by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
The Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is one of the easiest houseplants to maintain. They have long, arching leaves, some reaching up to 18 inches long and the color can range from being plain green to a variegated green and white stripe. They also produce stems with daughter plants or spiderettes. They produce most of these offshoots in the fall when the days shorten. The spiderettes can be left on the stem, which will create a very full hanging basket or they can be removed after roots have formed and placed into a potted growing medium to produce new plants. This plant is also sometimes called an airplane plant.
This plant will grow under a wide range of light intensities, but its appearance is strongly influenced by the level of light it receives. It is recommended to keep the plant away from direct sunlight as it prefers bright, indirect light. Direct midday sunlight can scorch the leaves. Move the spider plant a few feet away from the window during the winter months to protect it from drafts. It tolerates artificial light rather well and therefore makes an excellent plant for offices and commercial settings.
Research has shown that certain houseplants can play an important role in cleaning the air we breathe. In 1989 a NASA study, jointly conducted with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America, found that certain plants ranked at the top of the list of plants that act as an air purifier by removing formaldehyde, benzene and other toxins from indoor air. Plants make their own food through a process called photosynthesis. They take in carbon dioxide and certain other pollutants from the atmosphere and release oxygen. Although I have read that spider plants ranked at the top of this list, after reading the report myself I am convinced there are other plants that do a much better job of cleaning the air than a spider plant. You can read more about this study by googling NASA Clean Air Study.
It isn’t very often that you see a spider plant with a disease. Watering issues plus insects and mites are their main problems. If insects are present, wipe the leaves with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. A soil mix that does not drain quickly, being placed in a pot with no drainage hole or watering too much will result in root rot. Leaf tip burn can be caused by too much fertilizer, water that is high in salts (look for a white crust around the inner rim of the pot), water that contains fluoride, low humidity and soil that is excessively dry. Spider plants are not heavy feeders so they only require a minimum amount of fertilizer. I use spring water to water my plants as my house water is softened. The low humidity issue can be solved by placing a pebble filled tray with a little water in it beneath the spider plant pot.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects can be found online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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