.
Just like indoor spider plants, these little guys need very little feeding throughout the year.
To fertilize, dilute regular houseplant liquid fertilizer by half and feed twice per month in the spring and summer.
Avoid fertilizing spiderlings, as they’re more sensitive, and do not fertilize even adults during the fall or winter months.
While granular fertilizer and other options will work, they’re usually not as successful with spider plants as the liquid form.
When choosing your fertilize, check to make sure it doesn’t contain fluoride and has minimal boron, as these can both harm the plant.
More on Spider Plant Watering
Soil & Transplanting
Airplane plants can handle most well-drained soils but do especially well in loamy mixes with a neutral or slightly acidic pH.
A premade African violet mix is perfect, but homemade mixes also work very well.
Your spider plant will prefer being slightly root-bound, and this can help stimulate blooming.
However, if you notice roots protruding from the drainage holes in the spring, it’s time to repot.
This usually happens annually until the plant is between 2 and 5 years old unless you begin with a large container.
Once your plant has reached full maturity, it will be happy being root-bound and will send out spiderlings or blossom, rather than trying to expand its own size.
Grooming And Maintenance
These plants require very little maintenance.
You may choose to remove browning leaves or prune in the spring for length.
Spiderlings may be left on the mother plant indefinitely or may be removed for propagation or as gifts.
Propagating Ribbon Plant
This plant is a notoriously efficient self-propagator, and very few enthusiasts will bother growing from seeds when live babies are readily available.
These babies, known as babies, pups, plantlets, or spiderlings, emerge about a week after the flowers die and can be left on the mother plant or clipped off and planted.
Planting a spider pup is easy, and there are a couple of different methods you can use:
- Place a pot with dampened soil next to the mother and gently use a paperclip bent into a “U” shape to pin the spiderling against the soil. It will take root and may be severed from the mother within a few weeks.
- Spider plants without roots may be rooted hydroponically, and there are hydroponic supplements that will feed the young plant initially. However, they will need to be transplanted after a few weeks to regular potting soil or a hydroculture mix, as the supplements won’t be enough to sustain the plant for a long period.
- Spiderlings kept on the mother plant will have developed roots may be clipped off and pushed into a pot of moist compost with no further treatment necessary.
Note that it is also possible to propagate through division, and this method is most often used on plants that have failed to bloom and are becoming root-bound.
More on How To Propagate Spider Plants here.
Airplane Plant Pests or Diseases
While relatively resistant to disease, spider plants can suffer root rot if exposed to standing water.
Likewise, leaves left to hang in standing water may develop a bacterial wet rot that spreads quickly and can kill the plant.
They are very mildly drought tolerant for short periods of time and store a small amount of water in their leaves.
Exposure to fluoride, chlorine, or excessive salt can harm or kill the plant.
Pest problems include the usual suspects, primarily aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs, scale, red spider mites, and whiteflies.
Cats are highly attracted to the plant and will chew on it if they’re within reach.
While this harms the spider plant, the plant itself is non-toxic to cats and dogs and is actually suitable for human consumption.
Tips for Using Spider Plants Outdoors
While these plants are best known as hangers, they can grow along the ground or even be trained to climb, making them a great choice for use as a non-toxic ground cover.
You can suspend hanging planters from shaded trellises, arbors, or porch ceilings.
They look especially attractive when placed on a pedestal and allowed to cascade down the sides.
As these plants don’t attract pollinators, they’re good for homes with bee allergies but may also be paired with lupines or other butterfly luring plants for a fuller and even more attractive display.
As spider plants cannot handle extreme cold, consider growing spider plants as an annual.
When suspended from a significantly strong surface, you may choose to place a number of hanging planters at various heights with the mother plant at the top and guide the spiderlings to nearby pots, creating a cascading effect.