How to Plant, Grow, and Care For String of Turtles Plants
If you are considering adding a string of turtles houseplant to your indoor garden collection, there's some important factors to consider. These particular plants make wonderful houseplants, but they need to have the right growing conditions in order to thrive. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton guides you through each step of how to plant, grow, and care for string of turtles plants.
String succulents are becoming trendier with collectors grabbing them to add to their long lists of houseplant favorites. As the houseplant and succulent popularity has grown in the last few years, so has the interest in unique succulents like the String of Turtles.
As the name suggests, string succulents are fleshy-leaved plants that form cascading vines or chains that are perfect for hanging gardens in pots or baskets. They are identified by their leaves having a resemblance to an object or animal, with names like String of Pearls, String of Bananas, String of Dolphins, and the focus of this article – String of Turtles.
These plants all come from different species, with String of Turtles belonging to the easy-to-grow Peperomia genus. Their vining nature and delicate form with leaves like turtle shells make this plant a winner for any houseplant enthusiast. In this article, you’ll learn how to plant, grow, and care for String of Turtles plants in your indoor garden.
String of Turtles Plant Overview
Plant Type Houseplant
Species Peperomia prostrata
Native Area Tropical Central and South America
Exposure Bright Indirect Light
Length 12 inches
Watering Requirements Medium With Misting
Pests and Diseases Root Rot, Spider Mites, Mealybug
Soil Type Rich, Loamy, Well-draining
Hardiness Zone 10-12
What Is It?
Peperomia prostrata is a small-leaved vining plant that forms a thick mat in a pot, cascading down the sides. It’s a succulent that has become more popular over the last few years, and has a few other varieties that are quite common for indoor gardens.
Its main features are rounded green leaves, featuring purple patterns with white veins. The markings are displayed in symmetrical patterns that are similar to that of turtle shells, hence the name.
It’s is also known by some as Magic Marmer and part of the general Peperomia name Radiator Plant. The Radiator Plant name comes from the plant’s ability to thrive in warm air and tolerate wet and dry climates, just as you would find indoors with a radiator. Plants from this particular genus can live in hot, moist conditions. In fact, they make great refrigerator companions and will live quite well on top of them.
There are over a thousand species of Peperomia that originate in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, mostly from Central and South America.
Peperomia prostrata was originally found in Ecuador and named by English orchidologist Benjamin Samual Williams (1822-1890). You will often see B.S.Williams after the name. Benjamin, known more for his publications on orchids, published the findings of the plant in 1879. He was a famous orchid grower who won several awards for his plants.
From the depths of tropical America where Peperomias come from, to the huge indoor plant market of today, this plant is one of the best to grow for its mottled foliage and cascading form.
Originally found in Ecuador and also in the tropical regions of South and Central America, Peperomia prostrata ‘String of Turtles’ is happy in wet forests, shaded by overhead trees and shrubs. You can usually find it growing across forest floors, spreading its wonderful vines far and wide but remaining compact.
This type of environment can be replicated in an indoor environment with a little misting and the correct position.
Like the pothos, their native habitats are not similar to most regions in the US. Because of that, it’s best to keep these plants indoors and protected from the cold. Luckily, they appreciate the same conditions as humans indoors, making great companions.
Peperomia prostrata has round leaves around 0.5 inches in diameter that form on thin, fleshy strings. The stems have some reddish hues along their length.
The leaves are the biggest at the top of the strings, getting smaller at the ends. They form a mat that then flows over the edges of the container to softly and delicately tumble to a length of up to 12 inches. However, they are very slow growers, so be patient with them when they are young.
This plant has reddish-brown flower stalks with tiny cream flowers that form year-round, but they are quite insignificant in comparison to the foliage and have no scent. The spikes grow upwards from the base of the plant and the flowers form on a spadix. Some people prefer to remove the flower stalks, but that comes down to personal choice.
