All of a sudden, your beautiful string of pearls looks sticky like dry honey? In this case, your plant has a problem, a serious one. The good news? You can still save your plant, but you need to act quickly.
A string of pearls can be sticky for two reasons: 1) the plant’s natural mechanism to adhere to any porous surface for support or 2) pest infestation. The latter is a way more common reason than the former. The solution is to remove the pests, uproot, wash the plant, and finally perform regular inspections for at least a week after.
Thoroughly check your plant to detect the reason for stickiness before jumping in to address the issue. Let’s start by learning what a string of pearls is.
Senecio rowleyanus ‘String of Pearls’ is a unique trailing succulent with rounded green pea-like leaves strung to its slender stem that hangs down. Their thick, pearl-like appearance quickly earns popularity among succulent fans.
This hanging succulent likes to sit under bright indirect light to preserve its compact spherical leaves. It requires watering once every 7-10 days in summer, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. Good drainage is essential for this plant as it is prone to root rot.
The string of pearls does well indoors and outdoors if given proper water, sunlight, and medium requirements. With its vine-like characteristic, the string of pearl will look its best in hanging baskets or macrame planters, where it will trail and grow long.
Many succulent growers find this unusual plant a bit tricky to grow. If not correctly cared for, it will bid goodbye in no time. One of the most common problems in growing string of pearls is the sticky material forming on the plant.
The causes for a sticky string of pearls are 1) the plant’s natural mechanism to stick on a surface to avoid falling off and 2) pest infestation of wax-producing insects that feed on the plants.
Below you will find two reasons why the string of pearls is sticky.
If you observe that your pea-like succulent is sticky but looking healthy, don’t despair. Trailing and creeping succulents like a string of pearls can adhere to any porous surface such as rocks and woods for support.
The string of pearls has shallow roots and grows on rock crevices that shield them from the scorching heat in the wild. As they grow longer, the stems tend to grow new roots to hold and stick on the surface of the rocks so they won’t get easily blown by the wind.
So, if you notice your healthy plant getting a sticky feel, it’s pretty natural and nothing to worry about. However, if you observed some yellow or white fuzzy patches, it is probably an insect infestation. It would help to take action right away and avoid unwanted situations.
When the string of pearls gets sticky, this can be a sign of pest invasion. In particular, scale, mealybugs, or aphids can be responsible. Another sign of pest infestation is the presence of cotton-like material or yellow or brown clumps on the stem.
The plant must be isolated immediately to avoid further spreading. Mealybugs, aphids, and soft scales are common pests that make a string of pearls sticky and weak. When these pests begin to feed on the plant’s sap, they excrete a sticky liquid that gets into the stems and leaves of the plant. The waxy liquid they secrete is called honeydew.
Honeydew attracts ants and encourages sooty mold to grow. Sooty molds and ants are indicators that pests are present. These pests love to hide on stem crevices and tend to spread if left untreated. A heavily infested string of pearls will have stunted growth and wilted leaves.
Yes, depending on the damage that the pests have caused. Low or moderate infestation may not cause too much plant damage but requires treatment right away to prevent the insects from spreading. Luckily, succulents like a string of pearls are pretty tough and can withstand mild infestation.
It is essential to inspect your plants regularly to detect and control pests. A minor pest infestation is a lot easier to eradicate than a heavy attack. You can eliminate these pests in several ways and get rid of the sticky feels off your string of pearls.
Pests such as mealybugs, aphids, and soft scales are often the primary cause of the sticky string of pearls. Their honeydew secretions are insoluble sugars coming from the sap they feed on the plant. The sugary liquid drips on the plant giving it a sticky feel.
Eliminating these insects and treating your plant will solve the stickiness of your string of pearls.
Since pests like mealybugs, aphids, and soft scales are most likely the culprit in making the string of pearls sticky, removing them will solve the problem.
If you are curious about scale, what they are and how to remove them check out our scale removal guide (with video).
