How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Ghost Plants
Thinking of adding a ghost plant to your indoor garden? Ghost plants (aka Graptopetalum paraguayense) are well known succulents that can make any indoor garden pop with visual interest. In this article, gardening expert and houseplant enthusiast Emily Horn outlines how to plant, grow, and care for Ghost Plants.
Succulents have become increasingly popular over the years, especially as houseplants. They are incredibly easy to grow and are even said to thrive on neglect. In particular, pink succulents have become more common as indoor plants for their unique color. The stunning ghost plant is one of these pinkish-colored succulents that are loved by gardeners.
Ghost plants can grow in pinkish-yellow tones under the right light conditions. They prefer full to partial sunlight and will have pink foliage in conditions that are dry and hot. Otherwise, more shade and cooler air will result in a blueish-gray color.
Because of this ease, one-of-a-kind color scheme, and general popularity of the plant, they are a top choice as additions to indoor gardens. Are you adding one to your home? Below you’ll read more on how to plant, grow, and care for ghost plants in your home!
Ghost Plant Overview
Plant Type Succulent
Species Graptopetalum paraguayense
Native Area Mexico
Exposure Full to Partial Sun
Height 6-12 inches
Watering Requirements Low
Pests Aphids, Mealybugs, Spidermites
Soil Type Well-draining Succulent Mix
Hardiness Zones 10-11
What is a Ghost Plant?
The ghost plant, Grapetolpetalum paraguayense, is a medium-sized flowering succulent. The rosettes of the plant max out at around 4 inches wide, 12 inches tall, and can trail upward of 36 inches, depending on the cultivar.
Forgiving in nature to surrounding environmental conditions, ghost plants are well suited as indoor houseplants for beginners as well as veteran plant hobbyists.
Graptopetalum paraguayense are members of the Crassulaceae family, which includes plants such as jade plants, kalanchoe, and sedum. With thick, fleshy, pointed grayish blue to reddish-yellow leaves arranged in a rosette pattern and the occasional scape of white to yellow star-shaped flowers, ghost plants are a beautiful addition to any desert plant collection.
Originating from central and eastern Mexico, Graptopetalum paraguayense enjoy bright light and warm temperatures. However, they are easily adaptable to low light levels and cooler temperatures, depending on the season.
Where to Buy
Initial plant selection is important. You want to start off with a healthy plant specimen to be successful. There are a few things to do when selecting the right plant for your indoor garden.
Choose a Reputable Garden Center
Although the plants may be more expensive, they have been cared for better than the ones hanging out at the local grocery store floral department. It is often confused for the Graptosedum ‘Ghosty’ plant, so be sure to check the label.
You can also take some starts from a friend or neighbor. Ghost plants are easy to propagate vegetatively, so chances are you know someone who has an abundance of young plants in need of a new home. Be sure to scout for any insect pests on the starts.
Check for Symptoms of Overwatering
Feel the leaves, are they firm and fleshy? Squishy and oozing? Fall off when touched? How does the soil smell/look? How heavy is the pot? Is the plant sitting in standing water or waterlogged?
If the leaves fall off or squish upon being touched, chances are it’s been overwatered, and rot is occurring. Smell the soil, within reason. If the water has been in the pot for a while, you’ll know it. A stagnant or rotting smell means no air at the roots, and there is very little hope that this plant will survive.
Look for Insect Pests
If you see any mealy bugs, scale insects, spider mite webbing, or aphids, take a pass on the plant. Unfortunately, if you have any other houseplants, these pests will love the fact that you brought them home to feast on a houseplant smorgasbord of unsuspecting plants.
If you’re unsure if your new plant contains pests, isolate it initially from your other plants for a week or two. If you see no outbreak of insects, feel free to integrate your ghost plant in with your other plants.
How to Grow
When growing any succulents, there are a number of factors that need to be considered in order for them to reach their ideal health in your home.
The correct soil, just the right amount of water, the ideal lighting conditions, as well as the proper pot are all necessary to keep a Graptopetalum paraguayense happy. Let’s take a look at what it takes to care for this succulent.
Since Graptopetalum paraguayense are desert natives, the more intense sunlight the plant receives, the more dramatic shades of reddish yellow the leaves will be. Typically, full sun, a minimum of 6 hours, is required to achieve these color tones.
The strength of sunlight also influences the overall growth habit of the ghost plant. Since there is adequate light available in a full sun location, the plant does not need to stretch out to receive more light, a process known as etiolation. This abundance of sunlight creates a shorter, thicker, and sturdier plant overall.
However, etiolation is not necessarily a bad thing. Under subprime light conditions, such as indirect light, or sitting in a north or east-facing window, Graptopetalum paraguayense can take on a new form.
Instead of the bright, cheery reddish yellow leaves, the leaves take on a light blue almost gray tone, which is fairly unique to the plant world.
In addition to the dramatic change in leaf color, the stems of the ghost plant will begin to stretch out, looking leggy. This stretching will create a more open, almost vining look to the plant.
