The string of pearls, or Senecio rowleyanus, is a houseplant coveted by many indoor gardeners for unique, orb-shaped leaves, which resemble pearls or beads. This delicate hanging succulent makes a great contrast with any of your flowering plants and is versatile enough to be grown both indoors and outdoors.
Despite being relatively low-maintenance and drought-tolerant, your string of pearls can be killed by prolonged neglect and incorrect care.
If your plant seems to be dying, the most likely cause is incorrect watering. However, other issues might also affect its health, including insufficient light, too much light, root rot, wrong pot size, and inappropriate soil.
Read on to understand why your string of pearls is dying and how you can solve the problem before it is too late!
Why your string of pearls is dying
Sometimes, no matter how much attention we give our plants, they can still end up stressed by certain factors in the environment. If your string of pearls is dying, you will need to review your care routine and correct any mistakes before it is too late!
Here are some common reasons for your succulent to look unhealthy or start dying:
1. Using soil with poor drainage
As you might already know, succulents like the string of pearls do not like to sit in waterlogged soil for long periods.
Unfortunately, although soil type is one of the most important contributors to the health and vigor of your plant’s pearls, not all gardeners are aware of the appropriate soil mix for their indoor plants. Using a common garden soil can promote root rot since this type of medium is too compact and lacks aeration.
Roots need oxygen to perform their vital function of absorbing water and essential nutrients from the soil. When the soil retains too much water, it can block the roots’ access to oxygen and drown them, promoting rot and inviting fungal pathogens. This leaves the entire plant with limited access to nutrients and water, and this will eventually kill it.
Watering your string of pearls more than it needs can lead to its early demise.
The string of pearls is succulent and is therefore drought-tolerant, which means it does not need a lot of water to grow and produce beautiful pearls. If you give it more water than it can handle, the excess water will pool at the bottom of the pot and damage the root system.
What does an overwatered string of pearls look like?
Without healthy roots, your plant will start dying. The early symptoms are wilted or mushy-looking leaves, and rotting roots. As soon as you notice the plant’s pearls looking shriveled, check your watering habits – your plant is likely overwatered. Correcting your watering mistakes early can save the plant and return it to full health.
3. Underwatering and lack of humidity
As mentioned, the string of pearls is a drought-resistant succulent with desert origins, so its leaves are excellent at storing water to survive in areas with limited water resources. Still, it has its limits and problems can arise when its water reservoirs run dry after prolonged periods of soil dryness.
If you have forgotten to water your plant for too long, it will eventually start showing signs of underwatering. Its round, plump pearls will shrivel as they lose more and more of their moisture.
You should also keep in mind that a younger string of pearls requires more water than a mature plant. Hence, to ensure proper foliage development, keep an eye on your watering frequency, especially during the summer season.
Because the string of pearls comes from areas with hot and arid climates, you might be surprised to know that it actually does not do so well with too much sunlight!
The intense heat of the sun can burn and dry its foliage, causing symptoms similar to those of underwatering. You might also notice the pearls developing unsightly sunburn spots.
If you notice these symptoms, move your plant away from the blistering sun before it is too late. The ideal location for a string of pearls is a partially shaded area, such as a covered patio or near a window with curtains, to ensure it receives sufficient indirect light without its leaves getting damaged.
5. Low lighting conditions
As much as overexposure to sunlight can damage your string of pearls, a lack of sunlight can also have detrimental effects! That is because the string of pearls needs bright, indirect sunlight in order to perform photosynthesis, which is a critical process that keeps a plant’s foliage green and bushy, among other functions. Thus, without light exposure, the pearls will grow pale and farther apart from each other, giving your plant a sparse and leggy appearance.
If your string of pearls is struggling with poor lighting conditions, correct the problem by moving it to a spot with better access to bright, indirect sunlight. If you leave it too long under low light conditions, it will start losing its pearls and eventually die.
6. A pot that is too deep or too large
Unlike many other succulents, the string of pearls does not have deep roots and its stems are quite narrow. Hence, it should not be placed in a large, deep pot, as this will leave it vulnerable to root damage.
