Jade plants are a wonder to the indoor plant world. They’re beautiful, easy to grow, and can be kept in fairly small or larger sizes. Jade plants bring a lovely bright green accent to a space, and are perfect for those looking for a great plant to have in the office.
A unique quality that jade plants possess is their ability to live for a very long time. This only adds to their allure, which is already on a high note. Their dainty leaves on thick, bright green succulent stems are a welcome pattern in most interior settings.
However, one of the best things about jade is that it’s so incredibly fun to grow. Being a slow grower, every new leaf on a jade plant is a celebratory occasion. There are a few tricks to growing one successfully, and we’re going to fill you in on how it’s done.
History & Culture of Jade Plants
Before we dig into the nitty gritty details of jade plant care, let’s talk a little bit about where they come from and how they got into our homes and offices. Understanding the natural environment that jade comes from helps us to understand how to care for them.
Believe it or not, the jade plant is actually a member of the Crassula family. Its origins are primarily in South Africa in hot, dry regions. While there isn’t a recorded first encounter from Dutch explorers for this plant, it’s thought to be one of the countless specimens sent back to Europe in the 17th century for study and cultivation.
Jade is also very popular in ancient and modern Asian culture, associated with prosperity and good fortune. It’s a very common living housewarming gift around the world for these reasons. Today, Jade has spread all over the world.
Some specimens in conservatories in France and England even have historical reports of jade plants living anywhere from 50 to 100 years old, the latter in the most rare of cases. Nevertheless, this one is likely to outlive the rest of your greenery!
What Is a Jade Plant?
Jade plants are short, shrubby evergreen plants with succulent attributes that are adapted to living and thriving in very dry, very hot climates. Jade features small, tear-drop shaped succulent leaves that grow a small distance apart from one another along short stems.
These similarly succulent stems can grow much like a tree’s branches over time. They may fork and split, just like trees; unlike trees, though, they don’t usually require much pruning. The branches of jade plants grow in an upward-and-outward fashion.
This plant is also a fairly slow grower. With a long lifespan like the jade plant, these things prefer to take their time. Jade that grows too fast will become leggy and weak, which eventually makes future branches unstable. Proper care is the key to a well-formed mature plant.
Jade Plant Care
There are many, many ways to kill a jade plant, but keeping one alive is actually quite simple. Jade plants are typically very hardy plants, able to withstand mild neglect, wild temperature swings (to an extent) and even pest infestations.
The lasting nature of these plants are part of what makes them such a popular plant for beginners and as gifts. If you received one of these lovely little plants as a gift and you’ve got a brown thumb, be thankful that it wasn’t an orchid. You can keep this one alive no problem!
Aside from the obvious note to simply pay attention to your jade plant from time to time, there are a few factors that affect growth and lifespan. If you care for your jade properly, it may make its way down generations. Here’s exactly how to make that happen.
The first and likely the most important growth factor for jade plants is light. Proper exposure to sunlight will encourage your jade plant to grow at its preferred rate, which helps out the form of the plant as it grows.
Jade plants should have a minimum of six hours of very bright, indirect light each day. Exposure to direct sun could leave dark spots or even cause discoloration, so avoid placing in windows without screens or sheer curtains.
Too little light will cause a jade plant to grow out to the point where there is too much space between each leaf, and the stems are thinner and less developed. This is known as becoming “leggy” in the plant industry, but it’s all the same: lack of sunlight is bad, and your jade will suffer for it.
If you don’t have enough natural sunlight to appease your jade plant, you can also try artificial light. Jade plants are big fans of interior lighting. Simply place your jade plant under a full-spectrum LED bulb for at least six hours per day, and you’re all set!
Other sources on the internet will tell you, too: jade plants don’t need nearly as much water as your other houseplants. Try to think of every sad, saggy succulent you’ve seen nearing its demise in the grocery store because the soil was totally saturated, and hang onto that picture.
That’s what it looks like to overwater a jade plant. Ideally, you’ll want to provide just enough water for it to survive and grow naturally. Since jade plants don’t get a lot of rain or water in their natural habitat, they don’t like an excess of it.
