String of Turtles Complete Care Guide - What no-one tells you (and how not to kill them)
Peperomia Prostrata aka String of Turtles. Count me in. I'm officially and totally obsessed with these little cuties. But how do you go from a cute teeny-weeny cutting, to lush overflowing, trailing, insta-worthy plant?
The good news first. They ARE easy care. Once you know what to do (and what NOT to do). In fact, this is not the plant you want to be a helicopter-plant-parent over. However, there are a few big NO NO's to be aware of also...
A little house-keeping before we jump in...
#1 Every environment is different. This is what works for me combined with advice I've received from other hobbyists and growers. Take this as a starting point and adjust to suit what makes your turtles thrive in your environment. You do you.
#2 Be aware of their wee leaves! These guys are not huggers. Definitely not fans of being touched too much. Way more delicate than their tough turtle-shell appearance. I find their leaves fall off annoyingly easily. Although my new obsession is silicon (which strengthens roots, stems and leaves), so I am trying Pro-TeKt at the moment (I'll update you on how it goes).
Find your Turtle's happy place, then largely leave them be. Once those leaves start trailing over the edge - moving is best avoided. Upside is if you want a really bushy Turtles, losing a few strands (and of course keeping them to propagate), is not a bad thing.
#3 TLDR (the very quick 'too long didn't read' version)
SOIL: Free draining, fine, soil-less substrate
HUMIDITY: Very high
WATER: Lightly moist (never wet)
LIGHT: Bright indirect light (no direct sun)
FOOD: A little
= Very happy turtles!
Cheat: Grow Pods are the bomb for easy happy Turtles
(section about SOT in Grow Pods below too)
Right. Here we go...
Free draining is key for turtle success. A low-organic, or non-organic soil-less mix is your safest bet to avoid the dreaded leaf rot. Pumice, perlite, teeny tiny bark, coco peat...
But don't get hung up on exact substrate mix. What and how much doesn't matter as much as it being a free-draining, finer substrate. Go for a finer, grittier grade of whatever you decide instead of something too chunky.
I've tried different mixes. My current favourite is a half-and-half mix of a fine-grade succulent mix, and fine pumice sand. Kings, landscape and hardware stores sell pumice sand. I've heard of success with a coco peat and perlite mix too. A nice mini grade bark would do well also. Throw it all in the mix together if you like.
I've seen a few people add a layer of pumice to the top also to keep those shallow roots extra dry and leaves elevated off any wet substrate, but I personally tend to avoid layering. Instead I'd mix it all in well to keep water draining right through, instead of stopping between layers (yes, water does that - layering can actually increase water retention).
I wouldn't however go for sphagnum moss myself. Yes, I know it works, and have seen it recommended a lot, but mainly for non-rooted leaf cuttings. You can pop a cut end in sphagnum moss or pin it down laying on the surface until it roots, but I've heard too many horror stories of them rotting on spag moss (keep in mind the substrate may not be to blame though - it's hard to know with so many factors), but personally I'd give it a miss, or at least move your babies to a different substrate as soon as those roots have formed and you see some initial new growth.
Whatever you try, free-draining is a must, as these chaps HATE being water-logged. More about water coming up, below light and temperature.
Light & temperature
Turtles do best in medium to bright indirect light, and definitely no direct sun! They have a clear almost jelly-like layer on the leaf. Sun can quickly cook their delicate leaves really fast. Best avoided!
Turtles like the same temperature range we are comfy in. About 18 to 26 degrees is their happy place.
As far as water goes, keep it light. Don't overdo the H2O. If your place is humid - or you've got your turtles in a Grow Pod or dome, or even a snaplock bag - water or mist minimally. I'd wait for the sides of the dome to have no droplets before misting again.
When my littlies are still in their Grow Pod, then I mist daily, but it entirely depends on your conditions. For my turtles out of a dome that I do water rather than mist, I check the surface is completely dry out before I water again. You get a feel for it pretty fast based on the weight of the pot too. When mine mature I tend to avoid getting their leaves wet.
Think lightly damp, never wet. If you only mist and don't water at all, then mist more often as they'll lose that water faster. I personally wouldn't mist by itself once they get a bit of size on them, as the roots uptake nutrients better than the leaves.
Beware over-watering. They HATE wet feet. Overwatering can quickly turn your string of turtles into a mushy turtle soup if you're not careful. Go easy!
I know some do bottom water turtles. It's suggested often enough in the forums and groups to say it's worth trying. I top water my turtles once they get some size on them because the roots are so shallow (and mine are in comparatively tall pots). I want those nutrients to reach the roots. A shallow pot is a really good choice for these chaps though (and looks fantastic when they start trailing over the edge).
For top watering: I give mine about 1/5th the size of the pot in water, with a little Groconut and Foliage Pro mixed in. If yours are in a shallower pot and you bottom water, just don't leave them to soak for too long.
For bottom watering: Pop your pot of turtles in a container, fill your outer container about half way up the pot with water. Set your alarm for about 10 minutes max. Remove and drain well.
Whatever pot yours are in, a drainage hole is a must in my books. Don't risk a container without a drainage hole. It's simply too easy to overwater.
These chaps LOVE humidity. Think 60% to 90%. You can stuff up a lot and still win with high humidity. Absolutely the go for turtles.
