String of buttons is a spreading succulent with leaves stacked in pillars like shish kabobs. The leaves are mostly green but with enough sun the tips turn pinkish, and it produces small yellow flowers.
String of buttons stems grow erect, but as they get older they flop over and develop a trailing habit, making them a great choice for any space from a backyard rock garden to a hanging pot to a gap in a potted succulent arrangement.
Quick Guide to String of Buttons
|Botanical name (Family)||Crassula perforata (Crassulaceae family)|
|Sun requirements||Full sun preferred, partial shade tolerated|
|Hardiness/Zone||Hardy outdoors in Zones 9+|
|Primary growth season||Spring flowering|
|Typical sizes||6-18 inches tall|
Growing Requirements for String of Buttons
Where to Plant Crassula Perforata
Even though it’s called a string of buttons, you don’t want your plant to grow stretched out like beads on a string. You want the plant to stay compact, with the leaves forming solid-looking little pillars. The key to avoiding a leggy string of buttons is giving it a home with plenty of sunlight. In addition to preventing stretching, good sun exposure helps the plant develop a pretty rosy color on the edges of the leaves, especially near the top of the plant.
Outdoors, string of buttons is best used to fill gaps in sunny spots without trees or buildings casting shade. A few hours of shade in the heat of the afternoon is okay, but the more sun the better generally. Indoors, you’ll definitely want to keep your string of buttons in a south facing window if at all possible.
This is not a cold-hardy succulent, but it also isn’t a super-tender succulent that gets the vapors if a cool breeze wafts by. An occasional light frost is unlikely to kill a well-established string of buttons, but a serious freeze will. If you live in Zone 8 and want to try planting them in the ground, go for it, just be prepared to offer some thermal protection if a cold snap is forecast. You can keep them warm with a cold frame, floating row cover, or even a blanket. Of course, planting them in a pot that you bring inside for the coldest months is also a great option.
When it comes to toxicity, we are unaware of any reliable answer from a sufficiently credible source. However, ASPCA and other sources are definitive that a cousin Crassula ovata (a.k.a. Jade plant) is toxic. Because plants in the same family share many characteristics, we recommend treating Crassula perforata as likely toxic. Keep it away from pets and small children.
Container and Soil for String of Buttons
If you want to grow a healthy string of buttons, it is worth the effort to make your own potting mix. Like most succulents, Crassula perforata originates in areas with rocky well-draining soil, not soil with a high percentage of organic matter. A typical garden store potting mix has way too much organic matter. It will over-fertilize the plant and hold onto too much water, potentially causing root rot.
Try one of our easy DIY succulent potting mix recipes, or look for a succulent-specific commercially prepared mix with a substantial amount of perlite. If you’re planting in the ground, into soil with high organic content, you can add sand and gravel to create better drainage.
Like all succulents, string of buttons grows best in a pot with a large drainage hole. If you are an attentive gardener, it is definitely possible to grow this plant in a pot without a drainage hole, but if you do it is absolutely critical to water the correct amount: enough to fully saturate the soil after it has had time to absorb and evenly distribute, but just barely. Avoid watering so much that water pools in the bottom of the pot.
An unglazed ceramic pot is ideal because the pot will absorb excess moisture from the soil if you overwater the plant, especially if you’re using a pot with no hole.
Avoid using a pot that is too large or deep for the plant. String of buttons is a petite plant with petite roots. In a too-tall pot, the top level of potting mix (where the roots are located) will dry out long before the bottom of the pot. That means if you wait until the pot dries out entirely before watering, as you should, your plant’s roots will be deprived of access to water for too long.
Watering Crassula Perforata
Only water this plant on an as-needed basis. Let the plant’s growing medium dry out entirely before you water. Err on the side of watering less frequently than seems necessary. Your plant will tell you if you’ve gone too far. The leaves will grow thin and flaccid if underwatered.
For indoor plants we recommend the “soak and dry” watering method, as described in our complete guide to watering succulents. You can test the soil with your finger to confirm the plant is bone dry before watering or go by the weight of the pot. Our succulent watering guide includes a handy plant-care tracker that will help you stay on top of watering and other maintenance.
