Questions on: Spider Plants

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service


Q: I've had three spider plants for about a week. After about three days, I saw that the leaves had droplets of water. Can you please tell me what this is? (Cambridgeshire, England)

A: These are droplets of guttation being exuded from the leaf pores because of root pressure. It is nothing to worry about because, in most cases, the plant will quit doing this in due time.


Q: I watered my spider plants with vinegar instead of distilled water by accident. Is there anything I can do to save them? (e-mail reference)

A: Give them two to three good waterings in a row to leach the vinegar out of the root zone.


Q: I have a spider plant that I received as a gift. I live in Michigan and this was during the worst part of our winter. After a short car ride to my dorm, I brought the plant inside. Shortly after, all of its leaves began to die. A friend of mine fed it some plant food and the plant grew new leaves and rebounded. While I was away on spring break, my parents left my spider plant out and my cats ate most of its leaves. Once again the plant rebounded, although you can still see the places where the cats ate it. A couple of months ago, I transplanted it into a bigger pot. I used new potting soil. The plant has been doing well in this new pot. I moved home from college for the summer.

Since then my plant has not been doing as well. One day I watered it and took it outside to bask in the summer sun. A few hours later, I noticed that two of the longest leaves were wilting at the ends. I brought the plant inside thinking it was too hot, but the plant hasn't perked up even though it has been almost a week. The affected leaves are limp, losing color and turning brown. I water it with filtered water from our tap. Should I get distilled water? Could I be watering it too frequently? I gave the plant a small amount of diluted Miracle-Gro two days ago thinking that might help. I am quite attached to this plant. I even named my plant Charlotte. (e-mail reference)

A: Your "Charlotte" has lived a pretty full four months! These are tough plants and can tolerate abuse from cats and underwatering. I need to emphasize that this plant can take some generous watering, but it does not like to have a soggy soil medium surrounding the roots. If the pot is not free-draining, then that is the problem and you need to change it right away. It has the potential to make a comeback with the right remedial care. If not, get another one and learn from your past mistakes!


Q: I noticed that two of my spider plants, which are across the room from each other, have holes in the leaves. It looks as if someone was munching on them. There is dirt all over the leaves as well. I have more than 20 house plants in my home and love them all. I really don't want to lose these spider plants. I call one of the plants "big momma." This plant has given me about five healthy, new spider plants. I live in southwest Florida. (e-mail reference)

A: You didn't say if you have cats. Our cats put holes in our spider plants whenever they get the chance! I certainly cannot tell you who is eating holes in your plants, but whatever it is probably comes out at night and enjoys a bite or two. I would suggest that you take the plants outside on a warm day and repot them in fresh, pasteurized potting soil.


Q: I have a question about spider plants. I gave one to my mother 18 years ago. Since she passed away, the plant has gone to my sister and now me. I do not want to kill it because it's old. It has lots of babies. Should I cut them off and root them? What is the basic watering and light care for spider plants? I believe it's still in the original pot! Should I transfer it? Some of the roots are sticking up above the dirt. (e-mail reference)

A: Leave it as is, but water it once a week or so. For more information on spider plants, go to http://www.ext.nodak.edu/extnews/hortiscope/houseplnts/spider.htm. There you will have almost every conceivable question answered. Enjoy.


Q: I found your Web page about spider plants. I learned quite a few valuable tips and pointers. There is a question that I did not find an answer to, so hopefully you can help. My mother has had a spider plant for at least 15 years. It is beautiful, though it is not what it used to be. I remember it once had a zillion babies and was quite large. She has split it several times and given away hundreds of babies during the years. Lately, it has not produced many babies. It has, as of a week ago, only one. My mother, knowing how much I love her plant, clipped it and sent the baby to me. Her plant is still healthy, but now empty of all babies. The problem I am having is that she sent the baby to me in a Ziploc baggie, with a damp paper towel around it. It was sent with a friend, forgotten and left in the bag for about five days. When I got it, I put it in water and it has perked up a little. It is still green and not losing any color. Though it looks healthy, I have noticed little, white, rootlike things growing out of the bottom. I say rootlike because I now believe these little things are actually pods, such as you have mentioned to someone else. These little pods are fuzzy. I believe it is mold. I am afraid that my mother's plant will not produce more babies. Is there any saving this little guy? Any advice you have would be much appreciated. I am sorry my question ended up as such a long e-mail. Thank you for your very valuable time. (e-mail reference)

A: I doubt that what you are seeing is mold. It probably is root hairs coming from the root stubs or initials coming from the spiderette. If I referred to them as pods in past correspondence, I was mistaken. I suggest planting the newcomer in African violet potting soil and keeping it moist. It slowly will grow and eventually produce babies. As for your mom's plant, be patient. It too eventually will produce more spiderettes.


Q: We've had a spider plant for more than a year. It hangs in a pot in a west-facing window. Although it has grown nicely, it has never produced spiderettes. The plant appears healthy and does not have any browning at the tips. We follow your tips on watering and everything else. We use 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of Miracle-Gro in tap water with each watering. Do you have any idea why this is happening? (e-mail reference)

A: What you need is patience. The plant is becoming pot bound, so stop giving it so much fertilizer because it isn't needed. Eventually, it will start producing babies and you'll be giving them away to family and friends!


Q: I am in sixth grade and doing an experiment with a spider plant. Can I feed the plant milk instead of water? Please e-mail me what you think will happen. (e-mail reference)

A: You can, but why waste good milk? Water is all that is needed, but only once or twice a week. The plant will grow and get some benefit from the mineral nutrients in the milk, as it would from the minerals that are in the water.


Q: I recently was given a spider plant. I have cats and was told these plants are poisonous to cats. Is this true? What other plants are dangerous to cats? (e-mail reference)

A: There are textbooks on poisonous plants, so it would be impossible to list all of them in this column. Some of the more popular plants that one needs to be cautious about are oleander, amaryllis (or any lily), croton, Jerusalem cherry (or any other member of the nightshade family), English ivy and poinsettias (or any other member of the spurge family). People need to be cautious with dumbcane because of the milky exudate found in the plant tissue. Common plants, such as ficus (rubber plants) and jade, are not poisonous.


Q: I am about to lose the spider plant my kids gave me for Mother’s Day two years ago. It has three leaves and is turning brown at the base. I think the problem is root rot. Should I repot the plant in dry soil or rinse it in water, let it air dry and then replant? (e-mail reference)

A: The plant is at a critical point, but without seeing it, I can't make a positive judgment that will work for certain. Cut off any discolored root tissue and discard it. Replant the healthy tissue in clean soil and a clean pot. Water the plant just enough to wet the soil around the root. Monitor the plant and only water when the soil dries.


Q: I have a spider plant that is bursting out of its pot. I can't even water it. The water I try to pour in immediately overflows. I have read that you should divide a spider plant in the spring. Can I divide it now or will it be too harmful to the plant? Do I cut the whole plant in half? Sorry, I'm new at this! (e-mail reference)

A: You can do it now. Some like to do it in the spring because of the increased sunlight to stimulate regrowth. Cut the plant in half, thirds or quarters. If your plant is anything like ours, it will be OK.


Q: I am having a problem with some of my house plants. I noticed one of my spider plants started getting a little wilted and then started dying. Even though I didn’t see any bugs, I sprayed it with Safer Soap. It kept dying, so I put it outside for a couple of days. It showed no signs of improvement, so I dug up one of the rotted roots. I found tiny, almost translucent worms. Is there anything that will kill the worms quickly before there is no plant left to save? Any help you can give me would be appreciated! (e-mail reference)

A: Wash all the soil off the roots and dispose of those that are not functional. Repot with fresh potting soil that is marked as sterilized or pasteurized media. Repot in a container that is free-draining. If there is any hope, this should save the plant.


