How to Grow and Care for String of Pearls

String of pearls plant in pot

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The string of pearls plant (Senecio rowleyanus), also known as string of beads or necklace plant, is one of the most striking succulents out there. This drought-tolerant plant gets its name from the appearance of its leaves, which look like pearl-sized peas strung along thin, delicate stems. 

With its fast, trailing growth habit, string of pearls is a perfect choice for hanging baskets and macrame hangers where its stems can grow long and jungle-like. The plant blooms with tiny white flowers, typically in the summer. After blooming, the flowers leave behind seed heads attached to white fibers. Since this species is mildly toxic, it's best to hang your string of pearls plant high up where it's safely out of reach of children and pets.

If your home is in need of some vertical greenery, choose a hanging basket, fill it with a string of pearls plant, and enjoy watching this beauty grow.

  • Botanical Name: Senecio rowleyanus
  • Common Name: String of pearls, string of beads, necklace plant
  • Plant Type: Perennial succulent vine
  • Mature Size: 2 feet long
  • Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
  • Soil Type: Succulent potting soil, preferably sand
  • Soil pH: 6.6–7.5
  • Toxicity: Mildly toxic to people and pets

Plant Care

Plant your string of pearls in a sandy, well-draining soil mix formulated for cacti or succulents. You can also make your own mix by combining one part coarse sand with one part perlite and two parts standard potting soil. 

During the growing season, allow your string of pearls to dry out a bit before watering it. Overwatering will cause your string of pearls to rot, so it's better to err on the side of too little rather than too much water. In the fall and winter, when the plant goes dormant, water very sparingly—only when you see the pea-like leaves start to shrivel and the soil feels dry. 

Fertilize your string of pearls every month during the growing season using a houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength. While the plant is dormant, cut back to feedings only once every three months.

Best Growing Conditions for String of Pearls

Despite the fact that it's native to the deserts of southwest Africa, string of pearls prefers bright, indirect light from a window rather than full sun. Display it in a north-facing or east-facing window or a few feet from a window with southern or western exposure. Ensure the plant is safely out of the sun's rays. Too much direct sunlight can cause sunburn on your plant's leaves. 

Each string of pearls stem can grow at least 3 feet long at maturity. Make the most of their elegant trailing habit by positioning the plant on a high shelf or hanging it from a wall or the ceiling.

While string of pearls isn't a heat-loving succulent, it does prefer temperatures on the warm end of the spectrum, especially during the spring and summer growing seasons. It's a good idea to keep this plant away from hot or cold drafts, as fluctuations in temperature can cause its leaves to drop.

Both underwatered and overwatered string of pearls plants may appear to shrivel, so the best way to determine your plant's water needs is to check its soil. If the top two inches of soil feel dry, it's time for a drink. Overwatered plants also feel mushy to the touch, and they may begin to thin out or turn yellow on their stems and leaves.

If you plan to bring your string of pearls outdoors during the summer months, be sure to keep it inside until night temperatures are consistently above 70 degrees. In the winter, the plant can withstand night temperatures no lower than the 40s. 

Types of String of Pearls

Within the Senecio genus that includes string of pearls, you'll find other species like string of bananas (Senecio radicans), which gets its name from the smile-shaped leaves that grow along its stems. Care is similar to that for string of pearls. 

Another variety, string of dolphins (Senecio peregrinus), is a cross between string of pearls and another succulent, candle plant (Senecio articulatus). Each leaf of this comparatively rare species has a tiny "fin" poking out of each arc-shaped leaf, just like a dolphin leaping through the waves. Care for string of dolphins is also similar to that of string of pearls, but it may need a little more water than its relative and will lose its dolphin-like shape if fertilized.

How to Propagate String of Pearls

Growing a new string of pearls couldn't be easier. All the items you need to propagate this succulent are a healthy, mature mother plant; a four-inch plant pot; well-draining succulent soil or cactus mix; a set of garden shears or scissors; a pencil or chopstick; and floral pins (if you don’t have these, a bent paper clip or bobby pin can work, too). Here's how:

Step 1: Using clean, sharp gardening shears or scissors, take cuttings from the mother plant, making the cut just below a leaf node (the spot where the leaf meets the stem). Make sure that each cutting is at least 6 inches long. 

Step 2: Set the cuttings aside on a plate or tray, then allow the cut ends of the stems to heal and callus over for one to three days. 

Step 3: When the cuttings are ready, remove the three or four leaves closest to the cut end of each stem. 

