How to Grow and Care for Sedum Donkey’s Tail Plant
Updated: 03 Nov, 2023
The Donkey’s Tail (Sedum morganianum) is a well-loved succulent featuring rows of plump, tear-shaped leaves in a soothing blue-green hue. Originating from Honduras and Mexico, mature specimens of this plant exhibit slow and steady growth, eventually extending to trailing lengths of up to four feet over a span of six years (though the average length tends to be around 24 inches).
These succulents are commonly cultivated in pots and frequently hung as suspended displays. When kept indoors, they can be effortlessly propagated year-round using stem cuttings or by simply placing a fallen leaf on top of the soil. For outdoor planting, it thrives best when done in early spring. While the plant may produce red or pink flowers in late summer, indoor blooms are a rare occurrence. It’s worth noting that the Donkey’s Tail plant is safe and considered non-toxic to both humans and pets.
|Donkey’s tail, donkey tail, burro’s tail, lamb’s tail
|1–4 ft. long, 1–2 ft. wide
|Neutral, alkaline Sedum morganianum. North Carolina Extension.
|Red, white, yellow
|North America, Central America
What Is Donkey’s Tail?
Donkey’s tail (Sedum morganianum) is a perennial succulent renowned for its lengthy, drooping stems adorned with succulent leaves.
Mature plants, with their extended stems, resemble braids or cascading ropes when suspended in baskets or planters. This succulent displays bluish-green leaves that may sport a powdery, whitish coating.
The plump leaves of the donkey’s tail are smooth, gently curved, and taper to points, forming a whorled pattern around the stems. These plants exhibit a trailing growth pattern, extending to about one and a half feet in width.
Initially, the stems grow upright, but eventually drape down, reaching lengths of up to four feet as indoor plants. Under optimal conditions, S. morganianum can potentially grow even longer, at a rate of up to one foot per year.
Donkey’s Tail Care
Considering everything, growing donkey’s tail succulents is a breeze as long as you stick to a few straightforward guidelines. Like many succulents, they thrive when given a bit of neglect—missing a watering session or two won’t harm them at all. Overwatering is the most detrimental thing you can do to a donkey’s tail. The real delicate aspect of caring for a donkey’s tail lies in handling it. Despite their striking appearance, the pointed leaves that adorn the trailing stems are incredibly fragile and can snap off with even the gentlest touch. That’s why it’s advisable to select a sunny spot for your donkey’s tail succulent, whether planted or hung, and then, quite literally, let it be.
Like many succulents, the donkey’s tail thrives in abundant warm sunlight, although it can also tolerate partial shade. When housing it indoors, choose a sunny windowsill that receives several hours of sunlight each day. If you’re growing it outdoors, place it in a pot or a location in your garden that gets plenty of morning sunlight but is partially shaded during the more intense afternoon hours to prevent leaf scorching.
For successful growth, your donkey’s tail succulent should be planted in well-draining, sandy soil. If you plan to use a container (whether for outdoor or indoor use), opt for a gritty soil mixture specifically designed for cacti or succulents. Select a container with a drainage hole to ensure that the roots don’t sit in water. If you’re incorporating it into a larger garden, make sure to choose a spot among other plants that also thrive in well-drained soil, as excessive moisture retention can be detrimental (you can even consider adding sand to your garden soil to improve drainage). Additionally, donkey’s tail does well in soil with a neutral to alkaline pH but isn’t overly finicky in this regard.
When it comes to watering your donkey’s tail succulent, remember that less is more. Like many succulents, the donkey’s tail is drought-resistant once established, so you’ll want to water it more frequently during its spring and summer growing season, then reduce watering in the fall and winter months. Generally, aim for a thorough watering once a month if your plant is indoors, increasing to once every two or three weeks if it’s kept outdoors. A good rule of thumb is to allow the soil to completely dry out between waterings. Check the soil with your finger to ensure it’s dry at least an inch down before watering the plant.
To aid in drainage, select a pot with holes in the base; terracotta or clay pots can also help wick excess water from the soil. When in doubt, it’s better to water less rather than more—donkey’s tail retains moisture in its plump leaves and can withstand periods of drought, but it’s highly sensitive to overwatering. The leaves may also begin to wrinkle, signaling that it’s time to water.
