The string of hearts plant (Ceropegia woodii) readily shows signs of distress when fed too much water. Apart from the plant appearing generally unhealthy, it can start to develop irreversible signs such as leaf discoloration that can lead to its death if nothing is done to save the plant soon enough.
An overwatered string of hearts will have its leaves turning yellow, drooping, and becoming mushy. Edema and root rot can also result from too much water and make the plant limp. To save the string of hearts, water it less frequently, reduce humidity, avoid exposure to direct sunlight, and repot it in well-draining soil.
Signs of an overwatered string of hearts
The most common signs of an overwatered string of hearts include the leaves turning yellow/brown/black, wilting and falling leaves, edema, and root rot. Any of these signs should let you know that your plant is under distress due to too much water in the soil.
Here are the signs of an overwatered string of hearts:
Leaves turning yellow
If your string of hearts leaves are turning yellow, it may be a sign that the plant is overwatered. As the soil becomes waterlogged, essential nutrients like iron are washed away from the plant’s root zone. And since the chain of heart plants need nutrients to make chlorophyll (green pigment), the nutrient deficiency results in the leaves turning pale green/yellow.
Note: The yellow color indicates that the leaves aren’t making enough chlorophyll due to inadequate nutrients.
Leaf yellowing caused by overwatering is usually accompanied by softening of the stems. That’s because the stems become water-soaked due to transpiration failure. Normal string of hearts stems feel much firmer than those of overwatered plants.
Leaves wilting and dropping
When the leaves of your Ceropegia woodii plant are wilting and dropping off the plant, it’s likely that the plant is suffering from root rot due to overwatering. As the plant can’t absorb enough nutrients through the choking roots to make its own energy, it’ll naturally look towards preserving the little energy available.
It, therefore, cuts off the supply of energy to energy-draining elements like leaves, causing the leaves to wilt and die. Wilting in string of hearts is often preceded by leaf yellowing.
Edema is a physiological disorder characterized by tiny, red/brown/black spots on the surface of the string of hearts foliage. This problem usually occurs when overwatered soil conditions combine with high humidity levels (above 60%) around the plant leaves.
In such conditions, the chain of hearts plant absorbs water at a faster rate than it can transpire. As a result, the plant’s leaf cells swell and burst due to excessive moisture, resulting in the red, brown or black blisters/pockmarks identified as edema.
Root rot is the most surefire sign that you’re overwatering your string of hearts plant. As the soil becomes waterlogged, the plant’s root zone is deprived of oxygen, causing the roots to choke and die. Root rot is usually characterized by dark, soft, mushy roots and an unpleasant smell.
How to save an overwatered string of hearts
You’ll know that your cascading succulent is overwatered if the leaves are turning yellow, wilting, or spotting red/brown-black marks; and if the roots are rotting away.
While there’s no way to get rid of the yellow leaf sections or bring rotten roots back to life, you can still save your overwatered string of hearts plant and make it thrive again. To revive your chain of hearts plant, slow down your watering frequency, lower the humidity levels, repot it in well-draining soil, and avoid exposing the plant to direct sunlight.
1. Reduce the watering frequency
The first step in saving an overwatered Ceropegia woodii plant is cutting back on your watering frequency. This drought-hardy plant doesn’t like excessively wet soil conditions. Ideally, you should water your string of hearts once a week during the growing seasons (spring-summer).
Meanwhile, from fall-winter when there’s minimal growth, watering once every 14-21 days will suffice and prevent overwatering. You should also factor in the humidity conditions in your region when considering your irrigation frequency. String of hearts plants growing in high humidity conditions (above 60%) don’t need to be watered often.
Before watering your chain of hearts, always test the soil for dryness. Insert a finger into the top two inches of the soil and if it feels dry, you can proceed to water again. A more effective way of testing for soil dryness/wetness is by using a moisture meter.
2. Lower room humidity
By lowering relative humidity levels to about 40%, your Ceropegia woodii will be able to transpire much faster. This increases the plant’s ability to take in more water from the soil without the risk of edema.
To lower room humidity for indoor string of hearts plants, install a dehumidifier to draw excess moisture from the air. As the plant transpires faster, it’s now able to take in more water from the soil; consequently stopping water from pooling in the root zone long enough to cause root rot.
