Pachira aquatica (money tree, Malabar chestnut or Guiana chestnut) is from tropical wetlands in Central and South America. In our homes, these easy-care houseplants grow into attractive, 3 to 6 foot plants with willowy, woody stems and large whorls of compound leaves at the top. They are frequently sold with the trunks of several plants braided together, yielding a more substantial tree-form.
Pachira can be a confusing plant. It is low in care needs and can endure a range of conditions, but only once you have it in the right spot and establish a routine where the needs of a tropical wetlands plant, for moisture, humidity and light, are respected.
Money trees prefer bright, filtered light but will put up with some light shade and continue to grow. The money tree in your home is a juvenile plant that would be protected from direct light by taller plants in its native habitat. For best health, your plant should be in a room that gets sun for most of the day, but not right in the window. Strong direct sun can cause sunburn. Though they can survive poor light conditions, they may slowly decline in health and will lose their attractive features. Rotate the plant each time that you water it for balanced development.
Pachira needs a routine of moderate moisture, in a container with a drain hole and soil that drains well. In its native environment, it experiences heavy rain and then dryness. Water thoroughly, making the potting mixture moist, and check back after 15 minutes to remove any water sitting in the plant's run-off dish. Allow the soil to nearly dry between waterings, but do not let the roots dry out. Make sure that your soil is hydrating properly during watering but then err on the side of dryness. A water meter probe can help you to gauge moisture near the roots of your money tree.
In winter, you may find that your plant's soil is drying at a different rate -- faster due to dry home conditions or slower due to fewer hours of daylight. Adjust your watering frequency to accommodate the change.
This plant also needs some gentle humidity of around 50%; if you keep it on a tray of wet pebbles that release moisture into the leafy canopy your plant should avoid crispy leaves in the dry winter.
These are tropical plants and a warm household, between 65 and 85°F., is ideal. Keep it in a spot where it will have some air circulation and won't be affected by chilly air from a draft or an air conditioning vent, or drying heat from a heating vent. Shifts in its environment are poorly tolerated and cause the plant to drop leaves.
Your plant may need re-potting every two or three years. In the spring, move up to a pot that is only one size larger and with a drain hole. Use a good quality, house plant soil that emphasizes both high, moisture-retaining, organic content and fast-draining properties. You can make your own soil mixture with even amounts of organic compost and coarse builder's sand or Perlite, and some added peat or cocoa fiber for water retention .
When re-potting, try to disturb the roots as little as possible; money trees will often drop their leaves when disturbed too much at the roots. If it does this, be patient -- the leaves should return with the next flush of growth.
A balanced, organic fertilizer, fed at half strength, every two weeks, during the growing period (March to September) only, will keep your plant vigorous.
You can remove dead branches or leaves at any time -- use sharp, sterile shears and cut back to several inches below the dead portion of the branch. You can also nip off new stems forming at the base or along the trunk at any time.
Pruning to shape and tidy money tree houseplants should take place in the spring, when the plant is resuming strong growth. Remember that your plant does not like change, so pruning during this season of strength is important. Pruning an unhealthy plant also carries greater risk. If you would like to maintain your plant's shape and size it is helpful to make pruning an annual routine.
Examine the plant and determine where you would like to remove growth. Use sharp, sterile shears and cut to ½ inch above a node or leaf, removing no more than ½ of the length off a stem. Do not cut into a braided section of stems. Expect to see regrowth from the area of the cuts you have made.
Money trees will often drop their leaves in shock when disturbed too much at the roots. They also dislike being moved from one position to another or experiencing hot or cold drafts and will protest by dropping leaves. Correct the environment as needed and be patient; the leaves will probably return with the next flush of growth.
Leaves may yellow and fall in autumn, when days shorten and light becomes lower. Increase light, if possible, and then be patient; the leaves should return with the next flush of growth.
Crispy, curling and falling leaves may indicate too little humidity in the environment, particularly in winter, inadequate light or an inconsistent watering routine.
Yellowing leaves and rotting stems indicate that you are over-watering, splashing water on the stem or the soil is retaining too much water. Your container must have a drain hole to keep this plant healthy and run off water should be removed every time you water it.
Scale insects are a common problem. To successfully treat scale on a houseplant, it is important to get to work as soon as you notice it. Look into every nook along the stem and leaves. Remove your plant from an area where other plants are growing. Loosen scale by tapping each insect with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. Then spray the affected areas with a strong jet of water in the sink or wipe them away with a rag. Continue to examine the plant weekly and repeat as necessary. Regular repetition and thoroughness are the keys to checking an infestation.