Variegated String of Hearts: Ultimate Care Guide

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Variegated string of hearts growing on a circular trellis.

There are various succulent houseplants with the “string of” name- string of pearls, string of bananas, string of dolphins, etc. But the cutest is surely the variegated string of hearts.

Variegated string of hearts produces heart-shaped, pink-splashed leaves on delicate, trailing stems. Known to botanists as Ceropegia woodii variegata, the variegated string of hearts is a more ornamental variety of the ordinary green-leafed Ceropegia woodii. Variegated string of hearts thrives in bright, indirect light and tolerates infrequent watering, making it a perfect low-maintenance houseplant.

Ready to get your heart warmed? Let’s jump into the background, care, and keeping of this one-of-a-kind specimen.

RELATED: Variegated string of hearts isn’t the only lovely pink houseplant out there. Visit our post on Philodendron Pink Princess to see another stunner!

Variegated String of Hearts Background

Variegated string of hearts goes by several common names, including these:

  • Collar of hearts
  • Rosary vine
  • Chain of hearts
  • Sweetheart vine
  • Hearts entangled
  • Hearts-on-a-string

There seems to be a theme here- can you tell? Also, you’ll sometimes see the longer name abbreviated as simply “VSOH.”

In their natural habitat, string of hearts grows down rock faces and inclines in the southern portions of Africa. They anchor themselves in the thin, dry soil between rocks while their long vines trail down to soak up sunlight. The vines can grow up to 13 feet long, while the tiny leaves are only about 2 to 4 centimeters across.

As a houseplant, string of hearts lends itself well to hanging baskets and tall shelves. If you do it carefully, VSOH can also be carefully attached to trellises to grow upwards, like the photo at the top of the post shows.

Variegated string of hearts is a semi-succulent plant, meaning that it can store excess water for future use. True succulents store water in their foliage, which produces the chunky, solid leaves we’re used to seeing on plants like the bear paw succulent or echeveria.

RELATED: Never seen a bear paw succulent? Stop by our post on this adorable plant to take a look!

But with its tiny, delicate leaves, string of hearts uses another location for storing any extra water: its roots. The string of hearts plant accumulates moisture in a system of underground rhizomes, which are large, tuber-like root growths.

This storage technique enables the plant to endure long periods of drought, which can be common in its native South African climate. Another popular houseplant, the Zamioculcas zamiifolia (or ZZ plant), stores water in exactly the same way.

Where to Buy Variegated String of Hearts

Variegated string of hearts isn’t terribly rare, but it’s also not the easiest plant to come by. It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll find one at your local garden center or the home improvement store.

But there’s always the internet!

For buying high-quality live plants online, there’s no better place to go than Etsy. Here are just a few of the most reputable shops that had variegated string of hearts in their stock at the time of publishing this article:

Variegated string of hearts plants for sale.

Variegated String of Hearts Care

On to the main event: VSOH care. Here are a few tips and tricks to make sure your string of hearts looks its best:

Appropriate Pot Size and Type

String of hearts is used to growing in tight spaces between rocky crags, so choose a pot that’s just 1 to 2 inches larger than the root ball to mimic its natural habitat.

Start with a small pot when the plant is young and then size up the pot with the plant as it grows, only moving up in size by about one pot size at a time. A pot that’s too large will hold excessive water and may become a repository for bacteria.

When they’re very young and still working on filling out, string of hearts can look kind of sparse. For a fuller and more attractive look, plant two together in a properly sized pot.

Soil

Variegated string of hearts is adapted to very arid, dry soils. So, rather than an ordinary potting mix, use a soilless cactus mix or mix one-third part sand into your potting mix. 

This will make sure that the roots don’t end up sitting in water, which could lead to plant disease and even death.

This cactus/succulent soil from Hoffman is a great ready-made choice, and this fine-grain sand from Mosser Lee Company is an ideal mix-in for standard potting soil.

Lighting Needs

String of hearts variegated needs bright, indirect light. An east or south-facing window works well.

If you notice the edges of your leaves getting brown and crispy, that’s sunburn! Bring it back another 6 to 12 inches from the window or move it into a slightly more shaded location to help to avoid scorch.

Watering Schedule

As we mentioned before, the variegated string of hearts prefers dry conditions over moist ones. Like all succulent-type plants that are desert natives, VSOH is prone to root rot from excessive soil moisture, and it will not bounce back well if you overwater it.

Your watering schedule will vary based on the conditions in your home and the season.

The spring and summer months are the active growth period, and your VSOH will need water most frequently then. Check your soil every 5 to 7 days and give water when the top 1 to 2 inches of soil feels dry. Use your finger to gauge soil moisture instead of going by whether or not the soil “looks” dry or wet.

You may want to keep track of when you checked the moisture and when your plant dried out enough to need water. After a couple of weeks of doing this, you should have a pretty solid watering routine figured out.

