How to Water String of Pearls Plants


How to revive a dying string of pearls plant

Unsure how to know when your string of pearls needs watering? I Iove string of pearls as they are one of the most unique looking houseplants in my succulent collection.

What I found was that watering a string of pearls is a very delicate balance. I’ve seen the pearls turn soft and mushy from overwatering and defeated and wrinkled due to underwatering. Over the years of caring for them, I have accrued a lot of first-hand expertise in finding this tricky balance of watering.

In this article, I’ll share with you all the tips and tricks in a step-by-step guide to water your string of pearls, and some tips on spotting the signs of overwatering and underwatering so that your plant can thrive.

Want to cut to the chase?

String of pearl plants are drought tolerant and only need watering when the soil around the roots has dried out completely. Typically, I find watering once every 14 days is suitable for a string of pearls to meet their moisture requirements without causing root rot, but watering varies according to climate.

In my experience, getting the watering just right is important when caring for a string of pearls, as they are susceptible to root rot caused by overwatering and slow-draining soils.

I should caution that string of pearls also has differing water requirements at different times of the year due to their Summer dormancy.

My most important trick is that the correct watering regime should be in conjunction with the appropriate well-draining soil and the right pots for a healthy string of pearls plant.

Keep reading for more on how often and how much to water a string of pearls and for the correct potting soil to ensure your plants stay healthy…

How Often to Water String of Pearls Plants

The first thing we need to know is that our String of pearls plants are succulents that have special adaptations to growing in hot and dry desert environments with their leaves shaped like pearls to maximize the amount of water storage of each leaf and to limit the surface area for water loss.

As string of pearls prefer dry conditions, they are very susceptible to problems that result from watering too often.

So I’ve learned that to grow string of pearls successfully we need to replicate the watering conditions of their native environment by watering them the right amount.

How do we do this? (Great question, thanks for asking!)

String of pearls plants should only be watered when the soil has dried out completely. I work at a garden center and one of my duties is to water succulents. So I did a little experiment. I watered 10 diifernt string of pearls plants and measTypically this means string of pearls should be watered once every 14 days.

I work at a garden center, and one of my duties is to water succulents. So, I did a little experiment. I watered 10 different strings of pearl plants, which were of varying sizes (some were smaller, and some were more mature), and then I tested them to see how quickly the soil dried out.

I found that, on average, the string of pearl plants dried out after 14 days. However, I found that the soil of the smaller string of pearl plants dried out more quickly, with the soil drying in about 12 days whereas the more mature plants were in larger pots which contained more soil and therefore held the moisture for longer.

I think my mini experiment shows why generic watering advice is often flawed ,and we should aim to tailour the wateirng frequency to our specific plants.

We also need to take into account the time it takes for the soil to dry out can vary depending on:

  • Humidity and temperature of your climate.
  • The size of the pot or hanging basket.
  • The material of the pot.
  • Whether the string of pearls is in an air current from air conditioning or forced air or near a source of heat.
  • The rate of drainage of the soil.

So how do we tailour our watering scheduale to our specific plants, taking into account all these variables?

My best method for establishing the correct watering frequency for a string of pearls plant, according to your particular climate is to feel the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole to determine whether it is still moist or whether it is dry.

If the soil feels moist then you can leave watering for another day or so but if the soil feels dry then this is the perfect time to water string of pearls.

I was taught that this is the best method because it perfectly mimics the moisture conditions to which the string of pearls is adapted. This ensures the plant has enough access to water, yet the soil dries out sufficiently around the roots to avoid root rot.

This is the way I water the string of pearls plants at my job at the garden center and at home and my plants thrive.

A fascinating nuance and complicating factor is that string of pearls also go into a state of dormancy in Summer (as a strategy to cope with drought and high temperatures) and actively grows the rest of the year.

Most succulents slow down their growth rate in order to conserve resources, and during this Summer dormancy, they do not take up water anywhere near as quickly.

