A string of turtles, Peperomia prostrata, are amazing epiphytic plants that stand only 1 to 2 inches tall but can grow almost 10 feet in length!
Their low maintenance, pest resistance, and ridiculously easy propagation make this tiny tropical beauty a favorite for houseplant enthusiasts and terrarium specialists.
In this article, I’ll be describing step-by-step how to propagate a String of turtles, how to care for them afterward, and what problems I have run across along the way.
Methods of Propagating String of Turtles
A string of turtles can root themselves from a single fallen stem fragment, which is why it is so easy to propagate cuttings from a healthy mature plant. There are several different approaches to propagating the String of turtles, the most popular being those that use the stem-cutting technique, which can also be applied to string of bananas, string of hearts, and other ‘string succulents’
1. Propagating a Stem Cutting in Soil
Experience has proven that planting stem cuttings in the soil is the easiest, quickest, and most successful method of propagating a String of turtles.
It’s so easy that you can simply leave the stem on the soil, and it will do all the work to attach itself! This method is so simple there really aren’t any downsides.
2. Propagating a Stem Cutting in Water
Propagating a String of turtle plants from a stem cutting in water can be successful, but I don’t recommend it. Why create extra work for yourself when this variety of plant roots is so easily in soil?
If you do want to use this method, then make sure to remove any leaves that would sit below the water’s surface so that they don’t rot.
Place several cuttings in a jar of distilled water in a bright room with indirect sunlight, and promptly plant once roots arrive so that the stem doesn’t begin to rot.
3. Dividing Individual Roots
Propagating the String of turtles by dividing its root system is possible but I don’t recommend it.
That’s because this is such a slow-growing species, and the disturbance through transplanting or propagation, along with manipulating the soil can cause stress to these delicate plants.
Attempts to propagate using this method are often unsuccessful.
4. Propagating by Leaf
A string of turtles plants can propagate a new plant with only one leaf as long as that leaf has an attached node.
While useful in the canopy of the rainforest, this method is unfortunately not viable in most cases because the leaves are too small and plant growth is too slow.
You are much more likely to have successful propagation when using at least 2 inches of stem.
Best Time for Propagating
The best time to propagate a String of turtles is in the spring and summer when they are in their growing seasons. This way they are actively growing roots and shoots that will provide the new cutting with the ability to grow independently.
If you attempt to propagate during the dormant winter season, then roots might not grow, and the cutting will probably not survive.
How To Propagate String of Turtles – Step by Step
My preferred method of propagation is the stem cuttings in soil method because it has the highest success rate with the least amount of work.
This method produces mature rooted plants within 3 weeks and can be continually done throughout the growing season without harming the mother plant.
The following describes the steps it takes to propagate a String of turtles using the stem-cutting in soil method, including the equipment needed, the after-care procedures, and the solutions to potential problems.
- Sharp, sanitized knife or scissors
- Container with soil
- Healthy, mature String of turtles plant
- Rooting hormone gel (optional)
1. Check Your Plant’s Health
Always use a mother plant that is healthy and free of pests and diseases.
If you see any signs of wilting, leaf yellowing, pest damage, or fungal growth you should rectify those issues before propagating. If you don’t, chances are the issue will likely just transfer to the new container.
2. Sanitize Your Equipment
Sanitizing your pruning equipment with a 70%+ isopropyl alcohol solution is the best way to prevent fungal infections and bacterial disease from contaminating your mother plants or new cuttings.
3. Locating A Stem Node
Select a stem that is around 6 inches long and has at least 2 leaves with nodes on it.
A string of turtles plants has nodes at each leaf that are able to grow new roots. The more mature the node is the quicker it will likely root, so focus on rooting the cut end of the stem first.
4. Taking the Cutting
With sanitized scissors, make a 45-degree cut on several stems from the mother plant. Never take more than 1/3rd of the mother plant’s foliage at one time to ensure it doesn’t get overly stressed from the propagation process.
5. Prepare the Cutting for Rooting
Simply set the stem on the top of the substrate, making sure that the lighter-colored undersides of the leaves are facing down against the soil.
I found the root quicker when I place a small amount of rooting hormone gel on each of the nodes along the stem before setting them in their new container, but that is completely optional.
Don’t cover the cuttings in the soil. Since the String of turtles is so slow growing, any part buried under fertile soil will likely rot before growing enough to reach the surface.
6. Waiting for Roots to Appear
Place your new cutting into a propagation terrarium and put it in a warm and humid location with plenty of bright indirect sunlight.
Every 3 – 4 days remove the lid to check on the soil moisture and circulate fresh air.
Within 2 weeks, your new String of turtles plants should be starting to root.
A string of Turtles Care After Propagation
Properly maintaining your new cuttings after propagation is the key factor in setting up your String of turtles plants for a long and healthy life.