Q: I am a teacher and give the babies from my spider plant to my students for good effort in the classroom. They love it. I am moving to an elementary library position next year and do not have a window for my plant. Is there a way I can keep my spider plant alive in the library? (e-mail reference)

A: Keeping the fluorescent light bulbs fresh each year is a good start. Also, you can get plant lights that can be directed at the plant for about 14 hours a day (use a timer). That should keep the plant producing new offshoots.


Q: I have two spider plants in different pots that I've had for about a year, but they don't seem to be growing much and have not had babies. Should I replant them in bigger pots and use new soil? (e-mail reference)

A: Yes and then be patient. Move the plants outdoors for the summer. Spider plants love that kind of treatment!


Q: My baby spider plants have grown a thick, white. I guess they are called roots, but look more like a small bulb. What are these called? I removed some from each plant and put them in a good potting mix. Will this produce more plants? I hope you understand what I'm talking about. (e-mail reference)

A: These are water storage organs the plants sometimes develop. It is very likely that no new plant will emerge from what you planted, but I've been wrong before and it wouldn't hurt to be wrong on this!


Q: We have had a spider plant for several years. We put it in a new pot and location. It was doing great. It started to get very large and looked beautiful. After six months, the plant has started turning brown and yellow and leaves are falling off. I thought I might have been overwatering, but then I realized that the new pot didn't have holes for the water to drain. We have since drilled holes in the pot, but it doesn't seem to be helping. I wonder if the roots are rotting. Is there anyway to save it? (e-mail reference)

A: People really have to work hard to kill these tough plants! Repot it with fresh soil, but make sure it is in a free-draining container. Do not put gravel on the bottom for drainage! Place a piece of crockery over the hole to keep the soil from washing out too fast. Try to put the plant back where you had it originally or create a similar environment.


Q: I recently snipped off a spider plant baby and put it in water to root. The baby has developed a small clear spot near the base of one of its leaves. What does this mean? (e-mail reference)

A: I have no idea, but it doesn't sound good. They are better rooted in a sterilized or pasteurized potting media and kept moist.


Q: I was reading your Web column and ran across a question about planting baby spider plants in a beta fish bowl. I had a spider plant over my fish tank that grew a stem into the tank and produced an underwater spider (still attached). It stayed that way for months before the plantlet accidentally broke off. I planted it in the tank to see if it would survive, but it was dying within a couple of weeks. I assume that it was receiving gas exchange assistance from the above water parent plant while it was attached. (e-mail reference)

A: Interesting! Thanks for the information. I'm sure someone will want to try this.


Q: Is there a difference between male and female spider plants? I have some baby spider plants that I am rooting, but I was told that I need a male and a female plant to grow them. I’m not sure what a male spider plant looks like. Also, can I plant different types of spider plants together? (e-mail reference)

A: There are no female or male spider plants. You should be able to grow them without that to worry about.


Q: My son is wondering how big his spider plant will grow. Does it depend on the size of the pot or the amount of sunshine it gets? (e-mail reference)

A: I have no idea what the final size of a spider plant will be. It spreads like a strawberry plant and produces leaves from a central, depressed crown. It does not grow upright. In a tropical habitat like Hawaii, it would spread and become a very effective ground cover. I don’t think it will grow beyond knee high.


Q: I’ve had spider plants for two years. I started with a little plant from a relative’s mother plant. I let it root in water for about six months. (I found creating a little square frame out of thread and chopsticks is a great way to keep the leaves from rotting in the water as it roots.) I finally potted it in soil and watched it grow very quickly. I was thrilled. It started a stalk and grew numerous babies. The plant seemed constricted, so I transplanted it into a slightly larger pot. Since then, many of the babies have died. I have three remaining plants that each have three leaves. The plants have been like that for months. In my research to fix this problem (no answer found yet), I stopped watering because the tips were brown. Before that, I was watering weekly because I have an extremely dry apartment. It has been a week and now the leaves at the center of the mother plant have started to soften, slightly blanch and started to curl lengthwise. Any ideas what might be wrong? The soil is still drying. (e-mail reference)

A: Obviously you did something the plant didn’t like. Pot constriction is not a problem with spider plants because we have three in our house that are thriving that way and have done so for many years. It could be the pot you put it in is not free draining, the soil has something toxic in it or the location is undesirable for the plant’s health. I would suggest that you remove the spiderettes and try to repeat your past success. Root them in water using chopsticks, then transplant them, but this time trim back the roots when you repot. Be sure to use a well-known, commercially available pasteurized potting soil.


Q: I have always been a plant killer. I seem to have a black thumb. A friend gave me cuttings from her spider plants and told me not to worry because I couldn’t kill them. She was right, it’s been almost two years and I have so many beautiful plants. I grew them in water until the roots were about the same size as the plant. When the roots were almost growing out of the water, I decided it was time to dare the dirt. I started with one plant. Shortly after potting it, I left it outside and its leaves froze. I just knew I had killed it! I brought it inside and left it alone, except for watering it once a week. It had five leaves when it froze, but in less than five months it’s about 50 times larger and beautiful. However, it has never created babies. I repotted it about two months ago because the roots were growing out of the drainage holes. It is still growing great. I have since planted all my spiders in pots. They are doing great. The second one I planted has 20 to 25 leaves and suddenly started growing a huge, round stem. In less than four weeks, the stem produced about 17 babies with white flower buds on the end and it just keeps growing. I am not sure what to do with the plant or the babies. When I started thinking I might really be able to keep it alive, I started looking for information about the brown tips on the leaves. While adding water to my fish tank, I thought I might have an idea. I purchased Chlor-Out for removing chlorine from the water in the fish tank. I now use it every time I water my plants, even with Miracle-Gro. It almost has taken care of all the new growth having brown tips. I thought this information might help others. Thanks and happy growing! (e-mail reference)

A: Good for you! Your information will be a big help to our readers. The plant you thought died because of frost damage likely will produce spiderettes this spring or summer.


Q: Can you root spiderettes in dirt or is it best to start them in water? (e-mail reference)

A: They can root in dirt or water. Using soil will give you a more adaptable root. Using water will get them rooting faster, but sometimes plants rooted in water have a problem making the transfer to soil.


Q: Are spider plants poisonous to beta fish? I work at a bank. For decoration, we have several beta fish bowls around the office. I decided to put spider babies in the bowls to watch them grow. The fish seemed to love it, but this morning when I came to work, one of the fish was dead. Keep in mind that these fish are 2 years old or older, so I’m not sure if it was the plants that killed the fish. (e-mail reference)

A: No, the plants are not poisonous. Keep in mind that roots give off carbon dioxide and use up oxygen, just the opposite of leaves. A small pump bubbling air into the water would benefit the roots and keep the fish around for a longer time. Most likely, the fish expired of old age, exacerbated by the low oxygen level.


Q: I have a spider plant that is several years old. I recently placed the plant in an east-facing window. The plant now is doing very well. In fact, it is growing faster and healthier than it has in years. However, the other day I was stunned to discover that the outside of the clay pot is coated with a very sticky substance that seems to be emanating from the plant. It starts at the soil line and seems to drip or seep over and through the lip of the pot. The plant does not have bugs or flies. Could you please tell me what this sticky, almost nectarlike stuff is? (e-mail reference)

A: In 99.44 percent of the time, the sticky substance is termed “honeydew,” which comes from feeding insects. These could be aphids, mealybugs, scale or spider mites. Even though your plant is growing well, this feeding eventually will take its toll on the plant. I encourage you to examine the plant carefully to see if you can find anything resembling a piercing-sucking insect or a spider mite (there would be fine webbing). Once discovered, you can control the problem through applications of insecticidal soap spray or simply dip the plant’s foliar into a solution of the same material. Notice I said 99.44 percent of the time, not 100 percent. This means there is an outside chance the plant has hydathodes (microscopic openings) on the leaf tips that are exuding excessive “sap” from all the vigor you are describing. If that is the case, then this will subside with a slowdown in vigor. You can help slow it down somewhat by backing off on the watering and fertilizing.


