How to Plant, Grow, and Care for String of Pearls

The succulent known as string of pearls (Curio rowleyanus) is a lovely addition to your indoor or outdoor garden. Find out how to keep it happy year-round in this guide by gardening expert Rachel Garcia.

String of pearls

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Because it looks so intriguing, you might think the succulent called string of pearls is hard to grow. Luckily, the opposite is true. String of pearls (Curio rowleyanus) is hardy, fast-growing, and a plant you’ll love.

A string of pearls plant is instantly recognizable by the bead-like leaves that trail down each stem. Nicknamed ‘pearls’, these leaves are plump and a lovely shade of light green. Like a string of beads, the stems are long, thin, and delicate with pea-sized leaves dappled along their length.

String of pearls makes a great houseplant and works beautifully in the garden too. Because it’s a sprawling plant, these succulents are ideal for hanging pots. Propagation is extremely simple, making it easy to increase your succulent collection.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about growing this simple yet beautiful plant.

Plant Overview

  • Plant Type: Succulent
  • Family: Asteraceae
  • Genus: Curio
  • Species: Curio rowleyanus (formerly Senecio rowleyanus)
  • Exposure: Bright indirect light
  • Height: 1-3′
  • Watering Requirements: Low
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Soil Type: Succulent mix

What is String of Pearls?

In the summer, string of pearls plants produce clusters of white blooms. The flowers are small and not very showy. However, they smell a bit like cinnamon – a fun and unique trait for a succulent.

String of pearls comes from South Africa, growing along the ground in the shade of other plants and preferring warm temperatures. It can be used as a succulent ground cover in shadier areas or grown indoors or on a patio as a houseplant.

However, if you plan on growing outdoors, the temperature should always be above 50°F. If you live in USDA Zones 9-11, you can grow string of pearls outdoors year-round. Otherwise, keep your plant indoors in a sunny spot.

While most string of beads are green in color, the ‘Variegata’ cultivar is a bit different. Each bead-like leaf features stripes of pale white. Unfortunately, this cultivar is difficult to find. But if you can find it, you’ll love it.

Planting

To successfully plant Curio rowleyanus, whether in the ground or in a pot, drainage is essential to prevent root rot, a common issue in these succulents.

Start by selecting an appropriate location or pot. Outdoors, choose a spot that receives bright, indirect sunlight for most of the day. Amend the soil with coarse sand or perlite to boost drainage and aeration, creating an environment similar to their natural habitat.

If you’re planting in a pot, opt for a container with ample drainage holes at the bottom. Fill the pot with a specialized cactus or succulent potting mix, or make your own by combining potting soil, coarse sand, and perlite.

Carefully remove the string of pearls from its current container, being gentle to avoid damaging the delicate leaves. Tease the roots lightly if they are densely packed or tangled. Position the plant in the prepared soil or potting mix.

The roots should be well-covered, but the pearls themselves draped over the edge of the pot or spread out on the surface of the soil. Water immediately after planting.

How to Grow

String of pearls plants are easy to grow, but that doesn’t mean they don’t require any care at all. In order for growing succulents to be easy, you have to understand what they need and why.

Light

String of pearls grows best in indirect, bright light. It loves the sun, but can easily be sunburned, so avoid intense direct sun. Placing your plants a few feet away from the window should keep the direct sun off the pearl-shaped leaves while providing ample light.

Outdoors, look for a position with dappled sunlight, typically under the cover of trees or other plants. They can handle gentle direct sun, but will struggle in scorching heat.

Water

Like most succulents, string of pearls stores water in the pearls to manage in times of drought. The best way to water is to soak the soil completely, then wait until it dries completely before watering again.

On average, you’ll give it water every other week. This will vary depending on the pot size and temperature in the area where your succulents grow. Indoor plants often don’t need water as much as those in a garden outside.

Overwatering is the biggest danger for your string of pearls, as it can lead to rot and bacterial growth. When overwatered, the plant may turn yellow and mushy, and the pearls on the stems will fall off easily.

Underwatering is a less frequent problem for string of pearls plants, but still something to look out for. If they don’t get enough water, the pearls will shrivel up or lose their plump look, and they might turn brown or black. Luckily, this is usually reversible if caught quickly. Just give your string of pearls a good drink of water and it should perk up.

Soil

Well-draining soil is a necessity for string of pearls. You can buy pre-made succulent potting soil at most garden stores and online. A good quality cactus and succulent soil can make the difference between healthy stems and a dying disaster.

It’s possible to DIY your potting soil, but be careful not to make it too rich. Many rich garden soils hold too much moisture around the plant’s roots. Stick with something that drains easily and which you can fertilize later.

Temperature & Humidity

String of pearls can’t survive frost or freezing temperatures. As true desert plants, they like to be warm. Be cautious of cold indoor drafts that could damage the stems.

If your home stays around 68°F all year (as many people’s homes do), that’s perfect for this houseplant. During the winter, when string of pearls slows growth, your indoor temperatures can drop as low as 50°F without damage.