A really important note is to make sure that water never ever sits at the bottom of a pot of jade. This will cause root rot, which is what makes these plants turn brown and soft, and eventually die off.
On the other hand, underwatering is a mild concern. It’s fairly difficult to underwater a jade plant, since they typically don’t like much anyway; however, once the soil in the pot dries out almost completely, it’s time to water again.
You should water enough to fully saturate the soil without any leftover water. Allow any remaining water to drain out of the pot completely, so that you don’t end up in one of those sad succulent situations.
Naturally, jade plants will require a bit more water during hotter months than colder ones. The active growing seasons depend on where you live, but for the most part, warmer weather will bring out new growth. Pay attention to how fast your jade uses up its water depending on the time of year, and you’ll do fine.
If you have a hard time figuring out when to water, a moisture meter may be a good choice for you. It can be hard to tell if soil halfway down the pot is dry or not, but moisture meters can give you all this information with just a probe stuck into the soil.
Since they really aren’t trying to race anyone in the growth category, jade plants don’t generally need a ton of food. After all, they’re used to dry, arid soil that barely contains enough trace minerals to keep even the pesky-est of weeds alive.
As a general rule of thumb, most house plants should be fertilized at least once every six months. The same rule rings true for succulents like jade, especially when they’re grown indoors away from the bright light they’re so accustomed to.
Being a desert-dwelling plant, jade plants need a bit more phosphorus than other nutrients. Most succulent or cacti fertilizers do contain an ideal ratio, but if you’re looking to find something that’s perfectly balanced, go for a 10-20-10 ratio.
Fertilizer for jade plants should always be diluted. Since jade plants are quite sensitive to lots of chemicals or nutrients at a time, a more forgivable way to fertilize is to only mix half of the recommended amount with twice as much water, then use just enough to wet partially-dry soil.
It’s important never to fertilize when the soil is entirely dry. If you need a good fertilizing routine, water as you normally would, then fertilize two days after the last day you watered. If you live in a particularly cold or wet climate, wait four.
Jade plant soil should be a well-draining soil, rich with all sorts of porous materials. Ideally, jase plants should have a somewhat sandy mixture with perlite, vermiculite, or both. There are many cacti and succulent soils out there on the market.
Be careful what you use as a growing medium for jade plants. While it is entirely possible to grow jade plants in garden soil or leca, these mediums really aren’t a good choice for this plant, and will likely cause all sorts of problems.
Using the wrong soil can work, but be prepared to face issues like root rot, soil fungus and the associated gnats, pests, powdery mildew, and more. For example, clay-heavy soil will choke out jade roots, which will start to kill your plant before you even discover there’s an issue.
Of course, any mixture of lighter, airy soil will do well. You can even use some chunks of broken terra cotta in the bottom of your jade plant pot to help excess water find its way out, and to give your plant’s roots a break from being saturated.
Another good tip is to aerate the soil in your jade’s pot manually. If you start to notice that the soil isn’t absorbing much water, you can use something small like a pencil to poke a few holes around the outer edge of the soil, maybe an inch deep to help water reach the roots.
Repotting jade plants isn’t something that should happen very often. In fact, jade plants prefer to be left alone in any pot they’re in unless they absolutely need to be repotted. This makes it difficult to prevent them from becoming too potbound, but they like it to an extent.
Building roots isn’t what jade plants are all about. You actually may notice, as your jade plant matures, that it doesn’t grow an enormous root system like many other plants too. In its natural environment, the ground is too hard and dry to get many roots into, and so jade simply doesn’t bother with an extremely elaborate root system.
However, the day will come when your little jade does need to be planted into a bigger pot. It’s best to wait until you can see roots coming out from the bottom of the pot, but not to the point where they’re growing at the top of the soil, either.
In most cases, with proper pot size and care, jade plants can stay in the same pot for years without needing a size up. Smaller jade plants will need repotting more often than mature ones, since they’re still growing into their mature size. Any and all pots used for jade plants should have plenty of drainage holes at the bottom, with somewhere for the water to run out to.