Q: Instead of using regular tap water on my spider plants, would boiling the water be just as safe as distilled water? (e-mail reference)

A: Do not use cooled boiled water because it will concentrate the salts. A mixture of 50 percent distilled water and 50 percent tap water should be OK. Experiment with different combinations to find the one that works best.


Q: My husband bought me a spider plant for our anniversary. It is big and has many babies. Three of the babies had more than 2-inch roots. I cut them off and planted them in their own pot. Was it safe to do this? One of the babies was hanging on to the mother plant by a thread. It looked like someone tried to pinch it off, but was unsuccessful. I cut it off and placed it in a cup of water. How long does it take the roots to grow? In addition, I have a friend who lives in West Virginia who wants some of the babies. I said I would mail her some when they get big enough to cut. What is the safest way to mail them? I live in Virginia, so she should get them in two or three days. Since I am new to the spider plant family, thank you for your help. (e-mail reference)

A: Welcome to the family of spider plant lovers! The spiderette that you placed in water should develop roots in two to three weeks, if not sooner. For your friend in West Virginia, I would suggest sending the plants by express or priority mail. It will get the plants to their destination overnight by express mail and in two or three days using priority mail. Be sure to send the plants dry and in a padded pack with “perishable” marked on the package. For better roots that will adapt to the soil environment, allow the plantlets to develop roots in air while attached to the mother plant, or pin them to a sand/peat media that you can keep moist. Water-rooted specimens look nice, but from a plant’s vantage point, they do not transplant well into a soil media after the water roots have developed. This is not to say that all water-rooted plants will fail, but they do have a better chance of becoming established in a soil media environment.


Q: I have a small, heated room off of my garage. I always keep the room temperature in the mid-50s range. What is the minimum room temperature to keep a dozen spider and various other common houseplants actively growing during a Wisconsin winter? (e-mail reference)

A: Spider plants, along with most houseplants, will survive temperatures as low as the mid-50s. Keep in mind that surviving and thriving are two different states. Most houseplants are relocated tropical plants that are expected to survive in the environment, in which we put them. In most cases, the environment we place them in is less than ideal!


Q: I have two spider plants my niece’s mom gave me in September. I recently cut off five babies. I put one in soil and the rest in water. The two main plants are growing in water. I would like to keep them in water. Will they live for a long time this way? A fun note; The plants survived a plane ride from Florida to my home in Missouri. (e-mail reference)

A: Spider plants can stay in the water for a long time. Eventually, you will have to add some water-soluble fertilizer. Make sure it is diluted, not full strength. Depending on the trace elements in your water, the plants eventually may suffer from micronutrient imbalances and succumb to it. You have set yourself up for a plant care challenge by growing the plants in water. A water culture is less forgiving of mistakes.


Q: Last June, I received a spiderette as a gift. It is large and in a plastic hanging pot. I have it hanging in a window. Should I keep it there? It has some brown tips on the ends. Could the browning be caused by too much sunlight? How long will it take the plant to mature and produce babies? (e-mail reference)

A: You might get some spiderettes this spring. Keep it in the window because it responds to day length changes. Go to my Web site on spider plant care at www.ext.nodak.edu/extnews/hortiscope/houseplnts/spider.htm. Any questions you have on the culture of this plant will be answered. Enjoy!


Q: I’ve had a spider plant for more than two years. I think it is a variation on the standard spider plant because it has more curly leaves. When I bought it, I probably had 20 babies shooting out of it. I keep it in the kitchen window where it gets light most of the day. I do not think I am overwatering, but recently all the babies died. Within the last month, all the stems to the babies turned brown and some babies fell off. I would like to revive the plant and get the spiderettes growing back. I have other spider plants that have not produced babies in years. What specifically causes spiderettes to grow? (e-mail reference)

A: Spider plants best thrive in a pot-bound situation and have access to sunlight. A spider plant should be in a room where the sun shines through the window at some point in the day. It doesn’t matter if it is direct or indirect sunlight, as long as the sun coming in can brighten the room. The production of spiderettes is tied, somewhat, to day length. In response to increasing daylight, the plant should begin producing flowers and spiderettes sometime this spring. Don’t overwater or overfertilize this plant species. Both are needed, but not in any abundance. That may or may not have caused the demise of the spiderettes on your plant.


Q: My spider plant was doing great, but now it is losing a few leaves and the tips of some leaves are turning brown. I was thinking of repotting, but every time I’ve repotted a spider plant it died. Now I am afraid to do it. I love my spider plants, but they are driving me to drink. How do I know when my plant has outgrown its pot? (e-mail reference)

A: Spider plants do not need a lot of close care. The brown tips are the result of fluoride in the water or some component of the soil mix. It is nothing to worry about. From a practical point, nothing can be done about it. Spider plants are not supersensitive to being pot-bound. You might allow the plant to become pot-bound and then repot it in the same pot after cutting some of the roots back to make room for the fresh soil you will be adding. Strong, indirect light, moderate watering and cool temperatures seem to do a world of good for spider plants. Summering them outdoors is also good for spider plants. Go to www.ext.nodak.edu/extnews/hortiscope/
houseplnts/spider.htm
for more information on spider plants. Thanks for your interest!


Q: I just love the questions and answers you provide regarding spider plants. I haven’t had to ask anything because of your thoroughness in answering the questions. I just wanted to thank you. I have three spider plants that I grew from spiderettes. One is in its own planter and two are in a pot together, apparently a male and a female. The female is flowering (she’s been flowering steadily for the past two months or more!) and producing seeds as well as more than a dozen spiderettes. (e-mail reference)

A: This has to be a first for me, a compliment without questions. Thank you! I’m glad the column has been helpful. Spider plants are fun to plant because of the unique way they grow. They are literally bulletproof, and don’t require a lot of care. Enjoy!


Q: I have a beta fish in a small tank. Can I plant baby spider plants underwater in the fish tank or would they drown? Would the plants poison the fish? (e-mail reference)

A: I’m sorry, but I don’t know the answer to your question. Perhaps a reader of this column will know the answer and pass along the information.


Q: I have had a spider plant for a couple of months. It has a few little, white flowers on it. Is there a way to pollinate them? (e-mail reference)

A: Spider plants are self-fertilizing, so all you have to do is sit back and watch a wonder of nature unfold before you. You soon will have spiderettes all over the mother plant.


Q: I would like to cut the spiderettes and trim back the long stems of my spider plant. What is the proper way to cut and trim without damaging the plant or the spiderettes? (e-mail reference)

A: To remove the spiderettes, cut the long stems back as far as you can with a sharp knife or pruners. Then cut the spiderettes off the stems and plant or set on a premoistened media. The spiderettes should root in a few weeks. Any foliage that needs trimming should be cut back in the same manner and right to the base of the plant.


Q: I have a spider plant that is quite large and has many babies. Now my baby spiders are getting babies. I’ve had to hang it in my entryway, which has a cathedral ceiling, just to get it higher. Have you ever heard of this happening? (e-mail reference)

A: Yes, my own! Don’t worry, it just shows the vigor of the mother plant! Don’t be afraid to remove some of the babies and plant them in different pots.


Q: I wanted to let you know about the spider plant that I have been trying to grow from seeds. I planted the seeds in a plastic cup with potting soil on Sept. 1. I had the cup sitting on a window sill for two weeks. I didn’t see any growth activity, so I brought the cup to work and placed it under a fluorescent light. The light is on eight hours a day, five days a week. I saw a little sprout coming up today after having the cup at work for about a week. I know you aren’t familiar with growing spider plants from seeds, so I hope this information is helpful to you or your readers. (e-mail reference)

A: Thank you! I couldn’t find any reference to starting spider plants from seeds. My references all state that the method of propagation comes from the planting of spiderettes, which I already knew. Glad you entered the realm of the unknown and were willing to share your success with me and the rest of the readers!