Temperature and Humidity:
Donkey’s tail prefers warm weather, but it can tolerate cooler temperatures better than some other succulents. Aim to maintain an environment of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, whether indoors or outdoors. It can survive brief exposure to temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but be sure to bring it inside before the first frost or move it away from drafty windows in the winter.
In terms of humidity, donkey’s tail doesn’t have any special requirements. In fact, it prefers average levels of humidity and can rot if the environment becomes too humid (so there’s no need to mist its leaves or place it in a more humid location, like a bathroom).
While fertilizing the donkey’s tail succulent isn’t essential for its successful growth, it can provide additional nutrients. Focus on feeding your plant at the start of its growing season in spring, using a controlled-release, balanced 20-20-20 fertilizer, which contains equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Mature succulents may benefit from the fertilizer at one-quarter strength, while younger plants may prefer a lower nitrogen content.
Types of Donkey’s Tail
There are two closely related forms of this plant:
- Sedum morganianum, the species form, is commonly referred to as “donkey’s tail” and can be recognized by its distinctively pointed leaves.
- S. morganianum ‘Burrito’ is the sole named cultivar available, often marketed as “burro’s tail.” It is distinguished by its more rounded leaves. Other than this difference, the plants are virtually identical.
Propagating Donkey’s Tail
Propagation of donkey’s tail succulents can be easily achieved through stem cuttings or leaves, as they tend to fall off with minimal touch, especially when handled.
How to propagate using stem cuttings:
- Use a sterilized cutting tool to snip a plump and healthy stem measuring a few inches in length.
- Remove the lower leaves (these can also be propagated if desired).
Place the stem in a shallow container or box top, put it in a well-lit room, and allow it to form a callus before planting. This typically takes a couple of weeks, although some gardeners may choose to plant the cutting directly into succulent potting mix without waiting for callusing.
- Plant the stem in a pot with cacti or succulent potting mix. Keep it in a location with indirect light.
- Water only when the soil has completely dried out.
- Roots should start to develop within a couple of weeks.
How to propagate using leaf cuttings:
- If you notice your plant has recently shed some leaves, set aside healthy, plump ones until the cut ends have come over, which usually takes about two to three days. Avoid using shriveled or damaged leaves.
- Fill a pot with cacti or succulent potting mix. Lay the leaves on top of the soil, ensuring they make contact with the medium.
- Mist the leaves regularly (about once a week), ensuring the soil remains moist but not waterlogged, until you observe new growth emerging. Afterward, reduce watering and care for the new plant as you would an established one. While young plants require more water than mature ones until they’re established, be cautious not to overwater.
Potting and Repotting Donkey’s Tail
Due to their delicate nature, exercising caution is crucial when it comes to repotting a donkey’s tail succulent. Only do so when absolutely necessary. This plant doesn’t mind being slightly root-bound, so repotting is only required every few years. Take care to prevent any significant loss of “tails” and leaves during the transplanting process. However, if you must repot your succulent, it’s best done in the warmer months.
Ensure the soil is completely dry before you start. Gently remove the succulent from its current container, gently shaking off any old soil from the roots. Place it in a new pot (a shallow clay pot is ideal) and fill with soil, taking care to spread out the roots in the larger container. Allow it to “rest” for about a week before giving it its first watering in its new home.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
The donkey’s tail succulent is generally resilient against pests, but if an infestation does occur, it’s most likely to be caused by aphids. While aphids can usually be washed off a plant, this approach may not be suitable for donkey’s tail succulents due to their delicate nature. Instead, it’s recommended to mist them every few days with a diluted organic neem oil solution until the aphids are gone (typically within two to three weeks). Mealybugs can also pose a threat and can be effectively addressed with neem oil.
When planted outdoors, slugs and snails may become a concern, and the best way to handle them is by manually removing them or using bait.
The primary disease issue to be wary of is root rot, which can occur if the plant is overwatered or grown in compact, poorly draining soil.
- Hanging Gardens: Donkey’s tail succulents are excellent choices for hanging planters or baskets, where their trailing stems can gracefully cascade down, creating a stunning visual display.
- Indoor Décor: These succulents make charming additions to indoor spaces, adding a touch of natural beauty to windowsills, shelves, or any well-lit area.
- Drought-Tolerant Landscapes: Donkey’s tail plants are well-suited for xeriscaping, as they are drought-tolerant and require minimal watering, making them a sustainable choice for arid climates.
- Succulent Arrangements: Combine them with other succulents in arrangements or gardens, creating unique and eye-catching compositions.
