How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Blue Chalksticks (Curio repens)

Curio repens, formerly Senecio serpens, is a lovely succulent from South Africa known as blue chalksticks. Gardening expert Rachel Garcia teaches you how to grow and care for it in this guide.

Multiple Curio repens plants growing on the side of a pathway, colored green with a blue hue appearing cool on a hot sunny day

Contents

Curio repens is a popular filler succulent that jazzes up any garden. The cylindrical leaves are dusted with blue-grey ‘chalk’, hence the common name chalksticks. They stick straight up in the air while the plant grows wide, giving the appearance of a sparse shag rug.

Originally from South Africa, chalksticks is easy to grow and maintain. Planted in the right conditions, this species requires little maintenance to look its best. If you’re new to growing succulents, or new to gardening in general, Curio repens is a great option.

With the steps we outline below, your succulent will be flourishing in no time.

Overview

Countless blue chalkstick planst standing beside each other appearing bluish and almost gray under the sun
Plant Type Succulent
Family Asteraceae
Genus Curio
Species Curio repens
Native Area Southern Africa
Exposure Full sun
Height 12″
Watering Requirements Low
Pests & Diseases Mealybugs, root rot
Maintenance Low
Soil Type Sandy and well-draining
Hardiness Zone 9-11

What is Blue Chalksticks?

The scientific name of this species is Curio repens, closely related to a number of other succulents that are easy to grow and ideal for beginners. It was previously known as Senecio serpens, and that name is still used as a synonym today.

Blue chalksticks grows best outdoors in zones 9-11. If you live outside this area, you’ll need to plant in a container that can be brought inside during the winter. Alternatively, many gardeners use this succulent as an annual, allowing it to die each winter and then replanting.

The growing season for chalk sticks is spring to fall. In the summer and early fall, you may see small, white flowers. These flowers grow in corymbs, which are flat-topped clusters. Chalk sticks aren’t just pretty, but also deer, rabbit, drought, and even fire-resistant.

Planting

Containers of finger-like succulents growing side by side with a blue-gray hue with hints of green, with surface that appears like chalk
This succulent loves sunlight.

Choose a spot in your garden that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. If you are planting in containers, ensure they have drainage holes to prevent waterlogging, as Curio repens is susceptible to root rot in overly wet conditions. Use a cactus or succulent potting mix, or amend regular garden soil with sand or perlite to improve drainage.

If planting in the ground, loosen the soil and mix in some coarse sand or perlite to boost drainage. For container planting, fill the pot with your prepared succulent mix.

Space the plants relatively close together in a container or further apart in beds if you want them to spread out as a ground cover. Plant at the same depth and wait a few days for the roots to settle before you water.

How to Grow

Blue chalksticks are straightforward when it comes to care. Here are their simple, yet crucial, demands.

Light

Many succulents growing beside one another ranging from different colors of blue gray and vibrant green receiving direct light on a sunny day
Direct sunlight works best for this plant.

Curio repens grows best in full sun. This translates to around six hours of direct sunlight per day, whether indoors or out. They can also tolerate partial shade (anything from four to six hours per day day). However, growth will generally be stronger in brighter spots, as long as the sun is not too harsh.

If you’re keeping your blue chalksticks indoors, place it in the sunniest south-facing window you have. Supplement with a grow light if needed.

Water

Succulents appearing bluish gray and vibrant greens, growing on a surface covered in red wood chips with scattered purple round balls that look like flower buds
Soaking and drying is ideal for this succulent.

Curio repens appreciates the ‘soak and dry’ method of watering. After each watering, let the soil dry out completely. Then let the plant sit in the dry soil for a few days before watering again. With this method, you’ll be watering around once every three to four weeks, depending on environment.

When you water in pots, continue until water comes out of the drainage hole. Don’t forget to empty any container trays so the pot isn’t sitting in water. In the winter, only water if the plant looks limp.

Underwatering will make Curio repens wilt and shrivel, but a quick watering should fix the problem. When overwatered, the plant will be discolored, mushy, and drop leaves. Repot it in dry soil and don’t water again for a few days.

Soil

A person wearing gloves holding soil, separating it in gray containers on a blue surface as preparation for plants
Combine soil with other amendments to improve drainage.

Use well-draining soil for Curio repens that match its succulent needs. Specialty succulent and cacti soils work well. You can also make your own by mixing potting soil with perlite or sand (1:1 ratio). 

If the soil is retaining water, the leaves may drop or rot. Remedy this by mixing extra perlite or sand into the soil and testing the drainage.

Temperature

Succulents with a greyish color surrounded by plant with seed heads scattered, sitting on reddish brown soil
This succulent may suffer in frequently cold temperatures.