Q: I think I overwater my two spider plants. They were such beautiful plants, but now I have one plant that may not make it and the other plant is all brown on the bottom. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do to save the one stalk that I have? I was thinking of watering it just once a week. Should I put plant food in it? Also, my apartment is very hot. (e-mail reference)

A: Spider plants are able to tolerate high temperatures, so don’t worry about that. Water the plant as needed, but do not allow the container to stand in water after irrigation. Hold off adding fertilizer until new growth is evidenced.


Q: I have a spider plant that I bought at a local nursery a couple of months ago. It is the variety with white on the outside of the leaves. It has started to produce babies, so I would like to detach them and start new plants. My father used to have around 30 spider plants in his house. They were started from one plant. I believe that he used a sugar and water solution. This is the method I would like to use, but I’m not sure if the sugar will benefit the plants. Just for fun, I would also like to use water colored with food dye to get the white on the leaves to change colors. Would that damage the plants? (e-mail reference)

A: Plain water will do, but go for it if you want to emulate your father's methods. You could try both methods to see which one works best. I can't tell you about adding dye to the water because I’ve never tried it, but be adventurous and see what happens with at least one of the plants.


Q: I put a few of my spiderettes in water so the roots would grow. How long should the roots be before I plant them? Also, I have some organic soil with a tiny bit of pearlite in it. Is pearlite bad for the plants? What type of pots do you suggest I use? (e-mail reference)

A: The roots should be long enough to support the plantlet, a minimum of two inches. Perlite will not hurt the plant, and since you are probably going to be hanging these plants, go for a lightweight container with a saucer that is detachable so you can pour off excess water.


Q: I have a spider plant with many babies on it. It is a hanging plant so I cannot keep it attached to the mother when I plant it. Can I put it in water and let the roots grow and then plant it? (e-mail reference)

A: Sure, it’s done all the time!


Q: I have a new spider plant I started from a baby about three weeks ago. How long will it take to mature? Is there enough space in a four inch diameter, three inch deep terra cotta pot for it to reproduce? (E-mail reference)

A: Probably, but you’ll have to wait and see. If it gets potbound without reproducing, then move it to a larger pot. The length of time it takes to mature varies with the vigor of the individual plant, the kind of care it gets and its location in the house. It could be a year but certainly not longer than two.


Q: I have a spider plant that is huge. I am thinking about separating it into two pots. What is the best way to do this? (E-mail reference)

A: Knock it out of the pot. With a sharp knife or a pair of pruners, cut it in half or quarters depending on the size of the crown, and replant.


Q: I was really interested in your response to the question regarding a cat eating a spider plant. I had this very same problem so I asked about it at the veterinary clinic where I work. I had also previously noticed that my cat was very hyperactive and would run around like a maniac. I found it very interesting when the veterinarian told me that spider plants aren't poisonous to the cat, however, spider plants are to cats the same as LSD is to humans. It sounded very odd to me that my cat was getting high off of a plant. I followed their advice and put the plant out of the cat's reach and now my cat is no longer hyperactive and is actually quite pleasant. I just thought that he was eating it out of boredom. Also, is it true that spider plants grow better in clay pots? (E-mail reference)

A: Thanks for the information. I'll check into it here to see what is going on with spider plants and cats. All plants grow better in clay pots but plastic is so convenient and easily maintained that the difference isn't important except in contests.


Q: I have a spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) that has brown to black spots on its leaves (usually on top). These spots are the size of pinheads. They have spread from one spider plant to another. Can you please tell me what disease this is and what I can do to stop it? Will it affect my non-spider plants? (E-mail reference)

A: I don't know what the spots are that you describe. You may be overwatering so the plant is showing edema, which is a corky lesion that develops on plant foliage when it is overwatered. Try backing off on the watering before doing anything drastic.


Q: How much oxygen does a spider plant produce? How many people would it provide oxygen for? I’m asking because I'm in a competition called Future City where I have to create a futuristic community. The problem is that the city is on mars so I need to know what plants produce oxygen. I’ll need to know how many plants and forests we'll need. (E-mail reference)

A: Your easy question is difficult to answer. I suggest you get on the Web and contact NASA. They did some experiments years ago on oxygen generation and cleaning the air of impurities. If you can visit an old bookstore, I seem to recall a text called "Harvesting the Sun" that may have had such information. Ecologists generally don't measure it on a per-plant basis as far as I know. They focus on the biomass relationship. Sorry I can’t be of more help.


Q: My spider plants have produced hundreds of seeds. I would like to know the proper method of growing them. Do I need to soak, stratify, heat or scarify? (E-mail reference)

A: I am sorry I do not have any information on spider plant seeds. It seems that everyone uses the "spiderettes" for their propagation purposes.


Q: I have a spider plant and am wondering when it will start reproducing? Also, the stems at the end are turning brown. Is that a problem? How do I know when to repot it? (E-mail reference)

A: The spider plant will start producing "spiderettes" after it matures and has stored enough energy to carry out the mission. Once they start, they are usually prolific producers. Make sure it gets enough bright, indirect light. The brown tips are due to the fluoride or chlorine in the water. Live with it because everyone else does including me. I replant every fall after I bring them back inside.


Q: Within the past two weeks the tips of my spider plants started turning brown. I watered them every five days during the summer. I usually water when the soil feels dry to the touch. I am going to go back to seven days. I gave them fresh soil this week and will fertilize. (E-mail reference)

A: Spider plant tip browning is so common that it is used as a way of identifying them! The chlorine, fluoride, or sodium salts in the water or soil mix cause the problem. You can try alternating tap water with distilled water to see if that reduces the browning. You shouldn't use fertilizer unless the plant is showing active growth, which is when the plant is sending out runners with plantlets on them. Other than that, you are doing nothing wrong.


Q: I am having a problem with my spider plant. It is wilting and now it only has two long stems that grow anything. I water it and put it in the sunshine. I also put it outside on occasion. Should I take what is left of it and replant it? Right now it is in the same plastic pot that I bought it in years ago. I would really like to bring it back to life and watch it grow. They are beautiful plants. (E-mail reference)

A: My gosh, please repot it! Get a larger pot and use pasteurized potting soil then give it a little shot of Miracle Gro., Put it outdoors during the summer. Allow it to get filtered sunlight through the windows in winter. I can almost assure you it will come back because these are wonderfully durable plants.


Q: My spider plant has not started producing spiderettes or spikes. How long does it take to reproduce? I got my plant before spring and have fed it just once, which was today. I think the way the creator created such a wonderful and beautiful plant is truly amazing. (E-mail reference)

A: "Where faith begins, worry ends!" Let's turn that around a bit and say it this way: "Stop worrying, as long as the plant is healthy, have the conviction that it will eventually produce spiderettes." Fertilize just once a month, keep it moderately well watered, give it ample light and sooner or later the spiderettes will begin forming.


Q: I have a lot of spiderettes so I’m wondering if they could be put outside in hanging pots for the summer. Would direct sunlight be too much? (E-mail reference)

A: I would encourage you to put them outside under an overhang or in the canopy of a yard tree. Direct sunlight, depending on where you live, for six or more hours might be a little too much - at least all at once.


Q: I have two spider plants which I neglected a little over the winter and now I'm trying to get them to come back to life. A lot of the leaves are bent. Would it be okay if I trimmed the leaves past their bent spots? (E-mail reference)

A: Be my guest is that it won't hurt them a bit. You might consider summering them outdoors to help revive them.


Q: My spider plant is growing well but the ends of the leaves are turning brown. I use distilled water only. I did repot the plant recently and found roots but no dirt. Is that my problem or am I doing something else wrong? I do fertilize it every three months. (E-mail reference)

A: If it isn't in the water then it is the soil mix. Since you have repotted and continue with the regime you describe, the brown tips should become a thing of the past. The ones that are already brown will not green up but the newly emerged will (or should!).


