How to Revive a Dying String of Pearls Plant

How to revive a dying string of pearls plant

String of pearls is one of my favorite succulents due to the way they elegantly cascade their pearls from a shelf. I have looked after and propagated string of pearls for years, so I have gained lots of first hand experience with caring for them.

In fact, I have run into a lot of the problems I discuss in this article, and I have (through some trial and error) developed a step-by-step guide on not only how to diagnose the problem with your string or pearls but also how to save them if they are dying!

In this article, I’ll share with you all the secrets and tips so you can indentify whats wrong with your plant and find a solution!

In a nutshell…

Most often, the reason for a string of pearls plant dying is due to watering too often or the soil retaining too much moisture, which turns the pearls brown or yellow and mushy. String of pearls requires the soil to dry out between bouts of watering to prevent dying from root rot.

However, our string of pearls often shrivel with a dying appearance because of drought stress due to watering too lightly, not watering often enough, or because the soil has baked and repels water off the surface and prevents water from reaching the roots properly (this one happened to me!).

We also need to know that excess heat, too much sun, or not enough light can also be the cause of a dying string pearl plant.

To revive a string of pearls plant we need to emulate the conditions of the plant’s native environment with bright, indirect light watering with a good soak and allowing the soil to dry before watering again, and to plant string of pearls in succulent and cacti soil which is porous and well-draining to avoid root rot.

Keep reading for why your string of pearls plant is dying and how to revive it…

String of Pearls Shriveling and Drying up

  • Symptoms: String of pearls leaves looking shriveled or drying up.
  • Causes: Drought stress from underwatering, lightly watering, or low humidity. Potting soil that has dried up can repel moisture which causes drought stress. Excess heat and too much sunlight can also contribute to drying up leaves.

For us to indedifty what is wrong with our string of pearls we need to know how they grow in the wild…

String of pearls is a succulent that is native to Southern Africa where it grows in gritty well-draining soils on rock hillsides in bright, indirect light with infrequent rainfall.

The pearls store moisture as a strategy to cope with drought, so when they are under stress and not able to access water the leaves shrivel up as they use their moisture resources to survive.

I find its really common for people to make the mistake of placing their string of pearls in full sun. I can understand why people do this as lots of succulents such as aloe vera thrive in full sun.

However, if you place your string of pearls in full sun or in the afternoon sun then the intense heat and light can cause the plant to lose too much water through the leaves which is a common cause of a string of pearl plants drying up.

We also need to remember that whilst string of pearls is adapted to survive drought and does not require watering as often as most house plants, and when it does rain in its native environment, it tends to be a deluge rather than light rainfall.

To grow a string of pearls, what we need to do is soak the soil at each watering rather than a light watering as this only moistens the surface of the soil and the water does not infiltrate the potting soil and reach the roots causing the drought which results in shriveled up leaves.

While string of pearls do tolerate drought, they require a good soak every 2 or 3 weeks.

When I bought my first string of pearls from a shop, it was potted in soil containing peat. The problem with that is that peat is hydrophobic when it dries out completely (repels water), so water just trickles off the surface of the soil and does not infiltrate and reach the roots where it is required.

String of pearls dying
Here is my string pearls plant, which suffered from drought stress because the soil was dried out and water just trickled off the surface without infiltrating. I trimmed back the brown bits and gave the soil a good soak and my string of pearls looks great after! I later replaced the soil with gritty succulent and cacti soil,

This obviously resulted in drought stress, which decreased the size of the pearls, with some of them shriveling up.

