If you fancy mini green leaves to decorate your living place, string of turtles is the right choice. Its compact size will suit different spots at home. Moreover, this plant is easy to maintain and won’t get sick easily.
South American rainforests, specifically in Brazil and Ecuador, are where you can find string of turtles (Peperomia prostrata). Benjamin Williams was the first person who identified this species in 1870s. “Prostrata” came from the word “prostrate”. This word referred to the flattened leaves of this plant.
In its natural habitat, this plant grows on the tree and rocks (epiphyte) instead of directly on the soil. As a tropical annual and perennial plant, string of turtles love humidity, warm temperature, and bright indirect light. People also often call this plant as Chain of Turtles, Jade Necklace, and Turtle Vine.
Generally, string of turtles plants are a slow grow rate greenery. These plants’ growth focus on the vine length than a big size as a whole plant. The average height is 2-10 cm while the width is 10 cm. If you grow them in the pot, their width will follow the pot diameter.
In 3-5 years, the plants will finally reach a maximum length around 30. They might grow longer without trimming and pruning. However, it also means after that period, the plant will probably die. Hence, occasional propagation is the solution to keep them healthy and prolong their life.
Turtle Vine is a quite rare houseplant. The price might increase as the plant grows pretty slowly. Thus, finding a mature and bigger string of turtles on the market would be a bit difficult.
Gardeners use string of turtles name because of the dark green leaves have white turtle shell-like patterns. Young plants have dark blue/maroon/purple vein color. After they mature, the vein hue change into silvery-white.
The light green-orange, long, thin stems full with tiny, fleshy, button-like foliage. These leaves are able to store water, thus they may appear thicker. Slowly but steady, the plants form a “thick mat” layer and hang outside the pot.
In fact, experts consider string of turtles as a semi-succulent. The real succulents live in an arid area like desert including cactus and aloe for example. Contrarily, Peperomia prostrata is a tropical plant that thrive in a humid area. As a result, it is not suitable to call them “succulent” only.
Compare to the leaves, the odorless flowers of string of turtles are less attractive. There are many words to describe the small and long flower shape such as shaft, spike, and rat tail. The flower color itself ranges from cream, green, to reddish.
It might not be easy to make them bloom indoor, but you can try the steps below.
- From late autumn until early spring, try to maintain a temperature around 15°C.
- During this period, ONLY give little water and fertilizer.
- Water the plant biweekly to let the soil dry between watering.
- Provide a few hours of direct sunlight to keep a good dormancy period.
If you are fine with the leaves only, you may cut the flowers once you spot them. By doing so, the plant could focus on the leaf growth. It is also okay to enjoy them a bit, but remember to prune them when they have wilted.
USA hardiness zones from 10-12 is ideal to grow string of turtles plants outside. Since many people spend most of their time inside the house, they usually prefer to grow them as indoor houseplant.
Some recommended spots to grow this plant are:
- Container garden
- Dish garden
- Grow pod
- Hanging basket
- Office desk
Any location you choose to grow this plant must provide ideal lighting, temperature, and humidity. Rather than focusing on aesthetic aspect, always prioritize the plant health and happiness.
For example, if the climate doesn’t support, you can still bring the plant outside in summer. Don’t forget return the plant in the pot back inside once the temperature gets lower.
Growing string of turtles in terrarium, or even drape it around the rocks or wood are a good idea too. Moreover, you don’t need to think about the soil matter. As long as the condition allows, you can leave them there to thrive.
ASPCA considers Peperomia prostrata as a non-toxic plant for humans and animals. Nonetheless, this is not for human consumption. As an additional information, animal like horse can safely consume some of prostrata varieties.
Cats and dogs can play with this plant, but you better put the plant away from the pets and kids’ reach. You don’t want string of turtles lose many of their leaves here.
Any place in the house which provide bright indirect light is perfect for this plant. Since each region and living place is different, don’t get stuck with only one window direction. The important thing is to make sure than plant receive bright indirect light (whatever the source is). In short, it is a balance of having some light and shade as well.