To repot a jade plant, find a pot that’s just a bit bigger than the one it was already in. For example, a jade plant in a three inch pot should be planted into a four or five inch pot. Too much room in the pot for root-less soil is an overwatering nightmare waiting to happen.
Jade plants are also great candidates for bonsai. This is an entire process all on its own, but essentially, jade plants are grown in shallow, wider pots that restrict root growth to produce a miniature jade plant that can live for much, much longer than usual.
How to Prune Jade Plants
Now that you’re brushed up on the basic daily needs of jade plants, we’ll approach another topic that’s often overlooked or even misconstrued about these succulents: pruning. In some rare cases, a person could get away with never touching a jade plant with shears.
However, for those of us who don’t have high-tech artificial environments in our homes, we must prune our jade. It’s another one of those things that doesn’t happen very many times in a jade plant’s life.
There are a few reasons to prune jade, however. We’ll go over those, but first, the methodology. Pruning jade is as simple as cutting back whole branches (not shortening them) up against the joint where they grow from a larger branch.
A branch is essentially a stem that has its own leaves. Each branch is fairly small, only growing a few inches long apiece. Anything longer than that could be considered leggy. So, when you see a problem with one stem, it can be removed quicker than it came about.
Now for when to prune, and why. Jade plants, like all plants, can come across some troubles with growing properly, due to pests, disease, environment, water, or any factor that affects the growth of this plant.
If a lone section of a jade plant is infected with a pest, like scale insect, that’s difficult to remove or eradicate, you can always trim away the affected portion without having to get rid of the entire plant. You’d also have to be very careful to treat the surrounding areas and watch for pests for several months after the first invasion is cut away.
Another reason to prune is for stability. If you don’t have lots of light to offer your jade, it won’t be able to grow those thick, study stems that keep it upright in maturity. By strategically trimming back some of the new growth, you can encourage the thicker stems your plant will need.
Pruning is also done on jade plants for bonsai purposes. While this is more of an art than a maintenance routine, bonsai pruning may look much different than standard pruning because it’s done for aesthetic purposes.
Jade Plant Flowers
Okay, this may be a new topic for some new plant people out there, but jade plants actually can and do flower. It’s really more of an in-nature occurrence, much like croton and its similar disdain for flowering indoors.
The bottom line is that jade plants simply do not flower until they’re mature enough to do so. Most indoor jades won’t bloom until they’re five years old or more, but if indoor conditions are anything like their natural habitat, it could be a little sooner.
But that’s okay; most of us aren’t out here with jade plants for flowers. However, if your jade does happen to flower, you’re very lucky. These plants very rarely bloom indoors, and that’s thanks to two growing factors: light and temperature.
Out there in the South African desert, there are seasons, and these seasons are very obvious to plants like jade that are native to that climate. The sunlight, as well as the temperature, both change with the seasons. These changes are blooming triggers for jade plants.
If you’re really dedicated to encouraging your jade plant to bloom, don’t get your hopes up too high, but don’t get discouraged, either. It could happen, depending on the parameters in the space you have your jade plant in.
Typically, these plants will bloom in the winter, when it’s cool enough for tender blossoms to grow and open without shriveling up in the desert heat. The same is true for indoor growing, but it can be tricky to pull off these seasonal changes inside.
To encourage blooming, stop fertilizing after summer ends. Place your jade in an area that gets somewhat less light than it gets during the growing season, and try to make sure that area is a bit cooler, as well.
During the growing season, jade plants like it warm; however, in order to bloom, they need to see highs of 60 degrees fahrenheit for a few weeks in a row to even consider putting the effort into blooming.
If you are lucky enough to have blooms from your jade plant, then you either share a similar preference to these plants yourself temperature and light-wise, or you have an incredibly green thumb!
Troubleshooting Jade Plants
Occasionally, jade plants have difficulty either adjusting to their environment or with the care they receive. While we mean the best for our jade plants, it’s sometimes easy to let them go a little too long without water or to forget to check for sun spots.
