The jade plant is a succulent native to South Africa and is commonly known by many names such as friendship tree and lucky plant. The leaves are broad and fleshy, usually dark green but can have a reddish tint around the edges. This usually only happens when the plant is in direct sunlight for a long time and is not detrimental to your plant health but it is good to keep an eye on it if this happens. New growth is green and supple like the leaves but will soon become rough and woody. Jade plants are a great candidate to bonsai because the new growth is easy to manipulate.
Light and temperature
Jade plants like a lot of indirect light such as from a south facing window. An east window will be just fine if you don’t have a good south facing window. If you are not sure if you’re jade is getting the right amount of light it will tell you. Red leaves mean too much light and thin spindly growth means too little. Some varieties should have red tipped leaves like the one pictured above but if more than the tips begin to redden try a little less sun.
The temperature range for a jade plant is larger than most houseplants, it can survive very hot temperatures but growth will slow to a stop when approaching 90°F. Be sure to remember that when it’s this hot it will require more watering. On the cold side the jade can go down to about 45°F and be fine, just don’t let it frost. These colder conditions are when the plant will flower.
Being a succulent the jade plant’s watering requirements are minimal compared to some other common houseplants. Make sure the pot you are using has multiple drainage holes that have been screened off so the soil does not flow out of the pot and if possible water from the bottom by placing the pot in a pan of water and allowing the dry soil in the pot to absorb the water from the tray. After an hour or two remove from the standing water and return it to its usual location. Once the plant gets large this will be basically impossible but at this point the plant should be very hearty and have a large root mass so an even distribution of water throughout the pot becomes less important. I recommend against misting the foliage as this can increase the relative humidity and lead to the growth of mold and fungus.
In their native habitat in South Africa jade plants grow in dry rocky soil. You will need to create a mix that has a high content of inorganic material to promote quick drainage. Crushed pumice or coarse sand is a good choice, then you will need an organic component, composted pine bark or redwood bark are better than peat for this succulent. The last part will be a perlite or vermiculite for aeration and drainage. Builders sand will add weight to the mix. This can be critical to stabilize a top heavy plant but can negatively affect drainage if the grains are too small. 2 parts pumice or builders sand, 1 part composted bark and 1 part perlite would be a good mix for this plant.
Pruning and propagation
Pruning a jade plant is mostly unnecessary and is generally done only for aesthetic reasons. if you do decide to prune find the part you want to remove and snip the stem as close to the next leaf node as possible. The two leaves that are now at the end of the branch will then start to lengthen and turn into new stems. Next take your cuttings and let them dry out at room temperature for a day or two. A thin callous will form over the cut, this is when it is ready to plant. Put you’re cutting about an inch (more if you have a large cutting that is unstable) into soil. If you don’t have a healthy cutting to use you can also use a leaf. When using only a leaf don’t bury it just rest it on top of the soil maybe leaning against the side of the pot with the base of the leaf on the dirt. In a week or two you will see that it has taken root and you may begin a watering routine. Remember that jade plants are very slow growing so be patient and in a year or two you will have a small jade plant. Water sparingly in the beginning with a spray mister or using the “from the bottom” method described above so you don’t disturb the new roots, this will also encourage the roots to grow more downward and become more stable more quickly. Jade plant cuttings can benefit greatly from using a rooting hormone, usually you will just dip the cut stem or the base of the leaf into the compound but some may be different.
Problems and pests
Jade plants don’t succumb to pests easily but there are a few that can be problematic. Mealy bugs are a type of scale and will feed on any part of the plant but are mostly found at the leaf joint or node. The males look like gnats and can fly during some growth stages. The females look like tiny cotton balls and adhere to the plant. To eliminate them start by manually removing as many as you can. Fly paper can catch some of the males which will slow breeding. Insecticidal products are not recommended for succulents as they can do more damage than the pest. Instead mix up diluted alcohol solution and mist the whole plant moderately (somewhere between lightly and heavily) even the seemingly unaffected areas.
There are thousands of other types of scale with many different physical characteristics and growth stages. The rubbing alcohol technique above works well on many soft scales but there are some “armored scales” that need a more highly concentrated direct application. Use a q-tip or cotton ball, soaked in pure rubbing alcohol and apply directly to the shell, avoiding as much plant as possible.
If the scale doesn’t subside in a few weeks to a month you may have lost the battle. Take a few of the healthiest cuttings you can, clean them thoroughly, and start them in new pots with new soil. Get rid of the rest, soil and all before it spreads beyond just your jade plant.
Re-potting a jade plant is the same as with most other houseplants. Start by loosening the dirt around the root ball. Next prepare your new pot, fill about one third with your new batch of growing medium. Carefully remove the jade from the old pot shake lightly and fluff the root-ball. Now is a good time to take a close look at the roots, inspect for any rot or parasites. When you are satisfied that the roots are in good condition, place the plant into the new pot resting on the dirt. Fill the rest of the pot until the root ball is completely covered. You should have about a half inch from the top of the dirt to the top of the pot. Water generously; allow it to drain and your finished.