During the fall and winter months, variegated string of hearts enters its dormant phase where growth (and water needs) slows dramatically. Plan to reduce your watering frequency by half during these months.

Room Temperature

An average room temperature of 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit is a very comfortable range for string of hearts, although it tends to grow best in summertime temps in the low 80s.

If the ambient temperature dips below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the leaves might suffer some cold damage. If you live in a climate that experiences cold winters, make sure you have your plant in a warm room and away from chilly windows.

Humidity

As a desert-dwelling vine, string of hearts is perfectly comfortable in dry indoor conditions.

However, the air that is expelled by HVAC systems is too dry. So make sure to keep your plant away from any vents or use an air deflector. This adjustable one from Accord fits a range of vent sizes.

Fertilizing

The VSOH is not a heavy feeder. After all, it grows naturally in the harsh, rocky areas that aren’t particularly rich in nutrients.

So fertilizer sparingly, giving a half-strength dose of regular plant food once a month during the active growing season, typically from March to August. A liquid formula will be the easiest to work with and dilute properly. We recommend this concentrated formula from Easy Peasy.

During the winter dormancy, fertilizing will hurt much more than it helps, so hold off until spring.

Pruning

This plant doesn’t require much pruning to stay healthy and growing well.

If your space is limited, though, you can cut back the vines to keep things neat. This also helps to encourage the vines to fill out with leaves instead of becoming leggy and sparse.

But make sure not to cut off more than one-quarter of their length at a time or you risk depriving your plant of enough foliage for photosynthesis.

Also, remember to use sanitized cutting tools any time you make a cut to your plant. You can either wipe your scissor or pruner blades down with a cotton ball soaked in isopropyl alcohol or soak your tools in a 10-1 bleach solution for 30 minutes.

Finally, don’t throw those pruned sections away! As long as they’re at least 6 inches long, you can use them for propagation, which we’ll cover in detail in just a little bit.

Seasonal Dormancy

We’ve already mentioned the seasonal growth patterns for variegated string hearts, and you’ll notice decided changes in your plant’s growth at different times of the year.

The string of hearts goes dormant in winter from roughly October to February. During this time, your plant goes into a resting phase and growth slows down significantly.

However, cooler temperatures often bring out the best color since the plant isn’t spending energy on growth. So enjoy the lovely pink color, snap some photos and let your plant get the rest it needs.

A dense growth of variegated string of hearts.

Keeping Variegated String of Hearts Bright

The lovely pink tinge is probably one of the main reasons why you got a VSOH in the first place, so let’s talk about how you can keep that color vibrant.

Ensure Proper Sunlight

Lack of sunlight is a common cause of lackluster color. This is because your plant uses the green substance chlorophyll to convert sunlight into energy. Chlorophyll is what gives the plant its green color, and the pink sections of the leaves do not contain any chlorophyll. Thus, they’re not doing any actual work besides looking pretty (but that’s enough!).

When sunlight is lacking, your VSOH will start producing chlorophyll in its pink sections in an effort to produce more food. This leads to more all-green leaves.

The remedy is more sunlight, so move your plant closer to a bright window. Just be sure to keep it out of strong sunlight that can scorch the leaves.

If bright natural light is difficult to come by in your living situation, use a UV grow light to supplement. This flexible one from Juhefa is great because it clips right onto a table edge.

After fixing the light problem, you should start seeing the pink return.

Seasonal Growth Patterns

During the spring and summer, your VSOH is focused on expanding its vines and root system, so color production falls to the wayside. You probably won’t see the color turn to green, but more of a whitish color where the pink was.

As your plant slows down on growth towards the fall and winter, the pink coloring will come back and reach its peak during the winter dormancy.

How to Repot Variegated String of Hearts

Like all plants, VSOH will eventually need fresh soil to replenish nutrients or more space to spread its roots. This means repotting is in order, usually every 1 to 2 years depending on your plant’s growth rate.

The best time to repot is in the early spring when winter dormancy has just come to a close. But you can also repot at other times of the year if you notice such indicators as:

  • No new growth (aside from the normal slowed growth during dormancy)
  • Roots beginning to emerge from drainage holes
  • Leaf discoloration

If you’re repotting to give your plant some extra space, remember to choose a new pot that’s only 1 to 2 inches larger than the current one. Or if the current pot still has some room and you just want to refresh the soil, you can remove and replace the root ball back into the same pot with a batch of new soil.

For step-by-step instructions, check out our photo tutorial to repotting pothos. While the plant in the guide is different, the method is exactly the same!

Potential Problems with Variegated String of Hearts

No plant is problem-free. Luckily, the kinds of problems that arise with VSOH are usually pretty easy to address!

Leaves are Discolored or Misshapen

Leaf color and shape problems are often due to watering issues.

