How to Grow Senecio Plants

  • 01 of 02

    Senecio Plants

    String of Pearls Plant
    String of Pearls Plant. Marie Iannotti

    Senecio is a large genus of plants, with over 1,000 species dispersed around the world. Some are lovely, and others, like groundsels and ragworts, are noxious weeds. Many, such as 'Dusty Miller' (​Senecio cineraria), are tender perennials.

    There are about 100 succulent Senecios. There are some large shrub varieties, but many are small, trailing plants or spreading ground covers. 

    • Leaves: The leaves are thick and fleshy and can be deep green, bluish, or even striped. Senecio succulent leaves vary widely in shape. Some are round, some are banana-shaped, and some stand upright.
    • Flowers: Senecio flowers form in clusters on long stems. The flowers persist for weeks—their shapes include red or white spires and yellow daisy-like flowers, but it's the foliage that interests most gardeners.

    Botanical Name

    Senecio spp.

    Common Name

    There's no common name for the whole group of Senecio plants, but each species has its own common name or names.

    Cold Hardiness

    Most Senecios thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 9–11. As with the majority of succulents, they're heat tolerant. A few Senecio species can withstand brief periods of cold or dampness, but prolonged exposure will turn them to mush.

    Sun Exposure

    Senecio plants grow best in full sun.

    Mature Plant Size

    Most Senecio plants are low-growing, under 1 foot (30 centimeters) tall. Depending on species, they may spread out or trail down up to 3 feet (90 centimeters).

    Bloom Period

    Senecio succulents bloom at different times during the year and last for about a month. Some do not bloom in cultivation as well as they do in the wild.

    Using Senecio Plants in Your Garden Design

    In warmer climates, you can use Senecios as ground cover and rock garden plants. They grow well in containers, either mixed or alone. In colder climates, growing them in pots will allow you to bring them indoors as houseplants during the winter months.

    Suggested Varieties

    • 'Vertical Leaf Senecio' - Senecio crassissimusThis low maintenance variety is an easy grower that can handle some frost. They feature bluish, flattened leaves on an upright plant. 
      • Height: 18–24 inches (45–60 centimeters) 
      • Width: 18 inches (45 centimeters)  
      • Hardiness Zones: USDA 10–11
    • 'Cocoon Plant' - Senecio haworthiiCocoon refers to the shape of the gray leaves, which form a prostrate bush but do require periodic renewal.
      • Height: 1 foot (30 centimeters) 
      • Width: 3 feet (90 centimeters) 
      • Hardiness Zones: USDA 9–11
    • 'String of Bananas' - Senecio radicans: This variety is more tolerant of shade and moisture. It features puffing, crescent moon-shaped leaves that punctuate long stems. 
      • Height: 6–12 inches (15–30 centimeters)
      • Width: 9–12 inches (22–30 centimeters)
      • Hardiness Zones: USDA 10–11
    • 'String of Beads or Pearls' - Senecio rowleyanus: This plant is comprised of dangling stems of round leaves, and does well with minimal watering. 
      • Size: 3–5 feet long 
      • Hardiness Zones: USDA 8–10
    • 'Blue Chalk Stick' or 'Blue Ice Plant' - Senecio serpensThis variety has short, steel blue, tubular leaves. (Several species go by the same common names as this plant.)
      • Height: 12–18 inches (30–45 centimeters) 
      • 18–24 inches (45–60 centimeters)
      • Hardiness Zones: USDA 10–11
    Continue to 2 of 2 below.
  • 02 of 02

    Growing and Caring for Succulent Senecio Plants

    Blue Chalk Plant
    Blue Chalk Plant. Marie Iannotti

    ​Soil

    Senecio plants aren't particular about soil pH. Something in the neutral range (6.0–7.0) should be fine. More importantly, make sure the soil is well-drained and on the sandy side.

    ​Planting

    Senecio plants can be grown from either seed or cuttings. Cuttings are the easiest and fastest way to propagate senecios. During the growing season, you can clip off a stem and root it in a pot of sandy soil to start a new plant. 

    Seeds require warm temperatures (at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit) and constant moisture to germinate.

    Caring for Your Senecio Plants

    Established plants are extremely drought tolerant. They do need some water during the summer, but be careful to not leave the soil wet for prolonged periods. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings in the winter, when the plants are somewhat ​dormant.

    Since Senecio plants grow in sandy soil, the nutrients will need to be replenished. Fertilize annually, but lightly. Too much fertilizer can cause an abundance of leggy growth.

    To prevent floppiness in taller varieties, you can prune them back to where the stem is firm. Early spring is an ideal time for trimming, dividing, and repotting.

    Pests and Problems 

    Few pests bother Senecio plants, but they can occasionally be affected by scale and mealybugs. If this happens, try treating with neem oil or an antibacterial soap solution. 

    Many Senecio species are toxic, so plant them where they cannot be accessed by animals or small children.