The string of hearts, or Ceropegia woodii, is a popular, low-maintenance and beautiful evergreen succulent that is often grown in hanging pots or baskets, from which its vines spill gracefully over the edge. It has fleshy, heart-shaped leaves with a marbled pattern, which grow from purple-colored vines.
This plant is native to South Africa and its succulent foliage can store plenty of moisture for the plant to use in the event of drought.
Like most succulents, the string of hearts is not susceptible to many problems, but it still has its fair share. One of the most common problems is the shriveling of its leaves.
Shriveled string of hearts leaves are an indication that there is an environmental factor that is negatively affecting the plant. The most common causes of shriveled string of hearts leaves are too much sunlight, underwatering, hydrophobic soil, and drafts.
In this article, we will discuss each of these causes and what you can do to remedy them.
So, if you are facing this problem with your string of hearts and want to learn more, just keep on reading.
Why are my string of hearts leaves shriveling?
Too much light
Even though the string of hearts naturally grows in a hot, arid climate, it does not do well when exposed to direct sunlight for the entire day.
Its leaves may tolerate a few hours of full sunlight each day, which can cause a purplish discoloration, but if the plant is under intense sunlight from morning until afternoon, this causes sun damage.
The sun’s heat damages the plant by causing accelerated transpiration through its leaves, drying them out. At first, the plant may try to compensate for this moisture loss by absorbing more water from the soil, but since the soil is also exposed to the hot sun, it will also dry out, leaving the plant with no source of moisture.
Sun-damaged string of hearts leaves are dry, curled-up, shriveled and brown.
If the leaves on your string of hearts are shriveling due to too much sun exposure, transfer the plant to a spot where it can get only bright, indirect light, and keep it there as it recovers for the next few days.
The soil in the plant’s pot will most likely be dried out, so give it a good soak until excess water flows out of the pot’s drainage holes. After that, wait for the top two inches of soil to dry out before watering the plant again. After three or four more watering cycles, the plant should look much healthier.
To prevent shriveled leaves on your string of hearts due to too much sunlight, keep the plant in a spot where it will get light in the morning but shade during the afternoon. You can place it under a large tree, for example, or next to the side of the house.
If you keep the plant indoors, place it next to an east-facing window, which will let in bright, indirect light for most of the day.
The string of hearts’ natural habitat is dry, with sparse rainfall. This has forced the plant to evolve and adapt to survive such harsh conditions.
Because it is a succulent, it can absorb and store water in its leaves and stems. This stored water can then be slowly used up by the plant during dry spells – or in between waterings, if it is kept in a home. This means that your string of hearts does not need to be watered as frequently as some other plants.
That said, even though the plant can survive long periods with no water, that does not mean you can just neglect to water it anytime you like; moisture is as vital to the string of hearts as it is to any other plant.
If you do not give your plant enough water each time you water it, or if you do not water it as frequently as you should, this can lead to underwatering.
A misconception shared by many is that, since this plant grows in dry climates, it only needs to be watered lightly. In fact, the watering it typically gets in its natural habitat comes in the form of heavy rainfall – it just does not come very often.
If you pour insufficient water into the soil, the water will only moisten the top one or two inches of soil and may not reach the roots. The longer these poor watering habits are continued, the more likely the plant will become underwatered.
An underwatered string of hearts’ leaves will curl up, turn brown and become shriveled; noticeably different to the normally plump and fleshy leaves of a well-hydrated plant.
As long as your string of hearts has not dried out completely or died, reviving it from its underwatered state should be easy.
If a string of hearts has not been watered for a while, its soil can be very dry and watering it from above may not be effective at rehydrating it. Rather place the pot in a shallow basin with three inches of water and leave it there for 10 to 15 minutes. The soil will absorb the water through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
After 10 to 15 minutes, remove the pot from the basin and place it on a rack to allow any excess water to drain out before returning the plant to its usual spot. After three or four watering cycles, your underwatered string of hearts will begin to look much healthier.
The best way to prevent underwatering in the future is by developing good watering habits. As with any plant, be sure to do your research about your plant’s proper care requirements.
Water your string of hearts only when the top two inches of soil in the pot are dry to the touch. Poke a two-inch hole in the soil with your left index finger, remove it from the soil, then stick your dry right index finger into the same hole to feel for moisture. If the soil is still damp, wait one or two days before checking again.
When you water the plant, soak all of the soil in the pot with water. Do not stop until you can see excess water flowing out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. This ensures that all of the soil gets wet, meaning that all of the plant’s roots have had their share of water.
The required frequency of watering for your string of hearts will depend on the local weather, season and climate. If you water the plant once every two weeks in the spring and summer, you might only need to water it once every four weeks in the fall and winter because the temperatures are lower, and thus the soil dries out more slowly.
As we mentioned above, the string of hearts likes its soil to dry out between waterings. This is good for the plant because it gives the roots a chance to have access to oxygen. But if the potting medium contains peat and you do not water the plant as often as you should, this can make the soil hydrophobic.
Hydrophobic soil will repel water rather than allowing it to seep through to the roots. When water is poured from above, it will just spill over the edges of the pot because it cannot break through the barrier of dry, hydrophobic soil.
Because the water is not properly absorbed by the soil, the roots will not be able to absorb sufficient moisture, leading to the same signs displayed by an underwatered plant: curling, shriveling, thin, brown leaves.
If the soil in the pot is hydrophobic you will not be able to water it from above, so bottom watering is the first thing to do. Place the plant’s pot in a shallow basin with three inches of water and leave it there for 10 to 15 minutes. The thirsty soil will absorb the water through the drainage holes until the water finally reaches the roots. The effects may not be immediate, but the water will provide vital moisture to the plant’s dry, shriveled leaves.
As long as there is peat in the potting medium, it will probably keep drying out too much and becoming hydrophobic. To save yourself from future problems, repot the plant using a succulent potting medium that is airy and porous and will not become hydrophobic, even if it dries out.
If you have ruled out all of the other possible causes of shriveling mentioned above, you might get some answers by checking the types of air flow your plant is exposed to.
If it is kept in a spot where it gets hit by outside winds, warm air from heating vents, cold air from air conditioning vents, or cold drafts during the winter, this can have negative effects on its foliage.
Constant air currents – both warm and cold – will dry out the leaves as well as the soil in the pot. The longer the plant is exposed to drafts, the more dehydrated it will get and the thinner and more shriveled the leaves will become.
If your string of hearts’ leaves have shriveled up due to drafts, remove the plant from that area immediately and place it in a spot where it will no longer be in the path of any kind of drying air current. Make sure that it only gets bright, indirect light in its new position, and water it generously, because the soil is likely to have dried out as well.
After three or four watering cycles, the leaves should recover and look their healthy, normal selves again.
Prevent draft-related shriveling of your plant’s leaves by being vigilant of its surroundings. Even a tiny crack in a window can let in cold winter air that can damage the plant without you realizing.
The string of hearts is a low-maintenance, popular, evergreen succulent known for its delicate, heart-shaped leaves that grow from purple trailing vines.
It makes a great indoor houseplant because of how its vines spill gracefully over the edge of a hanging basket.
One of the most common problems encountered by string of hearts owners is shriveling of their plants’ leaves and foliage. This shriveling indicates that there is an environmental factor causing the plant stress.
The most common causes of shriveling leaves on a string of hearts are too much light, underwatering, hydrophobic soil, and drafts.
In order to resolve these problems, you need to understand the light requirements of your plant, develop good watering habits, use an appropriate potting medium, and choose a spot for the plant that will protect it from drafts.
Image: istockphoto.com / Aleksandra Chopik