Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
Jade plants (Crassula ovata) look like trees, but they are actually succulents. Their brown “trunks” are fleshy stems, and, like most succulents, they are native to South Africa. They can reach a height of 8 to 9 feet tall in the wild. When grown as a houseplant, they usually grow to 3 feet, although with time and care, they will sometimes grow to 5 feet.
Folklore Associated with Jade Plants
Jade plants have been called by many names. They were called money plant or lucky plant because it was thought that they brought prosperity and good luck. Because of their reputation as bringers of prosperity, they were frequently given as housewarming gifts earning them the nickname of friendship tree.
Varieties of Jade Plants
I grow three different varieties of jade plants.
- The plants you see most often offered for sale with the flat green leaves
- A variegated variety called "Tricolor". The leaves are mainly green and white with a touch of red.
- My favorite is called “Gollum” or “Hobbit”. The leaves are long and tubular looking.
How to Grow a Jade Plant
Growing a jade plant is very easy making them a popular houseplant. They grow well in a southern window where they will receive at least four hours of direct sunlight each day. They should be grown in potting soil formulated specifically for succulents which drains well. Jade plants, like their succulent cousins, are prone to root rot if their soil is too wet.
Keep the soil moist during the growing season but allow it to dry between waterings during the winter. When you water, if there is water in the saucer on the bottom, empty is immediately. Leaving your plant standing in water will cause root rot.
Ideal indoor temperatures for growing jade plants are daytime temperatures of 65⁰F to 75⁰F and nighttime temperatures of 55⁰F. The plants prefer cooler temperatures in the winter of 55⁰F both day and night. I say “ideal” because I have grown jade plants successfully in rooms both hotter and cooler than the recommended temperatures so don’t worry about getting them just right.
You can use regular liquid houseplant fertilizer three to four times during the growing season. No fertilizer should be used during the winter. During the winter if you withhold fertilizer and keep your plant cool enough and dry enough, you will be rewarded with flowers which will be either pink or white.
How to Grow a Jade Plant From a Single Leaf
You can a new jade plant from a single leaf. Break a leaf off of your plant and let it sit and dry out on the end where you broke it off. This is called callousing. Once the callous has formed, stick the leaf in soil, callous side down, just partially submerging it. Don’t bury the entire leaf, just the bottom. Keep the soil moist. When you see new growth forming, usually in about four weeks, you will know that your leaf has rooted and is becoming a new plant.
How to Grow a Jade Plant From a Cutting
In the wild jade plants have a very unusual way of propagating themselves. Because their branches are soft rather than woody, when they become too heavy for the plants to support, they break off and fall to the ground. Once on the ground, the ends where they broke off eventually grow new roots and create new plants. I do this sometimes when I am pruning my jade plants. I just stick the pruned stems into soil and they will root on their own.
If you want to make a cutting from your plant, you can do so in the spring or early summer when the plant is actively growing. Cut a stem that is 2 - 4 inches long. Leave it in a cool, dark place for a few days so that it can callous over. Then remove the bottom leaves and dip the calloused end in rooting hormone. Gently press your cutting into a container filled with moist soil.
Place the container in a sunny window where it will get 6 to 8 hours of sunlight. If possible, use a heat mat to keep the soil at 75F. Only water when the top of the soil is dry. Do not overwater. Roots should begin to form in 4 weeks. You will know that roots are growing because your plant will have new leaves. Plants without roots cannot grow leaves.
How to Bonsai a Jade Plant
Jade plants are so easy to grow as bonsai that they are often used by beginners to learn how to create and maintain bonsai plants.
The first step is to look at your plant and envision how you want it to look. Then begin to prune it into the shape that you desire. Only prune a few branches or leaves at a time because each time you prune off part of the plant, new growth will appear in that spot, usually two stems or two leaves where you pruned only one stem or one leaf. You can take advantage of that trait to create more branches or more leaves to make your plant look fuller.
Keep an eye on your plant. Once or twice a week, you will want to snip off leaves that have grown too large or leaf buds that appear in places like the trunk that you don’t want leaves to grow.
