Jade plants are one of the most popular house plants to grow. They’re also one of the stealthiest, because many people don’t realize that cute little cutting is going to grow into large proportions. Cheerfully described as “assuming a tree-like shape as they mature,” they can live for a long time and grow into small trees or shrubs up to five feet tall.
Jades (Crassula ovata) are easy to grow and nearly fool-proof, which is why we gardeners like to use them as gateway plants, to lure innocent friends into growing things. A succulent, they have fleshy, paddle-shaped, shiny leaves. They’re grown as foliage plants but do flower; the blooms are fairly small and occur on Jades 10 years and older.
Several cultivars are available, including dwarf types that are ideal for bonsai. Once you’ve gotten yours, place it where it gets bright sunlight for at least four hours daily. They need day-time temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and night-time temperatures between 50 and 55 degrees. During the winter months, protect plants from getting a cold nip from a chilly window by moving them a short distance back from the glass.
Keep the soil moist, allowing the soil to dry slightly between watering. Jades are sensitive to having chronically wet soil and it often ends in root rot. But don’t let the soil dry too much, or your jade will complain about it by shedding its leaves or developing brown spots on them. If your plant requires watering more than once a day to stay moist, transplant it to a larger pot.
Fertilize jade plants once every three to four months, but if the plant is recently repotted, wait four months before its first application of fertilizer. Liquid fertilizer is easiest to apply, never apply fertilizer to dry soil, because it will result in root injury.
When repotting – this is best done on mature plants every two to three years – cut the jade back to help it re-established more quickly. Jade plants grow best in cactus mix soil with some added organic matter, or you can your own potting media by mixing one part sterilized organic soil, one part sphagnum peat moss, and three parts coarse sand. When you plant it into a larger pot, put some soil in the bottom of the pot and firm the soil around the old root ball. Water the soil thoroughly at first, and don’t water again until the soil dries out on top.
Jade propagation is simple: take stem tip cuttings in spring and let them sit for five days to develop a callus over the cut end. Then root the cuttings and leaves in a moist sand/peat medium. This gives plenty of air for root development and a better chance of survival when transplanting. Roots that develop in water don’t take as well to being moved to potting soil as those that are rooted in sand or a sand/peat combination.