Why is My String of Pearls Drying Up?

String of pearls

Have you turned around one day to see your once plump, beautiful string of pearls plant with dried-up pearls? I absolutely love String of Pearls, so I was heartbroken when this happened to me when I first started growing succulents! Fear not, this is not a tale of sorrow!

With some trial and error and consulting some experts (I work at a garden center, so all I have to do is talk to my highly esteemed colleagues), I was able to identify the causes of a string of pearls drying up and experimented with the solutions for how to resolve this quandary!

Let’s get straight into it, shall we? Here is my simplified explanation for those of you in a hurry.

A string of pearl plants can dry up if the soil mix contains peat, as peat repels water when it dries out, preventing moisture from reaching the roots. Underwatering and watering too lightly can also cause a dried-up, shriveled appearance.

Keep reading about why your string of pearls can dry out despite watering and how to solve the problem…

Why is My String of Pearls Drying Up? (It Might be the Potting Soil)

First of all, I think we should be aware that our string of pearls is a type of succulent that is native to South Africa and thrives in gritty soil, high temperatures, and infrequent rainfall.

So they don’t need much watering, right?

However, what I found is that they can still suffer from drought even with a responsible watering cycle due to being planted in the wrong type of potting mix.

String of pearls requires well-draining soil that allows water to infiltrate easily and reach the roots, where they can uptake the moisture. However, excess water must still drain away to avoid root rot.

I’ve learned that the potting mix must dry out somewhat between bouts of watering to prevent common problems associated with moisture stress.

My biggest realization was that conventional potting mixes that aren’t designed for succulents, particularly any that contain peat which can become hydrophobic (water repellent) when they dry out.

Dried out, baked soil repels water off the surface of the soil and often down the side of the pot and out the drainage hole in the base without soaking into the soil and reaching the string of pearls plant roots causing your plant to dry up despite watering.

This is exactly what happened to my string of pearls plant. I bought it from a supermarket and had not replaced the soil. Whenever I watered it I noticed the water would immediatley trickle from the base, so fast that it could not have possibly infiltrated the soil and reached the roots.

I then picked up my pot after watering and could tell immediately how light it was. It was clear to me that the soil simply wasn’t absorbing the water properly, as it should feel reassuringly heavy after watering.

I observed the beautiful green pearls shrink in size and just dry up as they were not getting enough water! When succulents experience drought, they draw upon their moisture reserves in the leaves which is why the pearls were depleted and dried up!

So I had a good chat with my more experienced colleagues at the garden center, who taught me that typically, you need to grow a string of pearls using a specifically formulated succulent and cacti soil mix, which is available from garden centers and on Amazon.

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 succulent and cacti soil differs from conventional soil in that it retains a more porous structure even after it has dried out completely because it is gritty. As you can see from the photo above, the grit helps keep the surface of the soil nice and aerated.

This allows water to infiltrate the soil effectively, even after it has been dry for some time, and reach the roots of your plant rather than just running off the surface.

This helps to recreate the soil conditions of string of pearls native habitat where it thrives.

The solution

So what did I do to solve it? It was very easy! I replaced my soil mixture with a special succulent and cacti mix to help revive my dried-up plant.

With a new potting mix you can create the optimal moisture balance for string of pearls to grow, so it can access the moisture it requires after watering but avoid any side effects from overwatering.

Often, when a string of pearls plant has dried up, turned brown, and shriveled, people make the mistake of overcompensating and increasing the frequency of watering. This can lead to root rot, which turns the leaves brown or yellow and makes the pearls feel soft and mushy rather than firm. So avoid this mistake!

All the shriveled and shrunken pearls returned to their glorious plump appearance, which filled my heart with undiluted joy! I simply cut any tendrils that were completely dried up back. Since I have implemented these solutions, my string of pearls is thriving!

If this has happened to your string of pearls, read my article for the solution.

Rescuing your Thirsty Plant: My Best Watering Tips to Revive your Dried-up Pearls

Another common misconception about string of pearl plants and succulents, in general, is that they should only be watered lightly due to their drought-tolerant nature. I speak to a lot of beginners who make this mistake with succulents.

If the string of pearls is lightly water then only the top inch or so of soil receives any moisture and the water does not reach the roots where it is required which causes the leaves to dry up. This is like a light rainfall that only moistens the surface of the soil and does not infiltrate properly!

I researched the best way to water string of pearls plants which is to give it a generous soak and then let the soil dry out before the next bout of watering.

I can tell you that the reason this is so good is because it replicates the watering conditions in the string of pearls native habitat, where it tolerates drought by storing moisture in the pearls and then draws up water after a heavy downpour of rain, which then quickly drains away in the porous gritty soil.

So here’s my method for watering…I water my string of pearls from the top with enough water so that excess trickles from the base of the pot. If my string of pearls is visibly shriveling before watering I let some of this excess water sit in the saucer underneath my string of pearls plant for half an hour.

I do this because the moisture is drawn up by the soil, which results in evenly moist soil, which is exactly what we are aiming for. Prior to doing this, I noticed some dry pockets of potting soil around my string of pearls.

When I come back in half 30 minutes, I discard any excess water, and my pot feels nice and heavy, which indicates to me that the soil is evenly moist and the roots of my strip of pearls can access the water they need.

