How to Care for the Pickle Plant Succulent Indoors

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Brock Ingham
Brock Ingham

Like a half buried lizard or a dropped table snack, the pickle plant (Kleinia stapeliiformis) pokes long, striped leaves from sandy soils. When grown outdoors they’re feisty characters with thick ridges and the occasional jagged edge. Grown as a houseplant they’re much sweeter. Don’t let them get too wet and meet their deep desire for bright light, and you’ll find them a great option for expert growers and new plant lovers alike.

pickle plant in window
pickle plant in window

What is a pickle plant?

There’s more than a few plants known as the pickle plant that have their own properties, including how to propagate them. Let’s make it clear who these care tips apply to.

Our pickle plant is the Kleinia stapeliiformis.  It’s native to  South Africa, where the succulent grows as a spiny ground cover. It sprouts straight from the ground in long, jagged stems. They look like little pickles, but soon grow to a foot long (30cm). It flowers in the spring and summer seasons, producing dense pom-pom clusters of small orange and pink flowers.

Others that share the name include Delosperma echinatum, a fuzzy ice plant, and the Candle Plant (Curio articulatus). The former is sometimes traded as Senecio articulatus. The spindly Trichodiadema barbatum is another pickle. This one is known for purple flowers that look like small daisies.

Are pickle plants easy to grow?

Pickle Plant Succulents (Kleinia Stapeliiformis)Are An Easy To Take Care Of Plant With High Pest And Disease Resistance. They Require Well-Draining Soil And At Least Three Hours Of Direct Sunlight A Day. Pickle Plant Propagation Is Best Done From Cuttings. 

Indoor Pickle Plant Care Guide

Botanical NameKleinia stapeliiformis
Growth RateFast
Blooming periodSouth Africa
Hardiness Zones9b to 11b
Light3 to 6 hours direct sunlight
Soil NeedsSandy, free draining soil
Temperaturenot frost tolerant
Ease of CareEasy care 
DiseasesDisease resistant
PropagationSeeds or cuttings
FertilizerLow requirements
PestsPest resistant
HumidityLow to Moderate
PruningNot required
Water needsLow
Pickle Plant Growing Guide Chart

How Do You Take Care of a Pickle Plant?

Pickle plants are an easy care succulent. They share the same requirements as more common varieties, like crassulas or elephant bush. The most important part of caring for succulents is getting their soil and water levels just right. Master those two elements and you’ll find these little pickles very easy to take care of indeed.

How much light does a Pickle Plant need?

Pickle plants have a high light requirement. When grown indoors they need three to six hours a day of direct sun, and as much bright indirect light you can muster the rest of the time. Pop them on a bright eastern facing window to keep your plant thriving. 

You can also take your pickle plant outdoors when the weather’s right. A south or south eastern balcony or patio is a perfect summer retreat, where they can bask all morning and cool off during the hottest part of the day. 

“Succulents are dry plants. These plants grow in desert-like environments with tons of sun every day and dry weather conditions They need to be in the absolute brightest light, or your absolute brightest window.”

David Reed, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulture specialist.

What Is The Best Soil for Pickle Plants?

Pickle plants need a loose, sandy soil with low levels of organic material. Like all succulents they can suffer from root rot if you don’t let the soil dry out completely from time to time.

I like to blend my own succulent soil with one part good quality potting soil, one part sand, and one part crushed pumice stone or perlite. This gives the right degree of drainage while still providing adequate nutrition. If you don’t have the space to mix your own soil, a good quality commercial cactus and succulent mix will get the job done.

Pot choice is also important. Succulents have shallow roots, so there’s no need for a deep pot. A wide, shallow terracotta pot is perfect. Terracotta wicks up excess moisture and allows it to evaporate, so helps the soil to dry out at a comfortable rate. You also need at least one good sized drainage hole, and the more the better.

How Often Should a Pickle Plant be Watered?

Water your pickle plant only once its soil is completely dry. It may be as little as once a month. When you do water, go hard and really drench it. I water my pickle plant by dunking it wholesale in a bucket of clean, lukewarm water. And I mean dunk – I make sure the leaves are covered too! This lifts dust, kills pests and re-hydrates the soil completely. Leave it in the bucket until there’s no more bubbles rising, then remove and drain completely. 

How often you do this will depend on the conditions. In summer you’ll need to water more frequently. You can reduce your watering schedule as the weather cools. The pickle plant doesn’t need much at all during the winter, and any excess will evaporate more slowly from the pot. 