Q: My daughter recently bought me a spider plant for Mother's day. When does the plant need to be repotted ? This plant has so many babies hanging from it, is quite beautiful and heavy. I have it hanging between two windows and hope it does ok. I love this plant and don't want to kill it. (E-mail reference)

A: You can let it stay as is for the summer. Fall is usually a good time to repot most houseplants, roughly in mid September. Don't worry about it repotting because the plant does well even if it’s pot-bound. I usually just cut some of the roots back, add fresh soil and replace it in the same pot.


Q: I recently purchased a spider plant that has baby spiders. I’m wondering when or if there is a correct time to remove the spiders and start new plants. (E-mail reference)

A: It isn't necessary to remove the spiderettes unless you want to start a new one. They add to the decorative quality of the plant.

If your intent is to propagate, the best way is to take a pot full of soil and place one of the spiderettes in it. Pin it down and keep it attached to the mother plant. You’ll need to water it while it roots in its new location. Once rooted, snip it from the mother plant and nurture it to adulthood.


Q: My spider plant has been a little neglected. It needs repotting and now has lost leaves near the base of the stem. It has long necks or stems and is growing over the edge of the pot. The plant is several years old so I'm wondering if I should break off the stem at some point and stick it in a cup of water to re-root. There are some nodules on the stem so I think it would re-root. Then, with the bare stem and the roots remaining in the pot, would they grow some new green shoots?

I'm afraid that if I repot the current plant intact, it won't look any more attractive because it will have long bare stems from the soil surface to the first green leaves. Any advice? (E-mail reference)

A: The spider plant can be propagated that way, in addition to rooting some of the spiderettes it produces.


Q: I have a three year old spider plant that is healthy but recently the plant leaves started bending in the middle. I thought it was the weight of the leaves but the new leaves are doing the same thing. What can I do to fix the problem? (E-mail reference)

A: No idea! I have never seen or heard of that malady before. If it doesn't seem to be affecting the otherwise healthy characteristics of the plant, don't give it another thought. Consider your plant to be unique amongst the millions of spider plants in people's homes.


Q: I have allergies and was told I could no longer have plants in my room because of mold that develops in the soil. Then someone told me to get a spider plant because somehow it destroys mold. I've never heard this before and I thought it sounded a little weird. I already have several that I've been growing for some time. (E-mail reference)

A: Probably a case of misunderstanding. The spider plant was used by NASA as an "air purifier" for tight enclosures. The test was to see if it would absorb and detoxify some of the chemical esters given off in the construction of such a tight environment, and it apparently worked. I doubt that it "destroys" mold spores, but it might sequester them in some manner. If you are living with these plants without allergy symptoms, then everything must be working somehow.


Q: I have seen no mention of spider plant seeds. I have grown many spider plants from seed. When the flowers die, you may have a three-sided seed pod. Let the seed pod go from brown to black and then peel the skin off. You can then plant the seeds in soil. I plant them in egg cartons. Before long, you will have little spider plants growing. (E-mail reference)

A: Thank you and you are right. To make sure that readers understand, the spider plant you are talking about is the cleome spp., not the chlorophytum spp. That's a problem with common names. The cleome spider plant will actually self-seed right in the garden, but I agree with you, it is more fun to collect the seed and start them yourself.


Q: We have a spider plant that has maggot-like critters in the soil. They seem to stay in groups. Any ideas on treatments to get rid of the bugs? (Gwinner, N.D.)

A: They could be the larval stages of fungus gnats or some other soil-dwelling insect. You should repot it with fresh potting soil like Schultz's or something else. Insecticides can be applied to the soil but more and more, I don't like the idea of using pesticides on houseplants unless it can be something relatively innocuous like insecticidal soap.


Q: I have a medium-sized spider plant that was doing fine but now it isn’t as green and the dirt in the pot is always bone dry. I repotted it but the problem continues. The plant had several babies but I removed them thinking they might be sucking up all the water, but that didn't help. I have other plants in the room and they don't seem to have this problem although they are not spider plants. Also, can I grow a spider plant in my shower or is it too wet in there? (E-mail reference)

A: You need not have removed the spiderettes - they are not a drain on the mother plant. I am not sure I completely understand your question - do you think the soil being dry is causing the plant to not be as green as you think it should be? This is one of the best plant species for houseplant use that is on the market. They grow slowly, tolerate benign neglect and can grow under just about any light conditions that exist in a normal house, including your bathroom shower, as long as there is some light. If you think it is getting too dry too quickly, then increase the watering frequency but the best procedure in winter is to allow the plant to dry between waterings. I think you are just a little overly concerned. The spider plant will come back with the lengthening days.


Q: I have four spider plants that I took from babies off a friend's plant. I put them in water until they rooted, then placed each of them in 4-inch pots. They have been in the pots since June. While the plants are healthy, they don't seem to be growing. I water them weekly and they are in a south-facing window that seems to receive good light. My African violets are doing well in this window. Any idea's on why these plants are not getting any bigger? (E-mail reference)

A: Have patience - they will eventually grow. Winter is not a good time for growth, but you should start to see something happening by the end of this month.


Q: I have a spider plant at my office that is sitting under a flourescent light and is doing beautifully. A few questions about it though. I occasionally get brown spots on the ends of the leaves. When I do, I cut back watering but now I'm noticing rust colored markings running lengthwise down the sides of the leaves. Is it due to improper watering? How do I know when to transplant the spider? It's in about the biggest pot I'd want at my desk at work but I've found roots starting to poke up through the soil. At first it was mainly the feathery small roots but today I found a thick one coming up. The plant also keeps dividing in the pot and coming up as two plants. I've split it twice, giving a full sized plant to two friends. Why does it keeps splitting? (E-mail reference)

A: You simply have a vigorous spider plant! Be happy - and keep dividing it and giving one away to friends. Your cutting back on the watering is simply concentrating the salts that exist in your soil and/or water. Maintain a normal watering schedule like you obviously have, and the plant should be alright. The brown tips on the leaves are due to the chlorine/fluoride salts in the water or soil. This plant is sensitive to them but should not keep the plant from being productive. You can alternate watering with distilled water to reduce the tip browning.


Q: When I graduated from high school, my neighbor gave me a white-striped spider plant. It came from the spider plant my parents gave to them when they moved to the neighborhood. The first year at college was no problem and the plant grew. However, now I live in an apartment and it is starting to die. It once had several healthy leaves but now has only three. The tips of those leaves are beginning to turn brown. How can I save this plant? I water it and give it sunlight but it still feels like it isn’t enough. (E-mail reference)

A: I think you may be overwatering it or you have it in a container that doesn’t drain. Most spider plants in the Fargo region are now producing new spiderettes and growing quite well. The browning on the leaf tips is normal. It is the result of water chlorination and/or fluoridation and is not lethal to the plant - only unsightly. You might try watering it with some distilled water about every other time to see if that helps to minimize that problem.


Q: I have a spider plant. Is it okay to cut baby spiders off the runners and grow them in water? (E-mail reference)

A: It sure is. Go ahead and in no time you will have one producing spiderettes on it's own.


Q: I read the question about a spider plant flowering. You said it's rare. We’ve had a spider for a few years that blooms often, gets a long stem, flowers and then babies appear on the stems. Ours is green with a white stripe on the leaves. We also have a Christmas cactus that bloomed from Thanksgiving to Easter and now is getting ready to bloom again. (New Rockford, N.D.)

A: You and about a dozen other people have told me the same thing! So allow me to change what I previously said - "it is not uncommon for spider plants to produce flowers." Thanks for your letter and for being a faithful reader!