Ghost plants are shallow rooted, meaning the roots tend to stay near the soil surface. This serves the plant well in its natural habitat.
With inconsistent rainfall in the desert, the root system stays at the soil surface, allowing the roots to soak up as much rainwater as quickly as possible. This ability serves the plant well since it does not know when the next time it will receive water.
If you do decide to water, make sure that you give your plant a thorough watering. Thorough watering is when a plant is watered from the top and the water can drain through the entire soil profile; come out the bottom of the pot. This allows for your Graptopetalum paraguayense to get all the water it needs.
Generally, when watering all plants, use lukewarm water. I knew a wise, old Dutchman who equated watering plants to taking a shower. Extremely hot water or straight cold water in a shower would send a shock through your system. The same is true for your plants. Strive for lukewarm water if you can when watering.
When to Water
Check your ghost plant weekly to see if it needs water. The need for water can vary depending on many factors such as location, time of year, size of the container, and so forth.
A few ways you can tell if your plant needs water are easy and inexpensive, and you’ve got the equipment already at your fingertips, literally. If your soil is loose, stick your index finger down inside the soil as far as you can.
Your fingertip is literally the best moisture meter available. You can feel with your finger how wet the soil is and how far down the soil profile it is wet. If the soil feels wet, it’s wet enough and you can skip watering. If it feels dry to the touch, give your plant a thorough drink.
Check weekly to see if it needs water. It may or may not need to be watered. Do not water if you are unsure. It is always better to underwater a plant than overwater it. Plants can recover much better from wilt than they can from drowning.
Potting mix selection plays a key role in plant survival. Commercially available desert potting mix is the easiest and most convenient to use. Most commercial mixes contain balanced ratios of at least one organic component, inorganic ingredient, sand, and limestone/calcium substrate.
Organic materials like peat moss, compost, or leaf humus, help retain water and are a nutrient source for plants. Inorganic ingredients include materials such as perlite and pumice, which create the necessary pore space in the soil to keep oxygen at the root zone.
Sand does retain necessary water, but without the addition of perlite or pumice, can become heavy and saturated, leading to root issues. Occasionally, limestone is supplemented to balance the soil pH, but other calcium-based materials can also add pore space and help neutralize the soil pH simultaneously.
Unglazed clay pots work well for cacti and succulents because they are porous, meaning it can “breathe.” Excess water in a porous pot can evaporate easily through the pot walls. This allows for air circulation at the root zone, which decreases the likelihood of root rot diseases.
In addition to the type of container, be sure the pot has drainage holes. Drainage holes allow for excess water to come out of the soil allowing for small pockets of dissolved oxygen to form in the plant root zone. Plants need oxygen at their roots for proper growth, as oxygen assists in the absorption of nutrients found in the soil and fertilizers.
Ghost plants prefer warm temperatures, think 75°F or more, but they can tolerate temperatures as low as 20°F. That is a very wide temperature range for a houseplant. In the desert, daytime temperatures can get rather high. But at night, the desert air gets very cool and dry.
Graptopetalum paraguayense are very adaptable to temperature changes inside as well. Now, do you need to keep your home thermostat above 75° in the day and 20° at night for you to be successful in growing your ghost plant?
The answer is no. Rather, this ability to adapt to temperature fluctuations helps your ghost plant coexist with you inside your home.
Ghost plants do not require much in the means of fertilizer. If you used a high-quality cactus potting mix when you initially planted it, the organic materials in the soilless mix will provide adequate nutrition as the peat moss/compost/humus breaks down.
If you do need to feed your Graptopetalum paraguayense, there are commercially available cactus and succulent fertilizers on the market, many of which are great for fertilizing your ghost plant. Be sure to follow the label directions on how much and how often to fertilize your plant. Failing to do so can cause tissue damage and possible plant demise.
Apply fertilizer during the active growing season; spring-summer. This is the time when your plant needs extra nutrients.
As houseplants, most desert plants are low maintenance, and Graptopetalum paraguayense is no exception. Checking the plant for water weekly, placing the plant in adequate light, and planting in a pot that is not too large relative to the plant’s size are basically the care it requires from you on a regular basis.
There are a few other needs your ghost plant has that do not happen very often but are equally as important; fertilizing, pruning, and repotting.
Repotting your ghost plant into a new pot is not a regular occurrence. It may need to be repotted every few years if that even. When you decide to repot your plant, keep in mind the following:
It is imperative that the new pot have drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
The size of the pot is very important. Usually, when you repot a ghost plant, you go up one pot size-if you had your plant in a 4” container, now you would pot it in a 6” container. By slightly increasing the pot size, you control the growth rate of the plant. It allows the plant roots to grow but keeps the top of the plant from sprawling out all over the place.
By increasing the pot size by one size, you also help control the moisture level in the soil surrounding the roots. If they pot is too big, you will use way too much soil in the pot to fill it. When you go to water the pot thoroughly, the soil will retain too much water, because the plant is small and simply cannot utilize the water reserve. This is a perfect environment for root rot.
