Notoriously hard to care for, and until recently hard to come by, string-of-pearls, or Senecio rowleyanus, is native to South Africa, where it grows in free-draining conditions often under larger plants in partial shade, making it well-suited for indoor growing.
Not to be confused with the string-of-dolphins or string-of-bananas (although the care and propagation of these Senecio species is the same) string-of-pearls is a succulent that forms near-spherical leaves, or ‘pearls’, along threadlike stems that hang from the pot.
Recently it and many of its relatives have been reclassified as ‘Curio’, though in most plant shops, they are still given their former name, Senecio.
How to care for string of pearls
Really important to the success of string-of-pearls is getting the watering right.
The roots of Curio rowleyanus are particularly sensitive to being over-watered, and will happily rot away if you create the wrong conditions for them. Succulents despise having cold wet roots, and string-of-pearls is no exception.
It’s best to almost entirely ditch the watering through winter, only watering when the weather begins to warm up, and the days start to lengthen. In spring and summer you can water more frequently, allowing the compost to dry out entirely between watering.
String-of-pearls have evolved to cope with drought conditions, storing water in the fleshy spherical leaves so forgetting to water for a few weeks is rarely a problem. Too long without water and the leaves will start to shrivel, looking like dried peas, but normally fully recover after watering.
When it comes to light, string-of-pearls need fairly bright direct or indirect light. In low light conditions they can be hard to keep alive. Avoid north facing windows where light levels are low and the temperature is often cooler. It’s counter-intuitive but keeping the plant somewhere warm will allow the compost to dry out quickly between watering, reducing the chance of root rot.
How to propagate string of pearls
Propagating string-of-pearl plants couldn’t be easier. You’ll need a mature-ish plant that you are willing to cut some of the trailing stems from, a new plant pot or shallow dish with drainage holes, and some very free draining compost. In late spring or early summer, cut stems from the mother plant, 5 -10cm in length, and partially bury a third of the stem horizontally in the new pot.
You may need to secure them in place with an unfolded paper clip or hairpin, or leave the rest of the stem curled on the surface of the pot until each cutting has rooted. Water as you would water a mature plant.
You may want to propagate several stems in the same pot to get a fuller plant more quickly, otherwise, you will be left with a single lonely string for a few years, until the new plant becomes established.
If instead of growing your Curio to hang, you wanted to recreate its natural habitat, you could repeat the above steps into a wide, shallow saucer, covering the surface with gravel or small stones, and allowing the new growth to ramble over the gravel.
George Hudson is Head of Plants and Education at Walworth Garden, a south London charity delivering workshops, courses, therapeutic horticulture and plants for sale in a garden open to all. Follow on Instagram @walworthgarden.