Q: My spider plant has very long runners that the babies are attached to. I have tried cutting several off on two different occasions but it seemed like the plant was going to die. It didn't and after a couple weeks it perked back up. There are 16 on the plant right now, with five being fairly new. Is it possible to get rid of them? Is this spider plant a producing one? I have nine others from this one and only one of them is doing what the mother is doing. In general, can you tell me about these runners and the right name to refer them as? (E-mail reference)

A: You are calling them by the right name, runners or stolons. Don't cut them off as they are a part of the beauty of the plant. If you want, poke one of the runners in a small pot of soil while attached to the mother plant. In a couple of weeks it will root giving you another plant. This is one of the best, most ecologically positive houseplants, anyone can grow. They tolerate a wide range of conditions and normal neglect.


Q: In response to your article on spider plants. I have both the varigated and plain plants. I did not know they were not supposed to have flowers. Whenever a new stalk or stem comes out, it has flowers before the little spider grows. The flowers are white and do not last very long. If you look at the nodules on the stem, that is where the flowers were. Maybe they come and go so fast that you really don't notice them. They make a mess on the floor when they dry and drop off. Mine drop behind furniture where I may not vacuum every week so they accumulate. (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: You could be right! I don't stand around watching the plants grow, just note that they have grown.


Q: I have been reading the questions about spider plants. One in particular was about spider plants flowering. Your response was that they rarely flower. I have a spider plant at the office and five of them at home and have had several others. All of them bloom for me year round. The plants that have white on them have also created seed pods. I have not tried planting the seeds but may try it someday. The one I have at work was brought there as soon as I transplanted it. For about two years it grew a little, but not much. Then I moved it close to a window and it has bloomed, created seed pods and plantlets like crazy since then, even though it has now been moved to a place with no windows. It is beautiful, almost like it woke up. On the other hand, I have had spider plants create plantlets within a few months. One thing about spider plants, they are not fussy. They are easy to work with and if a plant starts to look awful, take a couple of plantlets and start another. They have always been easy for me. There is one puzzle that I have not figured out. I started from a spider plant with white on a plantlet that was all green. I have many new plants from that one and none of them have one speck of white on them. They also seem healthier, their leaves are wider and grow bigger and faster. ( Ulen, M.N.)

A: I agree with everything you say, and as irony would have it, when my wife moved our spider plants in this fall and repotted them, one of them began blooming immediately. Nothing like proving me a liar! The white variegation is a chimera which means that the somatic tissue was just a "mask" that covered the green leaves. The greener the leaf, the more photosynthesis that is carried on and the faster it can grow.


Q: Have you ever heard of a spider plant flowering? The stalk of the plant has several white flowers. As I checked for information on the Internet, I have not come upon any mention of flowers and for all the years I've had spider plants, I’ve never seen one. (E-mail reference)

A: It is rare, but in the 17 years that we have owned one, it did flower once for us. So enjoy it while you can. Very likely you won't see that happening again for decades!


Q: My 2-year-old spider plant is doing something I've never seen before. It seems that two leaves are stuck together as they grow and if they do split apart the tips are brown and dry (usually 2 inches of the tip or so). I use hard, room temperature water to water them with using a very mild Miracle Gro solution each watering. I haven't changed anything lately. They have been in their present location (east window) since April and were in another building, also in an east window, before that. Any ideas? (E-mail reference)

A: I can't tell you why two leaves were stuck together, but I can tell you that the brown tips are something you are going to have to live with, as it is quite common on just about every spider plant I have ever known -- including my own. It is from either the salts in the water, fluoride, or chlorine. I wouldn't continue watering with a dilute solution of Miracle-Gro each time. It isn't needed and could be contributing to the brown tip problem.


Q: I recently got a spider plant for my birthday. It has many stems growing out of it. Lots of babies too. It was vibrant with color. I had a friend water my plants while I was out of town for a week. I came back and now my spider plant's leaves are brown and it looks bad. But the babies are still green, and there are still some stalks that have not turned orange or dark brown. It is sitting in my front room window. Is there anything I can do to get my spider beautiful again? Please help -- this is my first plant and I don't want to lose it. (E-mail reference)

A: It may be the direct sunlight the plant is getting that is causing the problem. I find it difficult to believe that a friend could kill off one of the toughest houseplants ever with just a week of improper care, whatever that may be. I would suggest patience, and not to water it any more than once a week to every 10 days. I have my spider plants outside under the canopy of an Amur maple tree in the hanging pot it grows in, and have been doing this for the last 15 or more years! In hot weather, we water it about every other day. Try cutting out the affected plant parts and seeing what happens to the rest of the plant. You may get a surge of new, fresh growth.


Q: I cut the edges with the brown spots on the spider plant off. Will that harm the plant and if so is there anything I can do to help save it? (E-mail reference)

A: No problem - the brown will likely return to the edges you just created. Just ignore them in the future.


Q: I got a spider plant for Mother's Day and have noticed that the ends are turning brown. Do I cut them off or pull them off? (E-mail reference)

A: You can do nothing, and the plant will be all right. The brown tips are a reaction to the chlorine or fluoride in the water or as a part of the soil mix; or simply a salt burn from the soluble salts in your water supply. My spider plants have had brown tips for the past 15 years and are still producing an abundance of "baby spiders." My suggestion: learn to appreciate the brown tips as part of the ornamental attraction of the plant. It will not be lethal to the plant.


Q: I just bought a pot of six spider plants. One of them has what looks like a stem growing up next to it but it is not growing at all. Is this what the plantlets come off of? Will the other spider plants have these? How long will it take if they will? (E-mail reference)

A: Yes. Plantlet production is dependent on daylength. Give it more than 12 hours of bright indirect light with some direct sunlight thrown in, and you should see some new plantlets coming on shortly, generally in about six to eight weeks.


Q: I have a beautiful spider plant (sentimental) that my grandmother gave me years ago. We had a nice sunny day and some rain, and I thought the fresh air would do my plant some good after being inside all winter. Well I forgot that I had left it outside and we got some frost that same night, after having an 80 degree day. The base is still green, but the tips of the leaves are all brown from the frost. Can I cut this plant right down to the base of the plant? I have cut other plants down and they have come back twice as beautiful, but I am afraid as I've never done this to a spider plant. (E-mail reference)

A: I would wait until some new growth is noted from the base. You said that only the tips of the leaves are brown. If the top was truly killed by the frost, then it would show up in a day or two with flaccid foliage that would soon begin to rot. If that becomes apparent, then remove the top of the plant to the base.


Q: Can you please help with a spider plant? Over the last three years it has developed brown bumps all along the stems. It makes the leaves sticky and has webs in the center of the plant. I have put granules in the soil to kill it and it did not work. I have also tried to use alcohol on it. I am sure I did not get all of it, but it did not work. I sprayed it with dawn dish soap and it is still there. Please, can you suggest something so I do not lose this special plant? (E-mail reference)

A: It sounds like your poor plant has a bad case of scale and spider mites. Usually when they get to this state, you are better off in dumping the plant. However, if you are determined save it, you may want to make up a dip solution that you can immerse the aerial part of the plant in. This would require you removing the plant from the container and washing the soil off the roots completely. Then take a tub or bucket, put in a measured amount of water (1 or 2 gallons). Then I would suggest an organic-based insecticidal product that you could add to the water. This would include insecticidal soaps, Neem-containing products, and pyrethrums. Several companies handle them - Schultz, Safer, etc. Be sure to wear rubber gloves and observe any other precautions indicated on the label. Dip the aerial part into this solution for about 10 seconds up to (but not including) the root system. Allow to air dry for about 15 minutes while you have the roots in a weak fertilizer solution, then repot in fresh potting soil. This may or may not work, but it may be worth a try. Scale is extremely difficult to control when they have progressed as far as you indicate. You might also want to study the aerial parts of the plant to see if there are any sections where scale has not yet invaded, and cut everything else off. In the end, it just may be easier to dispose of the plant.


