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Jade Plant (Crassula ovata): Home

Crassula ovata; photo by Marlon Co
Jade plant (Crassula ovata); photo by Marlon Co

Jade plant (Crassula ovata)

An important factor in determining the suitability of a plant to your home and envisioning the care it will need, is to know the origin of the plant. Plants that are native to desert regions will require substantial amount of sunlight and loose, fast-draining soil. Plants from the floor of a rainforest will need some protection from strong sunlight and generous humidity.

Native to South Africa, where it grows on sandy slopes, in open fields and forest, this succulent houseplant takes on the look of a small tree as it grows to about 18 inches. Succulents are a broad category of plants that have adapted fleshy leaves or stems for water storage. The relatively large interior to exterior area ratios of these plants reduces loss of water into the atmosphere and they are well adapted to the dry, winter conditions suffered by most New York area houseplants. The deep green leaves of Crassula ovata may tint red at the edges if grown in bright light.

Light:

Crassulas  prefer plentiful sunlight, but protection from the harshest midday sun. They will become weak and misshapen without enough light.

Water and Humidity:

Too much water is the most frequent cause of succulent failure. Water thoroughly with tepid water, allowing the water to run from the bottom of the pot and checking back after 15 minutes to remove any water sitting in the plant's run-off dish. Water that is too cold can shock your plant and cause it to drop leaves.

When the plant is in active growth, allow the soil to dry completely between waterings. Succulents have shallow roots and they will rot easily if over-watered. In the low-light conditions of winter (October through February), water only as often as is necessary to prevent the leaves from puckering.

Average household humidity is adequate.

Temperature

Warm or cool positions with good air circulation are fine. Keep at 45º to 55º F. in winter.

Re-potting

Jade plants like to be root-bound and can stay in the same pot for years, while replacing some surface soil annually. The proper, quick-draining soil, however, is essential. Soil should resemble the loose, free-draining mixture of a succulent's native habitat. Equal parts potting soil, peat and sand are generally best. Commercial cactus mixes are acceptable, but avoid those that have food already in the mix. Your pot must have a draining hole at its bottom.

Nutrition

A cactus fertilizer, fed at half strength, three times per growing period is generally advised. Any plant food with a high nitrogen value should be avoided. Jade plants do not grow in naturally rich soil and their roots will burn if they are over-fertilized.

Pruning

A jade plant will naturally produce the classic tree-like shape when it develops a good root system and gets sufficient sunlight. Jade plants prefer bright light and sparing water to do well. Once they get established they can grow pretty quickly in the right conditions. If the plant becomes top-heavy, It's better to lessen the load by pruning a little than to risk toppling.

Pruning is well tolerated and should be done in the early spring. Begin by removing any misshapen or unhealthy branches. Then imagine the overall shape that you would like and cut back up to 1/3 of the growth, making your cuts with sharp, sterile shears just above a branching point or node. Cutting back to a node will cause two new branches to grow from that point so cut where you would like to see greater fullness.

What to Watch for

Jade plants get a variety of leaf discolorations and, because the leaf structure is unusual, they are not always easily identifiable. Dark spots can appear on leaves from sunburn, chill and disease. By far the most common reason for leaf spots is overly wet soil. That can happen if your soil is not fast draining enough, if the drain hole in the pot is blocked, run off water sits in a dish under the plant or the plant is being watered too often. In particular, from October through February, the plant is in a non-growth period and needs only just enough water to prevent the leaves from puckering.

Crusty scabs can appear where leaves have been damaged for any reason but especially by over-watering. If your jade plant is given more water than it can use through its normal processes, small blisters form in the leaves and cells rupture, followed by drying of the leaf surface and the formation of a rough-textured, gray-brown patch on the leaf, called corky scab. Crusty patches can also develop when powdery mildew penetrates the leaf epidermis. In this circumstance, close inspection will typically reveal some white, dusty mildew as well.

The plant will grow leggy and misshapen if there is too little light. Branches will become too weak to support themselves. This is particularly likely to occur if the plant is not allowed a winter rest and is instead encouraged to grow when daylight is inadequate. You can trim your plant back and place it in brighter light so the new growth is stronger. Stems can be cut just above a node (a joint in the stem).

Jade plants lose some lower leaves naturally as part of the aging process. Those do not grow back. Some leaves lost for other reasons will grow back, slowly, if you correct the conditions that caused them to drop off. Sudden leaf loss may result from watering with cold tap water or letting the plant get too dry during the growing season.

Jade houseplants rarely bloom. While a mature jade plant can bloom with small white flowers in winter, it needs more extended, strong sunlight than is commonly available in a home in winter. The plant will remain healthy with a few hours of filtered, sunlight, but needs a minimum of six hours strong, unobstructed, sunlight daily to flower.

Crassula ovata (jade plant) in flower in the NYBG Conservatory; photo by Marlon Co
Crassula ovata (jade plant) in flower in the NYBG Conservatory; photo by Marlon Co

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