If you have one, a Grow Pod is a very popular for rooting and initial very fast growth for baby Turtles, otherwise a glass dome over the pot, a Grow House with vents, or just a snap-lock bag will do in a pinch. Some just put glad wrap over the pot (I haven't tried that myself).
If you have the budget, buying a prop box, terrarium or fish tank with a grow light for above, and a heat pad for below, is a winner too. If that's overboard for you, you don't have room, or it's just crazy out of budget, do consider one of those clever little Grow Pods instead since they have a grow light, dome and fan all in one. With the rest of the conditions all good, a simple glass dome over a pot or a plastic snap-lock bag get great results too.
The beauty of a Grow Pod is it keeps the air flow up too (there's a tiny fan in the base that keeps air circulating inside), so if you go for a bag or dome, make sure to let them air out every day.
Turtles are found growing epiphytically in the wild so they can make superb terrarium plants. Epiphytes are plants that grow on the surface of other plants and get their nutrients from the air, rain and debris.
Right now (I'm writing this mid-Summer and yesterday was over 90% humidity here), mature turtles can hang out in normal indoor plant conditions and be sweet. I find my more mature chaps don't grow as fast, but still seem happy enough without any special bits and bobs. In winter though I'm going back to a heat pad with a grow light and my mini humidifier. I want mine to thrive not just survive.
Grow Pod settings for String of Turtles
I added this section in after I'd written this guide because so many people have asked me this exact question - since I do sell those pods - and I see it come up so often on groups and forums.
I've tried different combos but my current fave is the dim light setting, on manual, for 12 to 18 hours of light in one stretch. I have also had success using the full light setting on auto (that's 12 hours on, 12 hours off), but had one cutting recently - which started a little less variegated anyway - and the full light setting seemed to make him lighten up and lose his brown shell markings, so now I go for the dim light on manual (he came right pretty fast after that in his new leaves).
I just turn the Grow Pod on in the morning and off when I go to bed. The fan automatically cycles 40 mins on, 40 mins off on Grow Pods, so no concerns about airflow or rot.
I'm not super exact about the hours of light each day, plus I try not to helicopter parent my Turtles and let the Grow Pod do the nurturing. I mist about daily when they're babies in the pod, just when I notice the water droplets on the dome have evaporated.
Despite being relatively slow growers (at first anyway, then I find they take off once settled and have a little growth underway), fertiliser does make a difference (I've tried with and without). I find mine gave me bigger leaves and faster growth since I've started to feed them. But if you do feed - as it's not a must - keep it light!
Just remember that Groconut is a natural source of plant growth hormones, it's not a complete food, so doesn't replace your usual fertiliser (I mix-feed around a 1/2 teaspoon Groconut + 1/2 ml Foliage Pro per 3 litres water, but I do adjust that depending on how much I'm making up).
A heads up too that when using any growth booster - whether your 'drug of choice' is Groconut, Clonex, Urban Botanist, Crazy Keiki or something else - all that rapid growth will deplete nutrients faster, both from the substrate and the plant's own reserves.
That's why I find it best to replenish those nutrients with your usual food so you don't end up with stunted growth from deficiencies later (otherwise you can get a wonderful initial growth spurt then everything slows back down or stops).
Look for an NPK food that can also be used for misting (Foliage Pro can but just check the directions on the website/pack as not all foods dilute well for going through fine misters).
I haven't found turtles to be heavy feeders, but being in a very free-draining, mainly inorganic soil mix, they still need to be fed. Especially if you want faster growth and bigger leaves. Some feed nothing, some just use growth boosters, do what works best for you and your turtles.
The one I use (Foliage Pro) is a complete food. Whatever you choose, I'd look for a food that includes as many or all of the 16 essential nutrients plants need. Go for one made for indoor plants too, as you can't flush your turtles like you can outdoor plants.
Importantly, look for one that's free of urea to avoid burning roots or leaves. I really like the higher nitrogen and calcium in Foliage Pro in order to focus my Turtle's energy on foliage growth and avoid calcium deficiencies in new leaves (otherwise they come out smaller or even deformed).
Super easy. They might not be the speediest, but they root well from a simple stem cutting. Cut off a healthy stem with a few leaves on it so you have a viable node or two along the stem. Personally I'd keep to at least 4 or 5 leaves, but I have seen people have success with just 2 leaves (I haven't tried so few leaves myself to comment, but wouldn't recommend it myself).
They can root in that same fine soil mix their mumma plant is in, or in water, or you could try sphagnum moss (I prefer to root cuttings in a fine, free draining soil mix and pop it in a Grow Pod). The last cutting I propagated I soaked in Groconut too for a boost of growth hormones.
I find they root well if pinned down gently, so the stem's in contact with the substrate (I use paper clips but you can use those green plant twist ties shaped into a little 'U' to make a plant pin too).
Take my word for this - grab a spoon! Be gentle. Those leaves are delicate. I scoop them out and gently place them in their new pot. Job done.
I am turtle obsessed and may get over my addiction soon, but in the meantime if you're new to turtles or having any worries, I hope this guide helped. Please do give it a share if it did. I love the idea that my trials and tribulations will help others.
PS: I'll be adding lots of String of Turtles photos soon so this guide looks a bit nicer. Your photos are welcome too (credit will of course be given).