Friday, 1 December 2017

String of Pearls Plant From Cuttings

Senecio rowleyanus is commonly known as string of pearls plant and looks similar to the Neptune’s necklace seaweed that you sometimes see washed up at the beach.  String of pearls plant is an easy to grow and surprisingly hardy succulent that was popular in the 1970’s in hanging baskets due to its cascading and remarkably beautiful form.  

Each little leaf on this delightful plant is almost spherical, making it look like a little green pea.  As these little pea like leaves grow on long string like stems the common name of "String of Pearls" plant seems rather fitting.  Each little leaf is green and has a small translucent window that lets light in for photosynthesis but restricts water loss.  String of pearls plants also grow a nice little flower that smells lovely, but it is their cascading form and pretty little leaves that it is mostly grown for.  Being a succulent means that they do not require large amounts of water.  Too much water can make them rot and is apparently the biggest cause of them failing to grow for people. 

I have always wanted to grow a string of pearls plant as I think they look amazing, but for some reason they are difficult to find in Australia.  I started to look online and found them in dedicated succulent nurseries but they were rather expensive, even more so when postage is added.  Being dedicated cacti and succulent nurseries I was not interested in anything else they sell so could not spread the postage cost over several items.  
string of pearls succulent cuttings
My String of Pearls plant - one year of growth
A few times I have seen plants in plant shops, but the high price always made me shy away from buying one.  Having never grown one I did not want to spend a fortune and then have the thing die.  The high price made me wonder if they were difficult to grow.  I also wasn’t sure if they would grow well over the warmer months and not survive the harsh winter here.  I considered buying seeds, but the only place I could find string of pearls seed was ebay and there are far too many thieves on ebay who sell seeds that do not exist so I was not willing to take the risk. 

Then, as luck would have it, one day I got two very small cuttings.  One was about 5 cm long, the other only 3 cm long, they were both rather battered by the time I got them, and I was not sure if they were even large enough to be viable.  I looked on the internet and found conflicting advice on how to grow string of pearls plants from cuttings, some places made it sound incredibly difficult, others made it sound overly simple.  

Some places recommended to simply lay the cutting on soil and it would root everywhere that the leaves joined the stem.  Other places recommend removing the lower few leaves and plant the stem.  Other places recommended removing the pearls and planting them partly exposed.  I had two small cuttings so decided to try a little of each.  


String of Pearls plants starting to grow
I got a small pot of soil, lay the larger cutting on the soil and ensured that each of the leaf nodes were in contact with the soil, I removed the lower leaf from the smaller cutting and planted it in the same pot.  Everywhere recommends removing the lower few leaves, but the cutting was so tiny I could only remove one single pearl.  I planted this pearl so that the top was in the light and the bottom was in the soil.  I had a feeling that the smaller cutting would not survive as it was just so tiny, but I had to try.  Some succulents grow well from planting a single leaf, so I had nothing to lose by planting the pearl.  I figured having both cuttings in the same pot would give me a good comparison and make it easier to keep an eye on them. 

Many people grow string of pearls in the house in a hanging basket or somewhere it can drape over the side and look attractive, I grew mine outside in a small pot of soil.  I did not cover the cuttings to increase humidity, I watered reasonably often, and I kept them in dappled light so they would not get too hot or dry out too fast.  This all seemed pretty reasonable to me.  If they all started to die I had a few ideas, but I wanted to go with the low effort approach first as minimal effort is how I like to garden. 

It became pretty obvious early on that planting a leaf (or peal) was not going to result in a plant.  I have tried this several times now and never seen any sign of success.  I think it is possible, but not likely to happen.  Each time I take a cutting and remove lower leaves I plant them, as I am losing nothing by trying, but I don’t expect to ever have one pearl grow a new plant for me unless I really put in some effort. 
String of Pearls
The larger cutting that was just on the surface of the soil was not doing a great deal.  After a while the cutting on top of the soil started to shrivel and wither.  It was not growing any roots and was slowly going to die.  Being a succulent they store moisture and take a long time to die like this.  I am glad I had two cuttings so I could try this method. 

Under the right situation the string of pearls plant can root when simply placed on the soil surface like this, but not when the cuttings are so small.  I know that as the plant grows it sends roots down at leaf nodes from time to time and I can cut that section off to have another plant, but when cuttings are tiny and not overly well looked after this method does not seem like the best way to root cuttings.  As this was going to end poorly I removed the lower two leaves and planted the cutting, it recovered and has since survived and grown rather well. 