It bears repeating that overwatering is really detrimental to the variegated string of hearts. As a desert native, prolonged dampness around the roots will result in root rot, a fungal infection that can kill your plant.

An obvious sign of overwatering is yellow, floppy (not crispy) leaves, usually starting close to the base of the plant and working its way up the stem. You may also see the stem turn black where it meets the soil.

If you see this, test your soil moisture immediately with your finger. If it’s wet, let the root ball dry out completely before watering it again, and be more cautious with your watering schedule going forward. Like we talked about earlier, observe the soil moisture often and record your findings to establish a good watering routine.

Conversely, if you notice your plant’s leaves looking shriveled or curling upwards at the edges, the soil is too dry, so give water right away. Again, keep a record of the soil conditions to create a suitable watering routine.

Leggy Vines with Sparse Growth

A variegated string of hearts that becomes leggy or stretched-looking, with lots of space between its leaves, is probably not receiving enough light.

If you notice this happening, increase the light exposure. Move your plant closer to a sunny window or consider using a grow light.

Pest Infestations

While variegated string of hearts is generally pest-free, they can show up sometimes. In all cases where you find pests on a houseplant, isolate it from any other plants until the infestation has resolved.

Scale and mealybugs are the two most common pests you’ll find on your string of hearts:

Scale insects attached to a tree trunk
Scale Insects
A group of mealybugs on a plant stem
Mealybugs

Scale is the name for brown, disk-shaped insects that attach themselves to the stem of the plant. Use a toothpick or a pair of tweezers to physically remove them, repeating the process every few days until all the scale is gone and no new scale appears.

Mealybugs leave white cottony cocoon-like deposits on the underside of a plant’s leaves or its stems. Use a cotton ball or Q-tip soaked in isopropyl alcohol to remove them. Just like with scale, repeat this treatment over the next few days until all deposits are gone and no new ones show up.

Sometimes these pests show up seemingly out of nowhere. But most often, they hitch a ride on a newly purchased plant or on another plant that you bring in from outside.

Going forward, make sure to thoroughly inspect any plants before you bring them into the house. If there are pests, you can spot them right away and deal with them before they infest your other plants.

Propagating Variegated String of Hearts

Remember when I said not to throw out vine sections you prune off? Here’s where you can put them to use and get brand-new VSOH plants for yourself or to give away!

Propagation tends to work best in early summer when the plant is early in its active growing stage. All you’ll need is a clean glass jar of water and a pair of sanitized scissors or pruners.

Then follow these steps:

Step 1: Cut off a piece of the vine anywhere from 6 to 8 inches long. Make your cut just below a node where a set of leaves emerges from the stem. Here’s a photo showing where the leaf nodes are on a string of hearts plant:

Photo with arrows pointing to nodes on string of hearts plant.

Step 2: Remove some of the leaves from the cut end of the stem, so that when you place the stem in the water no leaves are submerged.

Step 3: Place your prepared stem in the jar and leave it in a warm spot with bright indirect sunlight.

According to the University of Wisconsin Extension, gently heating the jar from the bottom can help the cutting form new roots. I’ve had good luck with rooting stem cuttings of other plants by setting the jar of water on my dryer, which is also next to a sunny window.

Step 4: Wait and watch for new root development. To prevent any bacterial buildup, change the water once a week or sooner if it starts to look cloudy.

After two to three weeks, you should see tiny rootlets growing from the nodes where you removed the leaves.

Step 5: Allow these roots to grow to 1 to 2 inches long, then plant the cutting into a small pot of damp cactus soil.

Voila! You now have two (or more!) variegated string of hearts.

You can also propagate VSOH by rooting cuttings in soil or by harvesting a portion of the root system to grow into a separate plant. But in my opinion, both of these methods are more labor-intensive and have a higher chance of failure.

So I recommend the water-rooting method. Plus, it’s nice to be able to easily monitor the root growth, and it’s fun too!

Frequently Asked Questions about Variegated String of Hearts

Ceropegia woodii variegata is not toxic to people or animals. However, it’s still a good idea keep your plant out of the reach of small children and to discourage your pets from nibbling on your houseplants.

Variegated string of hearts can be expensive because houseplants with variegation have recently become very popular with social media “plantfluencers.” This is especially true for those with pink variegation, which really pops in photos.

Yellow, floppy, soft leaves are the usual indicator of overwatering. If the over-watering continues, you may start to see the lower stem turn brown or black, or notice a bad odor. These indicate root rot, which can be fatal to your plant and requires immediate attention.

Final Thoughts

We love the variegated string of hearts because of its easy care routine and the beautiful color and charm it adds to houseplant shelves. Make sure it gets the right amount of sunlight and not too much water, and you’ll have a lovely vining plant for your home, too!

Are there any useful tips we missed or questions we didn’t answer? Let us know in the comments below!

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