Master String of Pearls Care for the Ultimate Hanging-Basket Houseplant

If you love pearls, try the “green” living kind with a string of pearls plant.

By Audrey Stallsmith | Published Dec 20, 2021 6:30 PM

string of pearls care

Photo: istockphoto.com

Once part of the Curio genus, the string of pearls plant is indeed “novel” and “bizarre,” as the “curio” nomer suggests, since its foliage resembles strands of beads. Fortunately, it escapes another of the definition’s adjectives and isn’t “rare.” So even the most frugal of gardeners can afford green pearls.

However, string of pearls care can be tricky because the succulent plant is prone to root rot if kept in a nonporous pot with no drainage holes. So just keep in mind that, like real pearls, these plants need to breathe!

String of Pearls Care at a Glance

Common Name: String of pearls
Scientific Name: Kleinia rowleyana (also seen as Curio rowleyanus, Senecio rowleyanus)
Soil: Cactus potting mix
Light: Partial sun
Water: Low, very low in winter
Food: Balanced plant food
Temperature and Humidity: Warm, cool in winter
Propagation: Stem cuttings
Safety: Toxic

String of Pearls Characteristics

string of pearls care

Photo: istockphoto.com

A scrambling groundcover in South Africa’s shrubland and hardy in USDA zones 9 through 12, the succulent called string of pearls can plant roots wherever its nodes touch the soil. Elsewhere, it usually is grown in pots or hanging baskets from which its strands can dangle 2 to 3 feet in length.

With the accepted name of Kleinia rowleyana, according to World Flora Online, the plant still is more often sold under its previous names of Curio rowleyanus or Senecio rowleyanus. It is a “curious” (strange or unusual) species, as its former botanical name suggests.

The succulent’s spherical 1/4- to 1/4-inch diameter leaves have pointed tips and a darker green stripe on the side of each “pearl,” which actually is a semi-transparent window to admit light to its interior. If kept cool in winter, the plant may make cinnamon-scented puffy 1/2-inch white flowers with protruding red stamens in summer.

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Types of String of Pearls

string of pearls care

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This plant has undergone several name, or taxonomy, changes, and these two variations are sold under a previous genus name. When shopping for a string of pearls, look for curio, senecio, or kleinia in the name.

  • Senecio rowleyanus f. variegatus: This form of string of pearls plant flaunts variegated foliage, splashed with cream and pink shades, as well as green.
  • Senecio ‘Hippogriff’: Believed to be a cross between Kleinia rowleyana and Kleinia articulata, this hybrid dangles dolphin-shaped beads instead of pearl-shaped ones.

Selecting Soil for String of Pearls Plants

If you are considering how to repot string of pearls, keep in mind that the plant’s soil will need to drain well to combat root rot. So, you should select a type of potting mix formulated for cacti and succulents. Alternatively, use two parts of standard potting mix combined with one part of either coarse builder’s sand or perlite.

When repotting string of pearls or other short-rooted succulents, opt for shallow terra-cotta pots with drainage holes, since they allow excess moisture to escape both through their porous sides and through those holes. Overly deep plastic hanging baskets without drainage holes, on the other hand, allow too much water to accumulate.

The Right Light

While you contemplate how to care for string of pearls, keep in mind that it often lies partly in the shade of rocks or bushes in its native land. So although it will tolerate full sun, partial sun seems to work best for this plant. That means 3 to 4 hours of rays per day.

You easily can achieve that amount by placing the plant on an east- or west-facing windowsill, where it either will receive sun all morning or all afternoon. It can thrive in bright, indirect light also, as long as that light is bright enough (more than 200 foot-candles).

Watering String of Pearls

string of pearls care

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Probably the most important aspect of string of pearls plant care is moisture monitoring, since this species’ most common killer is root rot caused by soggy soil. Its beads actually store moisture for the plant, so it can tolerate too little water better than too much.

