Ceropegia Woodii ‘String of Hearts’ Problems & How To Fix Them

String of Hearts or Chain of Hearts can be a costly plant and difficult to come by. It is, therefore, understandable new plant parents are a little overprotective and cautious once they get their hands on this beautiful succulent.

Ceropegia Woodii

Although Ceropegia Woodii and its variegated cousin are usually fairly easy to look after, there are a few things this plant dislikes and as a result, can become a bit problematic.

The most common problems people experience with the String of Hearts are

  1. Leaves curling
  2. Leaves drying
  3. Leaves falling off
  4. Leaves growing too small
  5. Leaves growing thin rather than plump
  6. Leaves rotting
  7. Dark spots on the leaves
  8. Loss of colour
  9. Slow growth

We will now address each one of these problems and have a look at solutions.

1. Leaves curling

Leaves curling on Ceropegia Woodii can be due to lack of light, natural and because of animals. Sometimes, when the chain of hearts is kept indoors, the growth slows, and the leaves do not become as thick as plants grown outdoors. Ceropegia Woodii that is grown outside, especially the ones that will get a little filtered sun, will have thicker leaves that are unlikely to curl. The plants indoors that are not in bright light can end up with curled leaves. Although this will not kill the plant, it may distort the looks. To fix the curly leaf in this scenario, move the plant closer to a source of light.

Natural curl on young String of Hearts leaves. These will eventually straighten up as they grow older.

The natural curl can happen when the leaves are young. New growth is quite a lot thinner than more mature leaves, and so they are prone to bending. They should eventually straighten up as they grow older. Also, having the plant in as much light as possible will help. Young leaves in a dark spot can be a bit of double whammy for the hearts.

Despite Ceropegia Woodii being fairly pest free the odd mealy bug or a bunch of aphids can sometimes attack and may cause the leaves to curl as a result of the damage they have done to the leaves. There are also other animals that cause leaves to curl such as some species of spiders, moth or butterfly eggs and other insect eggs. They commonly reside in a web which is strong enough to bend the leaves inwards.

2. Leaves drying

This is a very common problem one might experience with the Ceropegia Woodii. Despite this plant being a succulent, it does like to be watered regularly, providing the potting mix is not over-saturated/ soggy at all times. Many people make the mistake of keeping the Chain of Hearts too dry which usually results in leaves drying up and looking shrivelled, especially on new growth as these leaves are still quite thin and not filled with water much. The older leaves have much higher water content and can deal with a bit of dry. The remedy for drying leaves is nearly always more water, though do make sure the plant is in well-draining succulent potting mix that will not stay soggy for too long.

Leaves can also start drying out when the plant is root-bound, and the roots are crammed in a pot. When this happens, the plant responds by losing some of its leaves. Before they fall off, they start drying out. If the plant is watered often enough, it may help, but the best thing to do is upgrading the pot.

Another reason for leaves drying is the plant being in too much sun. Ceropegia Woodii can handle direct sun in the cold months, but not in summer when the temperatures are high. The sun will dry the leaves out and can also cause burns. Moving the plant into bright shade will stop the drying.

3. Leaves falling off

Leaves can fall off for a number of reasons. It is usually (but not always) the next step after the leaves have started to dry out, and the problem is not addressed. So all the causes in number two are also the causes here.

Another reason that can result in leaves abruptly falling off is lack of light. Although Chain of Hearts is shade tolerant and prefers bright shade to direct sun, too much shade can cause the leaves falling off as a stress response. Plants need light to survive.

Ceropegia Woodii suffering from wet feet (this would have to be a seriously soggy potting mix) will also loose leaves, usually the ones closest to the roots. In most cases, they will be yellow/ brownish as mushy. The Chain of Hearts plants in our nursery are kept outdoors and do not mind if it rains a lot, and so in our opinion, this plant is not easily killed by over-watering, though our are planted in good quality potting mix and are outside where the air will help water evaporate quicker. Indoors water evaporation from potting mix is slower. If the mix is heavy and retains too much water, the roots will become over-saturated, and this is when the plant can suffer. The roots may also get waterlogged in a pot with no drainage hole. This can literally drown the plant as the roots need to breathe. For the Chain of Hearts not loose leaves because of water, it should be planted in well-draining potting mix and in a pot with a hole at the bottom. Perlite can be added for extra drainage. Indoors, water when the potting mix has dried out, but do not leave dry for too long.

4. Leaves growing too small

Leaves usually grow small when the Chain of Hearts is root-bound. As there is no space in the pot, the plant will slow its growth, and the leaves will become smaller. To get bigger leaves, the plant should be re-potted into a larger pot once a year.