I lived in both hot climates and cooler climates.

When I lived in Arizona, the temperature frequently exceeded 80F (26C) for a long time in the Summer at which point the succulent was dormant and I observed it slows down its growth to where it looked as though it had stopped, whereas when I lived in the comparatively much cooler Pacific North-West my string of pearls grew all year round as the temperature was rarely 80F for any significant time.

I think my experience further highlights the need we have to tailor the watering of our string or pearl plants to the conditions of its environment.

This means the plant has less demand for moisture in Summer if your in a hot climate, and it is at more risk of root rot due to overwatering.

I personally water my string of pearls once every 3 weeks in the Summer months at the most when in hotter climates, but to be honest, when I lived in the Pacific Northwest, I only watered every 2 weeks in Summer as my string of pearls was still growing.

I personally find that my string of pearls needs watering every 2 weeks usually in the Winter. This is because I love in a cooler climate and have to use indoor heating which can dry out the pot.

(For more on how to save an underwatered plant, read my article Why is my string of pearls drying up).

How to Tell if You Are Watering Too Often or Not Watering Often Enough…

If you are watering string of pearls more than once per week it is likely you over watering, even in arid climates. Remember how to we talked about string of pearls being drought tolerant?

The symptoms of overwatering are pearls that are turning yellow, or translucent, at which point you should scale back the watering and let the soil dry out properly for your plant to recover.

Remember, our string of pearls is very sensitive to overwatering (particularly during its Summer dormancy), yet underwatering can be easily resolved, so always wait for the soil to dry out between bouts of watering.

A well-watered string of pearls should have healthy, green, and firm pearls, which indicates that the plant is storing the optimal amount of water for its requirements.

Another early indication of when a string of pearls plant requires more watering is that the pearls start to shrivel when dehydrated, so if your pearls remain green yet start to shrivel, this is a signal for underwatering.

If your string of pearls are chronically underwatered, then they will turn out like this…

String of pearls
Here’s a photo of my string of pearls that was both unnderwatered and above a radiator, both of which contributed to the pearls shriveled appearance. In this scarnio I pruned back the dying stems and moved it to a cooler area. Within 3 watering cycles my plant had fully recovered.

Correct Method for Watering String of Pearls

Whilst we need too think about how our climate influences how often to water our string of pearls, the method for watering stays the same regardless of conditions. (Much less complicated!)

I always water your string of pearls plants with a generous amount of water so that excess water visibly trickles out the base of the pot.

TI was taught this is the best method for watering succulents such as string of pearls plants as this ensures that the water has infiltrated the soil to reach the roots.

If you water too lightly, only the top inch or so of the soil is moist and the roots are not able to access the water they require causing the pearls to shrivel and potentially turn brown as a sign of drought stress.

(Succulents sometimes shrivel due to overwatering as well as underwatering. Read my article for how to tell the difference).

I think it helps to think of it in these terms. Watering generously and then allowing the soil to dry between bouts of watering, emulates the watering conditions of string of pearls native environment with a heavy downpour of rain followed by a period of drought.

My Top Tips for Watering String of Pearls

  • Always water at the base of the plant. Watering overhead onto the pearls increases the humidity of the micro-climate and decreases transpiration (water loss) from the leaves, which is the plant’s primary way of regulating the optimal balance of water stored in its pearls.
  • Water your string of pearls in the morning. Watering in the morning allows for the plant to use the water effectively whereas the stomata of succulents close at night which limits the pearl’s ability to lose excess moisture for their leaves so that they have they can maintain the appropriate balance of moisture.
  • Watering at night when the plant is dormant means the roots are sat in wet soil overnight which can increase the risk of root rot.
  • Reduce watering frequency in the Summer. Whilst it may seem counter-intuitive to reduce watering in Summer, string of pearls goes dormant at the hottest time of year as a survival strategy to conserve more water in a time of drought and high temperatures so it requires less frequent watering.
  • Watering generously but infrequently promotes good root growth, whereas water lightly deprives your string of pearls of moisture, and watering too frequently increases the risk of root rot.

