New Articles

New Galleries

The Wonderful and Varied Jade and other Crassulas

By Paul Stokes, USA and Dorothy Schmitz, USA
Discuss this article >>

Bonsai and Photograph by Harry Harrington

Jade are one of the most carefree bonsai to be found. In modern day computer terminology, you could call them "user friendly." They can tolerate full sun or very shady locations. They can go long periods without water and will continue to grow and look good with only minimal fertilizer and care. They grow quickly and can be pruned into topiary shapes or cut and twisted for a bonsai appearance. Unlike most bonsai, Jade will do well only in specific growing environments. Jade adapts to its surroundings and may take on different shapes and colors as it responds to existing conditions.

Terminology

Jade

Family: Crassulaceae

Genus: Crasuula

Species: Portulacea

Succulents

Jade, Crassula portulacea (often referred to as Crassula argentea) are indigenous to the African continent. They belong to a group of plants that have the ability to store water in their stems, leaves and roots. These plants are called "Succulents" and are characterized by the presence of a special tissue called parenchyma which has the ability to hold water from the rainy seasons so that it is available to the plant during the dry seasons. Other well-known succulents are the Christmas Poinsettia, all Cacti and Kalenchoes.

Other Crassulas

This genus of plants contains a large number of species with widely varied growth forms. Two hundred and sixteen species of crassulas are succulents. Most of these are indigenous to Southern Africa. While Jade are the largest of all succulent crassulas they are perhaps the most common species found as a houseplant. Some crassulas have a turf-forming growth habit, some have a tuberous root, and others have a dwarf-like growth pattern. The most unusual crassulas are mimicry plants (plants that resemble their surroundings in shape and color).

Crassulas all have very tiny but numerous white, pink, red and more rarely, yellow or green flowers that are borne in clusters called corymbs. The seed is as fine as flour and easily germinated. Propagation is usually from stem of leaf cuttings unless hybridizing.

The culture and care of the many species of crassulas is remarkably similar. The only exception being the mimicry and smaller crassulas, which demand more sunlight and less frequent watering.

Other Crassulas Species Suitable for Bonsai or Accent Plant

Popularity

Jade have long been popular as indoor plants throughout Europe, North and South America and the Far East. They can be found thriving in such places as Japanese gardens, kitchen windowsills in Germany, English solarium's and the terminal building of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin airport. Their popularity as bonsai is on the rise.

In the frost-free zone along the Pacific coast of Southern California they have been used extensively in outdoor landscaping where they often reach a height of 8’ or more. In fact, Jade are the largest of the Crassulas and are often called the Jade tree.

Mutations and Variegations

Originally, in the wild, there were only three or four different varieties of Jade; today there are at least 20. This increase in the number of varieties is due to the number of mutations and variegations that have been found and propagated. When a stem of a plant develops an altered, very different appearing growth it is called a monstrose growth form. A Hobbit Jade, for example, is a monstrose growth form that originally appeared on a Crosby’s Compact Jade. The Crosby’s Compact Jade or Mini Ming Jade is a small leaf monstrose, which was first found growing off a Regular Jade.

A variegated plant occurs when a stem or a single leaf loses some of its chlorophyll. This is what gives some plants the yellow or white markings on their leaves.

Varieties

Not all of the varieties of Jade are easy to find. Some have not been extensively propagated. Others were simply lost. Some of them are new and are not as readily available. If your plant begins to do something unusual, watch it closely; you may have just discovered a new variety or you may have rediscovered one of the lost mutations.

Bonsai and Photograph by Will Heath

Culture and Care

Jade is one of the easiest bonsai there is to care for and grow. If it is replotted into a larger pot, or even the same, with fresh soil mix when necessary, fertilized, and watered regularly it will live for many, many years and will grow to a very large sized plant, even when kept indoors.

Water

Jade bonsai have been known to live for 3 and 6 months or more without a single watering. They may shrivel up and drop many of their leaves, but give them a drink and they will swell again and begin to grow.

For optimum growth Jade should be watered thoroughly when you do water (enough so that the water runs out the bottom of the pot) but allow the them to dry out, until the leaves begin to wrinkle, between each watering. If the leaves begin to drop,halt back watering.When the temperature is very cool or when the air is very humid it is a good idea to keep your Jade a little more on the dry side. If you are unsure about whether it is time to water, wait a little longer. Most succulent plants (including Jade) will not take setback if they are not watered right on time. In fact, if you are unable to water your plants for 4 to 6 weeks your Jade is one of the few bonsai that will still be looking good. It is a great plant for people who take long vacations or spend extended periods away from home.

