Jade Plants: Types, Care, and Propagation
The jade plant, or crassula ovata, is a succulent plant with curved, shiny, oval-shaped leaves that grow upward in opposite directions up a thick stem. Like all succulents, its supple leaves store water for long periods of time. Originally from the deserts of southern Africa, it is commonly found as a houseplant either as a small bush plant or a bonsai (tree form). The name “jade” comes from the color and leaf shape that are similar to the green-colored gem of the same name. The plant is often associated with good luck, prosperity, and friendship.
Jade can grow as a tiny plant, a shrub, or a tree. Most have green leaves and green stems that become woody as they age. Some may change color if certain conditions are changed. If they are exposed to a lot of sunlight, whether in a natural desert setting or if put in a very sunny window, some may change to a yellowish orange color. Many have red rims around their oval leaves. Some produce white or pink flowers if grown in the right conditions.
There are over 1,400 types of jade plants. Some are very rare and expensive, but most varieties are quite common. Crassula ovata is considered the true jade, but a similar looking variety called Portulacaria afra is often referred to as "dwarf jade". This variety often grows as a miniature tree.
Some common varieties of the “true” jade plant family c. ovata include:
The three colors referred to in this type are white, green, and yellow. At certain times of year it grows pink flowers. It can grow between 2-4 feet tall.
‘Variegata’ can be recognized by its ivory colored leaves streaked with light green. It is quite bushy compared to some other varieties, and can grow up to 4 feet tall. When grown in proper humidity it grows groups of white flowers. Like many varieties, its tips can turn pink or red if exposed to a lot of sun.
The sunset variety is extremely popular. It has yellowish leaves that grow close together, with red tips. It grows well as a small indoor house plant and is very drought tolerant.
Subdivided into monstruosa hobbit and monstruosa gollum, the ‘hobbit’ variety has curled yellowish-green leaves, and the ‘gollum’ varierty has elongated leaves resembling Gollum’s fingers from Lord of the Rings. The ‘gollum’ variety can grow to 2 feet tall.
Typically grown in California, this type has reddish-purple leaves.
Copper jade has green leaves that are edged in a bronze color. They can grow large, but are quite slow growing.
This variety has the potentially to grow very wide. It is also sometimes referred to as silver jade. It has gray blue leaves with red tips.
Ripple leaf is a hybrid that grows well in full sun, but can also handle partial shade. It can grow up to 4 feet tall. It gets its name from its “rippled” or wavy edged leaves.
Like many plants, jade has some touted health benefits. Many claim that it helps with digestive issues such as nausea or diarrhea when ingested, or with warts when applied topically. In Eastern medicine, some believe that it offers psychological benefits, and helps clear one’s mind. It is also said to help alleviate symptoms of diabetes.
To take jade orally as a medicine, its leaves are usually boiled in water or milk, which is then consumed as a tea.
Jade may make the list of “hard-to-kill” plants, but it still requires that its basic needs be met, and thrives better in certain conditions over others. These guidelines assume you are growing your plant indoors. Outdoors, they thrive in zones 10-12, and do not tolerate frost.
The ideal indoor temperature is between (65-75 degrees F), or at a temperature no lower than 55 degrees F. Jade plants will still thrive in higher temperatures as long as they are close to a window or solar light. They do not require a lot of humidity, as they are used to the arid desert.
Jade will grow best in soil designed from growing cacti. These soils usually consist of some peat moss, organic matter, and lots of sand. Soil for cacti or succulents must provide good drainage. The soil used should not have a very high or low ph, as the plant can become deficient of necessary nutrients. It is OK to add a little extra organic matter to a commercially prepared cactus potting mix. This extra weight may help prevent the plant from tipping over, as it has shallow roots.
The container used to grow your plant should have a good drainage system and allow for it to grow. When starting your plant, it is a good idea to pot the jade in a container that is 3 times its size. Jade grows fairly slowly, so if you follow this guideline this first container should last quite a while. You can always repot it if it grows too large.
Jade is used to growing in the desert. It should have full sunlight. Keep your plant where it can receive sun the majority of the day, preferably in a southern-facing window.
Jade plants are succulents, and are designed to endure long periods without water. They store excess water in their leaves for that purpose. Water thoroughly but allow to drain completely, and do not water it again until the soil is dry to the touch.
Fertilizer is not necessary for your plant to thrive, but it is OK to give it the same type of fertilizer you would use on other houseplants every few months. If you are going to fertilize the plant, do so when it is actively growing.
A common problem is overwatering. If leaves start to hang, turn brown, or fall off in excess, too much water could be the problem. Jade does not need very much water in the winter. If your plant has these symptoms, hold off on watering for a few days, and when you resume watering do so on a less frequent schedule.
Another common issue is root rot. This is also caused by too much water. To check for root rot, gently shake the plant free from the soil and lift it up to examine its roots. White roots are healthy; roots with brown spots are not. Trim away roots that appear to be rotting, let the whole plant dry completely, then repot the plant in new, better draining soil. If using the same container, wash it thoroughly to avoid recontamination.
For the Advanced Gardener: Bonsai and Topiaries
Jade plants are ideal for the gardener who has some experience and wants to experiment with the art of bonsai or topiary. The Japanese term bonsai means literally "potted in a container," and refers to the art of growing plants into miniature trees by manipulating their roots and growth patterns. Topiaries are plants or trees that are pruned into artful shapes.
How to Propagate
Jade plants can be reproduced from cuttings taken just above where the leave attaches to the stem, or from leaves that have fallen but still appear healthy. To propagate the plant, place the cut or fallen leaf horizontally on the surface of moistened soil containing vermiculite or perlite. For better results, let the cut leaf dry out for a few days away from direct sunlight before transferring to the soil. Do not stick the cut part down in to the soil as you would do when propagating other types of plants. Jade plants grow very slow, so it may take a while for the new leaves and stems to begin growing, but be patient.
Some gardeners have also had success propagating the cut leaves in water, but they may not do as well when transplanted.
Propagating Jade Plants
Jade plants are great for beginning gardeners who want a plant that thrives easily, or for master gardeners who like jade’s appearance or want the challenge of sculpting the jade in to a form such as a bonsai or topiary. They come in many different varieties and sizes.
Pruning a Jade Plant Into a Bonsai
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