Since I have been watering in this way, I have alleviated all problems with my pearls drying up.

So simply put, give your string of pearls a generous soak rather than a light watering to prevent it from drying out.

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

How Often You Should Be Watering Your String of Pearls: (A Guide to Prevent Shirveling Pearls)

Another significant cause of a string of pearls drying up is due to underwatering, but dear reader, not in terms of watering too lightly. Specifically, I mean how often you water your string of pearls may be key to alleviating your dried-up plant.

As we discussed, our string of pearls are drought-tolerant plants that have adapted to growing in an arid climate in their native South Africa.

However, this does not mean that they can be neglected entirely for several months without any water (unlike some very hardy succulents, I’m looking at you snake plants and cacti!).

As I alluded to earlier, I am reluctant to give universal watering advice as this can depend on several variables, but in my experience, a string of pearl plants grows well when watered with a good soak once every two weeks in Spring and Fall.

However, a string of pearls often goes into a summer dormancy as a reaction to high temperatures, which is a survival strategy to cope with when the environment becomes hotter and drier in the summer.

My own plants also require less water in the Winter months due to lower levels of evaporation.

When temperatures exceed 80 degrees F (26 degrees C) in Summer, I recommend scaling back watering to once every 3 weeks. This may seem counterintuitive (as it did to me at first), but the string of pearls needs cooler temperatures to grow.

If the plant is not growing, then it is not uptaking water, so if you keep watering, it can actually result in the problems associated with overwatering! (Complex isn’t it?!)

We also need to consider that, water frequency can depend on several factors, such as:

  • Room temperature.
  • Hours of sun.
  • Intensity of sun.
  • Whether the pot is located next to a source of heat in the home.
  • The size of the pot.
  • The material of the pot.
  • Whether your string of pearls is in an air current from forced air or air conditioning.
  • How naturally low or high is the humidity in your climate?

Some experimenting with how often to water your string of pearls may be required to find the right moisture balance in your home and according to your conditions to avoid the plant drying up but also prevent overwatering.

Some expert succulent growers in my garden center taught me a method of watering that takes into account all these variables.

Always feel the soil at the base of the pot through the drainage hole to assess whether it is damp or not. If the soil feels damp then delay watering for a day or so, If sthe soil feels as though it is just about drying up then this is the perfect time to water your strong of pearls!

My Best Tip: I also pick up my string of pearls plant pot periodically to assess the weight. Straight after watering, it feels heavy, but as the soil dries out, it feels noticeably lighter. I can now tell when my string of pearls plant needs watering when the pot feels light!

Another method that really works well: Moisture is stored in the pearls, which is why they turn brown and shriveled as a reaction to underwatering, so as soon as you notice the pearls starting to shrivel just a little bit, this is a good time to water.

These methods allow you to tailor your watering frequency to your string of pearls plant in your environment to prevent it from drying up yet crucially avoid the problems with overwatering such as mushy pears and root rot!

By experimenting with watering you can establish the correct watering frequency for string of pearls plants in your home to avoid them drying up.

Are the lower Leaves Drying up and Dropping off? Try More Bright, Indirect Light!

So what we need to know is that our string of pearls requires bright light, yet it is sensitive to full sun, which burns the leaves and turns them brown.

If your string of pearls is not receiving enough light or only part of the plant is in bright light, then the stems can turn leggy with sparse leaves as they grow, looking for more light.

I’ve noticed that this can cause the lower leaves to dry up and drop off as the plant redirects its resources to lengthening the stem to look for more light.

Research shows that this is because your plant is trying to conserve its resources. The survival strategy is that if there is not enough light, then some pearls shrivel and dry up, as the plant doesn’t have the energy to support the leaves.

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

The solution.

So, as you can imagine, the solution is relatively simple. Ideally, you should move the string of pearls to a brighter room, but I must caution against moving it into an area of direct sun, as the contrast between a shaded area and a bright sun causes the string of pearl leaves to burn. (I’ve made this mistake!)

It is better to gradually expose your string of pearls plant to more light by moving it for an hour or so more every 3 days to the brighter area to avoid any shock from a drastic change in light intensity.

Whenever I have done this (move a succulent to more light), the first thing I notice is that the plant stays more compact as it no longer has to stretch to find more light.

However, do bear in mind that the plant grows relatively quickly for a succulent, which can cause the lower leaves to dry up and fall off as a natural process, so I can assure you this is nothing to worry about.

To Regenerate a string of pearls plant that looks leggy and sparse I recommend propagating the plant from cutting as it is an extremely easy and cost-effective way to have more plants! Watch this Helpful YouTube video for how to propagate string of pearls plants:

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

Do you have any insights about a dried-up string of pearl plants? Or perhaps any other questions? If so, please comment below, and I’ll personally get back to you!!

Key Takeaways:

  • A string of pearl plants dries up when their potting soil bakes hard and repels water away from the roots, which causes drought. Watering too lightly can also cause a string of pearls to dry out.
  • Not enough light causes string of pearls to grow leggy, and the lower leaves dry out and drop off.
  • Underwatering and neglecting the plant can cause the pearls to shrivel, turn brown, and dry out.
  • Revive underwatered string of pearl plants by planting them in specific succulents and cacti soil and water when the pearls look shriveled. Place in a room of bright indirect light to keep the plant healthy.

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