Therefore, from spring through autumn, refrain from irrigating the plant until its soil is dry at least 1/2 to 1 inch down and try to avoid getting drops on the stems or leaves when you water it. During its cool winter rest, you should cut back more drastically, watering the plant only about once per month. If its beads begin to shrivel when the soil is dry, it probably needs more water. If they cave when the soil is wet, however, it could mean that the plant’s roots have rotted from too much water.

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Fertilizing String of Pearls Plants

Fertilizer actually is an optional part of how to grow string of pearls since the plant thrives on poor (nutritionally unenriched) soil in its native habitat. If you prefer to give it some extra oomph, however, feed it every couple of weeks during the growing season with a balanced plant food at half strength and refrain from feeding it during winter.

Should your concern be how to make string of pearls fuller, you can accomplish that by pruning the plant back occasionally, removing beadless strands and giving the others a trim. You may want to use your clippings as cuttings (see “Propagation” below).

Setting the Temperature and Humidity

During its growing season of spring through autumn, the string of pearls plant prefers warm temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. However, for its winter rest, it should be kept at a cooler 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. You might be able to manage that by placing the plant in a bright and chilly—but not frosty— attached garage, breezeway, sunporch, or cool greenhouse.

Recommendations on how to take care of string of pearls generally don’t include humidity enhancement since the plant doesn’t require moist air, so misting is unnecessary and may cause its thin strings to rot.

Propagating String of Pearls

string of pearls care

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Because this species tends to root wherever its nodes touch the soil, you often can just cut off already-rooted pieces if you want to pass some on to a friend. However, you also can propagate the species by rooting strands while they still are attached to the mother plant.

Simply lie the ends of a few strands across the surface of potting mix—either in a bare spot in the original pot or in a new pot positioned nearby. Push them slightly into that mix, pinning them down if necessary with U-shaped hairpins or landscape staples, so they make good contact. Mist the soil occasionally to keep it damp but not soggy, and the cuttings should shortly root at the nodes. You then can cut them free to have new plants—with no strings attached!

Safety Considerations

This plant is somewhat toxic and can cause symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea in both people and animals who eat it. Also, the dangling strands may prove alluring to both pets and toddlers who will want to tug on them, possibly yanking down the pot as a result. So, you’ll want to position that container high enough to prevent such a dangerous type of “pulling strings.”

The sap of the plant also can cause skin irritation in some individuals, especially those with sensitive skin. Therefore, it’s a good idea to wear protective rubber or plastic gloves while pruning or repotting your string of pearls.

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Potential Pests and Diseases

Aphids or mealybugs may occasionally pop up among your pearls, but usually can be eliminated with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. As mentioned previously, this plant’s chief enemy is root rot, which often is indicated by yellowing or shriveling foliage and stems.

If your plant begins to rot, remove all the dead and dying growth and try to give what remains more light and air—and less water. If the plant is growing in an overly large plastic pot or one with no drainage holes, you also may want to try moving it to a more appropriate container—as described under “soil” above—filled with fresh cactus potting mix.

string of pearls care

Photo: Etsy.com

FAQ About String of Pearls Care

If you still need a few quick pointers on how to care for a string of pearls plant, check out the questions and answers below.

Q: Does string of pearls need direct sunlight?

The plant should receive about 3 to 4 hours of direct sunlight per day, preferably in an east- or west-facing window.

Q: How often should I water my string of pearls?

From spring through autumn, water the plant when its soil is dry 1/2 to 1 inch beneath the surface. During its winter cool period, water it only about once per month.

Q: Does string of pearls like to be misted?

No. String of pearls plant doesn’t require high humidity and too much water on its foliage can cause rot.

Q: Should I bottom water string of pearls?

No. Bottom watering is awkward for hanging plants on which the strands are likely to dangle into the water. Aim the spout of your watering can beneath the foliage instead.

Q: How do you revive a dying string of pearls?

If the plant’s roots are rotting, remove all dead or dying foliage, shift it to a brighter and airier location, and reduce the amount of water it receives.

Looking for more challenging houseplants to test your green thumb? Check out our guides on caring for avocado, bird of paradise, and croton.