How I Revive My Shriveled String of Pearls Plants

  • I relocated my string of pearls plant in an area with bright indirect sunlight rather than full sun, so it does not have to contend with high temperature whilst it is drought stressed.
  • Ensure that your string of pearls plant is not located too near a heat source, such as a radiator in the path of air conditioning, which can dry out the leaves.
  • We need to give our string of pearls a generous soak so that excess water trickles out the base of the pot. This ensures the water has infiltrated the soil so that the roots can uptake the moisture they require to prevent the leaves from drying up.
  • Typically, from my experience, a good schedule is to water your string of pearls around once every 2 weeks during active growth (spring and Summer) and then water once every 3 or 4 weeks during Winter for the right balance of moisture to keep the leaves healthy and to avoid root rot but this depends on your climate and conditions.
  • If you think the soil is not absorbing water properly (as it wasn’t with my string of pearls) then the secret is to place your pot in a basin of water for 10 minutes so that water can moisten the soil properly. This give the soil a chance to absorb the water so it can reach the roots where it is required. Although I must caution that you should water with lukewarm water to prevent shock.
  • What I did to prevent the soil from repelling water and causing drought stress again was to remove the string of pearls from the pot and loosen the soil after by soaking it in a basin so that it is easy to remove without damaging the roots of the plant. I then replaced the soil with specially formulated succulent and cacti soil, which retains an open porous texture even when it is dry and effectively emulates the soil conditions in the string of pearl’s native environment.
soil for string of pearls plants
This is the gritting soil mix that I use as it retains a porous stricture even after its dried out so you don’t have to worry about hydrophobic soil.

We need to remember that our string of pearls should be watered with a good soak then the soil should dry out completely before watering it again.

Pro tip: My method for establishing how often to water a string of pearls plants in any climate and conditions is to water the soil with a good soak and then monitor the soil’s moisture to detect when it dries out.To do this, I feel the potting soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole at the base of the pot. If the soil is damp, then I delay water until it is somewhat dry.When the soil feels dry this is the perfect time to water your string of pearls plant.

When my own string of pearl plants suffered from drought stress, after 2 or 3 cycles of watering, the string of pearl leaves always began to recover from their shriveled and dry appearance.

I have had some individual pearls dry out completely, so I just cut this individual vine back to the base of the plant. I can tell you from my experience that it is far easier to revive an underwater string of pearls than an overwatered plant, so if your area is drought-stressed, it should perk up!

(For all the watering best practices read my article on how to water a string of pearls plant).

Why Are My String of Pearls Leaves Turning Brown or Yellow with Dying Appearance?

  • Symptoms: The leaves of the string of pearls turn brown or yellow with a mushy texture.
  • Causes: Stress due to watering the plant too often or due to soil that retains too much moisture.

As we discussed, our string of pearls grows in gritty soils often on hillsides in its native Southern Africa range.

Therefore, our plants have specifically adapted to growing in soil that is very porous and drains very quickly.

If your string of pearls is planted in ordinary potting soil, the soil can retain moisture around the roots (promoting the conditions for root rot), causing the leaves to turn brown or yellow and feel mushy rather than firm and healthy.

This, of course, can also be the case if the string of pearl plants is watered too often, which is one of the biggest mistakes I see.

Our string of pearls are adapted to survive drought so if they are watered frequently they show signs of stress such as the leaves turning brown or yellow and feeling mushy.

In fact I learned the reason the leaves are shaped as pearl is to hold the most amount of moisture in reserve as possible to help them cope with a period of drought. (Its an amazing adaptation don’t you think?)

Other causes that I have encontered for soil that too damp for string of pearls plants are pots without drainage holes in the base and the use of saucers and trays that prevent water escaping from the base of the pot.

How I Revive String of Pearls Plants with Leaves Turning Brown or Yellow (Step-by-Step Guide)

  • Scale back the watering. Think of it in these terms, we need to let the soil dry out completely between bouts of watering to replicate the moisture cycle that the string of pearls is adapted to in its native range.
  • From my observations, if the stress from overwatering is minor, with the leaves turning only somewhat brown or yellow, then the plant can often recover if you allow the soil to dry out between bouts of watering.
  • If the string of pearls plant is planted in potting soil that stays damp for a long time then we need to replace the potting soil with specially formulated succulent and cacti soil that mimics the well-draining, porous soil to which the string of pearls is adapted, to prevent root rot.
  • Succulent and cacti soil allows the soil to drain effectively after bouts of watering so that your string of pearls stays a healthy green rather than suffering from root rot.
  • Always plant a string of pearl plants in a pot with drainage holes in the base to allow excess water to escape, so that excess water does not pool around the roots and cause the plant to die back.
  • Empty any saucers and trays that are used to prevent water spilling as regularly as you can so that the soil at the bottom of the pot can dry out properly.