Why a Well Draining Potting Mix is Critical When Watering a String of Pearls

So one of the most important things I’ve learned out watering a string of pearls is that to water your string of pearls successfully and to keep them alive, they must be planted in the appropriate potting soil.

The reason is that string of pearl plants do not grow well in conventional potting soil or compost as this retains too much moisture around the roots for a long time which turns the pearls yellow or translucent and promotes the conditions for root rot.

I have personally made this mistake when I first started growing succulents! I discovered through my research that String of pearls grow naturally in very gritty, sandy soil that drains very quickly after watering and does not hold onto moisture.

Therefore we need to recreate the soil conditions of its native environment when potting up your string of pearls.

Specially formulated succulent and cactus potting soil (available at garden centers and on Amazon) contains more inorganic material (stones, grit, and sand) to help encourage good drainage and mimic the soil characteristics of the string of pearls’ native environment.

A gritty succulent soil mix is perfect for growing string of pearls plants.
A gritty succulent soil mix is perfect for growing string of pearls plants.

The right soil helps to maintain the optimal moisture balance for your string of pearls to mitigate the risks of overwatering to keep your plant healthy.

If you cannot get a hold of succulent and cacti soil then I have personally mixed 50% potting soil with 50% horticultural grit which works well too but in my opinion, I find the special soil works best as it has a large and varied mix of particle sizes whuuch helps with drainage.

(To learn more, read my article on how to revive a dying string of pearls plant).

Plant String of Pearls in Pots with Drainage Holes in the Base

Our string of pearl plants are sensitive to too much moisture around the roots, so the pot must have a drainage hole in the base to allow excess water to escape after watering.

As we discussed, watering till you see a trickle of water out the base of your pot is also one of the key ways to ensure that you have watered your succulent with a generous enough amount of water.

If you plant a string of pearls in pots without drainage, water pools around the roots, causing the pearls to turn yellow or translucent and the plant to rot.

Avoid this mistakes! It should be noted that the sometimes excess water can still pool around the roots of your string of pearls despite pots with drainage holes due to:

  • Roots blocking the drainage hole. If you have bought your string of pearls as a mature plant and notice it is draining slowly, check to see whether any roots have grown into the drainage holes and slowed down the rate at which water drains.
  • The use of saucers and trays underneath pots. Often people use saucers and trays underneath pots with drainage holes to prevent water from spilling in their homes. It is important to empty the saucer regularly to ensure that water has collected is reduced as it keeps the soil around the roots too damp.
  • Decorative outer pots. When a string of pearls plant is sold in stores, they often are planted in a plastic pot with drainage holes and a decorative pot with drainage holes, which has the same effect as saucers or trays with standing water. Ensure water can escape freely to keep your string of pearls healthy.
Decorative outer pots prevent excess water from draining ways form the roots of your string of pearls plant.
Decorative outer pots prevent excess water from draining away from the roots of your string of pearls plant.

(For more care tips, read my article, How to Care for String of Pearls Plants Indoors).

Do you have any insights or questions about watering string of pearls? If so leaves a comment below!

Key Takeaways:

  • String of pearls are drought-tolerant plants that need watering with a good soak around once every 14 days. Wait until the soil around the roots has dried out completely before watering again. Water no more than once every 3 weeks during a string of pearls. Summer dormancy is used to avoid root rot.
  • String of pearls requires potting soil that replicates the well-draining soil in its native environment, allowing excess water to drain away from the roots.
  • Plant string of pearls in pots with drainage holes in the base to allow water to escape rather than pool around the roots, as this causes root rot.
  • The signs of an overwatered string of pearls are pearls that turn yellow or translucent and mushy in texture. An underwatered string of pearls turns brown and shriveled. A healthy string of pearls plant has green pearls that are firm and hydrated. Ensure the soil has dried out before watering.

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