Q: I have a spider plant with brown tips on the leaves, and brown spots in the middle. It is in a south window. I water it once a week with reverse osmosis water to make sure there isn't any salt in the water. I fertilize it every other week at half strength, and I like to give it a good misting every time I water. It isn't extremely unhealthy or anything, it has two long stalks with babies on it. I can't figure out what is wrong with it. Could it be getting too much light? It receives about three hours of bright sunlight a day. (Moorhead, Minn.)

A: As long as the plant is not receiving the brightest, most direct rays of the sun during the midday, that should not be a problem. My only remaining guess is that it may need repotting. Check to see where the soil level is in relation to the rim of the pot. If it is right up to the edge, then watering becomes difficult and the plant needs to be moved into a larger pot. From what you are telling me, it appears that you are doing everything right. We have had Chlorophytum plants in our house for over 15 years, and other than occasional tip burning they are literally a foolproof plant to grow for a houseplant.


Q: I have a question about my spider plant. On one of the baby stems there are these little brown humps. I tried picking one off and it just crumbled. It is just on one of the babies, and that baby has this waxy build up on it. What is this and what should I do about it? (E-mail reference)

A: It could be scale. I would discard that plantlet, and spray the rest of the plant with Neem oil or something similar that isn't toxic to humans or other warm-blooded animals.


Q: I have a spider plant at work that I grew from a baby. It was having beautiful babies. My co-worker, without my permission cut the baby spiders almost back to the mother plant. Will the mother spider plant grow more or is the plant ruined? (E-mail reference)

A: Not to worry! The mother plant will produce new babies sometime this summer.


Q: We have a spider plant that my daughter almost killed. I brought it home and repotted it. It is growing slow and when it gets so far the ends of the leaves turn brown, I have never had flowers on it or babies. What is wrong? I have it in a sun room facing north. Please give me some ideas. (E-mail reference)

A: The brown tips are the result of the salts either in your water supply or from the media it is growing in. These plants are sensitive to both fluoride and chlorine in water. It is not lethal to the plant. Your plant will develop babies when it has stored enough energy, which it derives from the sun. I suggest moving the plant to an east or west exposure in your sun room. In time, it will produce the offspring that everyone enjoys.


Q: I potted a spider plant about a year ago from a plantlet. It has developed brown streaks in the middle of the leaves and the leaves have become rippled like a potato chip. The plant seems to have stopped growing. What is the cause of this? I looked at the base of the pot and I can barely see the roots poking out. Is it time to repot? The plant gets two to three hours of direct sunlight in the winter. What are some tips to ease the transition to a larger pot if need be? (E-mail reference)

A: The likely problem is the air being too dry (low relative humidity) combined with the direct sunlight hitting the foliage. Throw into the mix the possibility that the salts may be elevated at this time of year, and you then have your reasons for the anomalies in your leaves. Repotting would never hurt. This is among the toughest and most easily grown houseplants. It should respond very favorably to the slightest TLC, and often outlives the owner.


Q: How long can spider plant babies stay attached to the mother? At some point should I cut them off? Or are they okay growing attached to the mother? (E-mail reference)

A: They can stay attached forever, if you wish. They add to the attractiveness of the plant, so I would leave them on and remove them only when you wish to propagate more.


Q: I have a spider plant that is growing well. My only problem is my cat keeps attacking the plant. She takes part of a leaf off. Also when it has the stem for new babies she either takes the stem or each baby plant. Can you tell me why she keeps doing this? Will it be harmful to her? (E-mail reference)

A: Don't feel like you're alone! My cats do the same thing every time we bring spider plants down to the sink to water them. My three cats are 11, 10, and 7 years old and it hasn't hurt them yet! Apparently something in the plant's structure or chemical makeup is attractive to them.


Q: I am wondering if spider plants are poisonous. My 7-month-old has gotten a leaf in his mouth because our plants have grown so long. (Anoka, Minn.)

A: Not unless you have used pesticides on the plant. In spite of this, I advise that he not make this a part of his regular diet. Lettuce, beet greens, and celery would be better for him--which he will likely refuse to eat!


Q: I recently bought two spider plants, took them out of the plastic containers they were in and repotted in clay pots and then hung them in my bedroom. I gave them plant spikes, watered with distilled water a couple of times a week, and the leaves are turning brown and they look like they are rotting. Any suggestions? (E-mail reference)

A: The first mistake was with the plant spikes. If they have not completely dissolved, take them out. Secondly, watering once a week should be sufficient. If the plant is in a non-free-draining container, get it out of there ASAP. Next, are they growing in full sunlight? If they are, the sunlight will scorch the leaves, which could mimic the turning brown you mention. Also, does the potting soil mix have any perlite in it? If it does, that too could be a source of discoloration of the leaves, especially at the tips, from the fluoride the perlite contains. The solutions are obvious: move the plants away from direct sunlight to something more diffused; repot in a medium that is well-drained (along with the container) that is free of perlite. Fertilize with a water-soluble material like Schultz Plant Food Plus (10-15-10) or something of equal quality about once a month.


Q: My spider plants have these little tiny grayish-green spots developing on many of the leaves. I pruned off a lot of the leaves that had a lot of spots on them, and I also took off all of the little baby plants so that more nutrition would go to the plant itself. But the spots aren't going away. Actually they're getting worse. I'm worried that maybe the plants are not getting enough sun. The sun only shines in my window for an hour or two a day, and it's pretty dim the rest of the time. (E-mail reference, Detroit Lakes, Minn.)

A: Your problem could be related to the low light intensity it receives most of the time. I suggest moving the plant to another window where more light can reach it or, give it supplemental lighting with a plant light. You could also be overwatering it, something easily done when the plant is starting to decline in low light situations. The condition that then develops is known as edema, which could be what is affecting your plant. You shouldn't have removed the spiderettes. They are an excellent propagation source and not an energy drain on the parent plant.


Q: I recently purchased an absolutely beautiful spider plant. It was very large and I noticed there were two mother plants in one pot, so I split them apart and transplanted them. A problem I've been having with them is that the tips are brown. I water them with distilled water (once a week), but it seems that there is also a brown strip running down the middle of the leaf. All the leaves seem very limp and heavy and are breaking. I live in Honolulu, Hawaii. I keep the plants near the window in an air conditioned living room. (E-mail reference, Honolulu, HI)

A: You are killing them with kindness. The spider plant is one of the toughest plants on record, literally thriving on benign neglect. Move them outside in your beautiful climate and let the rainfall take care of watering. Give them additional water only if an extended dry period occurs. The plant is tropical, so it likely is objecting to the air conditioned environment. Brown tips on the foliage is "normal" for container plants; the brown streaking indicates too much water. Are they in free-draining containers? If not, move them there immediately.


Q: I read somewhere years ago that spider plants and ferns were good for combating indoor air pollution. I have not seen anything sense and am curious as to whether this is true. (E-mail reference, Washington, D.C.)

A: Absolutely! It takes more than tokenism though. The interior of a home should be generously "landscaped" with such plants. Any live plant is better than none; the more the better. The study was conducted by the USDA a dozen or so years ago.


Q: I have a question regarding spider plants. Do the white stripes on the leaves photosynthesize? (E-mail reference, Chicago, Ill.)

A: Yes. The chlorophyll is simply masked by the white tissue, but it is carrying on the process anyway. Just witness how well they grow under relatively low light conditions - a testimony to their efficiency.


Q: I am very new to houseplants and I have a question about a spider plant. This plant is large and is very heavy. I am afraid that if I hang it from my ceiling it is just going to pull the hooks out and land on the floor. My mother suggested halving it and repotting the halves. Is this a good idea and, if so, how do I do that? (E-mail reference)

A: With a good, sharp knife, and yes, it is a good idea. These are tough plants, you don't have to worry about killing them.


