Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) earned its common name for the leggy, spiderlike appearance of its offshoots, which dangle on thin, wiry stems from the parent plant. Although best grown as a houseplant, spider plant is hardy outdoors within U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11. The plant thrives despite neglect and usually requires little hands-on maintenance. Regular care, however, helps preserve its appearance and safeguard its long-term health.
Spider plants possess a dense network of fleshy, rhizomatous roots that hold a large store of nutrients. As a result, most spider plants seldom need feeding. An older plant with exhausted soil or one showing nutrient-deficiency symptoms, such as yellow leaves, slow growth or sparse foliage, may benefit from regular applications of a general-purpose fertilizer. Dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons of 20-20-20, water-soluble fertilizer in 1 gallon of water. Feed the plant with 1/2 cup of the solution every two weeks during the summer months, applying it to moist soil. Discontinue feeding the plant in autumn and winter.
The water needs of a spider plant vary with the season. It grows actively during the warm spring and summer months before entering dormancy in autumn and winter. Water your spider plant's soil when the upper 1 inch of its soil dries out, saturating the soil until the excess water drains from the plant pot's base or until the top 6 to 12 inches of soil feels moist to you. Reduce watering in autumn and winter, providing just enough water to keep the foliage from wilting. Because spider plant exhibits sensitivity to the chemicals commonly found in tap water, use distilled water or rain water whenever possible. Alternatively, fill a bucket with tap water, and let it sit overnight before using it for watering; tap water's chemicals dissipate during the time the water sits.
Pruning and Grooming
The tidy, grasslike growth habit of the spider plant requires little pruning to improve its shape or control its size. Its delicate blades require a little sprucing up if they become dry or damaged, though. Spider plant seldom contracts diseases, but it is still a good idea to sanitize pruning tools such as shears and scissors before pruning by soaking them in a solution that is one-half rubbing alcohol and one-half water for five minutes; then either rinse the tools with clean water or allow them to air-dry. Snip off all damaged blades and stems at their base with shears or scissors. After pruning, gently rake your fingers through the foliage to collect the severed blades, and discard them.
Spider plants may develop infestations of aphids, whiteflies, spider mites and scales. Treat your plant at the first sign of them. Besides sightings of the pests, the symptoms include yellow leaves, honeydew sap and reduced vigor in the plant. A 2-percent insecticidal soap solution works for all common spider plant pests. Dissolve 4 teaspoons of insecticidal soap in 1 quart of water to make a 2-percent solution. Liberally apply the solution with a spray bottle, paying special attention to all crevices and folds where bugs might hide. Rinsing off the soap within two hours after each treatment helps prevent damage to foliage. Reapply the solution every four to seven days until the problem subsides.
Indoor and outdoor spider plants share the same cultural requirements. An outdoor plant, however, may suffer damage in cold weather when grown outside its USDA hardiness zone range. The best course of action is to move a spider plant indoors if temperatures below 25 degrees Fahrenheit are forecast. Otherwise, cover a garden-grown specimen with a lightweight cloth or other breathable mulch overnight to protect it from the worst of the cold, but some of the plant's foliage still may be damaged.
- Floridata: Chlorophytum Comosum
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Chlorophytum Comosum
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Spider Plant
- University of Missouri Extension: Caring for Houseplants
- University of Florida: Spider Plant
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Disinfecting Pruning Tools
- Colorado State University Extension: Insect Control -- Soaps and Detergents
- University of Minnesota Extension: Houseplant Insect Control
- North Carolina State University: Watering Houseplants
- Louisiana State University Agricultural Center: Commonly Grown Plants and Their Cold-Tolerance Temps
Samantha McMullen began writing professionally in 2001. Her nearly 20 years of experience in horticulture informs her work, which has appeared in publications such as Mother Earth News.