A disproportionately large pot will hold a lot more soil than the plant needs, and of course, more soil takes longer to dry out after watering. As mentioned before, allowing your succulent to sit in wet soil for too long can damage its delicate roots and block its access to oxygen. This means it is more likely to succumb to root rot and fungal diseases.
How do you revive a dying string of pearls?
Diagnosing a dying string of pearls might seem daunting if you do not know what you did to cause the problem in the first place. Naturally, every problem requires a different solution, so knowing the reason for your plant’s dying pearls is critical if you want to save it from an untimely demise.
Have a close look at your plant’s symptoms and see if they fit any of the following descriptions:
1. Pearls look mushy and are falling off
Mushy and yellow pearls are likely caused by root rot. As mentioned above, root rot in string of pearl plants can be due to overwatering or inappropriate pot size.
Here are some tips to help save your plant:
- Gently remove your string of pearls from its current pot. Inspect the roots – do you notice any that look mushy and have a foul odor? If yes, then trim off these damaged parts using sterilized scissors or pruning shears. Also cut off any damaged stems or leaves that are turning yellow.
- Lay your plant on a paper towel and allow the roots to dry for a couple of days.
- Repot your string of pearls in a new pot with drainage holes. Make sure to use an appropriate succulent soil mix.
- Keep your succulent away from areas with cold drafts and make sure it receives plenty of bright, indirect sunlight.
- Avoid overwatering your plant – remember that you should only water it when the soil looks dry. If unsure, you can check the soil’s moisture level using your finger or a soil moisture meter.
2. Pearls look shriveled or dried up
Pearls that look dry or shriveled indicate an underwatering issue. Perhaps you have neglected your plant for too long and only water it sparsely, leaving the soil too dry and damaging the roots.
The solution for a dehydrated string of pearls is quite straightforward – just give your plant a good drink!
You can water from the top, but make sure that the leaves do not stay wet for long periods as this encourages fungal growth. However, if the soil has been dry for a long time, it may be better to water from the bottom. Place the plant’s pot in a shallow basin filled with a few inches of water, and allow the soil to absorb the water through the pot’s drainage holes. Make sure to let the excess water drain out afterward, so that the roots are not left sitting in waterlogged soil.
It is always best to water your plants in the morning so that the soil has time to dry during the warm daylight hours. Watering at night will likely keep the soil moist for too long which, again, leads to root rot and fungal diseases.
3. String of pearls looks leggy and sparse
If your succulent looks sparse on the top and the stems appear leggy, it could be caused by top rot or incorrect lighting.
To avoid top rot, here are some rules to follow:
- Do not use a pot that is too large or too deep for your string of pearls. Keep in mind that this succulent does not like being planted too deep in the soil, as this limits its oxygen intake.
- If your plant has outgrown its current container and needs repotting, choose a new pot that is about an inch wider and deeper than the current one, and no larger.
If the culprit is inappropriate lighting, you can follow these tips:
- If all parts of your plant are not exposed to sufficient bright, indirect sunlight, the stems will start to grow leggy as they try to stretch toward the nearest light source. The solution is to reposition your plant so that all areas receive an even amount of light.
- Make sure that your plant is in a spot that gets bright light but without the intense heat of full sunlight. East-facing windows are ideal, while south-facing windows should be avoided unless covered by a sheer curtain to diffuse the light.
4. Pearls are turning white or purple
If you notice any discoloration on your plant’s foliage, it might have something to do with sunburn, poor water quality, or pests.
As mentioned, the ideal spot for your string of pearls should have access to indirect sunlight. Do not place it outdoors without shade, as the sun’s scorching heat will burn and damage the pearls.
When it comes to water quality, tap water is generally a bit harsh for most plants because of its mineral content. It is best to use filtered water or rainwater to avoid harmful chemicals like fluoride, potassium, and chlorine. Some growers also recommend letting your tap water sit overnight to allow the minerals to dissipate, after which it will be safe to use on your plants.
Like most succulents, the string of pearls requires minimal care in order to survive. However, if you want your plant to flourish and maintain its beautiful pearls, you will need to up your game and keep an eye on your watering habits, the plant’s light requirements, and the pot and soil that you choose for it. Once you have provided these basic requirements, you can protect your string of pearls from dying and enjoy its gorgeous strands of plump, healthy pearls!
Image: istockphoto.com / Bilal photos