The reason for dying string of hearts plants is usually because of overwatering and damp soil around the roots which causes the leaves to turn yellow and the roots to rot. String of hearts is sensitive to the cold and can die back in temperatures consistently lower than 59°F (15°C).
String of hearts can also turn brown due to sunburn and the lower leaves drop off as a reaction to low levels of light.
Keep reading for why string of hearts plant (Ceropegia woodii) is dying and the best practices for how to prevent it from dying and revive the plant…
String of Hearts Dying with Yellow Leaves (Over Watering)
- Symptoms. String of hearts plant leaves turning yellow with soft stems.
- Causes. Watering too frequently, the soil draining too slowly, pots without drainage.
String of hearts are native to Africa growing wild in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
In their native habitat, they grow in rocky or sandy soils and live in areas with infrequent rainfall and low humidity, therefore they are drought tolerant and specially adapted to growing with little water around the roots.
If the string of hearts plant is in consistently damp soil then this causes stress which causes the leaves to turn yellow and the plant can suffer from root rot which may turn stems and leaves black.
Too much moisture around the roots is most often because you are watering far too frequently, the potting soil holds on to moisture and stays damp for too long without enough drainage or the pot it is planted in does not have drainage holes in the base or the drainage hole is clogged by roots.
String of Hearts thrives when the soil is soaked and allowed to dry out between bouts of watering, rather than consistent moisture.
Another common mistake is using a saucer or a tray underneath the pot to stop water from spilling indoors.
The tray then collects water, preventing excess water in the pot from draining effectively and the potting soil from staying damp causing your string of hearts water stress.
In order to revive your dying string of hearts it is important to replicate the dry conditions of the plants native habitat with infrequent watering, special fast draining soil and to plant it in a pot with drainage holes that allows water to escape.
It is important not to use fertilizer at this time as feeding a plant that is potentially dying is often detrimental to the health of the plant.
It should be noted that string of hearts is too susceptible to dying in Winter due to overwatering because in Winter it is in a state of dormancy and not actively growing, therefore it requires less water.
(To the best practices of care read my article How to care for string of hearts).
How to Revive Dying String of Hearts due to Overwatering
- Scale back the watering. Watering too frequently is the most common cause of a dying string of hearts plant. String of hearts are drought resistant and do not tolerate their roots being in potting soil that is damp. Replicate their natural watering conditions by giving your string of hearts a good soak once per week in the Spring and Summer and then water once every 2 or 3 weeks in the Fall and Winter whilst growth slows down. Watering frequency can also depend on humidity with plants in more humid climates requiring less frequent watering.
- Replace your soil. String of hearts requires their potting soil to be particularly well draining. Ordinary potting mixes retain too much moisture and cause the leaves to turn yellow. Use a special succulents and cacti potting mix for string of hearts which has the exact drainage characteristics to suit a drought-tolerant plant (available from garden centers and on Amazon). This increases drainage and allows the roots and soil to dry out between bouts of watering.
- String of hearts plant requires a pot with drainage holes in the base. Without drainage holes, water pools around the roots and causes root rot. Check to see whether the drainage hole has become blocked in any way such as with pot-bound roots or compacted soil. If so re-pot the string of hearts in a slightly bigger pot. String of hearts tolerates being pot bound well and does not have a high requirement for fertilizer so it can stay in the same pot for a long time as long as long as it is well draining.
- Saucers and trays underneath the pot and decorative pots. Saucers underneath your potted plant prevent water from spilling in your home but they also prevent excess water from escaping out of the pot, so the soil stays boggy. Empty your saucers regularly after water to ensure the pot is not sitting in a pool of water. Decorative outer pots also trap moisture so be sure that you regularly check for excess moisture to prevent a string of hearts from turning yellow and dying.
Once you have implemented these steps then the string of hearts can recover from water stress.
However, If the leaves are turning progressively yellow or even black despite trying to revive the plant then the best option is to propagate string of hearts from cuttings.
String of hearts plants is very easy to propagate and you can take cuttings from healthy tissue of an otherwise diseased plant and propagate them successfully for many more plants at no extra cost.
To see how it is to propagate string of hearts plants watch this helpful YouTube video:
String of Hearts with Brown Leaves
- Symptoms. Some leaves may have turned brown and scorched whilst other leaves appear healthy and green.
- Causes. Sunburn. Moving the String of hearts plant from a relatively shaded area to an area of direct sun.
Whist string of hearts is native to hot and dry climates, it is not necessarily suitable for full sun due to its sensitive leaves.
String of hearts plants grow best in bright indirect light or some morning sun followed by afternoon shade.
Most problems occur when the string of hearts is moved from one shady location to another location of direct sun.
String of hearts requires more time to acclimatize to a sunny area and does not cope well with a drastic change in the intensity of the sun and a significant increase in the hours of direct sun.
It is easy to distinguish brown sun burnt string of hearts plants from other causes of stress as the leaves that are in the most direct sun are the ones affected whilst the leaves that are more shaded and on the other side of the pot can remain relatively green and healthy.
Sun burnt leaves turn brown and look scorched. Unfortunately, when a leaf is scorched the individual leaves do not recover from a brown appearance, however, the rest of the plant can be okay and keep growing if the sunburn is fairly localized rather than the whole plant.
How to Revive Brown String of Hearts Plants
The only way to revive sun burnt string of hearts plant is to move it to an area of indirect light to prevent further sunburn and trim off any damaged leaves as these cannot recover.
If you trim back the stems with damaged leaves this should stimulate more growth and the plant can revive over the next few weeks.
