String of Pearls Turning Brown? (How to Solve it)

String of pearls turning brown

A string of pearl plants turns brown and shrivels as a result of underwatering. String of pearl prefers bright indirect light and the leaves are sensitive to intense sun which can burn the leaves and turn them brown.

Overwatering and slow-draining soils can cause the pearls to turn brown or yellow, soft and mushy.

The older leaves of a string of pearl plants naturally turn brown and drop off as they grow.

Keep reading for more on why a string of pearl plants turns brown and how to revive it…

String of Pearls Turning Brown and Shriveled

If your string of pearls (Senecio Rowleyanus) leaves turn brown and shriveled then this indicates under watering.

The shriveled appearance is the plant’s way of trying to limit transpiration (water loss) from the leaves.

String of pearl plants are succulents that store moisture in their leaves. If the plant is at optimal hydration the pearls are green, feel firm and the plant looks healthy.

(Read my article for how often and how much to water a string of pearl plants).

String of pearls plants are adapted to grow in drought-like conditions in their native in South-West African environment with infrequent rainfall and well-draining gritty soil and therefore more susceptible to overwatering.

However infrequent watering dries out the potting soil to the point the soil becomes hydrophobic (water resistant).

When certain potting soils dry out completely they tend to repel moisture so when you water the plant after a period of drought the water runs off the surface and down the side of the pot and thus does not reach the roots where it is required.

Water then trickles out the base of the pot which gives the false impression that your string of pearls has been well watered when actually the roots have not had the opportunity to uptake any water and the plant is essentially suffering from drought, turning the pearls brown and shriveled.

There are some factors pertaining to growing a string of pearls indoors that can dry the soil quicker and lead to a brown and shriveling:

  • Near a source of heat or air current. The soil in a potted string of pearls can heat up very quickly and the temperature can fluctuate significantly when next to a radiator or in the current of air-con or forced air which can exacerbate drought stress.
  • Watering too lightly. String of pearls is a drought-tolerant plant but you should try to soak the soil and let it dry out between bouts of watering to replicate the conditions that it is accustomed to in its native environment. Light watering encourages shallow root growth as only the top inch or so of the soil receives moisture which increases susceptibility to drought and increases the risk of pearls shriveling and turning brown.
  • Transplant shock from a change in conditions. String of pearls grows very well indoors but if it is moved from one area to another then the contrast in conditions can cause it to turn brown. The plant adapts to a room’s light intensity and hours of light, as well as temperature and levels of humidity. Moving it to a different room or perhaps taking one home from the store can change the environment and its requirements for moisture, particularly if it is moved from a cool less bright area to a hotter, sunnier, and less humid location.

How to Revive Brown and Shriveled String of Pearl Plants

The key to reviving a brown and shriveled string of pearls plant is the right potting mix and proper watering.

String of pearls as with all succulents is adapted to growing in coarse, gritty soils that are porous with a relatively large particle size.

If it is in a standard soil mix then this can increase the risk of root rot (because they retain too much moisture) and the potting mix can dry out and repel water off the surface, down the side of the pot, perpetuating the effect of drought despite watering.

Re-pot your string of pearls in a potting mix that has been specifically formulated for growing cacti and succulents (which are available at garden centers, and on Amazon).

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

Special succulent potting soil has the right properties that allow for good drainage (so that the plants don’t suffer from overwatering) yet it is very effective at allowing water to infiltrate the soil and reach the roots after a period of not watering, rather than run off the top and down the side of the pot.

This allows for a more natural cycle of watering and optimal levels of soil moisture so that string of pearls can access the water and the soil does not retain too much moisture which causes rot.

How often to water to prevent brown and shriveled string of pearl plants

It is not possible to give definitive advice on how often to water a string of pearls to avoid them turning brown as their watering requirements can differ depending on factors such as climate, sun intensity, temperature, and humidity.

Finding the optimal watering frequency for a healthy plant requires an element of experimenting, but you should typically water a string of pearls far less frequently than most plants due to their adaptations to hostile dry conditions.

Typically I water my string of pearls once per week in the Spring and Summer during the active growing period and once every two or three weeks per week in Winter when the plant goes into a dormant state.

Keep in mind that in really hot climates, a string of pearls can go into a state of Summer dormancy as a natural adaptation to conserve moisture in hostile arid climates.

In which case you should scale back the watering to once per week if you notice the growth rate of your string of pearls slowing significantly or see any signs of stress due to too much water such as soft mushy leaves, with some yellowing or browning.

My well-draining succulent potting mix (from Amazon) helps to promote good drainage which negates any potential problems from too much moisture and also allows water to reach the roots effectively after a bout of watering.

This helps keep my string of pearls a nice healthy green color and prevent shriving or brown leaves.

If your string of pearls is drying up despite good watering practices read my article for the solution.

Sun Burnt Leaves Turn Brown

String of pearls is a succulent that grows in hot and sunny areas, however it is adaptable to a range of light levels which makes it great for growing indoors but often grows best in bright indirect light.

