How to Plant, Grow and Care For Burros Tail Succulents
Are you looking for a new succulent to add to your indoor or outdoor garden? Burro's Tail succulents make excellent trailing succulents as houseplants and outdoors. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares everything you need to know about the Burro's Tail succulent including their maintenance and care needs.
With a name as cute as Burro’s Tail, it is no wonder this pretty, trailing succulent is so popular as a “spiller” in so many succulent gardens. Also known by the names Donkey’s Tail, Lamb’s Tail, and Horse’s Tail, Sedum morganianum is a species in the genus Sedum, a group of flowering, trailing succulent plants.
This highly popular plant is available in nurseries all over the United States.
Its unique growth habit and ease of care have made Burro’s Tail a household name and a favorite among succulent enthusiasts. Here’s everything you need to know about growing it.
Burros Tail Overview
Plant Type Perennial Succulent
Species Sedum morganianum
Hardiness Zones 10-11
Exposure Full Sun
Watering Needs Low to Moderate
Plant Spacing 12”-15”
Planting Depth Shallow
Soil Type Well drained
Native Area Mexico
Height 1’-4’ long
Plant With Succulents and Cacti
Diseases Root Rot, Botrytis, Powdery Mildew, Southern Blight
Attracts Bees and Butterflies
About the Succulent
A winner of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, this is a versatile plant that can be grown indoors or out in warm climates. Outside of zones 9-11, it is typically kept as a houseplant.
The plant was first introduced to North America in 1935 by botanist Eric Walther who found it sold in a market in Veracruz. He delivered it to his friend, Dr. Meredith Morgan, who determined its genus; thus, the species was named for her.
The plant originated on cliffs in two different ravines in Southeastern Mexico and was used historically for medicinal purposes. Today, it is primarily ornamental.
This plant is classified as a perennial succulent species of the sedum genus. One of as many as 600 species, Burro’s Tail is very popular as a houseplant. This tropical succulent is prized for its unique leaf formation, ease of care and propagation, and attractive flowering habit.
Sedum morganianum is also evergreen and retains its fleshy, blue-green foliage year-round. If given the proper care and sun exposure, it is a beautiful summer bloomer. It is quite sturdy and resistant to pests, with overwatering being the most serious problem for the hardy and hard-to-kill succulent.
The leaves of the Burro’s Tail succulent are its most recognizable feature. The plant is also known for its long (1’-4’) trailing stems. The leaves are small and oblong and grow in a neat, overlapping rosette pattern. The effect is a fun and rather heavy plant that looks great in a hanging container.
Based on the variety and the amount of sun exposure the plant receives, the leaves may be spaced farther apart on their stems; in others, the overlapping leaves completely obscure the stem.
Most are a lovely bluish-green shade, with some varieties leaning more toward a chartreuse shade. All of the leaves initially have a white waxy coating on the exterior, which can be rubbed off with the hand.
The leaves are fleshy and hold plenty of water, making this a very low-maintenance plant where watering is concerned. The spiraling, rosette pattern of the leaves is most obvious when the stems are short and young and suggest the beginning of an echeveria.
Burro’s Tail will rarely bloom when kept indoors. These plants need a lot of sun to produce flowers and bloom regularly when kept outdoors. Under the right conditions, it produces clusters of star-shaped, pink flowers with bright yellow stamens in the summer.
The blooms appear in terminals of 1-6 flowers. These brightly colored flowers, with their visible pollen, are very attractive to bees and butterflies as a food source.
It is possible to induce blooming indoors if the plant is given lots of bright light in the spring after a period of light deprivation in the winter. Another factor in flowering induction is excellent drainage. A succulent with soggy roots will refuse to flower and also has a higher risk of root rot.
Because sedum plants rarely flower indoors, it can be difficult to propagate them with seeds. The seeds are produced after the flowers bloom and are pollinated. While seeds can propagate these plants, it is much simpler and faster to propagate by cuttings.
Burro’s Tail can be propagated by leaves alone. This is the simplest way to grow new plants and a great way to use any leaves that get knocked off accidentally.
The plant will naturally propagate through the leaves that fall to the ground. Its leaves are delicately attached to their stems and frequently break off when handled a lot.
Place the leaves in most soil with the broken end facing down. Keep them in bright light. The leaves will sprout roots and new growth within a few days to a week and become their own plants. These tiny plants can be moved into pots when they reach a half-inch long.
Propagating from stem cuttings is fairly straightforward as well. Rather than individual leaves, this involves cutting segments of the stem. Strip the leaves from one end of the stem and leave the stem exposed to the air to heal and scab over.
It is a good idea to keep your cuttings short because of the weight of the stems. Long cuttings will be weighed down and difficult to secure in the potting mix. Fill a small pot with potting mix and use a pencil to make a hole. Place the healed-over portion of the stem in the hole.
Place your pot in bright light and wait a few days before watering. After 3 days, lightly moisten the soil and maintain this moisture level until the cutting is firmly rooted before transplanting.