Once outside temperatures increase to their preferred range, you can grow in both indoor or outdoor spots. It’s a great addition to patio gardens!

Remember that if you want your plant to flower, it needs a cool fall and winter climate. Ideally, keep it at or near 65°F until spring comes. It will also need indirect light from the sun in the spring to induce summer flowering.

Fertilizing

If your plant is healthy and happy, you may not need to fertilize at all. But if you choose to, use a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength.

Feed up to once per month during the spring or summer months. Do not fertilize at all in fall or winter, as succulents slow their growth. Be sure to fertilize the soil, not the plant’s stems or leaves.

Maintenance

It’s recommended to repot these plants every year in the spring so that you can ensure their soil is not compacted or lacking aeration.

String of pearls has small and shallow roots, so it grows best in small pots. If the container is too large, it’s likely to build up moisture and lead to root rot. When repotting, choose a container only slightly larger, or trim the roots and replant in the same pot.

Handle your succulent with care so the pearls don’t fall off. If you see any signs of rot in the roots, cut off the infected sections with a clean knife. Replant so the base of the plant is just below the top of the pot.

After repotting, keep the soil dry for a few days. This gives the plant time to heal any wounds on its roots or stems before it gets watered.

Pruning is only necessary if you want to make your plant smaller or remove damaged sections. All you have to do is clip back the stems with sterile pruning shears. After pruning, keep the cut sections dry until the wounds callous over. This will prevent bacteria and plant diseases from taking hold.

Propagation

String of pearls is so easy to propagate that it occasionally propagates itself! We have a step by step propagation guide for this plant that goes into great depth on the process.

Propagate during the spring or summer growing season, as the plant will be dormant in fall and winter. It’s possible to grow this succulent from seed, but it’s a less-preferred and lengthy process.

Common Problems

Like all plants, string of pearls requires precaution and prevention of problems. Here are the red flags to watch for in your succulent garden.

Shriveled Pearls

A common growing problem is shriveled pearls. This is usually due to underwatering, but can also be a sign of sunburn. Along with shriveling, sunburn also causes succulents to dry out and become scarred.

To prevent and remedy this, move your houseplant away from direct bright light, whether in indoor or outdoor gardens.

Dropping Pearls

Another issue is pearls falling off the stem. This is usually a symptom of overwatering. However, it may also be a symptom of cold damage from drafts or other related conditions.

If you suspect that’s the culprit, move your Curio rowleyanus to a more sheltered location.

Stunted Growth

Older string of pearls plants may begin to die back from age. They just aren’t as vigorous as younger plants are.

If you love the variety you’re growing, this is a good time to take cuttings and get them started in a new pot with a good potting mix. That way, you’ll still have a beautiful houseplant and can try to prolong your succulent’s life too.

Pests

Aphids are tiny, obnoxious, and hungry for string of pearls. An infestation of these pests will drain the life from your string of pearls, eventually killing it. As if that isn’t bad enough, aphids secrete honeydew that attracts ants.

Mealybugs are similar to aphids in that they cause plant damage and may attract ants. Another sap-sucking pest, these are easily identified by the white, waxy material they secrete.

Aphids and mealybugs can both be deterred by insecticidal soap or neem oil. You can also encourage beneficial predatory insects, such as ladybugs or lacewings.

Diseases

Root rot is the ever-constant threat to all succulents. It’s caused by an abundance of moisture in the soil, creating the perfect climate for fungal growth. These fungi will cause the roots to rot, turning them black and mushy. The rot can work its way up stems and leaves as well.

Unfortunately, the damage caused by root rot usually can’t be fixed once it’s become extensive. Prevention of root rot is important. Use a good quality potting mix optimized for cacti and succulent gardens and make sure it’s well-aerated.

If your string of pearls has extensive root rot already, it’s best to take cuttings of its healthy material and propagate them to start new plants. Use sterilized pruning snips and clean between cuts to make sure you’re not spreading the fungal rot. The parent plant can be disposed of once you’ve got the cuttings rooted.

FAQs

Q: Why are the pearls falling off my string of pearls plant?

A: Your plant is most likely overwatered. Let the soil dry out completely before giving it more water. If the potting soil is completely drenched, you may want to repot it into dry soil.

Q: How do I make string of pearls flower?

A: A mature string of pearls plant has to go fully dormant in order to build up the energy for flowering. During winter, lower the temperature to 50-65°F and cut back on watering. If done properly, your plant should bloom for about a month during the next summer.

Q: Is string of pearls poisonous?

A: For humans, ingestion of these succulents can cause vomiting or diarrhea and their sap may be irritating to your skin. This means they’re considered mildly toxic to us. But to our pets, it’s much more toxic. Keep these succulents away from small children and pets. Wear gloves when pruning to keep the sap off your skin.

Final Thoughts

The adorable string of pearls is a wonderful addition to succulent and indoor gardens. Use this guide to keep them lush and happy for years to come.

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