Because this plant growth begins at the top, overhead lighting position is essential. For an optimum growth, the light must touch the top soil easily. Try to put the plant close to the lower shelf or window shelf.
- This plant could have 1-3 hours of direct morning, evening, and winter sun. Exposing the plant under too much light such as midday sun for a long time will ruin the plant health. This kind of sun could cook the delicate leaves very quickly.
Bright lighting is necessary to keep the original color and pattern of the plant. Additionally, over the time, mature plant could build stronger resistance to excess lighting. Still, weaker sunlight is safer.
- A dark or shady area such as shelves is a big no. Low light condition (exaggerated phototropism) may cause mold growth, leggy internodes, and root rot.
Beside dark spot, wrong position near window may hinder the production of new growth. For instance, high shelves usually don’t provide enough light particularly from above. When all the plant parts don’t receive equal lighting, consequently imperfect growth may occur.
A good news is, string of turtle plants still tolerate a medium lighting condition. In small or underground apartment, providing natural lighting maybe possible for some. Here, the solution is to use artificial or fluorescent lights.
Along with low temperature like in winter, this type of light would help fulfilling the plant’s light needs. When installing the lights, they should shine from above for better result.
String of turtles would be fine with average household temperature. Keep a stable temperature in the range of 15°-26°C.
Don’t make the plant stays in a temperature below 15°C or even 10°C. This condition will cause stunted growth as well as black and wilting leaves.
Beware of hot temperature in summer, cold draft, and other sources of temperature fluctuation.
Tropical rainforest where the plants live, often provide rain shower. However, it is a totally different case with indoor setting, especially on the planter.
- In warm months, keep the soil slightly moist with more frequent watering. Water the plant thoroughly after 1/4 to 1/2 part (top 2 inches) of the soil has dried.
- On the contrast, let the soil to dry completely before the next watering in cold months. It means you must cut the watering frequency around halfway because of less light and low temperature.
- For a good watering practice, ensure you have provided quality soil and pot with drainage holes. Always remember to wait until the excess water escapes from drainage holes.
Add water in an outer container/saucer until 1/4(25%) of the pot submerge in water. To let the soil surface becomes moist, set a timer for 10-15 minutes. When the times up, remove the pot and drain the excess water well. Throw any water left in saucer or outer container too.
Advanced gardeners rarely suggest top watering method due to the risk of overwatering. Still, it is acceptable as long you follow the rules.
- Your plant must stay in a sunny location.
- Water the plant in the morning so that the leaves can dry faster.
- The water given should be around half of the pot size.
Some people who grow the plant in a tall pot, ONLY use this method when the plant gets bigger. Bottom watering is suitable for shallow and small pot while top watering is for tall pot.
Signs of watering problem
The common signs of overwatering are: the leaves turn yellow, shrivel, wilt, shed, experience scabbing (edema), and become mushy.
Soggy soil is the result of too much water. Then, the waterlogged roots unable to distribute the important nutrients to all plant parts. Before reaching the foliage, the water washes away these nutrients, causing shedding leaves.
Once you overdone the watering and leave the plants in that state, they could die from root rot. In addition to control the water intake, you must consider other aspects such as soil, humidity, temperature, and fertilizer.
If you notice flat/deflated leaves, wrinkly leaves, small/slow/or no growth, as well as a decrease of the leaf numbers, your plant probably experience under watering. Moreover, the plant may run out of water store quickly because of extensive sunlight and too porous soil. Even though under watering is less severe than overwatering, prolonged-overly dry condition might kill your string of turtles.
Turtle Vine won’t have a problem growing in an average room humidity. Try to maintain the humidity level above 40% at minimum. Due to its love with humidity, this plant hates dry air. Besides, heating vents, winter season, and hot temperature can lower the humidity level at home.