3. Avoid exposure to direct sunlight
Whenever string of hearts growers find out that overwatering is the problem, they’re usually tempted to relocate their plants to outdoor spots to receive direct sunlight and dry out the soil. However, direct sunlight exposure only stresses out the plant further.
4. Repot the plant using a well-draining soil
Sometimes, even if you irrigate sparingly, the root zone of your string of hearts plant may still become overwatered/waterlogged due to the soil draining too slowly. The problem is usually exacerbated by using a pot that lacks drainage holes at the base.
Here’s how to repot your string of hearts plant and save it from overwatering:
1. Uproot the overwatered string of hearts
It’s easy to uproot a string of hearts plant due to its bulbous roots (aerial tubers). After removing the plant from the soil, shake it lightly to dislodge any wet soil still attached to the root hairs. Also, check for rotten roots and prune them off using a sterilized pair of pruning shears.
2. Prune off any discolored leaves
Next, prune off any leaves that have turned yellow, or have brown or red spots caused by edema. This will allow the plant to focus its energy resources on growing new foliage once it is repotted.
3. Let the plant air dry and lose water
Let the chain of hearts plant air dry for a few hours after uprooting it and pruning the foliage. This allows for more moisture to dry out, thus readying the plant for watering after it is replanted.
4. Prep your soil mix and growing container:
Don’t dry out the previous soil mix and try to use it again, as it’ll still be devoid of essential nutrients that had been washed away. Instead, invest in a succulent soil mix that’s formulated to drain optimally for drought-hardy plant varieties like string of hearts. Such specially-formulated soil mixes are also usually rich in the kind of nutrients that string of hearts plants need to survive.
Meanwhile, if the growing pot lacks drainage holes at the bottom, make the holes by yourself or replace it with one that does. If the holes are present but are blocked by compact soil, unblock them with a screwdriver or a piece of stick before washing the pot and drying it.
5. Replant the chain of hearts plant
With the new soil mix and growing pot now ready, you can now repot the plant. Fill ¾ of the pot with the soil mix, before inserting the string of hearts into the soil. Then cover the plant with soil until the roots are totally submerged.
Pro tip: After repotting the string of hearts, water the plant 1-2 times weekly for it to resume normal, healthy growth. Also, avoid letting saucers/trays under your pot from overfilling for too long, as this hinders proper drainage.
Underwatered vs. Overwatered Ceropegia woodii
Despite being a drought-tolerant plant variety, lack of water can still be a problem for string of hearts plants. The signs of underwatering on Ceropegia woodii are usually a bit different from the signs of overwatering. They include shrinking leaves and dry soil.
The leaves of an underwatered chain of hearts tend to shrink and become smaller. This is usually a natural defense mechanism for the plant to reduce the leaf surface and thus minimize the evaporation of the little water that’s available. By contrast, the leaves of an overwatered chain of hearts usually retain their size, but undergo discoloration.
Second, the leaves of a string of hearts plant that lacks water will become dry and shriveled, with sections of the leaves turning brown. This condition is usually more prominent on the younger leaves, as they require more water to grow. By comparison, the leaves of an overwatered plant typically appear water-soaked due to edema.
When a string of hearts plant is underwatered, the soil will feel dry; while overwatered soil feels moist. To determine whether a certain symptom (such as leaf browning) is due to underwatering or overwatering, insert a finger into the top inch to check for wetness/dryness.
Here’s a table summarizing the differences between an overwatered and underwatered string of hearts:
|Underwatered String of Hearts||Overwatered String of Hearts|
|Leaves shrink and appear smaller||Leaves stay the same size, but may turn yellow or develop red/brown spots|
|Leaves dry up, turn brown, and shrivel||Leaves appear water-soaked|
|Soil mix is dry||Soil mix is moist|
- Carmen Kappos Inyo-Mono Master Gardener, University of California: String of Hearts
- Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison, String of Hearts, Ceropegia woodii
My name is Alex K. Worley. I am a web geek who loves gardening and connecting with nature. I maintain a small backyard organic garden from which I source most of my green food. I hope to help you learn something new about gardening.