This Peperomia is best grown indoors, making sure it has space to cascade. In tropical and subtropical regions, it can also be planted in dappled shade under trees or shrubs. With some protection from harsh sun, it’s also perfect for balconies or patios in hanging baskets.
String of Turtles can be described as semi-succulent, but do not follow the usual growing instructions for succulents. Read on for the best advice on how to look after them and what they need.
How to Grow
Getting your plant to grow is sometimes more art than science. But the basics always remain. You’ll need adequate sunlight, enough water, proper soil conditions, and the right fertilizer. Let’s take a look at some of the most important growing conditions to meet in order to properly grow this particular plant.
Bright indirect light is the best position for String of Turtles indoors. Dark green leaves are often burned and damaged by sunlight so direct sunlight should be avoided at all costs. They grow well under grow lights indoors and prefer south and eastern-facing windows.
The problem with positioning this plant is that the top, where most of the leaves rest, also needs to receive enough light. Considering its tumbling nature, many people place the plant on a high shelf so that the flowing tendrils can be shown off. But, when planted this way, the majority of the leaves get very little light.
The extra light is essential to dry out the soil and prevent root rot. It will also not produce any fresh growth if the light is not good enough and they grow so slowly anyway, it would be a pity to slow them down even further. Rather position at head height or lower in an area with plenty of bright indirect light.
Indoors and outdoors, they cannot do with more than a couple of hours of direct sunlight, and even then, it can’t be every day. It is safer to protect them from direct sun by filtering the light with a sheer curtain.
As a tropical plant, Peperomia prostrata likes water and humidity. But, as a semi-succulent, it can also store lots of water in its leaves.
Only water if the top two inches or so of soil is dry and water from the base. Watering sooner will keep the soil excessively moist, causing the roots to rot. As the leaves are small and don’t draw up much water, the soil will take a while to dry out.
This usually means that the plants will only require watering every 2-3 weeks in ideal conditions. If the leaves start curling or shriveling, it’s sending a message that it needs water more regularly.
Bottom watering will help keep the plants healthy and disease-free. Add water to a sink or bucket and place the plants in the water so the water seeps up the drainage holes in the base and is drawn up to the top of the plants.
Leave them to sit in the water for around 30 minutes and then remove them from the water. Drain them thoroughly before placing them back in position. Make sure the bottom of the pots does not sit in water to prevent root rot.
Going back to their native forest atmosphere, we can prepare the proper soil for them to thrive.
These plants require good drainage to avoid the roots succumbing to root rot or other fungal diseases and pest infestations. It should retain enough moisture to stop the leaves from drying out, but not so much that they become rotten and mushy.
In this specific case, specially formatted commercial succulent or cacti mixes are not rich enough for these plants. A rich loamy organic mix with added drainage amendments is ideal.
Mix together two parts coco peat, one part compost, and one part perlite or coarse sand. Perlite is a light additive that helps with aeration and drainage.
The pH should be neutral or slightly acidic, but these plants are not incredibly fussy either way.
Temperature and Humidity
Originating from tropical forests, String of Turtles likes high humidity and warm temperatures. Misting often can improve conditions but may become tedious after a while. Instead, invest in humidity that will create the ideal conditions for this plant.
This Peperomia can also be grown successfully in a terrarium where the humidity will naturally be higher. The humidity levels for this plant are at an ideal stage at about 50%, but they will generally be fine with humidity above 40%.
Peperomia prostrata will grow best in warmer USDA zones 10-12. The ideal temperature indoors for these plants is between 68°F-75°F. It won’t do well in cold temperatures and should also be kept away from cold drafts near doors or windows.
If growing the plants outside, they need to be moved indoors or into a greenhouse if the temperatures drop below 50°F in the colder months. Fluctuating temperatures are not good for them – try and keep it constant and not above 75°F which could also damage their leaves.
To keep these plants healthy, they should be fed with a water-soluble liquid fertilizer or specially formulated succulent food every few weeks during the growing season in spring and summer. They don’t need to be fed at all in the fall and winter.