The tiny cutting that I originally planted and assumed would die because it was so small was actually growing strong and grew much larger than its counterpart in a relatively short amount of time.  I had only removed the lower leaf and planted the lower section of stem, this appears to be the easiest way to propagate string of pearls plant.  The cutting quickly grew longer and then branched several times and I was able to take a few more tiny cuttings.  I planted each of these cuttings in the same pot to help it look nicer. 

I now had a pot with several healthy string of pearls plants trailing over the sides of it.  These healthy growing plants do put down roots at leaf nodes every now and again, so I can understand why people say that cuttings can be grown in this way, but removing lower leaves and planting the stem seems to be more efficient and just as easy.  I have no idea if bottom heat or misting or rooting hormones make any difference to growth rate as I haven’t needed to try them, I have never had a cutting die.  I remove the lower leaves, stick them in soil, and away they grow.  They are not the fastest growing plant I have ever seen, but they are also not overly slow. 
String of pearls plants, getting bigger

My string of pearls plants were all happily growing over the warmer months getting longer and occasionally branching.  Being a succulent meant that I did not have to water them very often, just a little every now and again was enough to keep them thriving and looking great.  This is exactly what I had hoped would happen, they grew so easily, they required very little from me, and they looked amazing.  I keep looking at my string of pearls plant and think how small they are as I would love plants that are several feet long, then I look back to how tiny they were to begin with and notice that they have actually grown well for me.  

Then winter came, I didn’t know how to grow them so I looked on the internet for their care and everywhere said to bring them in out of the cold and protect them from frost.  Space is an issue in my house, so I placed the plants outside where they would not get much frost and hoped for the best.  I figured they were large enough that if they were damaged I could move them inside then and they should eventually recover.  

This year has been cold, we had snow, hail and many frosts and plants that normally survive winter with minimal damage have died off completely.  The string of pearls plants stopped growing over winter but have shown no frost damage.  Admittedly they are in a position that gets less frosts, but the point is that they survived winter completely un-phased.  I probably wouldn’t grow them in the open in frosty areas (although I may experiment with this next year), but with a little protection they do just fine.  Now that winter is over they have started to grow again.  

There is one thing that I dislike about String of Pearls plants, and that is they are not edible or useful.  I mostly grow things that are edible or useful in some way, and this string of pearls plant is completely useless other than looking fantastic, having nice smelling flowers, and generally making me smile.  All parts of the string of pearls plant are said to be mildly toxic, which means it is not good for pets or kids to eat too much of them.  I have plenty of kids and pets and none of them have ever even considered eating this plant, and from what I have read on the internet the side effects are a generally upset stomach, so I can’t imagine it being too much of an issue unless you have a really greedy and stupid cat or something that eats huge amounts of the plant.  

String of pearls plant used to be very popular in Australia, but for some reason they are difficult to find at the moment.  It is too bad as they look great and are so simple to grow.  As well as the green variety that I have there is also a variegated version of the string of pearls plant.  I have only seen this being sold in one place and one day I should try to get one. 
String of pearls cutting starting to grow

Where to buy Sting of Pearls plants in Australia
I sell unrooted string of pearls plant cuttings through my for sale page.  I take the cutting after you order just prior to posting so they are fresh and healthy and could easily survive several weeks before being planted.  Most have tiny roots starting to form.  When you get the cuttings please remove the lower few pearls, plant the cutting in some soil, give them dappled light, and water them.  It really is that simple.  Plant them as soon as you can after they arrive to help them grow as fast as possible for you, while they will survive a long time without being planted I prefer that you plant them as soon as possible.  I do not guarantee that the cuttings will survive and grow for you as I have no control over the growing conditions at your place, but I am yet to have any planted cuttings fail so think you are pretty safe to go with this option. 

I also sell small string of pearls plants through my for sale page.  The plants cost more as they have taken me more time to produce.  They are not in a pot, they are wrapped in damp newspaper and have minimal soil on the roots.  I take cuttings and then grow them on until I am absolutely certain that they have good roots and are actively getting larger.  Plants usually grow faster than cuttings as they already have roots, cuttings take a little while longer to do anything as they have to grow roots before they can start to get larger. 

String of pearls plants flower and can produce viable seed.  At this stage I don’t sell string of pearls seeds as I don’t know how long they are viable, or the best/easiest way to grow them from seed, and I would hate to sell dead seeds.  I am currently experimenting with the best way to grow string of pearls plant from seeds, and to find out how long they remain viable when stored properly, once I have this all worked out I plan to also sell string of pearls seeds as it is a good way for people to get a lot of plants for less money. 

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