For outdoor plants, your watering frequency is determined by the plant’s environment. Factors that necessitate more frequent watering include the daytime temperature, the amount of sun exposure the plant gets, and the soil quality, among others. Obviously the more sun and heat, the more water will be needed. Likewise, more frequent watering will be needed for plants growing in the sort of sandy/rocky soil succulents love. If you have soil that is rich in organic matter or clay-heavy, you will need to water much less frequently, perhaps only in the summer.
Note: Avoid pouring water directly onto the plant. Excessive water trapped between the leaves can encourage rot.
Crassula Perforata Fertilizer and Maintenance
We recommend repotting your string of buttons when you bring it home from the store. Many garden stores sell succulents in potting soil that is too rich in organic matter for succulents’ long-term health. Repotting allows you to use a potting mix with a high percentage of sand and larger grit (like perlite or pumice). The other upside of repotting immediately (and every few years after that), is that you won’t need to fertilize your string of buttons for the first year after you repot into fresh potting mix. Because these plants thrive in impoverished soil, they will get plenty of nutrients from fresh potting mix.
After your plant has lived a year in a particular batch of soil, you can encourage growth with periodic application of an organic liquid cactus fertilizer, using the dilution instructions on the package.
Note: If you use fertilizer not specifically meant for succulents and cacti, dilute it to half-strength or less. Avoid using any fertilizer that is high in nitrogen.
Your best choice, other than a fertilizer designed for succulents, is a balanced fertilizer (where the the three NPK numbers are the same).
These plants do not need frequent fertilizing, even in old soil. We recommend fertilizing once in the spring and again a couple of months later, but never in the fall or winter.
Over time, the leaves at the bottom of each rosette may gradually dry up. Most people remove them for aesthetic reasons, but it’s fine to leave them. Eventually removing the bottom leaves will result in a stretch of exposed stem at the base of the plant. You can leave it, or prune and propagate the stem. Don’t worry that removing these stems will make your plant’s foliage look too sparse. When you remove a stem, the stump will likely regrow multiple new stems.
If it gets enough sun, your string of buttons will produce flower stems in the spring, bearing small yellow flowers. You’ll want to trim off the flower stems when they finish blooming.
How to Propagate String of Buttons
Crassula perforata is easy to propagate any way you want. You can propagate by dividing the plant, removing individual offsets, using stem cuttings, or even (reportedly) using leaf cuttings. Stem cuttings are an ideal use for the trimmings when you prune stems that have gone leggy, or where the bottom leaves have dried up and fallen off or been removed.
For tips on how to propagate your plant using these methods, check out our succulent propagation guide.
Common String of Buttons Problems
String of buttons is an extremely resilient, pest-resistant plant. It is not prone to any plant diseases, and even deer won’t eat it. Given a suitable growing environment (warm, lots of sun, good drainage), there is little that can go wrong. However, there are a few things to watch out for.
- Stretching: When this plant is healthy its leaves grow in a compact mass. If your succulent becomes leggy, meaning that you can see bare stem between the leaf attachment points, move your plant to a location with more sunlight. Stretching is rarely reversible, so consider propagating the stretched stems and starting over.
- Mealybugs: String of buttons can become infested by mealybugs or aphids, although this is most likely to happen if your plant is already unhealthy due to inadequate sunlight or excessive water. It is possible to get rid of mealy bugs on a succulent, but prepare yourself for a challenge.
- Leaves change in appearance: Succulents store water in their fleshy leaves, so the leaves are a great way to diagnose a watering problem. If your string of buttons’ leaves begin to look thin, limp, shriveled, or begin to turn brown, you’ll know you’ve erred too far on the side of underwatering. As long as they haven’t gotten to the point of browning, watering the plant should restore the leaves to their naturally plump state. On the other hand, if the leaves become soft while remaining plump, and develop a yellowish cast, you are likely over-watering.
- Wilting, yellowing stem: Root rot is the result of some combination of overwatering, inadequate drainage, and insufficient sunlight. You may need to address all three issues by repotting, relocating, and reconsidering your watering schedule.
Related Article: Why is my Succulent Dying?