Fertilizer will also keep the leaves in tip-top shape and keep their markings bright and colorful.
If the leaves start dropping, they may be getting too much fertilizer. Try skipping a few feedings to see if this improves.
These little plants require very little maintenance. However, they can be pruned back if they become unruly, and promote new growth.
Use a clean, sterilized, sharp pair of secateurs and cut off any damaged leaves and vines. This helps with any shock. If the plant is becoming leggy, cut back to promote more compact growth. Don’t remove more than a third of the growth of the plant at one time.
The stems of this plant are delicate and can break off easily. Luckily, any broken stems can be used to propagate more plants. You can propagate String of Turtles by leaf or vine cuttings. Take cuttings at the beginning of the growing season in spring to make the most of the sped-up growth.
Sections of vines can be propagated in water or in a soil medium. The choice is yours.
Propagating in Water
To propagate in water, simply fill a glass, leaving a little space at the top. Cover the glass with plastic wrap.
Cut sections of the vines off a healthy plant 3-4 inches long and remove the lower leaves. Make a hole in the plastic and pop in so the bottom of the stem is in the water. Make more holes and pop more plants in, but make sure there is enough airflow between the cuttings.
The plastic helps keep the cuttings upright and under the water so they can grow roots. Keep an eye on the water level and top up if necessary.
Propagating in Soil
For propagating in soil, prepare a tray or pot and fill with a mixture of one part coco peat to one part perlite for a light mix that is perfect for propagating Peperomia. Make sure the mixture is damp before you add your cuttings.
Using a sharp pair of pruning clippers, cut off a vine 2-3 inches long and make sure to include some leaves. First, dip each cutting in water. Then, dip each cutting into a small container of rooting hormone powder. This step is optional but does improve your chances of root growth while limiting potential problems with disease.
Create a hole with your finger or a wooden tool in the soil, plant each cutting, and press down to secure it in place.
Date and label the cuttings to keep track of their progress. Keep the cuttings evenly moist. It’s important that they stay this way until they have properly rooted. Place the cuttings in an area that is bright but not in direct sunlight and at a temperature above 65F, or place them on a heated growing mat.
Once they have plenty of new growth, they can be potted into their own small pots.
Repotting in spring will help the plant grow and give it a boost in nutrients by replacing its soil. The rich loamy mix described above is the best to use for repotting.
Repot into the same sized pot or one size up. They like their roots to be a little confined and they have a small root system so the same pot size is usually sufficient. If you want to go up in pot sizes, do so very gradually.
Like all plants, there are some common problems you will want to avoid, especially if this plant is indoors. Making sure you don’t overwater (especially this species) as well as keeping sun needs in mind is extremely important. Let’s take a deeper look at some problems you may face.
This is by far the worst thing to do for this plant and it will be pretty obvious when the plant is getting too much water. The leaves may become bumpy and start to wilt if too much water is in the soil, eventually succumbing to root rot. The stems may start dropping off too if there is too much water in the soil.
This plant likes to be dry in between waterings. You’ll want to wait until the plant dries out completely before watering again. Then, you will need to drain thoroughly after watering before placing on pot trays or a saucer, and check that the plant is not sitting in water.
Underwatering is not a common issue as the plants will notify you when they are lacking in water. The leaves will start to curl up and their natural succulent feel will start to feel like raisins.
If that happens, water the plants immediately to resolve the problem. Adjust your watering routine to ensure it does not happen again, as frequent underwatering can cause stress and result in stunted growth.
Too Much Sun
If Peperomia prostrata gets too much sun, they may defend themselves by changing their leaf color. If the leaves become faded, start losing their markings, become muted in color or even produce red leaves, it could be a sign that it’s getting too much sun.
Move it to an area with bright indirect or filtered sunlight or limit the time it spends in the sun to not more than an hour a day.
