Burro's Tail Growing Tips
Updated: Aug 12, 2020
Sedum morganianum, also known as donkey tail, or burrito, is one of the most beautiful plants to cultivate, and one of the most stressful plants to watch falter. Each time I post a photo of one on Instagram, I get lots of questions. Most of them sprinkled with panic or sad face emojis.
When growing conditions are right, the sea foam green, beaded stems twist and swirl like Medusa's snakes. When conditions are inadequate, the beads turn pale, fall off, and leave a pot of bald stems.
My very first burro's tail is still thriving. Like a tree stump with rings of history, the stems reveal phases when growing conditions were perfect, and when it suffered through cold winters. It's got character. Over the years, I've learned a few dos and don'ts. Here's my growing tips, so you can side step the don'ts, and cultivate a beautiful plant.
Give your burro's tail a well-draining succulent mix. I like to use a mix with tiny grains of sand and pebbles, instead of one with large pieces of bark or charcoal (Black Gold Cactus Mix is my favorite). Sedum morganianum roots are delicate. If the soil mix is fine, the roots won't tangle around large pieces of bark, making repotting easier. Fine grain soil also gives beads a chance to grow unobstructed at the soil line, instead of underneath large bark chunks. New leaf beads start out super tiny, and a large chunk of bark can weigh them down and block the light.
This next tip took me years to understand: ALL angles of your burro's tail need bright light. People tend to fixate on the trailing stems, but forget that the top of the plant needs light too. Overhead light will encourage new growth at the soil line, and keep your plant looking lush all over.
Make sure the entire stem receives bright light. It's easy to miss, but sometimes longer hanging stems grow in the shadow of the pot. When this happens, the stems etiolate, (stretch in search of light). Empty spaces between each bead grow longer, and the stem forms pale and weak, instead of plump and strong. You can see the difference in the photo below.
Native to Mexico, a burro's tail needs warm, dry, and sunny growing conditions. Chose a spot in your home with bright shade (right next to a sunny, south-facing window), or with a few hours of direct sunlight each day. Just make sure not to let your plant burn in several hours of hot, mid-day sunlight.
Used as a supplemental light source, grow lights work great to illuminate any shadows around your plant. A grow light will also extend the hours of light during winter, when the sun goes down early. After adding a grow light, my succulents kept their beautiful, blue green color and stopped turning pale.
Keep your plant in comfortable room temperatures, (60F - 75F), or under the warm glow of a grow light. Avoid placing your burro's tail near chilly windowsills. Cold temperatures cause beads to bleach and fall off - I know this from experience. One winter I tried to give my burro's tail as much sun as possible, and placed it on a frosty windowsill. That spring my poor plant turned pale and sparse. It's always best to try to recreate your plant's native growing conditions.
Watering frequency will always depend on light. During the growing season, when your sedum gets the most light, you'll need to water about once a week. If you live in the northern hemisphere, and don't have a grow light, slow down on the watering during winter. During winter, a burro's tail can easily go three weeks between waterings. I know someone who lets their plant go dormant in winter, and doesn't water until spring.
Sedum morganianum is a sophisticated succulent, but worth the extra effort. Don't be intimidated by it. You may need to experiment a little to get growing conditions just right, but remember, plant care is a journey, and you learn along the way.
I would love to hear about your experience with this plant - what worked for you and what didn't. Feel free to share in the comment section below, or post questions if you have them. As always, thanks for being on this plant care journey with me.