Though not completely indestructible, it’s hard to kill jade plants (Crassula ovata formerly known as Crassula argentea). They’re slow-growing, and, if kept in small pots, these succulents will stay small for several years. If you really want to think small, you can treat them as bonsai subjects. And if you want your plant to grow big, the jade plant responds well to regular watering and fertilization.
Jade plants can be kept small if you keep them pot-bound.
Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman
Jade plants can get really large if given enough time and repotted on a regular
Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman
I move mine outside after the danger of frost has past and allow them to soak up the better growing conditions out there. Though the jade plant thrives in bright light, it should be introduced to the full strength of the summertime sun gradually by sheltering it in the shade during the afternoon as the leaves acclimate to brighter conditions. Watering can be hit-or-miss because jade plants are desert dwellers adapted to abuse.
In the home in winter, the plant should be watered less often and receive fertilizer only if in a bright location. It’ll tolerate poor light conditions during winter without flinching, but do keep it on the dry side.
Jade plants grow heavy with water and eventually become top-heavy. Repotting the plant in a larger container will improve its stability, but larger pots can be a problem when space is at a premium. Another solution is to repropagate the plant and start over.
Cuttings can be taken at any season, but spring is an ideal time to propagate jade plant, especially if your plants summer outdoors. Take three to six (or even more) cuttings from the upper part of the plant. Make the cuttings as long as possible without fear of the new plant toppling over.
Rather than stick the cuttings directly into the pot, set them aside for a week to allow the cut stem to dry and seal over. When it’s time to pot, crowd all of the cuttings into a single container. (A 6-inch pot works great, but any size will work.)
Rooting hormone may speed things along, but it isn’t a requirement for rooting. Water the pot as if the cuttings had roots. (In a month or two they will.) The original plant can be discarded or, if you have room to keep it, trim it back severely and allow it to regrow from the stubs.
The most common problem of jade plant is mealybugs – an insect pest that attaches itself at the juncture of the leaf and stem. An easy control is to use cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol – then go at them one at a time.
Another ailment, though certainly less common, is sometimes seen on large, old jade plants: I call it sudden limb drop. In this unusual malady, a major limb will inexplicably fall from the plant without warning. Jade plants have natural suture points on the stem, which allow them to “self-prune” as lower parts of the plant get shaded out by the upper canopy. If a plant has been dry (as it often is during winter) and then suddenly gorges itself with water, these weak sutures can snap off as the water’s weight rushes into the branch.
Several stem rot fungi and at least one bacterial disease can also cause stem collapse, but in these cases it will be easy to see a definite rotten lesion. If there’s no sign of decay, the fallen limb can be rooted. But if decay lesions are noted, trim out the affected portion and back off on your watering.