Therefore, increasing humidity is allowable as long as the leaves don’t stay wet for too long. You can mist the plant moderately in the morning or turn on humidifier for a safer option. Additionally, range of humidity level between 40% and 60% is not only great for the plant but also your skin and sinuses.
Although you may use succulent potting mix for Peperomia prostratas, remember that they are not a true succulent plants. Since this kind of soil might be too airy, they prefer soil with organic rich, well-draining, and good aeration characteristics. An excellent potting mix works to promote root growth and improve the vine strength.
The soil pH must be 5-7 which is in the range of acidic to neutral. One of the simplest potting mix you can try is perlite, sand, and peat moss in equal ratio. In order to balance the soil properties and pH, here are a quick summary of recommended materials.
- Coco coir: provide good aeration and drainage, able to stay longer in the soil
- Peat moss: able to hold enough moisture, has acid pH, contains nutritional substance
- Perlite: a porous material that smooth water drainage process, has neutral pH
- Sand: least expensive, support drainage and aeration, able to replace perlite function
During the growing seasons in particular, this plant needs fertilizer to keep the leaves healthy and shiny. It helps maintaining the color and pattern of the foliage too.
Type of fertilizer
Diluted liquid fertilizer
Apply this fertilizer with the following frequency:
- biweekly or every three weeks in summer,
- once a month in spring,
- every six weeks in the fall, and
- stop feeding the plant in winter.
You can choose the pellet version or add some worm casting on the soil. Feed the plant once, each in spring and summer.
- Water the plant before feeding to avoid root burn.
- Always go with small quantity or half-strength rule when fertilize the plant. Over fertilization may cause dropping leaves and sick root.
- Use organic fertilizer if possible. It would be great if the fertilizer is urea-free, provides calcium, or contains potassium and phosphorus. For instance, calcium promotes bigger and stronger foliage. On the other hand, potassium and phosphorus boost the plant resistance toward cold temperature in winter.
Pruning & Maintenance
Pruning is beneficial to control the plant size and support the plant growth.
- Use sanitized shears to avoid bacterial and fungal diseases.
- Make a clean cut by not passing through the yellowed tissue. Beside infection, the wound could shock the plant and weaken the growth and health.
- Focus to remove the dead, dying, and damaged leaves.
- If necessary, you may cut the bigger stems. Cutting the top part of stems could stop the vine from growing too long.
- Only trim a maximum of third of the plant in every pruning. Excessive pruning would create a spindly-looking plant instead of a bushy and lush appearance.
Potting and Repotting
Because of its small size, shallow roots, and slow grow rate, string of turtles does NOT need a huge container. Unless it is urgent, there is no need to repot the plant often.
A common reason for repotting is because the roots have outgrown outside the pot. Growing season, preferably spring is the best time for repotting. String of hearts doesn’t mind to be root bound for long. Thus, repotting usually takes place every three years as it grows slowly.
Note. There are times when root bound may encourage flower bloom.
Moving to a new pot
For repotting, go with one size larger shallow pot but NOT more to prevent overwatering. As usual, the new pot must have ample drainage holes.
- Give the plant water, one day before repotting to reduce the risk of transplant shock.
- Add quality soil (like the suggestion above).
- For small plants, gently scoop the plant with big spoon then put them in new pot. Now, for bigger plants, flip them upside down on your palm. Next, flip the plant back to their new container. Although you might lose some leaves on the way, this method is faster and less complicated.
Staying in the same pot
Actually, repotting is not always about getting a new pot for a bigger space. Replacing the old soil in the old pot is also repotting. The advantage is you can replenish the top layer of soil once a year. Besides, the plants would not have to go through transplanting process that could stress them.
For a fast recovery due to transplant shock, carry out propagation in growing season (spring). Whatever propagation method you choose, there are 3 things you must abide.
First, provide light, well-drained soil plus pot with drainage hole.
Second, water the plant moderately to keep the soil slightly moist.
Third, DON’T feed the plant immediately after propagation.
