String of Turtles: Complete Care Guide
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Are you looking for a houseplant that doesn’t require an intense care routine? Maybe you only have a small space in your home for a plant, or perhaps you like to add unusual plants to your collection. For all these situations, the string of turtles is the perfect fit.
String of turtles is a vining, semi-succulent plant with a slow growth pattern. It reaches a maximum height of 4 inches, and the vines can grow up to 12 inches in length. Each leaf is small and is shaped like a concave circle, closely resembling a turtle shell. The leaves also have a rubbery texture and are patterned with dark green, light green and sometimes red. String of turtles is easy to care for and prefers its soil to dry out between waterings, indirect light and average room temperature.
In this article, you’ll learn how to care for a string of turtles so it can become a vibrant addition to your indoor jungle!
RELATED: String of turtles isn’t the only animal-themed trailing plant. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more aptly-named plant than the string of dolphins!
String of Turtles Care Summary
When soil is moderately dry
Bright, indirect light
Well-draining potting soil
68-75 degrees F
Prefers high humidity
Overwatering, leaf discoloration, pests
Annually, in the spring
String of Turtles Plant Profile
The string of turtles plant has the botanical name Peperomia prostrata. The genus Peperomia encompasses over 1,500 species, with some of the more well-known ones being watermelon peperomia and peperomia obtusfolia.
Most peperomias are pretty low-maintenance, but a string of turtles plant in particular is very tolerant of neglect. In fact, over-watering is the biggest danger to this plant, so water only when needed and plant your string of turtles in well-draining soil.
The turtle plant grows very slowly, reaching maturity after about 3-5 years. It will reach a maximum height of about 1-4 inches, and the vines can get up to 12 inches long.
Each turtle-shaped leaf has a rubbery texture and a segmented pattern in shades of dark and light green. This photo shows the rubbery leaf surface and the patterned leaves:
The stems are orange to orange-red and are easily visible between the leaves, giving the plant a good depth of color.
String of Turtles vs String of Hearts: Are They Related?
Despite their similar growth habit and leaf size, the string of turtles is not related to the string of hearts.
The string of hearts belongs to another genus and species, Ceropegia woodii, which is native to Africa, not South America. String of hearts lacks the rubbery texture of the string of turtles and grows from a rhizome (a tube-like root growth) instead of a root system.
However, string of hearts and string of turtles do make excellent companion plants. They have similar needs in terms of light, water, and humidity and they both have small leaf size and a vining habit.
And if you track down a variegated string of hearts (Ceropegia woodii variegata), its striking pink-red-burgundy foliage will make an effective contrast to the glowing green of a nearby string of turtles.
Is There a Variegated String of Turtles?
Unlike string of hearts that also comes in a variegated version, there’s currently no variegated string of turtles.
However, plant breeders are always working to come out with new and different varieties of all types of houseplants. So odds are that we’ll see a variegated string of turtles at some point!
Does String of Turtles Flower?
String of turtles does produce flower, but they’re pretty underwhelming, especially when compared with the beautiful foliage.
Instead of a bloom, the turtle plant sends up multiple flower spikes, which you can see in this photo:
Most growers end up cutting the flowers off since they don’t add too much to the plant visually, and they can take energy away from growth.
But if you like the flowers and want to keep on until they wilt, that won’t hurt anything!
String of Turtles Care
Here’s a look at how you can care for this lovely little plant:
Proper watering is perhaps the most important part of string of turtles care. We mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: It will not tolerate overwatering well at all! These plants have a fine, shallow root system, which is at high risk of developing root rot.
Always check the soil moisture before giving any water. You can stick your finger into the soil to feel it for yourself or use a moisture meter.
If you use your finger, the top 2-3 inches of soil should feel dry to your touch. Moisture meters use a 1-10 scale to show soil dryness, with 1 being totally dry. Aim to water your string of turtles when the meter reads about a 4.
The best way to water this plant is to soak the root ball thoroughly between periods of dryness. You can water your string of turtles from either the top or the bottom of the pot.
When watering from the top, give enough water so that the excess freely flows out through the pot’s drainage holes. Make sure to have a saucer or dish underneath to avoid a mess. Leave your plant in the pooled water for about 15 minutes, then drain away the remaining water.