There is no need to use a wound sealant where you have removed leaves or branches. Allow the wounds to callous over naturally. If you seal the wounds, you risk sealing in fungus or bacteria that could grow and kill your plant.
Another trait that you can take advantage of is the flexibility of the branches. Bend the branches into your desired shape and loosely wrap wire around them to hold the shape. You will want to do the bending in increments each week so that you don’t snap them off by bending too much at once.
Jade plants are popular houseplants because they are easy to grow and propagate. You will always have extras to share with friends. Best of all, you can experiment with bonsai techniques with them without the difficulty of using trees.
Questions & Answers
Question: When I first purchased my Jade plants, they were about 8 inches tall. Upon getting them home and repotting 2 of them in a trough-shaped planter with an Aloe Vera plant in the center between the 2 Jades. After 2 to 3 weeks, the Jade plants now are only a bunch of leaves growing very close to the soil, though they still are healthy looking. What would cause this to happen?
Answer: Sounds like you have a drainage problem. You need to use soil that is specifically formulated for succulents or cacti and allow the soil to dry out between waterings Regular potting soil hold too much moisture and causes root rot in jade plants.
Question: Can you put jade plants outside?
Answer: Yes, provided you bring them indoors in the fall to spend the cold winter in your home. Don't put them back outside in the spring until the night time temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees F.
Question: My Jade Plant is tall but bent, how can I prune it?
Answer: Sounds like it is top heavy. I would put a stake in to support the plant and remove any long side branches which are weighing down the plant. Given time and support, the main stem of your plant will thicken enough to be able to support the weight of the side branches.
Question: I have many jade plants that I have grown from a one leaf cutting from a friend 30 years ago. My larger plants seem to get 'leggy'. In other words, I have a strong trunk with branches that grown long and, then, curl up. Eventually, the branches get so heavy that they break off. My plants never look full like the image at the top of this article. How is that full look achieved? How do I know when to prune a branch?
Answer: As you have guessed, the answer is careful pruning, sometimes a little extreme. If you look carefully at the photo, you will see that it is multiple plants. But the technique used works for single plants also. Choose a stem to become the main "trunk," preferably one that is very straight. When it gets to be a few inches tall, snip the top off. This will force the plant to grow new branches. Then when those branches are a few inches tall, snip the tops off of them. The idea is to encourage the plant to become fuller while keeping the supporting branches short enough and wide enough to support the weight of the branches and foliage above them. To achieve a plant like the one in the photo takes time and patience.
Question: I have a jade plant in the house. It's getting really tall, and it is tied to stakes. It's top heavy and keeps falling. Can we cut the stem and root it from a cutting? Will the other I cut from die? Can we separate the roots?
Answer: It sounds like your jade plant needs a good pruning. Yes, you can prune it and root the cuttings. They make great gifts! Pruning away lanky branches will not damage the remaining plant. Pruning the roots is a way of keeping your plant small. Root pruning is a technique used in bonsai to keep trees tiny.
Question: My jade plant does not bloom every year, if it does bloom, only 1/2 of it does, why?
Answer: Jade plants bloom during the winter when it is cold and the days are short making the nights long. I'm guessing that your plant may be experiencing too little darkness at night (is it in a room that you use in the evenings? Room lights will disrupt the blooming cycle) and too warm temperatures. The plants need to be in a cool environment. Do you have a room in your house that is cooler than the rest of your house? Jade plants need consistent,ly cool temperatures and 10 to 12 hours of darkness at night to bloom.
© 2017 Caren White
Caren White (author) on December 19, 2017:
You're welcome Dianna! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Dianna Mendez on December 18, 2017:
We have a couple of jade plants on our back patio. They do grow well and give the area a nice green look. Thanks for the information on how best to grow them.
Caren White (author) on December 04, 2017:
I love gardening too. In the winter, I "garden" indoors with my houseplants. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Jo Miller from Tennessee on December 04, 2017:
I love gardening and growing things, but I have never enjoyed indoor plants for some reason. But if I do decide to acquire some again, this is a very informative article.