When to Repot a Pickle Plant

Like most succulents, you can repot your pickle plant only once outgrown its old one entirely. They barely notice if they’re root bound. When you do repot, choose a new pot that’s no more than 5cm (two inches) larger across than the old one. Containers that are too big develop ares of stagnant soil deep within and can cause problems later down the track.

What’s the best temperature for a pickle Plant?

Pickle plants are a desert plant and need conditions to match. They’ll only grow outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zones 9b to 11b. While they’ll endure short bursts of sub-zero temperatures, they won’t survive a hard frost .

For best growth, consistent warmth is best. Pickle plants prefer temperatures between 18-30 degrees Celsius (65-85 degrees Fahrenheit). They also prefer a dry heat, so don’t require misting or a humidifier. 

Pickle Plant Flower
Pickle Plant Flower

Fertilizer Needs for Pickle Plants

Like most succulent plants, a pickle doesn’t need frequent fertilization. In fact, overfeeding encourages long, leggy stalks that are prone to falling over and snapping. Excess fertilizer can also build up in the soil, causing chemical burns to the roots.

At best, give your pickle a half strength dose of balanced liquid fertilizer every second month during spring and summer. This will help your pickle plants make season leaves without risking overgrowth or damage to the roots.

Common Problems With Pickle Plants

Easily the most drama with pickle plants is root rot caused by overwatering. They need very little water and it’s easy for a gardener new to succulent care to drown their new treasure. It’s a common mistake for those growing succulents for the first time.

Root rot in pickle plants is easy to spot – the whole plant will decay from the root upwards, resulting in squishy leaves that are soft to the touch and often fall apart into a reeking slime when handled. Because stems grow directly from a fleshy root called a rhizome, pathogens that cause root disease reach the leaves before the plant even has time to mount a defense. These nasties are found in water or soil naturally and only have to wait for their chance to devour your poor pickle plant.

You have two options when faces with an ailing, overwatered pickle plant. The first is to repot. Take the plant out of the pot and remove soft, decayed leaves or diseased roots. I’d suggest dusting the root system with cinnamon powder – it’s an effective antifungal and antibacterial agent. Once treated, plant the remaining pickles into free draining succulent soil.

But by far the best chance of recovery comes from propagation. The pickle plant is not unlike a cactus in that you can cut off the top and have a whole new plant. You can grow the pickle plant new, healthy roots and toss the old sick ones into the trash.

How to Propagate a Pickle Plant from a Cutting

Propagating a pickle plant from a cutting is very easy indeed. While you can grow a new pickle plant from seeds, using a good sized piece of trimmed pickle is much more reliable and a hell of a lot faster, too.

To propagate, start by lopping off the tip of a pickle and allowing the wet end of the cutting to dry out. This will produce a callus that protects the moist tissue inside from decomposition. Once that’s done just plant it in a small pot of well-draining succulent soil and water as normal. 

FAQ

How big do pickle plants get?

With the right care a pickle plant can reach 30cm (12 inches) tall at maturity, and are usually around 2 cm or so across (1 inch). They’ll sprawl into all the space you care to provide and can take over warm corners of garden if grown outdoors. That said, they will happily grow in a container too and you can keep them under control by limiting the size of their residence. 

How do I get my pickle plant to bloom? 

Perfect care for a pickle plant may well result in flowers. They bloom in the spring or summer, producing a cluster of bright orange flowers. 

Increase the amount of direct sun to get those blooms coming. Three to six hours a day is the lower threshold of light levels. For flowers you want much more. Indoor pickles may need a grow light to supplement natural sunbeams. Indoor plants are always more sensitive to ultraviolet light than their outdoor counterparts, so while it’s tempting to pop them in full sun all day you may cook the poor thing. 

Water when the soil feels completely dry. When you do water flood the plant and allow to drain. This mimics the desert rainstorms the plant evolved to exploit. 

Finally be sure to fertilize it gently with a good organic liquid fertilizer. A specialist cactus and succulent fertilizer is ideal, but a half or even quarter strength general purpose liquid plant food is fine. Try not to overdo the nitrogen, however, as that will prompt the plant to grow more leaves, instead of flowers. A low nitrogen option is better.

Final Thoughts 

Pickle plant care is just as straightforward and easygoing as any other succulent. Just let them cruise along, chilling in a sunbeam, no bad vibes at all. My pickle plant is part of my collection I can always rely on for interesting foliage and very little drama. 

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