Crassula Argentea, Crassula Ovata

Kingdom   Plantae
Phylum    Magnoliophyta
Class     Magnoliopsida (Dicotyledons) 
Sub-Class Rosidae
Order     Rosales
Family    Crassulaceae
Genus     Crassula
Species   Ovata, Argentea
Jade plant is a common, slow-growing succulent grown as a houseplant and sometimes outdoors as a shrub in warm climates. It is a member of the Crassulaceae family, which includes such plants as sempervivum (hens and chicks), and kalanchoe. It has large plump ovate leaves on thick woody stems. These plants live forever (a friend had a forty year old plant she recieved from her grandmother). These plants thrive on neglect due to their ability to store water in the leaves, stem and roots. This is an excellent plant for a beginning gardener.
The jade plant loves bright indirect light, although it will grow in partial shade. The soil should be very well drained (I recommend 1" - 2" of horticultural charcoal in the bottom of the pot, then a commercial cactus and succulent soil mixture or 2 parts common houseplant soil mixed with one part sand). The jade plant does better when rootbound (repot a well established plant every 2 years). The plant prefers to keep its feet dry, so let the soil dry out between waterings. The best method for watering is to fill your sink up with water and soak the plant until air bubbles stop rising from the soil, then let it drain completely. Avoid getting water on the leaves (if the leaves get wet during watering, do not immediately place it back in sunlight, the water will act as a magnifying glass and cause burns on the leaves). It must be stressed -- let the soil dry completely before watering (this is the "thrive on neglect" part).
The jade plant is incredibly easy to propagate. Propagation can be done either by stem cuttings or leaf cuttings.

To propagate with leaf cuttings, use a sharp sterile knife to cut off a whole leaf (including the leaf stem). Place the leaf in a warm dry place until the cut is calloused over (2-3 days). Dip the stem in rooting hormone (such as RootOne, available almost anywhere you can buy plants), and place the leaf, stem down, in warm, moist soil. After two or three weeks, roots will have formed and a new plant should form. Even this much care is not really necessary -- often new plants will form from leaves which have fallen off the plant without any extra work.

Propagating with stem cuttings is just as easy and allows you to create a new, already large plant. Select a branch out of which you would like to create a new plant. Cut the branch with sharp sterile pruning shears (if the stem is thick) or scissors. Cut just below a stem joint. Let the cut callous in a warm dry place for 3 - 4 days, then dip the cut into rooting hormone and place it into moist, well draining soil.

How the jade plant is pruned is a matter of personal taste. Some people use jade plants in a bonsai style, carefully removing new stem and leaf growth to increase the size of the trunk while keeping the plant short. It is a good idea to ensure that the trunk has enough branches -- a long thin trunk will not be able to hold the weight of the plant. To ensure a thick trunk and new branches, pinch off any new growth during the winter months. To trim an extremely tall spindly jade plant, you can cut the woody stems back to 1/2 their original length (use what you cut off to make more plants). Some who use jade plants in a bonsai style will remove all of the leaves in fall to produce smaller leaves and bushier growth during it's active growing season.

Indoor plants are not commonly subject to problems except those due to improper watering, soil, or light. Here are a few tips for succesfully growing an indoor jade plant:
  • If you are unsure as to whether the soil is completely dry or not, watch the leaves -- water the plant when the leaves feel soft and don't look as plump as they normally do.
  • When you water the plant, REALLY water it. Soak it then drain it. Less frequent, smaller waterings will cause the plant to wilt and drop leaves.
  • It is best not to use fertilizer -- fertilizing jade plants will most commonly result in uneven growth spurts and plants which are too tall and thin.
  • Jade plants are dormant during the summer months and have their active growth period in the winter. This means all major pruning should be done in the fall.
Unfortunately, most symptoms of a distressed jade plant are the same -- it drops leaves. Keep in mind, though, that this plant is more likely to be OVER-watered than under-watered. If leaves are dropping and the soil is wet, it is best to re-pot the plant than to let it sit in soggy soil, this will cause root rot. If leaves are dropping and the soil is dry, feel the leaves to see if the plant may need water. Too much water is really the only condition that a jade plant will absolutely not tolerate.

These plants can be grown both indoors and out, however if the plant's environment is changed suddenly (temperature, light levels) it will drop leaves. Don't worry, the plant is just adjusting and should be fine.

Although houseplants usually have few problems with pests, the jade plant seems to be well liked by mealybugs. Mealybugs themselves are not easily visible, but you will see white, cottony tufts, most often where the leaves meet the stem. The best way to eradicate these bugs is to use a q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol to remove the cotton. Check once per week and repeat as necessary.
NOTE: A common bonsai plant called "baby jade", or "miniature jade" is not a crassula, rather it is a South African native called Portulacaria Afra.

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