The string of dolphins is a succulent plant popular for the dolphin-shaped leaves from which it gets its name. These uniquely shaped leaves grow on long tendrils, making the plant a great choice for a hanging pot.
One of the most common problems encountered by owners of this plant is when its normally plump and fleshy leaves start to shrivel.
This is usually due to improper care, and could be related to high temperatures, too much sunlight, insufficient water or too much water.
In this article, we will discuss each of these possible causes of a shriveling string of dolphins plant, and what you can do to fix the problem. So, if you are currently experiencing this problem and you wish to learn more, just keep reading.
String of dolphins shriveling – Causes
The string of dolphins, despite being a succulent, cannot withstand temperatures higher than 85 degrees Fahrenheit. In high temperatures, the plant will suffer heat stress due to the increased evaporation rate, and the more water is lost from its leaves, the more shriveled they will become. If iit suffers extreme heat stress, the plant will also shed some leaves in order to reduce water loss.
If your plant is currently outside, the best thing to do is bring it indoors where the temperature is more stable. If you prefer to keep it outdoors, move it to a shadier spot or cover it with a shade cloth to help keep it cool. Another simple trick to avoid heat stress is to water your plant first thing in the morning every day during hot weather.
Too much sunlight
It is not only hot weather that causes heat stress; exposure to excessive sunlight can also damage the plant. Direct sunlight is not a favorite of the string of dolphins; it scorches and shrivels the plant’s fleshy leaves.
If you believe that your string of dolphins is shriveling as a result of direct sunlight, you should relocate it as soon as possible. Put it in a shady location where no direct sunlight will touch its foliage. For optimal growth, this plant requires six hours of medium, indirect sunlight per day, so a south-facing window is an ideal spot for it.
If the only window in your home lets in harsh light, you can still place the plant next to it, but first place a sheer curtain over the window to diffuse the intensity of the light.
Not enough water
Although the string of dolphins is a succulent that does not need water that often, that does not mean that you can just neglect its watering needs altogether. The plant still needs water to survive, not only for moisture but because water acts as a vessel to transport nutrients and minerals from the soil. Without water in the soil, not only will the plant be dehydrated; it will also weaken due to a lack of essential nutrients.
When this plant does not receive enough water, it will attempt to conserve it by wrinkling its leaves. This decreases the leaves’ surface area, resulting in a reduced evaporation rate. If you notice very dry soil soil at the same time as the plant’s leaves are shriveling, then underwatering is most likely the cause of the problem.
Fortunately it is much easier to revive an underwatered plant than an overwatered one. All you need to do is thoroughly water your plant and place it in a spot where it can get medium levels of sunlight.
To prevent underwatering in the future, you need to develop better watering habits. There are many factors that can affect the rate at which the soil in the pot dries out, so you cannot just set a routine watering schedule. You are better off actually checking the moisture level in the soil by feeling it. Poke your finger into the soil and, if the top two inches of soil feel dry, water the plant. If the soil in the pot is still a bit damp, wait one or two days before checking again.
Too much water
Another reason your string of dolphins is shriveling could be that it is getting too much water. Overwatering can be caused by giving the plant too much water each time you water it, watering it more often than necessary, using a poorly-draining potting mix or pot, or not adjusting your watering habits to changes in the weather, season or climate.
The string of dolphins is a succulent, which means it can absorb and retain water in its body, unlike regular houseplants. This gives it the ability to survive long periods without water, because it will simply use its own water stores.
For this reason, a string of dolphins does not actually need to be watered as much as other plants, and it is more prone to overwatering.
An overwatered string of dolphins will have yellow, shriveled leaves that feel soft and mushy to the touch. This is because the plant will continue to absorb the excess water in the soil until its cells become overloaded and burst. This is why the leaves might also feel slightly slimy when touched.
A serious consequence of continued overwatering is root rot. This is a condition caused by prolonged exposure of the roots to waterlogged soil, so that they are unable to dry out between waterings and eventually drown. The dead roots will start to rot and will be susceptible to opportunistic pathogens, such as fungi and bacteria, in the soil. These will make the rot more aggressive and cause it to spread faster to the rest of the plant. Eventually, the entire plant will be affected and may even die.
If you think your string of dolphins has been overwatered, you need to stop watering it immediately and place it somewhere warm and sunny so that the soil can dry out as fast as possible. Do remember that it should not receive too much direct sunlight, though.