When watering from the bottom, place your plant, pot and all, in a bowl filled with room-temperature water, and let it sit for at least an hour. Like this:
The soil will soak up the moisture from the bottom-up through the drainage holes in the pot, completely saturating the root ball. Remove the pot from the water and replace it in its normal spot.
Medium to Bright Indirect Light
Like many other houseplants, the string of turtles has its best color and is most healthy when it gets bright, indirect sunlight. This is often near an east or south-facing window.
It will survive lower light levels, but its leaves won’t grow as thick on the stems and its color won’t be as vibrant.
But be careful of exposing your turtle plant to too much light. Robert Johnson, founder of Sawinery and string of turtles enthusiast, says that harsh sunlight is particularly dangerous for this plant because of its unique leaf texture.
“On the leaf, there is a transparent, almost jelly-like covering. Their delicate leaves can be swiftly cooked by the sun. It’s best to avoid it!”
Because the string of turtles plant is a slow grower, you want to keep it in a fairly small pot. Choose one that is only 1 to 2 inches larger on all sides than the root ball and has good drainage.
A small pot will naturally limit the amount of soil, which helps prevent overwatering, bacterial and fungal growth and pest problems. Too much soil can be as problematic as too little.
When they’re very young and small, a turtle plant can look a bit underwhelming. However, you can plant two together in a slightly larger pot to get a more full, leafy look sooner.
Don’t use a regular succulent mix with this one! String of turtles is not a true succulent but rather a semi-succulent. It will not thrive with the lower nutrient levels that succulent soil has.
However, it is critical that your turtle plant’s soil drains well and allows good airflow.
We recommend a mix of 4 parts potting soil to 1 part perlite or orchid bark. This will provide plenty of nutrients to the roots and also give them lots of room to breathe through the soil.
For potting soil, this organic formula from Burpee is a good option. I’ve used Perfect Plants perlite in the past, and I’ve been happy with it. If you’d rather use orchid bark, consider this blend from Sun Bulb.
The string of turtles actually likes things a little cooler than many other tropical plants. Your plant will be more than comfortable in an average room temperature in the 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit range.
But make sure to protect your plant from drafts. Keep it away from badly sealed windows and HVAC registers. If the only place you have for your plant is near a register, installing an air deflector can help.
A string of turtles will happily take all the humidity it can get. If you have bright windows in your kitchen or bathroom, they would be fantastic places for your plant. These rooms have lots of running water, so they tend to have the highest humidity.
But if you don’t have that space available, don’t worry. For the most part, normal indoor humidity will be fine for the string of turtles. If you notice that your plant has dry, brown edges on its leaves, then you can supplement humidity levels by:
- Grouping it with other houseplants to create a humid microclimate
- Putting a bowl or glass of water nearby to slowly evaporate and humidify
- Misting it every other day with a plant mister
- Placing a plant humidifier in the room
During the active growing season (roughly April through October) feed your string of turtles twice a month with a balanced houseplant fertilizer mixed at 1/2 strength. In winter, feed it once a month or less.
Prune your string of turtles regularly to keep its foliage looking full and bushy. If the stems and leaves of your plant start to look spread out and leggy, then some selective pruning will help it look better.
First, sanitize your scissors or pruners with isopropyl alcohol or bleach diluted to 1:10 strength. Then trim back any dead or damaged stems or too-long, leggy ones.
Make sure to prune only when the plant is actively growing, which is in the spring, summer, or fall. Do not during the winter dormancy period.
Trim only the growth that’s hanging over the edge of the pot, not the stems on the top of the plant. If you trim from the top, you risk ending up with a sparse pot or damaging your plant.
String of turtles is a vining plant, not a climbing one. However, you can train it to grow on a trellis or wire form. Use soft plant ties to attach the stems to the support without damaging them.
When the days start to shorten in the fall, your plant will enter a period of dormancy, or a resting phase.
While it’s resting, your string of turtles will produce even less growth than it does the rest of the year. Because its energy needs are lessened during this time, cut back on your watering and fertilizing frequency by about half.
When the days start to lengthen again in the spring, your plant will wake up, rested and refreshed for the new growing season!
If you’d like some visual instruction for string of turtles care tips, check out this video from My Fellow Foliage:
Propagating String of Turtles In Soil and Water
Love your string of turtles so much that you need another one? Luckily, they’re pretty easy to propagate from a stem cutting, which is best done in summer when the plant has a lot of energy and willingness to regrow.
