Indoor plants are marvelous – they not only recycle your air, purify it and breathe out oxygen for you, but they can be a source of life on dreary rainy days or during the long winter months when everything green has disappeared (in some areas this is the norm too often…).
Succulents have become a common indoor plant because they are attractive, are easy to take care of, can survive indoors, and are totally fine being in a pot their entire life.
This is why many types of succulents have become common in homes, offices, schools, and so many other places that are in need of greenery.
Certain species of succulents need a specific habitat and special care to grow well, while others do great indoors and are easy to take care of.
One of these easy-to-take-care-of species are jade plants (plants in the Crassula genus).
Jade plants are a family of succulents that encompass a variety of species and are great for beginner gardeners. The term “jade plant” can be used to depict all Crassula species, but it is most often used to refer to Crassula ovata, a specific species that is…
- Easy to propagate (and duplicate!)
- Easy to care for
- Hard to kill
- Evergreen (or can turn other colors if stressed)
- Great for the indoors
- Easily made into a bonsai!
- Able to flower (usually in the winter) with minimal care
About Jade Plants
Crassula ovata, also commonly known as friendship tree, lucky plant, money plant, or money tree, has thick rounded leaves and thick branches, both of which hold lots of water in order to survive drought.
They usually grow fairly low to the ground and won’t get much more than a few feet in height.
The jade plant gets its name from the deep, beautiful green color of its leaves. New stem growth is also a deep green, but with age will turn brown and woody in appearance.
If you stress your jade plant, it will turn a variety of shades of red and orange (which can look really pretty) but may be hurting your plant in the long run. It just all depends on how you want your jade plant to look and what you want to use it for.
Others in the Crassula group display a huge variety of branching species (their stem branches out like that of a tree) as well as stacked species (their leaves are stacked tightly along their stem).
Silver dollar jade is one my favorites, but the variety of Crassulas are vast…just Google search ‘Crassula species’ and you can find pictures of all these varieties.
All Crassulas can be cared for in the same way as Crassula ovata.
Basically if your plant is considered a Crassula, it can be propagated and cared for in the ways described below (that being said, don’t forget to read my all-important last point at the end of this article!).
All of them are easy to grow – it is pretty much what you shouldn’t do to them that is most important (namely, over watering… but I will get into that later).
You need to have the right materials if you want to keep your jade plant happy and healthy. Here are a few things you should keep in mind:
Potting Jade Plants
The first step, as a future jade-gardener, is to prepare a pot.
You will want to have a wide, sturdy pot that allows drainage. Good drainage is important so that the roots are not made susceptible to rotting or drowning (yes, plant roots can drown).
Pretty much a pot with a hole in the bottom will do, and many pots intended for plants already have a hole!
Placing the pot on a tray will help to collect the water that drains through and leaves the water available to be taken back up into the soil when the plant needs it.
Choosing the Right Soil
The second order of business is to choose the right soil.
I would recommend using either a potting soil that specifically says it is for cacti or succulents, OR, you can make your own special-succulent-soil by mixing all-purpose potting soil with sand or perlite (1 part potting soil, 1 part sand/perlite).
Most all-purpose potting soils are made to hold water—which is great for most plants, but not for jade plants.
Because jade plants are made to thrive in hot and dry climates, they don’t know how to handle too much water.
Adding sand or perlite to your potting mix will allow percolation of water through it, but not so much that the plant is hurt.
You can easily buy a jade plant from a local greenhouse or garden center. If this is your intention, jump to the next section about how to care for you jade plant.
However, propagation of jade plants is super easy. If you know someone with a jade plant already who is willing to give you a leaf or a stem, you won’t have to spend any money on the plant itself.
Jade Plant Propogation
Jade plant propagation can take two forms: you can use a stem, or you can use a leaf.
Make sure you are taking these from a mature jade plant, because baby jades usually can’t handle it.
Leaf propagation is what I am most familiar with: I started growing my first little jade plant, Crassula ovata, using this method.
I gently broke off a leaf from a healthy, mature jade, making sure the leaf was a good looking leaf (smooth and deep green without discoloration).
I simply placed the succulent leaf on some watered soil, burying the base 2-3mm deep. Roots began to grow from the leaf in about 2 weeks, and after another 2 weeks I saw the beginnings of a new plantlet growing from the base of the leaf.
Make sure to keep the soil damp in this initial process of propagation. This is important so the plant knows it’s a good idea to grow some roots.
These leaves store so much energy and potential – within a month you can get an entire new plant growing. It’s honestly magical!
Stem propagation is a similar process but will result in a larger plant faster than leaf propagation.
The thicker the stem you start with the better. Just cut the stem off of the mother plant and bury the stem into soil deep enough so it can stay upright.
