Senecio Serpens: Decorating with Blue Chalksticks
Senecio serpens, or "blue chalksticks", is a lovely South African succulent. Our growing guide will tell you everything you need to grow it!
Senecio serpens is a popular filler plant that jazzes up any garden. The cylindrical leaves are dusted with blue-grey “chalk,” ergo the name Chalksticks. They stick straight up in the air while the plant grows wide. It practically gives the appearance of a sparse shag rug.
Originally from South Africa, Chalksticks is easy to grow and maintain. With the steps we outline below, your succulent will be flourishing in no time.
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|Common Name(s)||Blue chalksticks, blue chalk sticks|
|Scientific Name||Senecio serpens|
|Height & Spread||12″ tall and 2-3′ wide|
|Water||Let the soil dry out completely between |
|Fertilizer||Half-strength liquid applied once a year|
|Pests & Diseases||Usually pest and disease-free; Mealybugs |
All About Blue Chalksticks
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.
Senecio serpens is very similar to Senecio mandraliscae blue chalk sticks. The mandraliscae species is intense in its growth while the serpens species is a mellow groundcover. These two share common names, so they’re easily confused.
Senecio Serpens Care
Blue Chalksticks are straightforward when it comes to care. Here are their simple, yet crucial, demands.
Light & Temperature
Blue Senecios grow best in full sun and heat. They need at least 4-6 hours of direct light. They can grow in partial shade as long as they get some sun – like at the base of a tree.
If you’re keeping your Chalksticks indoors, place it in the sunniest south-facing window you have. Supplement with a grow light if needed.
Temperature-wise, your Chalksticks needs warmth. At the lowest, it can handle 20° F, but won’t survive consistent temperatures below freezing.
Water & Humidity
For Senecio serpens, use the ‘soak and dry’ method with extra ‘dry’. After each watering, let the soil dry out completely. Then let the Chalksticks sit in the dry soil for a few days before watering again. With this method, you’ll be watering about every 3-4 weeks.
When you water your Chalk Sticks, do so until water comes out of the drainage hole. Don’t forget to empty the container tray so the pot isn’t sitting in water. In the winter, only water your Chalk Sticks if it seems limp.
Underwatering will make Senecio serpens wilt, so just water more often when you see this. When overwatered, the plant will be discolored, mushy, and dropping leaves. Repot it in dry soil and don’t water again for a few days.
Use well-draining soil for Blue Senecio. Specialty succulent and cacti soils work great for this plant. You can also make your own by mixing potting soil with perlite or sand (1:1 ratio).
If the soil is retaining water, the Chalkstick’s leaves may drop or rot. Remedy this by mixing extra perlite or sand into the soil and testing the drainage.
Blue Chalksticks needs fertilizer at least once a year. More can be added during the growing season for an extra boost. If your Blue Chalksticks 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.
If your Senecio serpens 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 your Blue Chalksticks regularly until it’s rooted.
Senecio serpens 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 Blue Chalksticks 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.
Senecio serpens 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.
Senecio serpens, 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.
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 Senecio serpens in the sunniest spot possible, the stems should be fine.
Mealybugs and scale insects are the usual culprits when it comes to Blue Chalk Sticks. 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.
Most succulents and cacti are vulnerable to root rot. Caused by overwatering or poor drainage, rotted sections turn brown and mushy – yuck. 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
Q. How do you trim Senecio serpens?
A. 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.
Q. Should I remove the flowers from my Chalk Sticks succulent?
A. It isn’t necessary, but you can clip off the flowers to direct the growth elsewhere. Deadheading is optional.
Q. Why is my Senecio serpens succulent turning purple?
A. This pretty coloration is a result of heat and sunlight. It’s perfectly normal for Blue Chalksticks.
Q. Is Senecio serpens poisonous?
A. Yes, Blue Chalksticks succulent is believed to be toxic to humans and pets.