First of all, you’ll need a healthy cutting from your plant. Use sanitized scissors to cut off a stem length about 4 inches long with 4-5 leaves. Make your cut directly behind the place where a leaf joins the stem. This is called the “node,” and it’s where new roots will emerge.
Then remove the leaves nearest the cut end of the stem. You should have 3-4 leaves still intact at the tip of the stem cutting and at least 1 bare node. Here’s a photo that shows where the nodes are on a string of turtles:
The arrows show where to remove the leaf. Be sure to remove the leaf as close to the main stem as possible for the best results.
Now that you have your cutting, it’s time to get some new roots. You can do this in either potting mix or a glass of water. The soil method tends to be faster and is the more popular route. But we’ll cover both of them here:
Propagating String of Turtles in Soil
- Prepare a small pot with damp potting soil, and insert the bare end of your cutting into the soil. Make sure that the bare nodes (where you removed leaves) are completely underneath the soil surface.
- Alternatively, you could lay your cutting onto the surface of the soil, gently pushing down on the bare nodes. What you want is the nodes making good contact with the soil, but not actually underneath the soil surface.
- Whichever of these strategies you choose, set your pot in an area that gets bright, indirect sunlight. Right beside the mother plant would be great!
- Keep the soil surface moist while during the rooting process. You can lightly water the soil every day or two, or you can use a spray bottle to mist the soil.
- After 2-3 weeks, you should have new roots forming. If you chose to insert your cutting into the soil, test for new roots with a gentle pull. If you feel resistance, roots are anchoring the new plant in place. If you laid your cutting on the soil, the roots will grow downwards into the pot. Give the cutting a gentle pull to test for new root growth.
- If your cutting is still moving easily at your touch, give it more time. Check back in another week.
- Once you’ve confirmed new root growth, treat your propagation just like the mother plant.
As an interesting alternative, Lauren Quinn, a botanist at the University of Illinois, shared with me her method for propagating string of turtles:
“I’ve propagated string of turtles in a clear Tupperware container with damp vermiculite. I just laid the string down on the vermiculite, placed the top on the Tupperware, and waited for new little strings to form.
Transplanting from this medium can be a little tricky as it’s very easy to break the baby strings and roots. I’d recommend scooping a little of the vermiculite out with the plantlets and placing it on top of your potting mix, with a bit of potting mix tucked around and over the vermiculite, if possible.”
Propagating String of Turtles in Water
- Place your cutting in a glass with clean water to completely submerge the bare nodes. But be careful not to have any of the remaining leaves underwater; they’ll just decay and contaminate your water.
- Set the glass in a spot that gets bright, indirect sunlight.
- When the water gets cloudy, replace it with fresh water. Top off the water as needed to replace moisture lost to evaporation.
- Within 1 to 2 weeks, you should start seeing rootlets emerge from the cutting. Once the rootlets are 1-2 inches long, carefully remove the plant from the water and place it in a pot with potting soil mixed with perlite. Keep the soil moist for the first few days after transplanting it.
- After another week or two, the roots should have anchored firmly into the soil. You can test this by gently tugging on the stem to see if it stays in place (good to go!) or moves around easily (give it another week).
Repotting String of Turtles
Because your string of turtles started in a small pot, at some point you will necessarily need to pot it up into a slightly larger one. Choose a pot that is just 1 to 2 inches wider and deeper than the previous one.
In general, string of turtles grows best in tight quarters. So while annual repotting is helpful for providing fresh soil for you plant, you may not need to repot it into a larger home.
So how do you know when your turtle plant needs a bigger pot? Here are the tell-tale signs that it’s time to make the move:
- White mineral buildup on soil surface or rim of pot
- Roots are poking from the drainage holes of breaching the soil surface
- Plants shows no new growth during the spring and summer active period
Whether you’re moving up to a bigger pot or just refreshing the soil, here’s what to do:
Step 1. Cover your work surface with paper, an old bedsheet or another material. I like to use brown paper grocery bags for this purpose.
Step 2. Gently remove your plant from its pot. Watering the day before can help make this process easier. If you’re having trouble getting your plant free, you can run a knife around the perimeter of the pot to loosen the soil or gently poke through the pot’s drainage hole with a pencil or chopstick.
