String of Pearls is an attractive succulent with long stems lined with plump, round beads. If you own this plant, you may have noticed that it can feel sticky. This unexpected stickiness can be concerning, especially if you’re unsure of why it might be happening.
Your String of Pearls plant can feel sticky because it’s designed to retain moisture in its leaves. However, it can also indicate bug infestation, overwatering, and poor growing conditions. As long as your String of Pearls is healthy and thriving, some stickiness is nothing to worry about.
In this article, I’ll discuss common issues that cause String of Pearls to become sticky. I’ll also share how to identify and treat these issues. Read on to learn about String of Pearls’ preferences, needs, and how to adjust for them in your home.
Are Sticky String of Pearl Plants Normal?
Sticky String of Pearl plants can be normal and healthy, as long as the stickiness is due to natural reasons. They will often be slightly sticky or slippery to the touch due to the presence of an oily wax that coats them. This waxy coating helps protect the leaves from extreme temperatures and dryness, keeping the plant healthy and vibrant in appearance.
Because String of Pearls is a hardy desert succulent, it’s perfectly normal for these plants to have a tough, textured exterior. After all, they have evolved to survive extended periods of drought and intense heat. Their traits developed over many millennia in the hot, arid regions of Africa, South America, and beyond. With an intricate network of stems and round leaves resembling pearls on a string or beads on a necklace, this unique plant offers beauty as well as durability.
The String of Pearl’s waxy coating helps protect against water loss while its dense root system allows the succulent to store moisture during drier times. In addition, the resilient stems can stretch up to 3 feet (1 meter) in length, allowing them to reach further into available resources like soil nutrients and water.
Common Reasons String of Pearls May Feel Sticky
Compared to other houseplants, String of Pearl plants can feel naturally tacky. However, it’s important to know when the stickiness is cause for concern. If your fingers are sticking to the leaves as if the plant is drenched in honey or syrup, you’ll need to check for your plant’s health.
Many people consider aphids to be relatively innocuous, but they can feed on the bulbous leaves of String of Pearls. If left untreated, aphids can kill portions of the plant.
Aphids leave a sticky sap-like resin on the plants that they infest, which can explain why your String of Pearls feels stickier than usual. Fortunately, aphids are visible to the naked eye and can easily be treated.
If you have a small number of aphids on the plant, you can remove them carefully with tweezers, destroying them, so they don’t infest another part of the plant. Larger volumes of aphids may require you to cut off the impacted portion of the plant and dispose of it.
Many new gardeners quickly turn to insecticides, but it’s important to consider the impacts of using these commercial treatments. Insecticides can harm your own health, pets, and other plants. Horticultural oils are an excellent alternative to insecticide sprays, as they work by smothering the insects with a thicker, dense concentration.
The best way to prevent aphids is to inspect your plants regularly and remove anything that appears odd. Make it a habit to inspect new plants before you purchase them and introduce them to your home and other plants.
Mealybugs are another common houseplant pest species that can affect the texture of your String of Pearls. Like aphids, mealybugs feed on plants and leave a tacky, sticky residue.
Mealybugs are tiny little creatures that are very effective at hiding in the crooks of leaves or at the juncture of the stems. They often enter a home via an infested plant, which is easy to do since they are so small and hide well on their host plant.
Mealybugs look like tiny, fuzzy grains of rice. They move slowly and don’t travel far, but if you see them on any plant, immediately move the plant away from other plants to prevent further infestation.
To get rid of mealybugs, start by spraying the leaves with water to remove some bugs. Many sources recommend using a very diluted soap and water mixture to remove mealybugs, but you have to take care to water the soap down enough not to damage the plant.
Mealybugs have a waxy coating, making them more of a challenge to eradicate. If you’re interested in treating waxy-coated bugs with non-chemical treatments, diatomaceous earth is a non-toxic solution.
Diatomaceous earth is a white powder comprised of ground-up exoskeletons of diatoms. It works by the sharp edges of the powder crystals piercing the waxy coating of crawling insects. This makes the pests dehydrate and die.
The powder is completely natural and doesn’t impact plants, pets, or humans. It is a great substance to have on hand for houseplants or gardens. It is cost-effective and takes very little to treat a plant or area.
The only thing to remember when using diatomaceous earth is that after you water the plant, you will need to reapply the powder. Some may cling to the leaves, but most will wash into the soil, requiring you to reapply to the plant.
Another common houseplant pest that could create conditions that make the plant feel sticky is the fungus gnat. It is a widespread houseplant pest and is not specific to String of Pearls or succulents.
Fungus gnats are precisely what they should like; tiny, pesky little flies that crawl around in the soil and orbit the plant. The gnats themselves don’t make the plant sticky, but they’re more a symptom of other issues that may be contributing to the moist texture of the plant.
Fungus gnats occur when moisture levels in the soil are a bit higher than ideal, creating rot in the potting medium that the gnats consume. They also reproduce on this damp potting medium, continuing their life cycle.
They don’t eat the leaves like mealybugs or aphids, but they consume rotting plant tissue or even marginally good plant tissue that may be slightly waterlogged. These pests thrive on conditions that foster root rot, then consume the tissue once the plant has begun to degrade.
The best way to deal with fungus gnats is to do all that you can to create conditions that don’t attract and promote them in the first place. Said simply, don’t overwater your plants or your String of Pearls.
If you do find your plants infested with fungus gnats, there are a few things you can do to treat the plant:
- Remove the gnats that are flying around the plant. The best way to do this is to use the yellow sticky tape plant traps. These traps aren’t attractive, but they are effective. Best of all, they are non-toxic, so you aren’t introducing harmful chemicals into your plant or your home by using them. You can change them out every few days once they accumulate several bugs.
