Tradescantia: care and varieties (three-masted flower)

Tradescantia: care and varieties (three-masted flower)


Tradescantia is a genus of plants within the Commeline family that bears the German name three-masted flowers. There are numerous species that are grown as houseplants. The garden three-masted flower (Tradescantia x andersoniana) is widespread in gardens.

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The original distribution area of ​​the three-masted flowers is in the Neotropic. Its area extends over the entire American continent, where it occurs between southern Canada and northern Argentina. It grows in the West Indies. The genus Tradescantia includes representatives of temperate climates as well as species of tropical habitats. Here they grow in thinly wooded deciduous forests, prairies and plains, as well as in fields.


Three-masted flowers grow mostly creeping to slightly upright. Some species develop long shoots that climb up the surrounding vegetation. They reach heights of growth between 30 and 60 centimeters and occur individually or in small groups of several plants. Most species are extremely vigorous and form dense clumps within a short time. Three-masted flowers lead a clear and thick sap in the plant parts.


The plants develop three-fold flowers that appear wheel-shaped. Their petals are white, pink, purple or blue in color, while the anthers in the center glow yellow. The flowers are not particularly long-lived. After half a day they wilt and are replaced by new flowers. There are species that only open their flowers when the sky is overcast. As soon as the sun shines on the flowers, they close. The flowering period extends between May and September.


After the flowers wilt, three-masted flowers develop capsule fruits. These consist of three chambers, each filled with one or two seeds. When the fruit ripens, the capsules spring open and release their seeds, which are spread with the wind.


Three-masted flowers develop leaves with a long and thin or slightly fleshy leaf blade. It is shovel-shaped to lanceolate and is between three and 45 centimeters long, depending on the species. They are simple in structure and have a smooth leaf margin. The leaves are colored differently. The color spectrum ranges from green to purple, cream and pink to white. Many ornamental plants develop striped leaves.


Tradescantia species have many uses. Species with long drooping stems are popular plants for hanging baskets. In a short time they form a dense curtain, which is composed of aesthetically colored leaves. Hardy representatives of the genus are suitable as ground cover. They are used for planting bank areas and pond edges. Species that grow upright look good in perennial beds.

These are suitable plant partners:

  • Purple loosestrife
  • Lady's mantle
  • Pipe grass
  • iris


Some species in the genus can cause an allergic reaction in cats and dogs. It manifests itself as reddened skin that is itchy. These slightly poisonous species include Tradescantia albiflora, Tradescantia spathacea, and Tradescantia pallida. All other species are considered slightly poisonous, with no symptoms of poisoning being described. Sensitive people should wear gloves as a precaution.


The plants grow in both sunny and partially shaded locations. Some species are dependent on several hours of sunshine per day, as their shoots ginger in places that are too dark and the leaves lose their decorative color. The plants like high humidity. In their natural range, three-masted flowers grow preferentially on the edges of water bodies and in open areas with very humid conditions. These demands make the plant the perfect plant for the living areas of open space and waterfront.


Three-masted flowers feel comfortable in a temperature range between 20 and 24 degrees Celsius. In winter, the lower limit is ten degrees Celsius.


As plants for water margins, three-masted flowers prefer a nutrient-rich soil that offers constantly moist conditions. The sensitive roots do not tolerate waterlogging. A sandy substrate with parts of loam or clay provides optimal growth conditions.

Planting time

The ideal time for planting is spring, as the three-masted flowers have enough time to take root. They can settle in at their location until winter. The plants can also be put outdoors in autumn. But then there is a risk that the plants will be damaged in winter. You can work a root barrier into the soil when you are planting. This will prevent the ground cover from spreading unhindered.

Plant spacing

Put the plants in small groups of up to ten specimens in the bed. Make sure that the plants are at least 40 centimeters apart so that the specimens can spread unhindered and develop a dense carpet.

In the pot

The cultivation in the tub is advantageous for most three-masted flowers, as many species are not winter hardy. In the pot you can spend the winter in a frost-free room or on the windowsill. As soon as the temperature rises above 15 degrees Celsius again, you can put the bucket outside again.

Use a planter with a drainage hole to allow the excess water to drain away. Cover the bottom of the pot with a layer of expanded clay (€ 17.50 on Amazon *) or grit. (€ 12.80 at Amazon *) You can also use stones or potsherds as drainage. With a high-quality plant substrate or a self-made mixture, you offer the plant ideal conditions for strong growth.


If the clumps of adult specimens become too dense, you can multiply the plant by dividing it. This measure is ideal for rejuvenating plants that have lost their shape. The best time is spring before the growing season begins.

Cut off the largest possible root ball and dig it out with a sharp spade. Then divide the rootstock into several pieces and immediately plant the parts back in. The planting hole should already be prepared so that the roots are not exposed to dry air for too long.


The plants will reproduce by self-sowing if the withered flowers are not cut off. In this way they can occupy large areas in an uncontrolled manner. Cuttings with ripe fruit that are disposed of on the compost can also spread seeds that germinate on the nutrient-rich substrate or get to other beds with it.

In autumn, mature seeds can be sown directly in the bed. In most cases, the next generation of plants does not adopt the leaf drawing of the parent plants. Many offspring develop pure white or piebald leaves.