This is a method with the highest percentage of success.
- Prune some healthy-looking vines around 5 cm each.
- Cut the lowest 2 leaves and leave 2-5 leaves on the upper part.
- Stick the cuttings in potting mix (new or same with mother plant’s soil). Ensure you have buried the node* under the soil.
- Keep a slightly moist soil condition and provide bright indirect light.
- Cover the pot with plastic bag to maintain humidity.
- Poke the plastic to let the plants breathe or change the plastic occasionally.
- Remove the plastic bag after you see the roots and new growth emerge.
- Put the cuttings in fresh water (in a glass, jar, or vase). The node* position should be under the water.
- To ensure the best root system, ONLY submerge a third of the cutting part.
- Place them in bright indirect light area.
- Change the water if it is dirty. Add more water when less water left.
- Once the roots reach 1/2 inch long, take the plant out and replant in soil.
- Lay the cuttings above moist sphagnum moss where the undersides must face the soil.
- Use plastic wrap to cover the pot, but not too tight to provide humidity.
- Open the plastic wrap regularly to encourage air circulation.
- After several hours, replace with new plastic wrap.
- Transfer the plants in fresh soil once the roots develop.
- After the roots established, you can continue the usual care like for the mother plant.
*Node is a part that is free from leaves (bottom).
- You can pin the cuttings lightly on the soil for better root growth.
- Others add rooting hormone powder or dip the node in it to improve the propagation result.
- If you have more money, you can use domed germination tray to increase humidity.
Other “possible” methods
The steps are quite similar with stem cuttings and you just have to stick the leave in the soil. However, the survival rate of the leaves to stay until the roots grow is low. And it would take months to finally settle down.
Since seeds are hard to obtain naturally, you can buy the seeds instead. After sowing the seeds in separate place, spread them in soil surface. Lightly cover the dried seeds with soil and don’t water till new growth appears. Similar to leaf cutting method, you must wait longer as germination rate is rather low.
Prolonged overly wet and low light condition could weaken the roots. After sitting in a water/soggy soil, the leaves turn yellow, stunted growth occurs, and finally the plant will die.
Stop watering the plant and let it dry completely. Remove unhealthy roots, leaves, and stems. Then, replant the healthy plant parts in new pot with fresh soil. You may water the plant after 2 weeks since the plant would have finished its recovery process.
Decreased leaves on top
Excess moisture on the leaves is the culprit. To prevent this problem, first don’t over misting and use bottom watering method. Second, improve air circulation and provide a better light requirement. Third, don’t throw the pruned vines and put them back on top soil to create a bushier look.
Dull and damaged foliage
Exposure to harsh sunlight for a long time leads to dull and lifeless string of turtles. Furthermore, the leaves may lose its distinct variegation and color.
You cannot recover the affected leaves to their original state. However, move them to better lighting are can protect other leaves from having this sad fate.
First of all, quarantine the plant to hinder further pest infestation. Then, you can either shower the plant or spray the leaves to remove the pest. The next step depends on the pest type you find.
These pests have variety of colors such as black, red, and white. They attack dry plants and live undersides and leaf joint. While creating small webs, they increase their population rapidly. After sucking the plant sap; curled, dried, and discolored leaves and vines are the effects.
To kill spider mites, use homemade insecticidal soap to wash the plant. Rising the humidity level and applying neem oil would prevent these pests from coming back in the future.
They are white small pests that stay on the stems and undersides. These pests attracted to plant that experience overwatering and over-fertilizing. New growth is the common target of mealybugs.
Mix isopropyl alcohol and water (1:10 ratio) and spray it to the leaves. Repeat this action to clean up all pests.
Since these white bugs could fly, they are able to move around easier. Undersides are the area where you can find their eggs. They would suck the juice from flower bud and foliage, causing drooping and yellowed leaves.
Organic insecticidal soap can eliminate whiteflies with their eggs and nymphs as well. Then, spray the plant with neem oil for further prevention.