When these situations come up, you have to first diagnose the problem, then move to resolve it. There are situations where the plant can be saved, and there are those when your jade plant simply won’t recover to live and grow.
The most common jade plant issues aren’t actually all that difficult to figure out. Jade plants have their ways of telling you what you need to know to make things better, so look out for signs that your jade plant may be crying out for help. Here are the most common ones.
Red or brown leaf tips
Jade plants are generally pretty hyped to receive lots of sun throughout the day. They love the light, and it reminds them of home. However, even jade plants can receive too much light. Fortunately, it’s not likely that too much sun will be the demise of your jade plant.
Instead, you’ll end up with a slow-growing, very thirsty plant that has red or brown along the tips of each leaf. This coloration is actually fairly normal; they turn a sort of reddish hue in the hot months, and turn more green in the colder ones in their natural habitats.
However, more than just a little on the tips of the leaves of a jade plant is a signal that it would prefer to get a little less light than what it’s exposed to. For example, being in a windowsill in front of a window that gets direct light is a bad spot.
The reason for this is that the glass of the window is changing the light as it comes in. Without a lesson in thermodynamics, we can chalk this up to a greenhouse effect. The light means more coming through glass than it does with nothing in the way.
To remedy this issue, you can try using a sheer curtain or using a darker screen on a window that your jade plant is becoming discolored in. Doing so also opens up the possibility that other nearby plants will be happier, as well; not many plants love direct sunlight through windows.
Oh, the tragedy of yellowing leaves. Yellow on the leaves of a jade (in quantities, not a tiny spot or two,) typically are associated with in-the-pot issues. Most of the time, it’s water. It’s too easy to overwater a jade plant, and even the most experienced gardeners do it.
If you notice that the soil in the bottom of the jade pot is never even close to dry, let it dry out for a few more days between watering. It’s common to accidentally overwater in the colder months, especially because jade plants aren’t drinking the water they did in the warm months.
The next yellow-leaf issue, which can sometimes appear as yellow streaks for a short time, is fertilizer burn. Yep, fertilizing too much can burn the roots of a jade plant like boiling water. It’s ironic because the soil actually does become chemically “hot”.
If you fertilize your jade, you should also flush it out periodically. If it’s been a few months and you plan to fertilize again soon, give the soil a good rinse by just watering it extensively and letting it air out over a rack (still potted, of course).
If you still seem to have issues with yellow leaves, your fertilizer could be too strong and needs diluting. Otherwise, you’re left with the soil itself. Soil breaks down over time and, while jade plants prefer to be left alone, it does need to be replaced before it becomes a solid brick.
At a very bare minimum and for a mature jade plant, don’t let these guys go more than two years without at least top dressing. The soil at the bottom of the pot should be checked yearly to make sure it still has some substance. That’s why sand is such a good additive for these plants!
Pests: bugs and microorganisms
Last but not least, we come to the very annoying fact that plants get sick. They may not sneeze or eat chicken soup like we do, but they can display their own symptoms of illness. Watch for signs of shriveling leaves, brown or other color spots, and leaf drop.
At the dawn of these symptoms, start checking out your jade plant, because it likely has an infection or infestation. First, check the undersides of the succulent leaves to look for pests like scale insects, spider mites (which love the hot and dry), or even powdery mildew.
If you do find any of these to be the culprits, make sure that you act on treatment as soon as possible. Pests like these can easily spread from plant to plant, and will certainly wipe out your plant collection if you do nothing.
Use any top-rated horticultural products (that are safe to use indoors) for the specific pest you see, or use a wide-spectrum product for jade plants with multiple pests or issues. Be sure to move them far away from your other plants to prevent the spread.
If there’s nothing going on above ground that you can see, try peering into the soil. Fungus gnats, also known as soil gnats, are tiny, flying insects that feed on the dead root tissue inside pots associated with root rot.
They burrow into the soil and live there. Soil that is frequently moist or is never allowed to dry is especially attractive to these bugs, so try letting your jade dry out completely between waterings. If you can, only provide enough water for it to survive until the gnats have gone.