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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - July 03, 2013

From: Studio City, CA
Region: California
Topic: Problem Plants, Groundcovers
Title: Eliminating and replacing Tradescantia species
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Pants, I need advice. I recently figured out my 10 month old dog is highly allergic to Tradescantia sp, commonly known as the Spiderworts, and "Wandering Jew" which covers about half my hillside back. My long term plan is to remove the Tradescantia and replace it with a ground cover which my dog will not be allergic. I realize that with so much sq footage to replace it will require a lot of work and wanted suggestions from you per plants that would be strong enough to overtake the Tradescantia sp (aided with lots of digging-up from me) and that were safe for dogs.

ANSWER:

According to the USDA Plants Database there is only one species of Tradescantia that occurs as an introduced naturalized species, Tradescantia fluminensis (Small-leaf spiderwort).  It is a native of South America and in Florida it is considered invasive.  There are two other introduced species of Tradescantia called "wandering jew" that are often grown in flowerbeds or as houseplants—Tradescantia pallida (Purple heart), native to Mexico, and Tradescantia zebrina (Wandering jew), native to southern Mexico and Central America.  I'm not sure which of these you have, but I suspect it is T. fluminensis.  It is also considered a seriously invasive plant in New Zealand and Australia.

You can read an article, "Controlling Tradescantia" from Australia that has very useful recommendations for controlling Tradescantia fluminensis using hand weeding and herbicides.  You can see many more entries for controlling T. fluminensis in Australia and New Zealand by googling "Controlling Tradescantia".  You can read a report from SFGate, How to Control Spiderwort, from the San Francisco Chronicle.  Here is more information from Discover Life.  It will not be an easy task.  If you do decide to use herbicides, please read and follow all safety instructions that accompany the herbicide.  Also, be aware that humans can also be allergic to the sap of Tradescantia.  As you pull up the plants, be sure to protect yourself with long sleeves and gloves.

If it is possible, construct a temporary fence to cordon off a small area of your lawn and remove all the Tradescantia from that area.  You can put your dog there as you continue to rid the remainder of the yard of the plants.  As you clear the area you can expand the temporary fence to give the dog more area.  Be aware that you will need to be vigilant and deligent about removing any regrowth.

You can see the Las Pilitas Nursery (in Escondido and Santa Margarita) page, Some of the California native plants that can be used as less than a foot high ground cover, for possibilities.  If you have used an herbicide that kills broadleaf plants, there may be residue that will affect the area for a few months.  In that case you might want to start with grasses that would not be affected by that herbicide.  Here are a few suggestions:

Bouteloua gracilis (Blue grama)  More information from Las Pilitas.

Festuca idahoensis (Blue bunchgrass)  More information from Las Pilitas.

Koeleria macrantha (Prairie junegrass)  More information from Las Pilitas.

Festuca californica (California fescue)  Here is more information from Las Pilitas Nursery.

Poa fendleriana (Muttongrass)  Here is more information from Las Pilitas.

Aristida purpurea (Purple threeawn)  More information from Las Pilitas.

Danthonia californica (California oatgrass)  More information from Las Pilitas.

Melica imperfecta (Smallflower melic grass)  More information from Las Pilitas.

Distichlis spicata (Saltgrass)  More information from Las Pilitas.

Carex pansa (Sanddune sedge)   Not a grass, but grass-like.   Here is more information from Las Pilitas.

Best of luck getting rid of the Tradescantia and making your dog comfortable!

 

From the Image Gallery


Blue grama
Bouteloua gracilis

Prairie junegrass
Koeleria macrantha

California fescue
Festuca californica

Muttongrass
Poa fendleriana

Purple threeawn
Aristida purpurea

Smallflower melic grass
Melica imperfecta

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