- Outdoor Hanging Planters: Placed in hanging containers on patios, balconies, or pergolas, donkey’s tail succulents can enhance outdoor living spaces with their distinctive foliage.
- Living Wall or Vertical Garden: Incorporate them into a vertical garden or living wall for a striking and space-saving green feature.
- Event Decor: Donkey’s tail succulents can be used in weddings, parties, or other events as beautiful and low-maintenance décor elements.
- Gifts: potted donkey’s tail plants make thoughtful and unique gifts for plant enthusiasts or those new to gardening.
Common Problems With Donkey’s Tail
The donkey’s tail is a low-maintenance plant that thrives on neglect, but there are a few cultural issues that may arise:
Gray or Dull Leaves:
If you observe your plant’s leaves turning gray or a very muted green (as opposed to its usual vibrant blue-green), it’s likely receiving too much intense light. You may also notice a powdery, white, waxy coating on the bead-like leaves of your donkey’s tail succulent. No need to worry—this is a natural protective coating called epicuticular wax, which the plant produces to shield itself from excessive sun exposure.
Shrinking and Curling Leaves:
When the leaves of a donkey’s tail start to curl up and shrink, it’s usually a sign that the plant is in need of water. This isn’t a major issue, as they will plump up again once given a thorough watering. Many growers find it better to wait for this indicator before watering, rather than doing so too frequently.
Soft, Collapsing Stems:
If the stems of your donkey’s tail become limp and collapse, it’s likely due to overwatering, leading to the onset of rot. In some cases, allowing the plant to thoroughly dry out immediately may save it, but in advanced stages of rot, the plant may need to be discarded.
Wilting and Falling Leaves:
If you observe the leaves drooping and starting to fall off, don’t mistake it for a sign that the plant needs more water. With donkey’s tail, this is actually an indication that the plant has been overwatered.
How to Get Donkey’s Tail to Bloom
The donkey’s tail plant blooms sparingly, particularly when cultivated indoors, and it’s unlikely to flower until it reaches a mature stage. If and when it does flower, the small blossoms can be yellow, white, or red, typically emerging in late spring or early summer. While these flowers may not be particularly extravagant, some growers have observed that subjecting the plant to slightly cooler outdoor temperatures (without jeopardizing its well-being) can occasionally encourage blooming.
Additionally, ample sunlight is crucial for encouraging blooming, but it’s important to refrain from overfeeding the plant.
How do I care for a Donkey’s Tail succulent?
Donkey’s Tail succulents thrive in well-draining soil, bright but indirect light, and require infrequent watering. They are best planted in pots with drainage holes and are suitable for both indoor and outdoor cultivation.
How often should I water my Donkey’s Tail succulent?
Water sparingly, allowing the soil to dry out completely between waterings. In general, they prefer to be slightly underwatered rather than overwatered.
Can I propagate Donkey’s Tail succulents?
Yes, Donkey’s Tail succulents can be easily propagated through stem cuttings or leaves. Both methods are effective for creating new plants.
Why are the leaves of my Donkey’s Tail turning grey?
Grey or dull leaves may be a sign of too much intense sunlight. This plant prefers bright but indirect light and can become stressed if exposed to too much harsh sun.
Why are the leaves of my Donkey’s Tail shriveling and shrinking?
Shrinking and curling leaves are often an indication that the plant needs water. They will plump up again after a thorough watering.
What should I do if the stems of my Donkey’s Tail are soft and collapsing?
Soft, collapsing stems are a sign of overwatering, which can lead to rot. Allow the plant to dry out, but in severe cases, it may be necessary to discard the plant.
Why are the leaves of my Donkey’s Tail wilting and falling off?
Wilting and falling leaves are usually a sign of overwatering, not underwatering. Adjust the watering schedule to allow the soil to dry out before watering again.
The Donkey’s Tail succulent, with its trailing stems adorned with plump, tear-shaped leaves, is a resilient and visually captivating plant. Thriving on neglect, requires minimal maintenance, making it an ideal choice for both indoor and outdoor cultivation. Care should be taken with light exposure, avoiding harsh sunlight to prevent stress. U
nderstanding the subtle signs of watering needs is crucial; overwatering can lead to issues like rot. Overall, with proper care and attention to its specific requirements, the Donkey’s Tail succulent can thrive and add a touch of natural beauty to any space, bringing a sense of tranquility and serenity.