University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Anytime News Article
EASY HOUSEPLANTS—SPIDER PLANT
Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor Emeritus
University of Vermont
Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are called this not because they
attract and harbor spiders, but rather the little plantlets or offshoots at
the ends of long wiry stems are “spidery”. You may see them called
“airplane plants” for this reason, too.
This is one of the easiest houseplants to grow, generally being grown in a
hanging container to allow the stems to cascade. They’ll form plants
about two or more feet wide, and two to three feet long. A NASA study in the
1980’s found that spider plants were one of the top indoor plants for
removing formaldehyde and other toxins such as carbon monoxide, common in
homes and public spaces now from the off-gassing of synthetic materials.
Leaves come from the base of plants, are rather long (maybe up to a foot
long), and rather narrow. It’s probably good that these are grown
hanging from raised containers, as cats are fond of chewing on leaves.
While the usual spider plants you see have white leaves with green stripes
near the edge (the cultivar Vittatum), you can find ones with the
opposite—green leaves with white edges (the cultivar Variegatum). This
latter cultivar (cultivated variety) tends to have longer leaves than the
former. Both will form small white flowers, usually in summer.
Once they form, the little offshoots are plants in miniature with small
roots. They often form during the shorter days of fall. You can
leave them on for a full plant, or remove some and pot to make new
plants. If plants get quite potbound, you can divide them too.
Over time, the thick fleshy roots can get so massive they’ll crack
containers. Use a potting soil formulated specially for houseplants, not
Plants grow best in bright, indirect light. An east window works well,
even a south or west one that gets some shade during hot summer days.
Ideal temperatures for spider plants are between 65 and 75 degrees (F)
during the day, and maybe 10 degrees cooler at night, but they are fairly
tolerant of other temperatures. Just don’t let them get much below 50
degrees in winter, and keep away from drafts near doors and non-insulated
Keep plants watered, but make sure that excess water drains from pots or
containers. If a hanging basket, make sure that the draining water
doesn’t overflow and ruin floors and furniture. For this reason, and
to give plants more humidity that they prefer, water over a sink or
bathtub. Too wet soil and roots will rot. Too dry soil and leaf
tips turn brown. Check plants every few days for water and, if pot
bound, they may need watering several times a week.
Leaf tips also will turn brown if plants get too much fertilizer, salts from
such build up in the soil (look for a white crust around the inner rim of
pots), or the humidity is too low. Especially during winter, and in
dry homes with forced air heat, a humidifier near spider plants will help to
prevent such problems. Feed plants when they are actively growing with
the fertilizer of your choice, following label directions.
If leaf tips still turn brown, and you’re using a public
water supply, fluoride in the water may cause this problem. If you
suspect this, try watering with bottled or distilled water.
Spider plants almost never get diseases, and few pests. The main
insect pests to watch for are small, hard brown scale insects on
leaves. Wipe them and white mealybugs off with cotton swabs dipped in
rubbing alcohol. If a plant gets too infested, it may be easier to
just discard it and to get a new one, or to propagate clean plants from the
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