Purple Heart, or Purple Queen (Tradescantia pallida) is usually found as a houseplant north of zone 8. It enjoys outdoor living here only in the summers as a bedding plant or on the deck in filtered sun. It is thus especially pleasant as a striking, majestic accent in such seasonal containers here in northern climes.

Knowing its potential for beauty and drama, it dismayed me to witness what appeared to be a Purple Heart breathing its last gasp when I began my new "old" job last winter. (I had been away for a year or so, and come to think of it, that potted Purple Heart probably was once mine, anyway.)

No matter. It was time to take action before further etiolation (light-starvation) weakened the plant to death.

The first thing I did was to snip off three stem cuttings just in case the plant died before I could devise a plan to rescue it. The cuttings rooted well in water. They were then potted in a blue Tupperware cup fashioned with drainage holes.vigorous young Purple Heart plant freshly potted

Good. Nice and purple. Maybe I could do even more to help, I thought. After requesting permission, I removed the sick Purple Heart plant altogether for a hospital stay at my house in February.

The soil in its pot was rock-hard, so the old plant got a dunk by immersion. Then the plant was temporarily placed in a sunny window for light therapy.Sad image of old, spindly, weak Purple Heart plant in sunny window

Keeping Purple Heart in the old soil was not an option, however. The truth was that the plant had to undergo surgery. After that, the root ball would be discarded. Drastic, but life-saving to the plant.

(I had done this before with plants for which there was no other rescue option besides massive stem cuttings.)

A tiny, determined Purple Heart leaf growing from a cut section of a stem

In reality, the whole operation yielded only two small jars of stem cuttings. But since I had potted up their older brother a few weeks before, perhaps a new plant could be made from the new stem cuttings PLUS their older brother, all in the same new pot. All that was needed was time and TLC. It was worth a shot.

Windowsill cuttings in jars flanking the young freshly-potted specimen Two small water-filled jars with Purple Heart stem cuttings inside

After just a few days of window and fluorescent light, the stem cuttings began to deepen in color. YES! The stem cuttings rooted quickly. Within two weeks, it was time to pot them up.

Twin pots with freshly planted Purple Heart cuttingsThree young Purple Heart plants together

I chose orchid soil, knowing the chunks of bark would give the young plants great drainage. In no time at all, the new little plants were well on their way to catching up in growth to their older sibling. The plan was working! All that remained was more time to grow before the final, dramatic step ...

The final step in the transformation process of the original spindly Purple Heart plant was to re-group the three healthy, young offspring into one pot, creating an instantly full pot of Purple Heart plant!
The finished large pot of three Purple Heart plants combined

Plant rescue success complete!

It is now hard to believe that the robust specimen above was once a very sick plant, reaching out, perhaps one last time, for life-giving light.
The original Purple Heart plant with long, lanky stems laid out on a diningroom table

It cannot be stressed enough that plants need adequate light in order to thrive. Container plants, whether indoors or out, especially need attention to their light, soil, and watering needs. I'm glad to have helped this particular plant achieve health once again.

Linked articles and forums:

  • Around the Color Wheel With Purple Heart, by Sarah Barksdale (9-13-09)
  • The Container Gardening Forum, Dave's Garden
  • The Propagation Discussion Forum, Dave's Garden

Photographs taken in 2011 by Timmy Jo Given