Rooting hormone will help your cutting develop stronger roots more quickly, so it can be a helpful addition to this process. In addition, creating a tiny greenhouse by placing a plastic bag over the pot will hold in the moisture to keep the cutting from drying out before it sends out roots.
Acquiring Sedum morganianum seeds is something of a challenge, mostly because it is not the most efficient way to grow these plants. However, they can be grown from seed if you wish. Place the seeds on moist potting soil and cover them with plastic to keep in the moisture. Once the seeds germinate and reach about ½” to 1”, transplant them into a larger container.
How to Grow
This is considered a very easy plant to grow. It propagates quickly and easily, and often independently. It needs little tending to as long as it is appropriately potted and gets plenty of sunlight. This succulent makes a great hanging plant, as the long stems will grow downward in an attractive draping shape.
Planting Depth and Potting Needs
These succulents do not need to be planted deeply to thrive. When propagating, lay the cuttings atop the soil, and they will grow roots. When planting a mature Sedum morganianum, they only need to be planted as deeply as the base of the plant’s foliage.
The type of soil and container are most important to the plant’s survival. These are succulent plants, which means that they don’t like to have soggy roots. Plant in containers with plenty of drainage holes. Terracotta pots are excellent for succulents because they wick water away from the roots and allow water to evaporate from their exterior.
In addition to a pot with good drainage, soil type is also important. Succulents should be planted in potting soil with larger, coarser particles. Standard potting soil holds more water than is preferable. Cactus potting mixes are available at most places where succulent plants are sold, or you can create a custom mixture.
If you prefer to mix your own potting medium, start with a good organic compost, and add larger particles such as coarse sand, gravel, and bark. These larger particles create space and prevent the soil from compacting, which allows water to pass through freely.
Burro’s Tail succulents need a lot of light. These plants prefer to be placed in bright indirect light, to full direct sun, with some protection from the hot afternoon sun. The ideal light is full sun in the early part of the day, followed by indirect light in the afternoon.
If direct sun exposure in the morning is not possible, a Burro’s Tail can thrive in bright indirect light. This means a fair amount of light all day. A plant not getting enough light will let you know by becoming leggy. For this particular plant, that means that the leaves grow farther apart on the stems, leaving a lot of stems visible. If the plant is getting too much sun, the leaves will fade from the exposure.
Because it is a succulent, the leaves can retain a lot of water that the plant can use slowly over time. These plants do not need to be watered frequently.
When kept indoors, once every 2 weeks is perfectly fine. Watering will depend on the sun exposure, potting mix, and container. In general, biweekly watering is enough for this plant. However, if it’s close to a heating or air conditioner duct, you may need to water more often.
If kept outside, it must be watered a bit more frequently. Most sources will say to water every 10 days. My outdoor Burro’s Tail grows in a hanging pot with excellent drainage and all-day indirect sunlight. I water it weekly in the cooler months and every 3-4 days during the hot summer months.
The most important factor to remember is to allow the soil to dry before watering again. The exception to this is while the plant is in bloom. During the blooming time, allow the soil to remain moist but not soggy. Overwatering can cause root rot, one of the leading causes of death for succulent plants in general.
Climate and Temperature
Native to Southern Mexico, Sedum morganianum is hardy in zones 9-11. It can survive temperatures down to about 40°F but will not survive a freeze. I am in zone 8 and leave my Burro’s Tail outdoors most of the year, only bringing it inside when frost is unpredictable. During its dormant winter season, it can tolerate some colder weather and needs very little water.
These plants tolerate the heat when they must, but temperatures between 65° to 75°F are ideal. This makes it a great houseplant. While low humidity will not harm this succulent, it doesn’t mind occasional misting and will do fine in a more humid room. As long as the soil doesn’t stay wet and the air circulation is good, this plant will thrive.
Fertilizing is not vital. The plant is very efficient at processing and utilizing the nutrients in its soil, and as long as it is repotted every 2-3 years, it will survive without any additional fertilizing. However, lightly fertilizing may produce faster growth and aid in the development of flowers.
If you decide to fertilize your succulent, feed it a diluted cactus fertilizer twice a year during times of regular growth (spring and summer). Dilute the fertilizer by ½ of the recommended strength. Avoid fertilizing in the winter when the plant is dormant and not in an active growth phase.
Pruning and Maintenance
Burro’s Tail does not need pruning, but there are some common situations where pruning certain parts of the plant may achieve a more aesthetically pleasing appearance. Trimming away any dying or damaged leaves is always a good idea and will help to maintain a healthy appearance.
It’s very important to use sterile tools to avoid introducing bacteria or fungus into an open cut on a plant. Clean cuts heal fastest, making the plant less vulnerable to pests attracted to the sweet sap. Diseases can also get into an open cut.