The leaves can turn brown due to sunburn if the string of pearls has become accustomed to growing in an area of less intense light or perhaps fewer hours of sun per day and is then moved to a more sunny area.

The greater the contrast of sun between the two locations the more potential there is for your string of pearls to turn brown due to sunburn.

String of pearls turning brown due to sun burn can be easily distinguished from string of pearls turning brown due to under watering (or any other reason) as only the leaves that are in the most direct glare of the sun turn brown whereas leaves that have more shade or protection are either less burnt or still remain green.

Individual leaves generally do not recover once they have been burnt.

You can prune back any sunburnt pearls and let the plant regrow or perhaps take some cuttings with healthy leaves and use them for propagation.

String of pearl plants are very easy to propagate, so even badly burnt plants can be revived. Watch this YouTube video for how to propagate a string of pearls.

Preventing String of Pearls Turning Brown Due to Sun Burn

Spring of pearls are adapted to hot climates and can grow in partial sun but they must not be moved from one more shaded location to an area of sun, or they burn.

The string of pearls needs to acclimatize to new conditions gradually rather than contend with a drastic contrast in the intensity of light.

To do this, move your potted string of pearls plant to a more sunny area for an hour a day. Over the course of a month increase the plant’s exposure to direct light by about half an hour or so every 2 or 3 days.

Eventually, the string of pearls can adjust to the new light intensity if gradually exposed and tolerate higher levels of sun without suffering sunburn.

String of pearls is somewhat more light sensitive then most succulents so they prefer either bright indirect light or morning sun followed by afternoon shade.

Keep in mind that with more hours of sun, there is a greater requirement for moisture, so I recommend watering consistently once per week to prevent the leaves from turning brown and shriveling through dehydration.

Leaves at Base of the String of Pearls Plant Turn Brown and Drop Off

Another potential cause of your string of pearl plant leaves turning brown is due to age.

As the plant grows and gets older the bottom leaves naturally turn brown and drop off as part of the plant’s natural cycle, and this is true of all succulents.

This effect can be more pronounced in plants that are in more shade.

String of pearls prefer some bright light or some morning sun so if they are in too much shade the stems tend to grow longer as the plant grows in the direction of more light.

This causes the leaves or pearls to become more sparse, particularly lower down the stem. The lower leaves then turn brown and drop off.

This can happen to all succulents but the effect is reduced by growing them in more sun. This keeps the plant shorter and more compact rather than leggy and sparse.

Be careful not to move your string of pearls to a location with significantly more sun in one go to avoid sunburn.

Too Much Moisture Can Cause Brown Leaves

A string of pearl plants can turn brown (or yellow) as a sign of stress because there is too much moisture around the roots.

The symptoms of an overwatered string of pearl plants are leaves that are turning brown, yellow, or black and feel soft and have a mushy texture rather, than firmer green leaves.

Too much moisture around the roots is usually caused by:

  • Overwatering. String of pearl plants are drought-tolerant succulents that like to be on the dry side. If you are watering more than once per week you are likely overwatering.
  • Slow-draining soils. String of pearls requires fast-draining soil. Transfer the string of pearls to a specialized succulents and cactus potting mix for the optimal soil mix.
  • Pots without drainage holes in the base. Pots without drainage holes in the base cause water to pool around the roots which causes root rot and the leaves and stems to turn brown. Always plant string of pearls in pots with drainage holes to prevent excess water from collecting in the bottom. Empty saucers or trays that are underneath your pots so that water can freely escape.

If the roots stay in damp soil for too long then this causes rot which can turn the leaves from brown to black and kill the plant, however correcting the conditions can save it.

Watering depends on your climate but as a general rule wait until the soil has dried out before watering to maintain a healthy plant.

However, you should prioritize replanting the succulent in a different pot (with drainage holes in the base) and use a specialized succulent potting mix to improve drainage.

The succulent soil needs to dry out between bouts of watering for the string of pearls to stay healthy.

If the plant’s condition does not improve despite improving drainage and watering practices then take cuttings from healthy leaves and stems for propagation to grow new plants as the rot can eventually spread and kill the plant.

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

Bruising Can Cause Brown String of Pearls Leaves

When they are healthy, string of pearl plants have nice firm leaves however they are susceptible to damage if they are bumped in some way.

Bruising can be quite localized to only a few leaves or stems if it has hit in some way.

String of pearls are delicate so be careful when handling them and locate the plant out of harm’s way.

Recovery depends on the extent of the bruising but with light busing the leaves can revive, however, persistent bruised leaves may have to be pruned for both functional and aesthetic reasons.

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

Key Takeaways:

  • The String of pearl plants turns brown and shrivels as a response to underwatering. Too much sun can burn the leaves and turn them brown.
  • Overwatering can turn the leaves brown or yellow, soft and mushy, and can cause rot.
  • A string of pearls may turn brown if they are bruised by physical trauma in some way.
  • To revive brown and shriveled string of pearl plants, increase the watering and change the potting soil to a gritty mixture made for succulents. Sun burnt leaves may require pruning.

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