Time of year
Late winter/early spring is the best time to repot. Your plant will be in its new pot and fresh soil just as it begins its active growth for the year. The new pot will give the plant room to grow, and the fresh soil will be loaded with nutrients, allowing your Graptopetalum paraguayense to thrive during the growing season.
Graptopetalum paraguayense may need occasional pruning to help maintain the size and shape of your plant. If your plant has become too long due to low light, you can prune it back. Late winter/early spring is a good time to prune, as you are heading into the active growing season, and it will not be long before new growth emerges.
When it comes to pruning plants, the general rule of pruning is not to remove more than 1/3 of a plant’s top growth. This allows for the remaining leaves to support the nutritional needs of the plant until new growth appears.
If you remove any more than 1/3 of the growth, you may stress out the plant. Stressed plants are more susceptible to insect and disease infestations.
When it’s time to prune, look for the nodes and internodes on the stems of the plant. The nodes are the areas in which the leaves come out. The long stretches in between the nodes are called the internodes.
Determine how long of a stem you want to have to remain on your plant. Using clean pruners, cut slightly at an angle, in the direction of the leaf growth, just above the node. The remaining stems will flush out new leaves in a few months, at the last node near the cut. You can use these pieces you pruned out to propagate new plants.
Most plants reproduce in one of two ways; vegetatively, asexually, or sexually, via seeds/spores. The easiest way to reproduce Graptopetalum paraguayense is vegetatively. By using leaves, stems, or even the offsets of older plants, you can easily increase your ghost plant collection.
The first way we will discuss the propagation is by using a technique called leaf cuttings. You can literally take leaves off your ghost plant, stick them in some soil, and over time, new little plants will begin to grow.
Leaf Cutting Propagation Steps
- Water your ghost plant a day or two prior to propagating.
- Select healthy leaves.
- Remove the leaves at the base of the leaf at the center of the rosette.
- Do not cut, crush, or twist the leaf tissue.
- This will damage the leaf and it will not be able to properly callus over.
- Allow the leaf end to callus over.
- This is a simple drying of the end of the leaf tip for a few days.
- By drying out, it seals the leaf.
- This prevents fungal and bacterial infections while rooting.
- Once the callus has formed, prep your new leaf for planting.
- If desired, you can dip your leaf cutting in a rooting hormone.
- Stick your leaf, callus end down, into a pot of damp cactus potting mix.
- Bury the callus into the potting mix.
- This will help to help secure the leaf’s contact with the soil.
- Place the pot in a well-lit window out of any drafts.
- Keeping the pot out of drafts will help the leaves maintain moisture.
- Check the soil a few times a week to make sure it is damp.
- If the soil feels dry to the touch, dampen the soil.
- It should be wet, but not saturated.
- If your leaf cutting sits in wet soil, it will rot.
In a matter of a few weeks, you will see new growth beginning at the soil level. Allow the new plants time to grow multiple leaves as well as roots prior to removing the new plant to its new home. The original leaf will eventually shrivel and die. It did its job and is no longer needed.
The process of growing ghost plants from stem cuttings is almost the same as growing new plants from leaf cuttings. The only difference is that instead of the leaf being placed on the soil level, a 3-4” long callused stem with leaves is inserted into a pot of damp cactus media.
Pack the stem tightly in the potting mix, so that the stem can stand upright, it will look like little trees sticking up. Once new roots have begun to form, you can transplant the new plant into its own pot.
When ghost plants are happy, they may start growing little off shoots at the base of the mother plant. These offshoots, or pups, are identical plants to the larger plant they are attached to. Although attached, the pups can be removed from the mother plant and potted in their own pots.
During the active growing season, gently dig around the pup and the mother plant to see where the pup is attached. At the attachment site, carefully remove the pup from the mother plant, avoiding crushing or damaging the plant tissue. Sometimes the pups fall off rather easily, and this is okay.
Allow the pup to callus over for a few days and then firmly press the pups into a pot of damp cactus mix. Place in a well-lit window and check the soil often to make sure it is damp enough for the pup to begin its own active growth.
Depending on the age and size of the pup, it may have its own root system already. If that is the case, gently dig up the roots of the pup and plant the pup into its own pot.
Ghost plants are relatively pest and disease free with proper care. Occasionally, mealy bugs, spider sites, or aphids may become a problem, easily remedied with insecticidal soap or Neem oil applications.
Another option for pest control would be using a cotton swab dipped in a rubbing alcohol solution to dislodge the insects from the plant with gentle scrubbing. The rubbing alcohol evaporates quickly, preventing any harm to the plant tissue.
Mixing a 10% solution of rubbing alcohol and water (1 part rubbing alcohol to 9 parts water) will be strong enough to kill the pest, but again, should not damage the plant.
With its great adaptability to indoor conditions, as well as its interesting physical response to various light levels, ghost plants are a relatively easy addition to your houseplant collection. They are excellent beginner-level plants that any gardener can grow and maintain. Once you know how to care for these interesting plants, they won’t let you down!