Q: My husband recently brought his spider plant home from work, and it was growing little brown bubbles along the stem. I don't know if we should remove these bubbles (they fall off easily and are greyish underneath) or leave them alone. They aren't moving, so I don't think they're bugs. Can you tell me what to do? (E-mail reference, Kent, Ohio)

A: They could very well be armored scale. They don't move once they have developed the protective shell over themselves. You might take a sample to your local county extension office for confirmation and advice. If it is scale, they are generally difficult to control and require a couple applications of systemic insecticide. I hope I am wrong, as these are beautifully durable plants, normally tolerating heaps of benign neglect.


Q: I have a spider plant (about three or four of them, actually, in a single 8-inch pot), which has been in that pot for a year or longer. I took the plantlets from a parent which I no longer have. How long does it takes one of these to mature and begin making its own plantlets? I see no signs of any spikes emerging from their centers, though they all seem quite healthy and now might even be a bit pot-bound. Is that, by the way, a good or bad thing for these plants? I see root tips beginning to sneak out of the drain hole in the bottom. Does that mean repotting time again? I don't overwater, and let it dry well between waterings, then I do give it a drink with weak plant food each time. But still no signs of babies. Any advice? And if I may, a question regarding my clivia. I've had it for about 2 1/2 years now, and admittedly it hung around rather neglected in a grower's pot for it's first year with me. But I did eventually pot it up in regular potting soil. While it appears healthy and does keep producing new foliage, it doesn't have any sign of sending up a flower stalk. Again, how old does it have to be, and does it require special handling to make flowers come out? (E-mail reference, Louisville, Ky.)

A: The spider plant should produce wiry stems this spring with small white flowers, followed by spiderettes or tiny plants. You don't need to be fertilizing it each time you water; they require fertilization about three or four times a year. They are the most adaptable of all houseplants, growing under widely varying conditions. Don't worry, it will have plenty of babies pretty soon! You have gone from the very easy to the more challenging with the clivia. Without a doubt, it will not bloom unless it is left in an unheated room, no fertilizer, and just enough water to keep it from wilting during the winter months. I am talking about a room that goes down into the 40s or 50s in winter, during which it needs bright light, but it should avoid direct sunlight in summer. It is fussy. Don't move the pot when it is in flower, and don't repot unless the roots are pushing the plant out of the container.


Q: I'm doing a science fair project with spider plants. What environment does a spider plant grow best in? (E-mail reference, Halstad, Minn.)

A: This plant, properly known as Chlorophytum comosum, has been grown as a houseplant for over 200 years and will tolerate anything found in a normal house -- dappled sun, shade, hot or cool rooms, and it doesn't mind dry air. So what the best environment would be, I'm not sure, as I have seen them thrive under just about any conditions. My best guess would be either an eastern or western window, behind some curtains or blinds in a bedroom, bathroom, or kitchen.


Q: I was just wondering, do spider plants (the normal houseplant type) grow flowers? I just recently bought one, and I haven't dealt with them since grade school. I can't remember if they have flowers in spring or not. (E-mail reference)

A: Spider plants (Chlorophytum spp.) will produce small white flowers followed by tiny plantlets, which you can root easily anytime you want to start another new plant. It is usually not tied to spring specifically, but to being a little pot-bound as the plant ages.


Q: I have a spider plant that has been really beautiful until lately when the leaves have started to turn yellow. I don’t want to lose this plant, so what do I need to do to make it come back to life? I love my plants and give them plenty of TLC, so I am really nervous that there is something seriously wrong. (Carrington, N.D.)

A: Just as some kids can get spoiled from too much TLC, the same can happen to houseplants. Try giving them a little "tough love," where you hold back somewhat on the watering, especially during the winter months. More houseplants are killed from over-watering than all other causes combined.


Q: I have had my spider plant (which I started from another one) for about six months and it has been growing very well up until yesterday, when I noticed brownish grey spots in the middle of about three leaves. What can I do to stop this and what is it?

A: Where are you writing from? Who are you? I would appreciate knowing where your message is coming from, as your location can affect my advice. Your spider plant is probably suffering from overwatering or from too bright a light source. I'd bet on overwatering at this time of year, unless you are writing from South America or South Africa. They should be sparingly watered through our winter months. It wouldn't hurt to allow them to dry between waterings at this time of year. Related to watering is using water that is too cold. Allow it to reach room temperature for 24 hours before using on this or any other houseplant. As for the affected leaves, cut them out carefully -- the plant is a prolific producer of foliage and will quickly cover up any surgery you perform.


Q: How often should you water and feed spider plants? (E-mail reference, Kalamazoo, M.I.)

A: The spider plant (Chlorophytum) barely needs water during the winter months, so water sparingly. I have one at home, and my wife waters it thoroughly about once every two weeks and it is growing beautifully. She takes it down, places it in the bathtub and gives it a "tepid shower" and the plant thrives. Summertime watering should be a little more liberal.


Q: I am having trouble with my fern and spider plant leaves turning yellow. I read in the paper that I should only be watering my fern once a month, but I don't think that is often enough. Also, I am wondering if it is safe to repot these plants. I really do not want them to die on me. (Carrington, N.D.)

A: If what you sent me in the mail represents the state of your fern, it isn't long for this world anyway! So go ahead and pot it up, along with your spider plant.

I have never heard of a fern needing water only once a month. Perhaps it was a misprint. Moving it to a cooler location may help it out too!


Q: Can you tell me why my spider plant tips are turning brown? (Minot, N.D.)

A: Tip browning is a common ailment of spider plants. They are sensitive to fluorides and other salts found in public drinking water supplies. These accumulate in the soil or potting media and cause problems for the plants.

The best advice I can give is to periodically leach your plants when you water them. This means to give it a thorough watering that will wash the excess salts out of the pot. Allow the water to drain out the base, and them dump it (don't let the water stand, as the soil may reabsorb it!). Also, if possible, use either rain water or distilled water. You can continue to use miracle gro, but try mixing it with distilled water or rain water. If it has been more than two years since the plant has been repotted, it may be time! I hope this helps!


Q. I have a pure-air plant and the leaves look as though they got burned from the sun, but the plant hasn't been sitting near the window. I also thought it was supposed to be hanging over the side of the planter, but it is 11 inches high and doesn't seem to be bending at all. (Carrington, N.D.)

A. Your "pure-air plant" is the spider plant--Chlorophytum. The burning you see is likely caused by underfeeding. Feed a little at each watering and the plant should take off for you. If the damaged tips bother you, cut them off.


Q: I want to know if spider plants are poisonous as I would like to put some baby spider plants in my turtles aquarium. Please let me know if they will hurt her?(e-mail)

A: Nope, spider plants--Chlorophytum spp.--are not listed as being poisonous in any of my references. Should be safe for your turtle.


Q: I have a spider plant that has grown a string of babies. I'd like to plant them, but have no idea how to do it. I see what looks like sprouts at the top of the babies. Do I need to let those root in water? Should I plant them directly in soil? If so, do I put the end in the soil or the other end as it naturally grows on the stem? (E-mail reference)

A: Spider plants produce what I call "spideretes" or asexually produced plantlets that can be directly planted into containers of their own. Many folks will take them as they are attached to the mother plant and pin them into some soil in an adjacent pot. After about 2 weeks they cut them away from the mother plant. Others will simply cut the "mature" ones off and pot them up, misting them until they appear established. Enjoy!


Q: How many different kinds of spider plants are there? I know of two. If there are more, what are they and do you know how to find them? (E-mail reference, Leesburg, Va.)

A: There are three "spider plants" that I am aware of: the houseplant spider plant -- Chlorophytum comosum, the outdoor hardy annual -- Cleome hasslerana and the "spiderwort." which in American lingo means spider plant. The botanical name of this one is Tradescantia virginica. This doesn't mean that there are not more known by this common name in local regions of the country, but having lived in many places in my life, I cannot recall any more than these three right now. All of them should be available in garden supply stores -- a florist for the Chlorophytum and a nursery or garden center for the Cleome and Tradescantia.


Back to Houseplants Menu
Back to the Hortiscope Table of Contents