The string on the left was taken from a plant that is a little root-bound. As a result the leaves are smaller and more colourful. The string on the right has noticeably bigger leaves which is owed to a large pot with plenty of root-space.

Lack of water can also see the leaves shrink as the plant tries to lessen the chance of water evaporating. A larger surface will see more water loss.

Ceropegia Woodii that is grown in a spot with quite a bit o sun will also grow smaller leaves, though if the plant has plenty of space in the pot this should not be too dramatic.

The leaf on the left is grown in a bright spot but without any sun. The leaf on the right gets filtered sun under 30% shade cloth.

Lastly, new growth is always small, and it may take some time, especially for indoor plants, before these young leaves grow bigger. Remedy for this particular problem is patience 🙂

5. Leaves growing thin rather than plump

In our experience, Ceropegia Woodii grown indoors or in deeper shade will always have thinner leaves compared to plants grown outside in plenty of light. There is not much that can be done about this other than moving the plant in a bright spot outdoors.

New growth is also pretty much always thin, but as the leaves mature, they will grow thicker.

6. Leaves rotting

Rotting leaves should not be too much of a problem with the Chain of Hearts if the potting mix is well-draining and the plant lives in a pot with a drainage hole. Leaves will rot when the plant has been sitting in waterlogged soil for too long.

Leaves may also rot if the plant is placed in dark and damp spaces (bathroom with very little light etc.). Chain of hearts is not a good plant for rooms that lack light.

Although this does not happen often but sometimes if the Chain of Hearts is exposed to direct sun on a very hot day (over 35C/95F) the leaves can literally cook inside which will result in them turning to mush and rot. We would not recommend leaving the Hearts in direct sun on hot days as even a short exposure can damage the plant.

7. Dark spots on the leaves

Dark spots on Ceropegia Woodii leaves are usually caused by fungal diseases, pests or the sun. If Ceropegia Woodii is grown somewhere dark and damp, it is quite likely black or brown spots will appear on the leaves. It is advisable to grow this plant in a bright and airy spot.

Sucking pests like aphids or mealybugs will create small holes in plants leaves to feed on the juices. When these wounds heals, they can permanently darken. Unfortunately not much can be done about this once the damage is done.

Sun can burn plants just like it can burn us. The difference is that our skin can regenerate, whereas the plants will stay permanently damaged. The burns on Ceropegia Woddii can leave everlasting bark marks on leaves. The leaves can be pinched off, so the dark spots do not spoil the looks.

8. Loss of colour

Colour loss in Chain of Hearts can be caused by lack of light, seasons and temperature. Loss of colour is usually noticed on the Variegated Ceropegia Woodii as when grown in ideal conditions the leaves have a pink hue, more so if they are in filtered light with a bit of harmless sun (morning sun, sun in the cooler months). Take away the bright light, and the pink disappears. The loss of colour is hard to manage indoors as the plants will often not be able to get the same amount of light as the plants outdoors. But closer to a sunny window the Chain of Hearts is, the more colourful it will get.

This Ceropegia Woodii Variegata is grown in a spot with filtered sun. The photo was taken at the end of autumn when temperatures overnight started dropping to about 6C (42.8F). Low temperatures are very likely to bring out extra colour. 

This plant is also grown in filtered sunlight, but the photo was taken at the end of spring when the plants are growing rapidly and the temperatures get warmer.

The colour can also change with the seasons and temperature. Most succulents, including the Chain of Hearts, are more colourful once the temperature starts dropping. In winter, the hearts are at their most pink. Please note that Ceropegia Woodii is not frost tolerant and should not stay outdoors when frost or snow is expected. This change is natural and very hard to be forced.

Seasons also affect the colour in another way- growth. In spring the plants race ahead with new growth and are likely to lose some colour. This can happen when repotting into a bigger planter too as the roots, all of a sudden, have more space, and the plant starts growing. Eventually, the plant will colour up again.

9. Slow growth

Chain of Hearts is likely to grow slower indoors or when the plant is in too much shade. The brighter the position, better the growth rate.

Same applies to pot size. Bigger the pot, faster the plant will grow. When the Chain of Hearts is rootbound or in a small pot, it is likely to slow all growth, even in the growing season.

The growth rate is also affected by the season. Ceropegia Woodii is dormant during the cold months and does not produce much growth in this time. In cold climates, it almost stops growing. In more temperate climates, it will still produce new branches but not as much as it would in spring and summer.

If you would like to read about Ceropegia Woodii in more detail, we have a plant profile article here 🙂