Propagating cuttings is easy with three-masted flowers. Cut off shoots from your plant and place them in groups of six to eight cuttings in a planter. A mixture of equal parts Kokohum and sand is ideal. Make sure that the substrate is well moistened.

It takes two to three weeks for the cuttings to take root. Plant the rooted shoots in a larger planter, which you fill with substrate for adult plants.

You can also put the cuttings in a glass of water that will be placed in a bright place. Once the roots are about three inches long, you can potting the shoots. Tadescantia navicularis and Tradescantia sillamontana are prone to rot in wet conditions. These species should be grown in a slightly moist substrate.

To cut

Cutting back after flowering encourages three-masted flowers to bloom a second time in late summer. With this measure you prevent uncontrolled self-reproduction and naturalization. As soon as the leaves have wilted in autumn, you can prune the plant vigorously. Let the plant stand about a hand's breadth above the ground so that it can sprout fresh in the coming spring.

Indoor plants can be cut back all year round. If you need to do a radical pruning, at least a third of the plant should be left standing. Shorten shoots that have grown too long to the same length. If you want the plant to grow denser, you can regularly remove the tips of the shoots. The plant forms new branches below the interfaces.

Here are some things to watch out for when cutting:

  • use sharp secateurs
  • Clean the blades thoroughly beforehand
  • Wear gloves as a precaution

To water

The plants' water requirements are high. Young plants need plenty of watering, while older specimens get by with sparing watering. Make sure that the soil is constantly moist for young plants. The substrate should not dry out. Fully grown three-masted flowers are watered as soon as the top soil layer has dried.

Tradescantia navicularis and Tradescantia sillamontana are exceptions. Both species are watered sparingly both as young plants and in older years. With these plants, let the soil two-thirds dry before watering again.


In the growth phase between spring and autumn, the plants enjoyed regular fertilization, which takes place every 14 days. Use a complete fertilizer that is administered in low concentration. In winter you do not need to fertilize the plants. Container plants are also fertilized in this way. You can give these plants a weakly dosed liquid fertilizer over the irrigation water.

Some slow growing species like Tradescantia navicularis have lower nutritional needs. You can fertilize these plants once a month.


Plants in the open need winter protection. Cover the plant with a generous layer of leaves or sticks. The three-masted flowers do not mind if the mulch is 20 to 30 centimeters thick. Container plants are brought to their winter quarters in autumn. Here the temperatures should be between ten and 15 degrees Celsius. Alternatively, you can also overwinter the plants warm. Place the bucket on a windowsill in a heated room.


The fast-growing plants form a dense network of roots within a short period of time, which penetrates the entire pot substrate. Such vigorous species should be repotted in a larger planter every year. Tradescantia navicularis is one of the slow growing species. She is satisfied with the same bucket for up to three or four years. You can also grow this species in a shallow dish.


Tradescantia species are welcome plants by all hobby gardeners because they are extremely robust and are rarely affected by diseases. Incorrect care measures can lead to damage. If rotten leaves are not removed, the risk of mold and rot development increases. Waterlogging causes the roots to rot. Remove the damaged plant parts and reduce the watering.


Occasionally three-masted flowers can be attacked by aphids. In the initial stage, you can remove the pests by showering the plant. If the annoying residents have spread out of control, spraying the leaves with nettle brew helps.

This prevents aphid infestation:

  • essential oils like lavender
  • Savory
  • Use self-made herbal fertilizers

Fungal attack

In the winter months there is a risk that three-masted flowers will be colonized by gray mold. This fungus prefers to spread when the air humidity is high. If the plant is too dark and is excessively watered, the spores will find optimal growth conditions. An infestation manifests itself as a gray coating on the leaves. Remove the affected areas in good time so that the fungus can no longer multiply. A change of location and a reduction in the watering quantity can help.

Brown spots

If the three-masted flower tends to form brown spots on the leaves or dry leaf tips, insufficient humidity may be the cause. If the plant is directly above the radiator in winter, it must be sprayed regularly with water. The plants prefer a humidity between 50 and 65 percent.

Yellow spots

Green-leaved species often get light spots in places that are too dark. This phenomenon indicates a lack of light, because in shady locations the green pigment chlorophyll is broken down and other pigments emerge. Tradescantia fluminensis often tends to develop yellow spots in the wrong location.


The beautiful leaf markings and colors only appear when the plant receives enough light. Give your plant a spot where the sun shines for a few hours. If the place is too dark, the leaves lose their markings. They are getting increasingly green.


  • Innocence : Well hardy. Very long flowering time between May and September, flowers white. Height of growth 40-50 centimeters.
  • Gisela : Grows loosely upright, forms bushy clumps. Flowers from June to September, flowers white. Height of growth 40-50 centimeters.
  • Leonora : Forms compact clumps. Blooms between May and September, flowers dark purple. Growth height 35-40 centimeters.
  • Sweet Kate : For partially shaded locations. Flowering period between June and July, develops a second flower in September. Flower color purple to blue, foliage yellowish. Height of growth 30-40 centimeters.
  • Tradescantia navicularis: Develops creeping shoots, growing slowly. Leaves two to three inches long, copper green and strongly keeled. Underside of leaf marbled purple. Flowers light pink.
  • Tradescantia sillamontana: Forms oblong-oval, six centimeter long leaves, colored peppermint green. Plant woolly hairy. Flowers purple-pink.