The leaves may wilt and wither at first, but once a root system is established (in about 6-8 weeks) the plant should perk up again, and voila, you have your jade plant established.
Jade Plant Care
The three main sections of jade plant care that we will be going over are lighting, watering, and maintenance:
Jade plants really like light, but don’t love a lot of direct sunlight as it can cause scorched leaves, loss of foliage, and rotting stems, which is very sad to see.
Many jade plant owners make this common mistake of too much sunlight, however, this is one of the best things about the jade plant: as long as you have a semi-sunny area of your house or office, your jade plant will probably thrive.
You don’t need a south facing window (or whatever window faces the equator for you)—jade plants actually wouldn’t like it—but you don’t want complete shade either.
Try to find a home for your jade in an area that gets 4-5 hours of indirect sunlight (such as 3 feet away from a sunny window).
My little jade plant actually is in a south facing window, but there is a locust tree right outside the window giving some shade and causing less direct sunlight through. It’s a perfect place for my little succulents. I
f you do have a south facing window where you keep your other houseplants, you could also try placing your jade under the foliage of those other plants in order to protect it but still let it get that sun.
The caveat with light exposure, though, is that every plant may act differently. You just have to watch your plant to see what it needs.
Troubleshooting your plant will be essential to its thriving: if the leaves are getting shriveled and changing color then you know your plant is getting too much sun; if the stems are getting really long, spindly, and floppy, then you know it is not getting enough sun.
Just pay attention and you will find the perfect spot.
I would recommend watering your plant every week as needed.
If the soil has not completely dried out yet then don’t water it again and give it another week.
But, if after a week the soil is bone dry then water so as to wet the soil without complete saturation.
If you see water pooling on the top of the soil a couple minutes after watering you know you probably gave it too much.
Also, avoid overhead watering (just water the soil around the plant) in order to prevent fungal growth.
As far as temperature goes, jade plants come from South Africa and Mozambique and love dry and warm conditions.
Temperatures below 50º F (10ºC) can be harmful to your jade plant, so if you live in a Northern climate it is best to be aware of this.
Heat is rarely a problem for jade plants as long as they are out of direct sunlight.
Excessive humidity rarely will harm a jade plant either, but will mean less watering is needed.
One amazing thing about plants is that they can sense light and will grow towards it. This is great and practical for the plant, however it can make for unbalanced house plants and won’t always be as aesthetically pleasing…
What I do with many of my succulents is I rotate their pots every once in a while (maybe once every two weeks).
This will ensure they grow evenly and straight upwards, making for a symmetrical and beautiful house plant.
Flowers and Fertilizers
Jade plants honestly do not need fertilizers if your intention for them is to just grow and do their own thing.
I am a minimalist when it comes to fertilizers, and often potting mix comes with nutrients already in the soil.
I would recommend changing the soil of your jade plant every 3 years or so to replenish the nutrients.
Other than that, it is not necessary to fertilize your jade.
Using Fertilizer to Encourage Growth
If you want your jade to potentially grow faster, then you can try fertilizing with liquid plant fertilizer on damp soil only – do not put the fertilizer on the plant leaves because it can harm the leaves.
The roots are what take up the nutrients anyways—leaves don’t have that capability. If you do fertilize, only do it every three months or so.
The other reason you may want to use fertilizer is to encourage the plant to flower. Jade plant (Crassula ovata) flowers are whitish-pink, small, star-shaped, and dainty, with many flowers appearing in a cluster.
Encouraging the development of flowers is a process where you fertilize during one season and then flowers will appear later on.
Fertilizing does not guarantee the plant will flower, nor does not fertilizing guarantee the plant will not flower.
In other words, it’s a pretty hit or miss process. Getting it to bloom requires you to try and mimic the jade’s native growing conditions which can be tricky.
I can’t guarantee anything with this process, but I would encourage you to try.
If you do succeed you will be rewarded with beautiful bursting buds on your windowsill.
Jade Plant Blooming
In the blooming process, timing is very important. Patience is also important (I believe in you).
Jades have to be quite mature in order to flower and require a very arid environment – if there is too much humidity in the air then buds will not form.
Seasons also have to be utilized as jades will only flower in the winter.
You can start by preparing your jade to flower with fertilizer application monthly in the spring and late summer.
In the fall move your jade plant to a cooler area (60ºF), reduce its water (but don’t dehydrate it so much that it starts to shrivel), and refrain from fertilizing.
Buds, if you get lucky, will appear around the shortest days of the year and will bloom shortly after.
If you do get your jade to blossom, congratulations! Take lots of pictures.
The flowers are beautiful but short-lived.