If you are moving string of hearts to a sunnier location then do so a little at a time.
Move the pot to the sunnier area gradually over the course of three weeks for half an hour longer every 3 days to give the leaves a chance to adapt to the more direct sun without contending with a drastic contrast and burning their leaves.
Consider that if you have moved your string of hearts plant to a sunnier location with the extra sun then this can increase temperatures which can increase the demand for water.
Water diligently once a week (assuming you have well-draining soil) to ensure that the string of hearts can remain healthy and to mitigate any transplant shock.
A dry string of hearts plant has curled or shriveled leaves which can look a little bit brown, in which case you should increase the frequency of watering until it adjusts.
(Read my article string of hearts leaves curling?)
For severely sun-damaged string of hearts plants with lots of burnt leaves, I recommend attempting to propagate any of the healthier-looking stems to revive them.
The String of Hearts Leaves Brown and Shriveled
- Symptoms. Leaves that have turned brown curled or shriveled.
- Causes. Under watering, watering too lightly, excess heat, and inappropriate soil mix.
String of hearts is famous for its tolerance of drought but this does not mean it does not suffer from a lack of moisture in certain circumstances.
A dehydrated string of hearts plant can be differentiated from a sun burnt plant because, with a lack of water the leaves should curl and look shriveled as well as turn brown whereas sun burnt plants tend to turn brown nut they do not curl or shriveled to the same extent.
String of hearts suffering from drought stress also affects all the leaves whereas sunburn only affects leaves that have had the most exposure to the sun.
String of hearts requires a good soak, usually around once per week so that water emerges from the base of the pot.
If you are watering less frequently or too lightly then drought stress can occur.
Watering too lightly may only moisten the top inch or so of the soil and not soak in to reach the roots where it is required.
Another important factor is potting soil.
If the string of hearts is planted in ordinary potting soil (as opposed to succulent and cacti soil) then the soil can bake hard when it dries out completely.
Completely dry soil can be hydrophobic and so causes the water to run off the surface of the soil and down the side of the pot rather than reach the roots.
Therefore you may give your plant a good soak and water may trickle out the base yet the water has not infiltrated the soil and reached the roots causing drought stress.
Excess heat from radiators or dry air currents from forced air or air conditioning can increase transpiration (water loss) from the leaves and increase the rate at which the plant dries out and suffers from drought.
(For all the best practices for watering read my article on how to water string of hearts).
How to Revive String of Hearts Leaves that are Brown and Shriveled
- Increase the watering so to about once per week in the Spring and Summer and once every 3 or 4 weeks in the Winter. String of hearts usually do well with this balance of watering as it provides enough moisture for the plant yet allows the soil to be somewhat dry to avoid any effects from overwatering and this emulates the moisture conditions of its native habitat with infrequent rainfall and good drainage.
- Change the potting mix. Normal potting mixes can become water repellent if they dry out completely causing water to run off the surface and out the base of the pot without reaching the roots. Re-pot your string of hearts in a succulent and cacti potting mix as this mimics the soil characteristics of its native habitat and remains porous to allow water to effectively infiltrate the soil to reach the roots even when the soil has completely dried up.
- When watering your string of hearts give the plant a good soak rather than just a light watering. Do not interpret watering instructions to mean that it requires only a little bit of water. String of hearts requires a good soak so that water trickles out of the base of the pot. Light watering does not reach the roots causing it to suffer from drought stress. String of hearts requires less frequent watering than most plants so water around once per week as long as your soil is well draining.
- Excess heat can increase water loss from the leaves and dry out your potted string of hearts quicker, which may cause drought stress in the Summer. In which case move it to a more shaded location and water the once a week with a good soak.
Cold Temperatures Can Cause a Dying String of Hearts Plant
String of hearts are native to hot and dry climates in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
They tend to cope very well with indoor temperatures but they are not frost-hardy and a very cold-sensitive.
If growth becomes limp, distorted, or blackened then this could be damage suffered because of the frost.
String of hearts grows best in rooms that are 59°F (15°C) or warmer and can suffer due to cooler temperatures.
Always locate your string of hearts in warm bright rooms and the plant should revive.
Too Much Shade Causes Leaves to Turn Light Green, Fall off, and Slow Growth
String of hearts plant is native to Africa and thrives in bright indirect light or morning sun followed by afternoon shade.
It is under these conditions that the plant grows best and remains healthy with dark green leaves, often with variegation with a range of whites with some subtle reds depending on the variety.
If your leaves are turning light green and the plant is slow growing then this indicates that it is in too much shade.
Light-deprived string of hearts tend to grow leggy with sparse leaves on the lower stems and some leaves drop off.
Not enough light is detrimental to the overall health of the plant and can cause it to die if it remains in too much shade.
To revive it, move the pot to an area of bright indirect light. Do not move it to any direct sun as the contrast from shade to sun can cause it to burn.
String of hearts are sensitive to changes in light and tend to burn in full sun.
With the right balance of light, your string of hearts should revive.
Trim back an excess growth if the plant looks sparse and the plant should recover.
- A dying string of hearts plant is often because of overwatering or slow-draining soils which causes too much moisture around the roots, resulting in yellow leaves and root rot.
- String of hearts plant leaves turn brown due to sunburn and the leaves can fall off because of too much shade.
- String of hearts leaves turn brown and shriveled due to underwatering and high temperatures. String of hearts can die back in cold temperatures.
- To revive string of hearts water them once per week and plant them in a well-draining succulent and cacti potting mix. If there is significant sunburn or yellowing of leaves, propagate any healthy growth to revive the plant.