Crassula ovata or ‘Jade Plant’ is an evergreen succulent that can grow into a large shrub in its native habitat of South Africa. It has become one of the most popular succulent house plants because of how easy it is to grow and because of its unique growth pattern. Some other common names for this plant are ‘Lucky Plant’ or ‘Money Plant’. The scientific names Crassula meaning “thick” or “fat” and ovata meaning “oval” describes its thick, oval leaves. Although this plant is pretty low maintenance and can handle quite a bit of neglect, we get a lot of calls about it because it can develop problems just like any other plant.
The leaves of the Jade plant are typically jade green in color, but there are different cultivars of different colors, including variegated types that have different color markings on the leaves. The edges of the leaves often turn pink in color with sun or cold stress when grown outdoors, but is less common when grown indoors. The pink color is a pigment called anthocyanin which acts as a sunscreen, protecting the plant from harsh environmental conditions during the summer and winter months.
As the Jade plant ages, its stems become woody with a smooth gray or brown bark on its stems. The bark protects the plant from environmental factors such as heat, cold, sunshine and heavy rains.
When it is grown outdoors, the Jade plant produces pinkish white flowers that attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators. The plant needs cool nighttime temperatures below 55˚F in the fall and winter months in order to bloom the following spring. It is uncommon for the Jade plant to bloom indoors because our homes typically stay at a consistent temperature and do not get cool enough to encourage flowering.
The Jade plant likes to be snug in a pot, so make sure to pot it into a pot with enough room to fit its roots with no more than 2” of surrounding space for the roots to grow into. Placing the plant into a pot that is much larger than the roots will cause excess moisture to sit in the soil unoccupied by roots. Choose pottery that is made out of a porous material such as clay. This will allow excess moisture to be absorbed into the pot and will reduce the chances of root rot. Avoid plastic pots which allow the soil to hold onto moisture for much longer.
Some of the most common Jade cultivars are:
There is another plant that is often referred to as a Jade plant which is Portulacaria afra or ‘Elephant’s Food’. Both plants have similar growth patterns and care needs, but are a different species. It is important to differentiate between the two because Portulacaria afra is edible whereas Crassula ovata is mildly toxic to animals and humans.
The Jade plant grows in full sun in its natural environment which allows it to grow much bigger and stronger than in the low lighting of a home environment. Ensure you place this plant in the sunniest window of your home with at least six hours of very bright sunlight. If you lack adequate sunlight in your home, consider purchasing a full spectrum grow light to supplement the low lighting in your home. This plant can even be placed outside for a sun bath. Just ensure you gradually acclimate it to full sun by placing it in the sun for only 30 minutes at a time for the first week and gradually increasing the time over the next few weeks to prevent sun scorch. If placing the Jade plant outdoors in cooler regions, bring it indoors if there is a chance of frost.
All parts of the plant including the stems and leaves hold onto quite a bit of water making it drought tolerant. If watered too frequently, the stems and leaves will fill with too much moisture and turn to mush. Water the Jade plant only when the soil completely dries out. Water normally like with any other plant, ensuring you are completely soaking the soil. Under watering can result in the leaves drying up and falling from the plant. When the plant’s leaves begin to wrinkle or have a deflated look, it is a sign that the plant is thirsty.
Pruning & Propagating
The Jade plant responds well to being pruned. Most pruning is done to keep the plant at a desired size and shape. When making a pruning cut, make the cut right above a node which is a notch or line in the bark of each stem. This is where the new growth will form.
Regularly rotate the Jade plant if you are growing it indoors to allow for even growth. If the plant isn’t rotated, it will begin stretching towards the sunlight in one direction. Any further pruning is purely aesthetic. For more compact and fuller growth, regularly prune back each stem. This forces lateral growth opposed to long, ‘leggy’ stems.
It is often grown as a Bonsai which significantly reduces the plant’s ability to grow large by restricting its root growing space in a small pot. It usually takes a few years for a Jade plant to grow large enough to be grown as a bonsai with a woody trunk and stems. To Bonsai your Jade plant, train it into a tree form by pruning back each of the stems so the plant can put its energy into growing a thick trunk. Prune off any lower stems, exposing the trunk and giving it a tree-like look. Checkout our Instagram story on pruning Jade plants.
The Jade plant is easily propagated by leaf or stem cuttings. Check out our blog How to Propagate Succulents.
The Jade plant does not need much fertilizer, but to improve the growth of the plant a succulent specific fertilizer can be used. Succulent fertilizers are lower in nitrogen and higher in micro nutrients. Avoid using high nitrogen fertilizers which will cause the plant to grow quickly, but the growth will be weak giving it a “leggy” look.
Here are a couple of succulent specific fertilizers on the market:
Pests & Diseases
The most common insect pest to plague the Jade plant is a type of scale insect called a mealy bug. Mealy bugs have a fuzzy, white appearance that resembles mold. These insects suck the sap out of the fleshy parts of the plant, leaving necrotic spots on the leaves and stems. One of the first signs of a mealy bug infestation is a sticky sap on the leaves which is a secretion left behind by the insects.
Another type of pest that plagues the Jade plant are spider mites. Spider mites also suck the sap out of the fleshy plant parts, leaving necrotic spots and galls where the mites burrow into the flesh of the plant. One of the first signs of a spider mite infestation is webbing and black cylinders on the bottom of the leaves which are the larvae.
Insect pests can be wiped off of the plant with a soap, wet paper towel or Q-tip, but if there is a significant population or the pests keep coming back it is best to use an insecticidal soap. This product kills both the adults and their larvae, significantly reducing the chances of further outbreaks.
The disease that most commonly affects the Jade plant is powdery mildew. The mildew can be white or black in color and easily wipes off of the plant parts. Just like sucking insects, fungal spores suck the sap out of the plant parts, leaving necrotic black or brown spots on the leaves. Fungal infections should be treated with a copper fungicide to prevent further outbreaks.
If you have any more questions on how to care for a Jade plant, we will be happy to assist you in a virtual telehealth appointment with one of our Plant Specialists. Please click on one of the options below to book an appointment.