Step 4: Fill the pot with succulent soil mix. Using the pencil or chopstick, poke a hole a few inches deep for each cutting. Planting several cuttings in one pot will result in a fuller-looking plant than planting a single cutting in the container. 

Step 5: Plant one cutting in each hole with the stripped stem end down. Make sure that three to four leaf nodes at the end of the stem are beneath the soil. These are where the roots will emerge. Secure the stems in place with floral pins, if you like (this will help the cuttings stay in place).

Step 6: Place the pot in a warm place with bright, indirect light. After a few days, water the cuttings well. During this time, keep the soil evenly moist. Water it just enough to keep the soil from drying out without feeling soggy.

Step 7: After four to six weeks, give the cuttings a gentle tug to see if they've rooted. If not, simply place them back in the soil and give them more time. A surefire sign that the cuttings have rooted is new growth from the stems. Once they've rooted, care for your new string of pearls as usual.

Common Problems With String of Pearls

Like other succulent species, string of pearls is typically a very low-maintenance plant. However, it's still possible for a few common growing problems to take place. Here's how to diagnose and treat your plant:

Shriveled Leaves

Along with being overwatered or underwatered, your plant's leaves can also become shriveled due to improper light conditions. If its leaves also feel dry and are beginning to turn dark gray or brown, it's likely that it's experiencing sunburn. Move your string of pearls to a shadier location near a north- or east-facing window (out of the sun's direct rays) to let it heal.

Stunted Growth

Root rot is an especially common issue for string of pearls. This is caused by overwatering, and it can also stunt your plant's growth while making its leaves shrivel and turn yellow. If you have already cut back on its watering schedule, the problem may come from the soil. Standard potting soil doesn't drain as quickly as sandy varieties, so repot your plant in a mix formulated specifically for cacti and succulents. Trim any affected roots with clean, sharp gardening shears before placing it in its new container.

Pests

Another common issue for many houseplants is the infestation of pests. Along with its leaves turning yellow or gray, you can usually see pests like aphids, mealybugs, or scale on string of pearls. Treat your plant by gently rubbing its leaves and stems with insecticidal soap, neem oil, or a diluted mixture of dish soap and water.

Potting and Repotting String of Pearls

Your string of pearls will grow best in a smaller pot to prevent excess water from causing root rot. However, it still needs to be repotted when it's noticeably outgrowing its pot (roots are growing from the drainage holes or on the soil's surface). This species can typically be repotted about once per year until it reaches its mature size.

Repot your plant at the start of the spring growing season. Avoid using a self-watering pot or a pot with a built-in saucer for this plant, as those types of containers can hold too much water. Ideally, choose a ceramic plant pot with drainage holes in the bottom or a terracotta container that allows moisture to evaporate from the sides of the pot.

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How to Get String of Pearls to Bloom

A mature string of pearls plant will bloom with small white flowers in the spring or summer. This species needs consistent temperatures and light exposure to bloom.

While it's best to fertilize your plant on a monthly basis, avoid overfertilizing, as this can cause damage that may prevent it from flowering. Ensure your string of pearls is receiving at least six hours per day of bright, indirect sunlight (especially during the winter). Providing temperatures around 60 degrees with the proper sunlight over the winter will help your plant stay healthy until it's ready to flower in the spring.

FAQs

Is String of Pearls Easy to Care For?

String of pearls is an easy-growing succulent that only requires a few simple conditions to grow healthy. Provide your plant with bright, indirect light, fertilize it once per month during the growing season, and only add water when the soil begins to dry. Ensure your plant is potted in succulent or cacti soil to help with drainage.

Does String of Pearls Need Direct Sunlight?

String of pearls is prone to sunburn, so it's important to keep this plant away from the sun's direct rays. A north- or east-facing window is a great place for your string of pearls to thrive. If a south- or west-facing window is the only available spot in your home, keep this plant at least a few feet away to minimize direct sun.

How Fast Does String of Pearls Grow?

As a fast-growing succulent, you can expect your string of pearls plant to grow between 5 and 15 inches per year. As your plant matures, it will begin to grow faster, making it especially easy to propagate its healthy stems.

How Can You Make String of Pearls Fuller?

Along with providing the proper light, water, and fertilizing needs for your string of pearls plant, you can also trim long stems to make it grow fuller. Plant these stems in the same pot with the mother plant for a lush, full specimen.

Article Sources
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  1. Toxic Plants (By Scientific Name). University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

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