String of Tips: Senecio Care
Senecio (alternate Latin designation, Curio) is a succulent that takes on many shapes and forms, the most popular of which are stunning, cascading vines with leaves that easily invoke the forms of something else. String of Pearls and Fish Hooks, both Senecios, make dramatic design statements that stop plant-lovers in their tracks. But why are they so difficult to take care of?
Read on for everything you need to know about Senecio care, and watch the video below from Tula co-founder Christan Summers.
Let’s start at the roots.
Senecios have very fine root systems. While most plants form large roots that lead to thinner roots, the roots here start thin and stay thin, allowing these plants to find purchase and thin cavities on cliffside rocks. For this reason, these arid plants can be underwatered, and much more easily overwatered.
Before we talk about water, let’s talk about sunlight.
They need a lot of it. If possible, provide Senecios with many hours of direct sunlight. By direct sunlight, I mean sun blasting in through the window and hitting the plant like a beacon. If you were to hold your hand between the window and the plant, you would cast a hard, dark shadow on the leaves.
While it is possible to grow plants like this in lower light scenarios, it is much more difficult to introduce water beneficially. One overwatering and the plant’s health could go south.
When and how to water.
While balance is important and overwatering and underwatering are both possible when it comes to Senecios, nine times out of ten your plant’s going to be suffering from overwatering, not underwatering. These plants come from arid, rocky slopes in South Africa, where they regularly experience long droughts. You can let these plants sit for a long time without being watered. Even if the soil is completely dry for several days, the plant will sustain itself with moisture captured in the leaves.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t need water at all. The golden rule with Senecios (and with most succulents, for that matter) is to wait until the soil is completely dry before watering. Here are the best signs:
- Pick up the plant. Is it super light or hefty? Water weighs a lot, so get a feel for when the pot is full of water and when all the water has been soaked up or evaporated out.
- Is soil contracted from the sides of the pot? If there is space between the soil and the wall of the pot, that’s a good sign that it’s dry.
- Look at the surfaces of the leaves – are they contracted and wrinkly? If the leaves look like they have fingerprint imprints on them, that means moisture in the leaves is being pulled from the leaves to sustain the plant.
To confirm, feel the soil with your finger – is it dry and crispy on top? This should just be used to make sure the plant is ready, not as your only test. Just because soil is dry on top doesn’t mean it is throughout.
When you have determined the Senecio needs water, water slowly and thoroughly, until water is streaming out of the drainage hole. Make sure to cover the whole surface of the root ball with water. If the soil is super dry, the water might pool at the top of the soil, then slip through it very quickly. If this happens, wait until it drains, then water again, so the soil becomes thoroughly moist, but not saturated. If you squeeze the soil, you don’t want water coming out like it’s a sponge.
Don’t let the Senecio sit in water – pots without drainage or bottom watering are both discouraged.
And there you have it! Keep in mind that these plants are not easy, so trial and error are always possibilities. But provide it with the right conditions and water only when necessary, and you’ll have a stunning design plant that stands the test of time.