But whatever you do, DON’T pull your plant out. This will break off stems and potentially damage the roots. You’re better off working slowly and patiently.
Step 3. Once your plant is out of the pot, brush away the old soil and gently work the roots open. This helps your plant spread its roots out in its new home, so it can absorb maximum nutrition and moisture. Work slowly and carefully to avoid damaging the roots; I’ve had to work roots apart one-by-one in many repotting projects.
Step 4. When the roots are free, examine them closely. Look for sections that might be discolored (brown or black) or any severely overgrown roots. Trim these away with sanitized scissors.
Step 5. Fill your pot with a couple of inches of fresh potting soil, and settle your string of turtles in. Fill in the sides with more potting soil, until it’s about 1/2 inch below the pot’s lip.
Step 6. Set your newly repotted turtle plant in indirect sunlight, and don’t water for a few days. This encourages the roots to spread out in search of water.
We’ve laid out this entire repotting process, with lots of photos for each step in our guide to repotting pothos. Even though the plant is different, the techniques are exactly the same. So stop by to get all the details.
Potential Problems with String of Turtles
Even though this lovely little plant is easy to care for, you may run into a problem occasionally. Here’s how to troubleshoot the most common ones:
We mentioned before that overwatering can be a big problem with string of turtles. An overwatered plant will develop limp yellow leaves, along with a discolored stem near the soil surface.
If your plant is overwatered, you can remove it from its pot to allow it to dry out faster. You should also check the root ball for brown or black roots- this is a symptom of root rot. If you do spot any unhealthy-looking roots, trim them away with sanitized scissors.
Once the plant has dried out, put it back in its pot and make sure to water it much less frequently, and use one of the soaking methods described above.
Bad color on a string of turtles can be either due to inadequate light or inadequate fertilizing.
If your plant has a pale color and long, leggy stems, that’s probably because it’s not getting enough light. Try moving it closer to a window, or supplement with an indoor grow light.
If the plant gets enough light but still has bad color, give it a hit of balanced liquid fertilizer. Follow up with regular fertilizing twice a month in the growing season and once a month in winter.
Keep an eye out for scale insects and mealybugs, the two most common pests of string of turtles.
Scale insects look like small brown humps on the thickest stems, and mealybugs look like lumps on cotton on the stems and underside of leaves.
Here’s what they look like:
For both the treatment is the same. Gently scrape the bugs off the plant using a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol, or you can snip off the affected stems and throw them away.
These little pests like to hide in the nooks of leaf joints and underneath leaves, so check back frequently to make sure that they haven’t re-established themselves. If they do, remove them as many times as necessary until they are gone for good.
Where to Buy String of Turtles
I got my small string of turtles at my local greenhouse, but it was the only one and I was surprised to find one. You may be able to find one locally too, but it’s likely to be pretty hit-or-miss.
If you’d like to get a plant now instead of hunting for one, order one online. String of turtles is widely available and highly affordable from many vendors such as Etsy or Amazon.
Frequently Asked Questions about String of Turtles Plant
- Watering frequency is the most important aspects of keeping a string of turtles healthy and happy. Water deeply but infrequently, allowing the top 2-3 inches of soil to dry out before watering.
- Place your turtle plant in bright, indirect sunlight. Good locations include a few feet back from a south or west-facing window. This plant can tolerate lower light, but the color will likely fade and the stems may become leggy and sparse.
- String of turtles appreciates high humidity, but it’s not completely necessary. However, if you see browning or dryness at the stem tips, add extra humidity by misting, a humidifier, a dish of water nearby or placing your turtle plant close to other houseplants.
- Repot in the spring every year. Your plant will benefit from fresh soil, but you don’t need to move it into a larger pot until it’s quite root-bound.
- You can propagate string of turtles through stem cuttings, either in soil or in water.
- The most common problems for a string of turtles are overwatering, inappropriate lighting and pests (usually scale or mealybugs).
The string of turtles is an awesome addition to any plant collection thanks to its cute appearance and easy care. Just remember to go easy on the watering, and this plant will growly slowly but steadily!
Do you have any other questions about the lovely little string of turtles plant? Or maybe you’e had one before- are there any tips you learned? We can all learn from others’ questions and experiences, so we’d love to hear from you in the comments!