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Gardening 101: Jade Plant

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Gardening 101: Jade Plant

November 29, 2017

Jade Plant, Crassula ovata: “Money Tree”

I once heard a noted plantsman declare that you should never give up on a plant until you had managed to kill it three times. With the jade plant, however, it only took one traumatizing failure to steer me away from Crassula ovata forever. And don’t try to tell me that I will soon get over this sad incident, because it occurred in the late 1970s. Celebrating a move into a new apartment with beautiful big windows and western light, I allowed myself to be talked into buying a gorgeous (and not inexpensive) 3-foot-tall jade plant.

Correctly planted in a large weighty clay pot to avoid accidental tipping, the shiny, top-heavy beauty arrived via a muscled delivery man wielding a heavy-duty hand truck.  The jade plant was a natural sculpture that enhanced my new living room.  I was thrilled and immediately began to lavish care (and lots and lots of water) on her.  Almost at once she went into a tailspin of decline.  Hadn’t I provided lovely bright light?  Surely that radiator next to her couldn’t be the problem. Wasn’t she a tropical plant? Didn’t she like things warm and toasty? Inexorably the plant declined.  Her plump leaves thinned, wrinkled, and then grimly drifted onto the hardwood floor. Her thick upright stems sagged and became limp. When I touched her, whole mushy stalks broke off in my hands.

To avoid a similar tragedy, read on to learn everything you need to know about jade plant care:

Photograph by Bryan Debus via Flickr. Start small and work up to this size, with a tiny potted jade plant Succulent; $7.99 from Ikea.
Above: Photograph by Bryan Debus via Flickr. Start small and work up to this size, with a tiny potted jade plant Succulent; $7.99 from Ikea.
Today a quick Google query would have yielded plenty of possible solutions to my jade plant woes, but there was no Internet then and frantic calls to the plant store produced no helpful information.

After the withered corpse was rolled away, I began a life of avoiding not only Crassula ovata but all of its many other distinctive Crassula relatives whose fantastical shapes and dainty flowers make such amazing houseplants and look so beautiful on the patios of people lucky enough to live in warm climates.

But I’ve been missing out. As many experts point out, jade plants are really quite easy to grow just as long as you are careful to follow a few basic guidelines.

A jade plant keeps company with a golden barrel cactus. Photograph by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr.
Above: A jade plant keeps company with a golden barrel cactus. Photograph by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr.

Cheat Sheet

  • Crassula ovata will generally tolerate the dry environment of heated homes but if kept too hot will go dormant and begin to drop leaves.
  • Jade plants need bright light, but should not be exposed to a lot of direct sun (which may cause leaf scorch).
  • Mature jade plants can be encouraged to flower in late winter or early spring if given a rest period with reduced watering, no fertilizer, and full darkness at night.
  • Jade plants like to be crowded and rarely need to be potted up into larger containers; however it is recommended that you replace the soil every three years.
Photograph by Nico Paix via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Nico Paix via Flickr.

Keep It Alive

  • Overwatering is a major cause of death for jade plants, so be careful to water thoroughly and then let the soil dry out before watering again.
  • Good drainage is vital to the survival of a jade plant; plant Crassula ovata in a freely draining medium such as a cactus mix and never, ever let it sit in wet soil.
  • Jade plants can be planted outdoors in USDA growing zones 11 to 12, but in most areas will have to be brought inside to winter over.
A jade plant with delicate blooms. Photograph by Ed Ogle via Flickr.
Above: A jade plant with delicate blooms. Photograph by Ed Ogle via Flickr.

One of the advantages of owning a jade plant is how easy it is to propagate it.  You can un-pot and divide the plant or use stem cuttings. However, the simplest way is just to snip off a few healthy leaves from your plant and lay them on top of some potting mixture (half vermiculite or perlite and half soil is a good formula).  Water the soil lightly and check in often to make sure the leaves do not dry out.  You should begin to see some tiny plantlets emerge from the edges of the leaf in about two weeks.

Crassula ovata has pillowy leaves that stockpile water. Photograph by pirate_renee via Flickr.
Above: Crassula ovata has pillowy leaves that stockpile water. Photograph by pirate_renee via Flickr.

It’s gotten cold here in Brooklyn so I’ve brought all my tender plants from the garden into the house.  It’s nice to have some greenery inside and I have noticed one empty spot in one of my few sunny windows.  Hmmm. It might just be time to cast fear aside and take another, long-overdue stab at growing a Crassula ovata.

N.B.: Get more tips to keep your jade plant happy at Jade Plants: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated guides to Succulents 101. Read more:

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