These plants don’t mind being a bit root bound, so they do not need a constantly increasing space. Because they depend upon their potting media for nutrients, replacing the potting soil and moving the plant to a slightly larger pot should be done every 3 years. Try to repot in the spring before any flowers have formed and the plant is in an active growth phase.
Many succulent plants, and houseplants in general, are poisonous to animals and even humans. Fortunately, Burro’s Tail is not one of them. This is a completely non-toxic plant that is perfectly safe to have around children and pets.
All types of sedum are safe for animals, and many are even food sources (although this doesn’t mean you should let your pets graze on them!).
Sedum morganianum is a two-variety species. Or rather, there is one true hybrid of the species. S. morganianum is sometimes referred to as Donkey’s Tail. The true variety is S. morganianum ‘Burrito.’ They have some subtle physical differences, but the two names are used interchangeably in common conversation.
The original S. morganianum has longer, crescent-shaped, and more widely spaced leaves. Meanwhile, the ‘Burrito’ variety, or true Burro’s Tail, has shorter, rounded leaves that grow closer together.
Both are the same blue-green color, and both have the signature waxy finish, which can be rubbed off the leaves, revealing a brighter color.
Pests and Diseases
Sedum morganianum plants are fairly resistant to pests. There is only one insect that causes much damage to these plants. There are, however, quite a few fungal and bacterial diseases that can affect the plant.
Prevention is always the best solution to these issues. Inspecting any plants brought into the environment and using clean tools are vital components of good plant care.
The insect that creates the greatest issue for succulents is the mealybug. These little white insects like to feed on the sweet sap of the plant and leave behind a sweet, sticky excrement called honeydew.
This honeydew attracts ants and plays host to sooty mold, which can interfere with the plant’s chlorophyll production.
Over time these fuzzy-looking invaders can drain your plant of nutrients and lead to a general state of poor health. Unfortunately, they can also be difficult to eradicate. If you find yourself with a case of mealybugs on your houseplants, here are some steps that you can take to solve the issue.
- Isolate the plant immediately to stem the spread of the insects.
- Trim off any parts of the plant that are heavily infested and dispose of them away from other plants. This will knock the population down significantly and allow your plant to focus its energy on new, healthy growth. Be sure to clean your tools after pruning so that you don’t spread the insects to other plants.
- Use a cotton swab moistened with isopropyl alcohol and wipe off any mealybugs that are visible and accessible.
- Treat the plant with an insecticide of some kind. Pyrethin will work, neem oil is an excellent alternative to conventional pesticides and works well to repel and eliminate mealybugs.
- Inspect the plant after a week and then two weeks and repeat the treatment as needed.
Root rot is the most common killer of succulent plants. We briefly touched on this issue in the sections on potting and watering, but it bears repeating that the best way to ward off root rot in succulents is with excellent drainage and a proper watering routine. Root rot is particularly prevalent in winter when succulents are dormant and don’t need much water.
The most common culprit of root rot in succulent plants is the fungus Phytophthora sojae. This soil-borne fungus thrives in a wet environment.
Root rot symptoms include yellowing and weakening of foliage and a gradual decline in health. The only way to know for certain if root rot is the problem is to examine the roots.
Rotten roots will be dark brown to black and mushy to the touch. They will often disintegrate in your hands while examining. A serious case of root rot is typically fatal to the plant. However, if you catch this issue early, the best remedy is repotting and giving the plant better drainage and less water.
Also known as grey mold, Botrytis is a fungus that mostly affects succulent plants with fleshy leaves. It begins as a water-soaked spot, typically on old and dead leaves, that proliferates and destroys healthy parts of the plant.
To prevent this disease, maintain proper air circulation and good plant hygiene. To treat it, isolate and remove any affected tissue, and dispose of it away from other plants. Treat the remaining foliage with a copper-based fungicide.
If the conditions are favorable, this white, powdery fungus can grow on Burro’s Tail. If the humidity level is too high and there is a lack of air circulation, or if the plant is getting too much shade, the conditions are present for powdery mildew to rear its head.
This is another issue that can interfere with photosynthesis if left untreated, but it is easy to treat. Trim off any badly affected tissue, and gently wash the rest of the plant with a baking soda solution. Many fungicides are also effective against powdery mildew.
Caused by the fungus Sclerotium rolfsii, Southern Blight affects the plant’s crown, causing the lower leaves to wither as cankers form, which collapses the tissue. Hot and humid weather are favorable conditions for this fungus that most commonly shows up in the summer.
The spores for this disease can remain in the soil for 3-4 years and are very difficult to get rid of. Steam and heat treatments are typical ways to eradicate it. This is one problem that you don’t want to mess with it. If your plant has Southern Blight, it should be disposed of away from other plants, and the container should be sterilized with heat.
Burro’s Tail has a few specific needs, but in the long term, it is a very hardy and adaptable plant that lends a lot of visual and textural interest to a succulent garden or hanging pot. These plants can be found in many nurseries that sell succulents. Their ease of care, fun appearance, and availability make them a great plant to experiment with and add to your succulent collection.