When it comes to temperature, your blue chalksticks demands warmth that matches conditions in its native habitat. At the lowest, it can handle 20°F (-7°C), but won’t survive consistent temperatures below freezing.

If you live in a cooler zone with frequently low temperatures, plant in containers to move your plant to a protected area as needed.

Fertilizer

A gardener mixing liquid fertilizer in watering can with pots full of soil and gardening tools scattered on the ground
Dilute fertilizer before using it on this succulent.

Blue chalksticks benefits from a nutrient boost around once a year. More can be added during the growing season if the plant is not performing well. If yours is planted in the ground, fertilizer isn’t necessary.

Use half-strength or diluted liquid fertilizer. It should be low in nitrogen, which is the case for most specialty succulent fertilizers.

Maintenance

A succulent growing on reddish brown soil with varying colors, ranging from blue gray to vivid green sitting on a sunny garden
This succulent can outgrow its container.

If your Curio repens outgrows its container, repot it in early spring. Choose a pot that allows room for growth and fill it with damp, well-draining soil.

While you have your succulent out of the soil, check the roots for any sign of damage or rot. After replanting, water regularly until it’s rooted.

Curio repens doesn’t have to be pruned. However, you can prune for cosmetic reasons if the plant is:

  • Growing up instead of out
  • Getting bigger than you want
  • Damaged or leggy

With sterile clippers, cut off the unwanted stems at the base. Keep the area dry until it callouses over in a few days. Continue to water the chalksticks like normal.

It’s recommended to prune young parts of the plant so they won’t scar.

Propagation

Succulent with finger-like forms, looking light gray on a sunny day with tips appearing almost purple
Using cut stems and leaves is an effective propagation method.

Curio repens grows in clumps of small plants. This makes for quick and easy division. Remove your succulent from its container and gently pull apart the clumps. Be careful not to damage the roots. Replant each clump in its own container or space.

You can also propagate from stem and leaf cuttings. During the growing season, cut a leaf or stem off the plant. If any piece of the leaf is left on the main stem, it may not grow. Dip the cuttings in rooting powder and let them dry out for a couple of days.

Once your cuttings are ready, stick them upright in moist, well-draining soil. Keep the soil wet until the cutting has rooted.

Common Problems

Curio repens, like most succulents, doesn’t have many issues with pests and diseases. You should always be on the lookout for symptoms though. Catching them early on could save your plant.

Etiolation

Succulent that appear like fingers with spaces between pieces, having vibrant blue gray color shifting to green in certain parts
Watch out for growing spaces between leaves.

Perhaps the most common growing problem for succulents is etiolation. No one wants to see that their once full plant is now tall with spaced-out leaves. The only cure for this is to cut off and propagate the stretched branches.

Etiolation is caused by a lack of sunlight, which is easily prevented. The stems stretch out looking for light. If you place your Curio repens in the sunniest spot possible, the stems should be fine.

Pests

Rows of countless blue chalksticks with grayish hue appearing like almost blue with sunlight slightly hitting the leaves
Look out for bugs and mold.

Mealybugs and scale are the usual culprits when it comes to pests. Mealybugs will cause a black, sooty mold. Scale insects will make the leaves turn yellow and fall off. Other symptoms include wilting, discoloration, and ant infestations.

To remove mealybugs and scale insects, gently wipe them off the plant with a cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol. You can also wash or spray the plant with insecticidal soap.

Prevent mealybugs and scale insects by misting your succulent with a neem oil and water mixture. Diatomaceous Earth also discourages insects from invading.

Diseases

Blue gray succulent with banana-like shape with vivid green pieces in between, with whitish surface appearing like a layer of chalk
This succulent’s roots are prone to rot.

Most succulents and cacti are vulnerable to root rot. Caused by overwatering or poor drainage, rotted sections turn brown and mushy. The roots are in the most danger, but leaves and stems can rot too.

Root rot is easily prevented by ensuring that the soil drains well so the succulent is never sitting in water. Also, make sure you’re letting the soil dry out completely before watering again.

If your chalksticks is already rotted, you’ll need to amputate the damaged sections. Use a sterile knife or scissors to remove rotted stems, leaves, and roots. Replant the succulent in a new container filled with dry soil. After a day or two of healing, begin to water it normally.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you trim Curio repens?

Cut back the unwanted stems at the base where they intersect with another stem. Don’t leave any stubs behind as they can rot and grow bacteria. Keep the trimmed area dry for a few days.

Should I remove the flowers from my blue chalksticks?

It isn’t necessary, but you can clip off the flowers to direct the growth elsewhere. Deadheading is optional.

Why is my Curio repens succulent turning purple?

This pretty coloration is a result of heat and sunlight. It’s perfectly normal for blue chalksticks.

Is Curio repens poisonous?

Yes, this succulent is believed to be toxic to humans and pets.

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