If they have to struggle in their early weeks, they are likely to continue struggling throughout their 3 – 5 year lifespan.
Being an understory species, String of turtles like bright yet indirect sunlight. This species does well in the reliable soft lighting provided by north-facing windows or situated at least 3 meters away from south-facing windows.
A string of turtles that receive direct sunlight will get sunburnt and show signs of leaf chlorosis, crisping, and if severe enough, plant death.
For mature String of turtles plants, consistent even soil moisture is more important than frequency of watering. Meaning if the soil is dry, then thoroughly soak the container until water drains through to the catch tray.
If the soil is still moist, then wait until it dries out before watering it.
During the hottest seasons, you may need to water your String of turtles plants every few days, whereas, during the colder seasons, you may only need to water them every 2 – 3 weeks.
A string of turtles is like succulents in that they store a tremendous amount of water in their leaves. This also means that they are very susceptible to overwatering, which can quickly turn their leaves soggy, wilted, and pale.
Temperature & Humidity
A string of turtles is native to South America’s tropical rainforests, which means that they love high temperatures and even higher humidities.
A string of turtles prefer temperatures between 65- and 80 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity range of 60 – 90%.
A string of turtles will begin to show signs of wilting and leaf yellowing if the humidity consistently remains below 50% and the temperature continually spikes below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your String of turtles is struggling, try moving it into a bathroom that has a window and gets showered in. You should start to see it do better in the higher humidity environment within a few days.
A string of turtles plants are epiphytes that would naturally live without soil by growing and feeding off the extra nutrients of trees and shrubs. So, it will attach, grow, and survive on the substrate, moss, or plants that it has readily available around it.
If using potting soil with your String of turtles, then be sure to use a well-draining mix with a pH of 7 to 5, like the following:
- 25% Coco Coir
- 25% Peat Moss
- 30% Worm Castings
- 20% Perlite
Epiphyte species have evolved to grow off the ground and survive on the minimal amount of nutrients they forage from other plant species.
These plants are highly efficient with their resources, so you will rarely need to fertilize your String of turtles plants, especially if they are grown in good soil.
Over-fertilization of a String of turtles is more common than under-fertilization, therefore, only use a succulent-specific liquid fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 0.5-1-1.
Fertilizing once a month in the growing season is sufficient if you feel your plants are struggling.
Problems After Propagation
A string of turtles are not very susceptible to many pests and diseases due to their waxy leaf coating and succulent nature, but there are a few, including spider mites, scales, and gnats, that you should keep an eye out for.
Wilting, leaf chlorosis, and stem rot are all indications that there is an issue with your new String of turtle cuttings.
Pests and Disease
Spider mites are less likely to be attracted to succulent species but since String of turtles is not a true succulent, they can sometimes find them to be an acceptable host.
In those cases, tiny yellow dots accompanied by fine webbing will be present all over the foliage. See my tips below on what you can do to get rid of Spider mites and give your plant the best chance of survival.
Scales, while not particularly harmful themselves, can slowly open the foliage to fungal infections and bacterial diseases that could easily kill your String of turtles.
Soil gnats have larvae that feed on the roots of plants, eventually killing it once high enough populations of gnats occur.
The adult gnats can easily be seen flying around the soil and base of the plant. Their larvae can sometimes be carried in with contaminated soil.
Using the Integrated Pest Management techniques that I’ve listed below are all effective ways to get rid of pests.
- All-natural essential oil sprays containing neem and lemongrass are effectively used as a preventative and treatment of spider mites, scales, fungi, and other pests. Always use as directed.
- Misting and wiping your String of turtles with water every few weeks is also a great way to prevent pest infestations from occurring, especially spider mites and scales.
- Soil gnats can easily be treated and prevented using all-natural diatomaceous earth. Carefully sprinkle the powder on the soil or mix a few tablespoons into a top dress to quickly dry out the larvae and eliminate the gnats.
Leggy Growth and Pruning
Usually, due to low light situations, this vining plant can end up very thin and long, which is not desirable.
Occasionally pruning these long vines will encourage branching and new growth near the base of the plant, making it a fuller appearance. Use the pruned cuttings to make new plants rather than discard them!
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Strings of turtles grow quickly?
No, the String of turtles plants is not considered fast growers. As epiphytes that depend on the nutrient of other plants, they have evolved to stay small and thus, require minimal resources to thrive.
Should I let my String of turtles go to flower?
While it might be fun to see, flowering and reproduction are costly. So, I recommend cutting those small, white spikes so that the plant can focus on growing foliage instead, which is especially important if propagating from it.
Also, seed propagation is generally less successful than stem-cutting propagation so there is really no point in letting your String of turtles go to flower.
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.