We need to keep in mind that our string of pearls plants are also Winter dormant, so growth can slow down in response to fewer hours of light and lower intensity of sunlight.

During Winter dormancy, our string of pearls is at a higher risk of root rot, as the lack of growth reduces the demand for water.

Therefore, we need to scale back the watering to only water once every 3 or 4 weeks during Winter to prevent your string of pearls from turning brown or yellow and mushy in texture.

If your string of pearls does not show signs of recovery, then it may be because of root rot, at which point I propagate any healthy-looking parts of the plant so it can survive.

String of pearls is very easy to propagate from cutting of the stems and you can grow plants as long as you take a cutting from healthy growth. I’ve done it a lot because it is so easy!

Watch this YouTube video to learn how to propagate string of pearls from cuttings:

String of Pearls Turning Brown due to Sun Burn or due to Lack of Light

As we talked about, a string of pearl plants grows in bright, indirect light. If they are in intense full sun then the leaves scorch, which can cause them to turn brown. Generally, I have found this depends on where you are in the world.

When I live in the more Northern latitude of New York (with weaker direct sunlight), my string of pearls plants tolerated full sun without a problem. However when I lived in Southern California (with much more intense sunlight) my strong of pearl would scorch brown in afternoon sun.

However I have also had this happen due to the contrast of moving the string of pearls from an area of shade to an area of more sun, with the leaves turning brown and potentially shriveling.

We should know that, if our string of pearls is in shade without any bright indirect light then it can grow leggy with longer stems and the leaves or pearls that are nearer the base of the plant turn brown and die back.

From my research, I found out this is due to the string of pearls redirecting energy to the newer leaves, which causes the older leaves to die back.

The plant’s stems tend to grow longer to look for brighter light, which can give it a leggy appearance.

(Related: Read my article, How to Care for a String of Pearls Plant Indoors).

My Tips for Reviving Sun Burnt String of Pearls Plants

The key to reviving a sunburnt or leggy string of pears is to find an area of bright indirect light in your home to replicate the shaded but bright areas where the string of pearls grows in their native environment.

Scorched brown leaves often do not recover in appearance, but I advise you to cut the burnt section of the plant back to healthy growth.

Pro tip: If your string of pearls has really been badly burnt where most of the plant is scorched brown then my advice is to propagate any healthy sections of growth to save the plant.

If the leaves are shriveled due to excess heat from full sun, then we just need to give the soil a good soak.

For a string of pearls plants in too much shade, I would just cut back any leggy growth if you think it looks untidy, and the plant should recover.

Ensure that your string of pearls is in bright indirect light, and it should revive.

(To learn more, read my article Why is my string of pearls plant turning brown for how to save it).

Key Takeaways:

  • A dying string of pearls plant is most often because of watering too often or soils that retain too much moisture, which causes the leaves to turn brown or yellow with a mushy texture. Watering too lightly, too much sun, or excess heat can cause the string of pearls leaves to shrivel with a dying appearance.
  • String of pearls are drought-tolerant plants that do not like the soil to be damp as this can cause root rot.
  • Too much sun can cause the leaves to burn, locate a string of pearls plant in bright indirect light, and propagate healthy cuttings if the plant is scorched.
  • To revive a dying string of pearls plant, ensure that it is only watered when the soil is dry at the bottom of the pot, then water it with a good soak. Place in bright, indirect light and replant in succulent and cacti soil to prevent root rot.

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