Pests and Diseases
Like all plants, pests and diseases can happen. While they happen less in properly cared for plants, this plant is not immune to some common problems, including root rot, mealybugs, and whiteflies. Let’s take a look at some of the most likely pests and diseases you may come up against with this particular plant.
In waterlogged soils, a parasitic mold called Pythium attaches itself to the roots and causes them to rot. The unhealthy look of this disease will be evident in the performance of the plant.
Drooping or wilting and discolored leaves are some of the signs. If you think the plant has root rot, there are some fungicides that are available commercially that may help, but it’s probably best to get rid of the plant and start again, remembering not to overwater and improve drainage.
If the damaged roots are able to be removed, and you still have enough health roots to drive the plant, then start the repotting process. It’s important to use fresh soil mix when you repot your plant. Unfortunately, though, this is unlikely for this plant as Peperomia prostrata has a very small root ball to work with.
Keep an eye out for spider mites. They are hard to see and you may need a magnifying glass to check on the underside of leaves for dust or webs.
These little horrors will burrow into the leaves, opening up the leaf cells and eventually destroying the plant. They can even come in from the outside through a window, so it may not be anything you are doing that causes the problem.
Wipe off any dust or webbings you may see with a cloth or a burst of water. Once the plant is cleaned, spray with neem oil or insecticidal soap. If you have a larger infection, you may unfortunately have to resort to a commercially made insecticide to get rid of spider mites. Keep the plants away from your other plants, and outdoors while being treated.
Sucking insects like mealybugs are a plant’s worst nightmare. They siphon all the liquid out of the leaves, leaving dried-up hulls. They are easy enough to spot by the white powder they secrete on the plant that looks like a fungus.
You’ll want to give the plant a good rinse, and spray with an insecticide or some neem oil. Rubbing alcohol can be used to spot treat any bugs that are still visible. This way you catch any bugs that may hatch after the cleaning. You’ll want to make sure you watch the plant to ensure it stays mealybug free. You may have to respray the plant every week if the infestation is severe.
As a last resort, systemic pesticides can be used. The white powder you see on the plant is there to protect the eggs, and will repel certain pesticides. Manually handling this process is usually most effective.
Little white insects that look like tiny moths on the undersides of leaves could be whiteflies. Whiteflies are closely related to mealybugs and aphids. They are soft-bodied, sucking insects. Once your plant is infested, they can easily destroy a plant.
Try and vacuum the bugs off the plant first – although do be careful as the little leaves are quite delicate. Adult whiteflies can fly, which can make them harder to kill. In order to treat their eggs, you can use a neem oil solution. This may or may not kill the adults, and you may need multiple treatments to stop the spread. Worst case, you can result to a commercially produced pesticide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is String of Turtles easy to grow?
This plant is very easy to grow. Make sure they are not drowned in water, have excellent drainage and warm temperatures and you can’t go wrong. Although they look fairly delicate, if looked after, they are resilient and are generally pest and disease-free.
How much light does String of Turtles need?
They need bright indirect or filtered sunlight indoors. This type of light allows the plant to produce new growth. The leaves can become faded and lose their markings with too much direct sunlight.
Should you mist String of Turtles?
They love humidity and coming from a tropical area of the world will do well with a misting often with clean water.
How fast does String of Turtles grow?
While they grow easily, they also grow very slowly. They can fill a pot easily but may only get to 12 inches in length in 3-5 years. Regular feeding and care could speed them up a bit, but it’s best to be patient. Regular pruning can make them bushier and help give them a boost to create new growth.
Is String of Turtles toxic?
Nope. The entire plant is non-toxic and is safe for adults, children, and pets. It’s not a good idea to eat them though.
String of Turtles is a wonderful little plant that deserves a spot in any household. It’s easy to grow with these simple rules and produces such lovely flowing foliage with glorious patterns that are delightful. It should be on every houseplant collectors’ list as a must-have semi-succulent vine.