- Treat any larvae in the soil. The best way to deal with fungus gnats is to use beneficial nematodes, microscopic organisms that eat species harmful to plants. They are natural, non-toxic, and highly effective. I use nematodes in my lawn and garden to control grubs, fleas, and tick larvae. I use the same nematodes in my houseplants as a preventive measure.
Once you use nematodes to treat pest species in your plants, take care not to apply pesticides to that same area because the chemicals may kill the nematodes. It is best to commit to chemical or non-chemical treatments and stay within that treatment type for your plants.
It’s important to note that String of Pearls is relatively resistant to pest species. They are most likely to have aphids or mealybugs if pests are the issue, but fungus gnats can colonize the plant’s soil if other nearby houseplants have them.
Ideal Growing Conditions for String of Pearls Plants
String of Pearls plants are native to the driest parts of southwestern Africa, specifically the western cape of South Africa. This trailing species is commonly found in rocky, craggy areas with primary sun exposure. The plant likes to establish itself in small patches of sandy soil, then send out trailing strands of pearl-shaped leaves. It’s part of the daisy family and is a flowering plant, although it’s best known for its long stems with round beads.
Where each of these long stems touches bare soil, the juncture of the pearl meeting the strand sends down roots, helping further establish the plant. This is how String of Pearls can naturally colonize an area, creating a large area covered in these strands.
Furthermore, the interesting shape of the String of Pearl’s leaves is an adaptation for holding water for long periods. As such, String of Pearls prefers infrequent but thorough watering. They are on the drier end of the succulent watering regimen spectrum, with many reporting they only water their plant monthly.
The main growing conditions with String of Pearls are:
- Fast-draining soil
- A few hours of bright, direct sunlight per day
- Infrequent watering
How To Prevent String of Pearls From Becoming Too Sticky
String of Pearls can be a beautiful addition to any home, but they can also quickly become infested with pests that cause them to become sticky. Identifying and treating the root cause of why your String of Pearls is too sticky is essential to providing care for it. You should also take into consideration the plant’s environment, watering practices, and other potential causes.
Do not Overwater String of Pearls
String of Pearls’ roots don’t burrow deep into the soil due to their natural growing environment. They have adapted to absorb water quickly and efficiently from near-ground levels due to their native desert habitat.
Water quickly passes through the roots of String of Pearls. When your plant gets more water than is needed or is watered more frequently than is necessary and healthy, the roots are prone to rot from sitting in water for extended periods.
For more detailed information about overwatering and the signs, check out my other article on a related topic. This article also talks about ways to deal with symptoms of overwatering, which you might find helpful: Overwatering vs. Underwatering Plants (Signs and Fixes)
Keep an Eye on Rot Root
Root rot is one of the primary food sources for the fungus gnat, making it a condition to be avoided at all costs. Root rot sets in quickly, but the outward signs of root rot in String of Pearls can take a while to present themselves.
Once a String of Pearls has root rot, it is only a matter of time before the beautiful, bulbous petals shrivel up. Unfortunately, most people take this as a sign that the plant needs more water, making the issue even worse.
The roots die eventually, which further causes the plant to be unable to absorb water. Dehydration causes the plant to diet. Follow these tips to avoid root rot:
- Before watering, make sure the plant has been thoroughly dried for at least a whole week.
- Water the plant sparingly but thoroughly, making sure the water drains through the bottom of the pot.
- Manually test the soil to see if the plant needs water. To do this, gently probe the soil with your finger, pushing at least a few inches down to be sure the soil is parched.
- Check the edges of the plant near the pot and towards the center because the soil may need to be uniformly damp.
String of Pearls, on average, only require water about once a month. This may vary slightly depending on humidity levels, but generally, humidity doesn’t change the watering regimen much. Do not leave your String of Pearls in standing water.
Use the Right Pot Size
One common mistake that many new String of Pearls owners make is using a pot that is too large or deep for their plants. This can cause the soil to become overly saturated with water, leading to root rot and the death of the plant. When this happens, it means your plant doesn’t have adequate root structure to absorb all the water.
Root rot eventually occurs when your succulent sits in damp soil for extended periods. String of Pearls don’t necessarily like to be rootbound in their pot, but they do like a snug fit. If you have to repot your plant, go up one size only, but no more.
Another problem caused by a pot that’s too deep or large is that it forces the plant to attempt to establish a more shallow root system to mimic its native environment. You may see this happen as the String of Pearls creates new roots from the leaves that skim the top of the dirt in the pot. When this happens, allow the plant to naturally colonize in this way. Don’t fight the process, and enable the plant to do what it does naturally.
If your String of Pearls stays too moist for many days, it may be worth repotting it. Follow these steps:
- Find a pot that is similar in size but shallower in depth.
- Fill the pot just over halfway with sandy potting soil, such as succulent soil.
- Place the String of Pearls on top of the soil and barely cover it with succulent soil. The roots should only barely be covered.
- Water the plant lightly to help reduce transplant shock.
- If you see bare roots after watering, sprinkle additional soil on top of the root structure.
You may need to water your repotted String of Pearls a bit more than usual just to reduce shock. However, avoid overwatering and make sure there isn’t any standing water in the drip tray. If you see water in the drip tray under the pot, throw it down the drain, so it isn’t absorbed back up through the bottom.
It’s normal for String of Pearls to feel somewhat sticky. However, excessive stickiness can result from bug infestation, overwatering, and using the wrong pot. To keep your String of Pearls healthy and thriving, proper watering is key. Keep an eye on pests and maintain the right soil moisture for your plant. You’ll find that keeping String of Pearls plants healthy is a breeze.