Cut the flowering stem (called a peduncle, pronounced pee-dun-kuhl, which I think is a fun botanical term) off once it starts to turn brown and return to watering your jade at normal intervals again.
Completely replace the soil after it has bloomed and wait a couple more years to try again—the plant needs enough time to replenish its energy stores.
Many people love to prune their growing jade plants in order to get them into a nice shape.
Pruning is mostly done for aesthetical reasons, but it also can be good for jade plants as it encourages them to develop thicker stems which can prevent them from getting top heavy and breaking.
Thicker stems also allow for the jade plant to grow tall and full, which can make them look really cool.
I hope to have a jade forest years from now, by which I mean just a ton of thick-stemmed jades growing in a shallow, wide pot, like a mini-old-growth forest inside my house!
What Age Should I Start Pruning?
Only start to think about pruning once your jade is mature enough.
One of the jades I am growing right now is still tiny, but once it has grown a few inches and started to develop a woody stem I may start pruning it.
Essentially pruning is for you to encourage your jade to grow how you want it to, so it is up to you where and how to trim it.
- For long branches cut ¼ inch away from the main stem
- Don’t cut off more than 30% of the jade’s branches at a time
- Don’t cut the main stem/trunk of the plant
- Cutting off a branch will cause it to die back to the next node (where a leaf or branch grows from it)
- You can expect two branches to regrow from the node closest to the cut
- Make sure you use the cuttings from your pruning activity to start new plants! These can make a wonderful Christmas gift or birthday present… and it won’t cost you anything besides maybe the price of a nice pot and some soil.
Potential Pests and Diseases
Although it’s nice to think pests and diseases will never get into your house and especially into your houseplants… it’s good to know how to deal with them if they do.
Jade plants can be susceptible to mealy bugs, spider mites, powdery mildew, and soft scale.
These are probably the most common affliction to jade plants.
Mealy bugs are small, flat, oval, white bugs that like to stick their needle-like mouth parts into the plant to suck out its sugary sap.
They leave white cottony patches of eggs in the nodes of plants, where the leaf meets the branch or stem.
To remove mealy bugs, take some cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol and try to rub all the individual bugs and their egg sacs off your jade plant.
To keep them from coming back, spray a mixture of 50% rubbing alcohol and 50% water over your entire jade plant.
Douse the plant with this mixture every 3 days for a month. Replace the top layer of soil as well to remove any mealy bug residue or potential eggs.
These pests are super nasty – they are miniscule little red spiders that could potentially kill your plant.
The first sign of spider mites is yellow or brown spots on the leaves. There also may be spider webbing on your plant’s foliage that suggest spider mites are having a little feast on your plant.
If you suspect your plant has spider mites but are not sure, put a white paper underneath your plant and gently shake the plant.
If pepper-like specks rain down onto the paper, you can be pretty sure its spider mites. Treat these just like you would mealy bugs—with rubbing alcohol.
This fungal disease will first appear as small white spots on the leaves of your jade plant.
Powdery mildew infection usually occurs when there is low light conditions, low air circulation, cool temperatures, and lots of humidity.
In terms of treatment, use a mixture of vinegar and baking soda on a cotton swab and rub off the white spots. Then spray the whole plant down with the solution.
NOTE: White spots on your jade plant may just be excess salts being excreted from the leaves or hard water spots left over from overhead watering. If this is the case, merely wipe off the leaves with a damp cloth.
Soft Scale, Thrips, and Aphids
These pests are less common, and can be treated with rubbing alcohol in the case of scale, and movement and a thorough spray of water in the case of thrips and aphids.
Just take your plant outside, shake it, and spray it with water.
One more note about treating pests: many people discourage using insecticides from the store on succulent leaves because these can be too harsh for the succulent foliage. Use natural methods like I suggested, such as vinegar and baking soda or rubbing alcohol.
The All Important Last Point
So by now you should know enough about jade plants to plant one, grow one, and ensure it isn’t eaten alive by bugs, spiders, and fungal diseases.
I would really recommend Crassulas to anyone looking to get into house plants.
The last thing I want to say is that even if you don’t think you have a green thumb, you can mold yourself into a person who really does have a green thumb.
The secret behind “green thumbs” is one thing: consideration.
Consideration for the plants in your care and how they are doing, and trying different things to find what each one likes best.
In the case of jade plants this means paying attention and giving thought to how your plant is doing over days, weeks, months, and years.
If you see your plant turning yellow, ask yourself why it may be doing that.
Is it getting too much sun? Are there mealy bugs eating it/her/him/insert-your-plant’s-name? Do I need to water it more?
If your plant is not doing well, don’t just succumb to its death. Just move it to another spot. Water it a little more or a little less.
The more you pay attention, the more you will get to know your plants, and the more beautiful your indoor space will become.