Here are the techniques I often use when removing pest infestation off my succulents. They worked for me, so I believe it will do for you.
Note: When performing any of these methods, I recommend doing it away from your other plants to avoid possible contamination.
Alcohol can break down the waxy coatings on the body of these insects and kill them. With a q-tip dabbed in 70% alcohol, gently scrape off all the infestation and sticky liquid. When applying this method, you have to do it in the late afternoon to avoid burning caused by the alcohol. This method is recommended only for minor infestation since it might be tiresome and ineffective on the heavy infestation.
Manual picking using tweezers is another way to remove pests, especially mealybugs. Start by picking all the white fuzzy materials and cottony webs and spray them with alcohol. You will know when mealybugs are dead if they will turn brown and curl up. Make sure to disinfect the tweezer with rubbing alcohol to avoid contamination.
Important: This method may or may not work with aphids and scales since both are pretty minute. I only use this method when checking my plants, and I happen to spot 2 or 3 mealybugs. When you detect even one mealybug roaming in your plant, inspect the whole plant and remove them right away.
Mealybugs and aphids don’t adhere much to the stem of the string of pearls. Using a pressurized water spray will physically remove them. But before spraying with water, I recommend spraying the plant and the soil with alcohol to kill the insects first. Pressurized water spray will get rid of the pests off the plant and wash away the sticky liquid.
You can make your DIY pest buster and washing solution by preparing a 2% oil-based insecticidal soap mixture. Spray the solution all over the plant and make sure that it makes contact with the insects. The soap will also wash off the sticky honeydew on your string of pearls.
Apply soap solution in the late afternoon when the sun is not at its hottest. I recommend using the insecticidal soap below as it has high effectiveness in eliminating the pests.
This is another proven effective way to remove the pest biologically. Introduce beneficial insects like parasitic wasps and ladybugs in your garden. Of course, such a technique is not an option if you have the string of pearls indoors.
These insects feed on the pests mentioned above. It is one way to control the spread of pests in your garden. Plant some flowers in any area of your garden to attract more beneficial insects.
Heavily infested plants should be uprooted and washed. It is always best to do this method after removing the pests. This ensures no further infestation from a few surviving insects from the plant and/or the potting mix will arise.
When all the pests are removed, uproot the plant and wash all traces of soil from the roots. Wash the stem and leaves under running water to remove the dead insects and wash off the stickiness. Trim off dead roots to encourage healthy new growth and prune severely damaged parts. Properly discard the infested soil mix to minimize the pests from spreading. Wash the pot with soap and let it dry for future use.
After uprooting and washing, air dry your plant for 2-3 days before planting. You need to re-pot your string of pearls to a fresh, uncontaminated soil mix and a clean pot to start anew.
Pests may be inevitable, but they can be controlled by performing regular inspections of your plants. Early detection may lessen plant damage, reduce the tendency of pests to spread, and prevent the formation of sticky honeydew.
After going through a heavy infestation removal, monitor your plant closely, daily for the next one to two weeks. This will allow you to spot any further infestation due to some insects that accidentally survived. In this case, it will be way easier to eradicate.
Isolate sick and infested plants to minimize the risk of contamination. Always ensure proper growing procedures, such as providing adequate sunlight, water, and fertilizers to your string of pearls. By doing this, your plant will remain healthy and not susceptible to pests infestation.
1) Sticky string of pearls is sometimes a natural characteristic of the plant seeking support as it grows longer, so it won’t be dislodged from its place.
2) Stickiness accompanied by ants and sooty molds on the string of pearls indicates pests. Pests should not be taken for granted as they may pose irreversible damage to the plant if left untreated.
3) The best way to eliminate sticky texture is to wash the plant with a soap solution and eradicate the significant cause of the problem – the pests. Regular inspection of your plants can minimize further damage.
“String of Pearls, Senecio Rowleyanus,” Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin Madison
“Mealybugs Management Guidelines,” University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources
“Soft Scales On Trees And Shrubs,” University of Maryland Extension
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