If you suspect root rot, you will need to remove the plant from the pot to check. Wash off as much soil as you can from the roots, and do this gently because the roots will be fragile in this state.
Inspect all of the roots for sections that have turned brown or black; these are rotten and will have to be removed. Use a sterile pair of scissors to cut off the infected roots until only the healthy white parts remain.
Place the plant on a dry surface to allow the roots to air-dry while you fill a new pot with fresh potting mix. Place the plant in the middle of the pot and cover the roots with more soil.
Water the soil thoroughly until you can see excess water flowing out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. Finally, place the pot in a spot where the plant can get bright, indirect light and good air circulation.
Prevent overwatering and root rot by knowing how to tell when your plant needs to be watered. You can do this by touching the soil in the pot with your finger: If the top two inches of soil are dry, water the plant, but if not, wait one or two days before checking the soil again.
Also make sure that the pot you use has drainage holes at the bottom, and that the soil is not too dense, compact or heavy. All of these factors will help to ensure that not too much water is retained around the plant’s roots.
Other common string of dolphins problems
If your plant has droopy foliage but no other unusual symptoms, it usually means that it needs more humidity. To thrive indoors, the string of dolphins likes humidity levels of 40 to 50 percent. If the indoor humidity falls below 40 percent, you may need to take measures to artificially increase it.
One option is to mist the plant once in a while to moisten the air around it. You can also use a pebble tray filled with water, and place the plant on top of the tray so that as the water evaporates, it moistens the air around the plant.
Alternatively, you can place the plant in one of the more humid rooms of the house, such as the kitchen or the bathroom. If you have other plants that enjoy humidity, place them all together so they can create a microclimate around one another.
If you have the means, you can also buy a humidifier to automatically regulate the humidity in the room without you having to worry about it.
If your plant’s leaves are droopy as well as flaccid, it is likely desperate for more water. Simply water it thoroughly and place it in a shady spot to recover.
Inadequate light exposure can also result in droopy foliage; in that case, the leaves will also be paler than normal.
Yellowing leaves with spots
The most obvious sign of a pest infestation is the presence of spots and yellowing on the leaves. Mealy bugs, spider mites, aphids, and scale insects are the most common pests that attack the string of dolphins.
To eliminate these pests, spray the plant with a pesticide. You can make your own natural pesticide by diluting neem oil in water.
If the leaves are yellow but do not have any spots on them, then you are possibly either overwatering or underwatering your plant. Overexposure to sunlight can also cause yellowing leaves.
String of dolphins care
Although it is easily sunburned in direct sunlight outdoors, a string of dolphins thrives on at least six hours of sunlight per day when grown indoors.
While a south-facing window is ideal, it can also be grown indoors in medium light. If necessary, supplement with grow lights.
As is the case with the majority of succulents, the string of dolphins prefers well-draining soil. While commercially available cactus or succulent mixes are suitable for this plant, you can also make your own mix at home by combining two parts potting soil, one part pumice or perlite, and one part sand.
Because the string of dolphins can store water in its foliage, it is considered drought-tolerant and does not require frequent watering.
Allow sufficient time for the soil to dry out completely between waterings, and then water the plant thoroughly. This will help to avoid root rot. Reduce watering in the fall and winter, when the temperatures are lower and the plant is dormant.
Temperature and Humidity
When grown indoors, a string of dolphins thrives in average household temperatures and humidity levels. While these plants are not frost tolerant, they do tolerate cooler temperatures than the average succulent, and can withstand temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter.
If you live in a cold climate, you do not need to be as cautious about placing your plant near cold or drafty windows as you would with, say, a string of pearls plant.
The string of dolphins does not require regular fertilization, and excessive fertilizer can actually cause the leaves to lose their iconic dolphin shape. They can, however, benefit from a light feeding in the early spring to aid growth and blooming.
It is usually recommended to use an organic fertilizer such as worm compost, liquid kelp, or fish emulsion.
The string of dolphins is a beautiful succulent known for its unique, dolphin-shaped leaves.
One of the most common problems with this plant is when its normally plump and fleshy leaves become shriveled.
This is a sign that your plant is stressed due to some environmental factor, and you will need to establish exactly what this is in order to fix the problem promptly.
The most common reasons for a string of dolphins to shrivel are high temperatures, too much sunlight, too much water, or not enough water.
Image: istockphoto.com / Bilal photos