Don't Freeze

Jade will do well at almost any temperature as long as they are not allowed to freeze (better to protect below 40F). They will, however, do most of their growing during the spring, summer and early fall when it is warmer and the days are longer.

If you wish to grow Jade outside in full sun over the summer, care should be taken to plant them in well-drained soil mix. Smaller pots allow the soil temperature to get very high which can slow down the speed of growth considerably. Make sure that your plant is moved indoors under lights prior to a freeze.

Transplant in Fresh Soil

Your Jade will continue to grow and thrive if transplanted into fresh soil every or every other Spring. All succulents including Jade prefer a well drained coarse soil (pH 7.0). Bonsai soil mix with very little to no organic component is perfect.

Do not water your Jade for a few days before or after transplanting. This will make the transplanting process easier and cleaner and allow any broken roots to heal which will reduce the chance of rot. It is better to transplant during a period of warm dry weather.Optimum transplanting time is during minimum low to mid 60 F night temperature. Once the new growth starts,keep the soil evenly moist.

To promote new root growth always partially break up the old root ball before putting your plant into fresh soil.

Fertilize

Crassulas in general are not particularly "hungry’ plants and will look very good for a long time with little or no fertilizer. Just a small amount of food, however, can make a big difference in the appearance and speed with which your Jade will grow. Liquid, granular or pelleted fertilizer all work equally well, but should only be applied when the plant is actively growing. Any good fertilizer with a fairly low nitrogen percentage will do fine. A 10-20-20 mix is ideal although 20-20-20 has shown good results too. As for all bonsai, it is best to use the fertilizer at half strength.

Sunlight

A plant grown in full sunlight will maintain a compact leafy growth pattern, small leaves and may even develop attractive reddish colored leaf tips. A plant grown in heavy shade will become less compact with more stem length between leaf pairs (inter node length), and have a darker green color to the entire plant.

Care should be taken to protect plants that have been kept in shade for some time from sun burning when moved to a sunnier location. In other words, give your plants a suntan before leaving them in the sun.

Propagation - Staring New Plants

One of the most exciting and rewarding things about Jade (and most succulents) is the ease with which new plants can be started. With little effort you can propagate from a small stem or leaf cutting. A Jade bonsai is the tree that keep on giving.

Stem Cuttings

To start a stem cutting, use a knife or bonsai shears to smoothly cut off a piece of the "mother" plant. This cutting can be any size but keep in mind that the larger the cutting the longer it takes to "throw" new roots and the greater the chance of rot. A good average size cutting is somewhere between 4" and 8" long with 2 or 3 branches.

After you have taken the cutting remove a few lower leaves until you have 1"-2" of bare stem. Allow the cut to dry for 2 to 7 days (depending on the weather) until it Is "scabbed over". Always dry your cuttings in a shady location so the undersides of the leaves do not get sunburned.

Once the stem is scabbed over simply stick the stem 1 to 1 1/2" into fresh soil mix (sand works best) and keep it fairly dry until it begins to "throw" new roots (You can pull the stem out of the soil and check for new roots). Once it is "rooted in" you can begin to water and fertilize in a regular manner.

Leaf Cuttings

A new plant can also be grown from a single leaf. Remove the leaf from the stem with a gentle downward pull; allow it to dry and then stick it into the soil topside up at a 30 degree angle just far enough to barely cover the leaf end.

If you try leaf propagation with any of the monstrose or variegated varieties, you will be surprised to find that the baby plant that grows will have reverted back to the growth form of the plant it mutated from. For example, a Hobbit Jade leaf will revert to the Crosby’s Compact variety from which it mutated; a variegated leaf may produce a non-variegated plant. Stem cuttings will not revert back to the growth form of the "mother" plant.

General Propagation Tips

Disease and Pests

A healthy Jade is virtually impervious to disease and pests. A weak or sick plant or one that has not been allowed to dry out between watering may begin to rot or attract a fuzzy white flat insect called a mealy bug. If your plant does begin to rot move it to a sunnier drier location and cut off the infected stem just below the soft rotten area. Continue to remove 1/2" slices of the stem until no more dark veins of rot are visible. Once you are down to clean healthy stem, sterilize your blade to keep from transmitting the infection to the now healthy but vulnerable wound, then remove one more thin slice of the stem.

Mealy bugs can be scraped, picked, brushed off, or they can be killed by dabbing them with an alcohol soaked cotton swab. They can also be killed with commercially available insecticides,although the leaves might get little spots after application. Check with your local florist or nurseryman for their recommendations.

Pruning and Shaping

With only a little effort, you can force your Jade to grow into any number of shapes by simply removing leaves or entire stems. If you want a short compact leafy plant you simply have to pinch, off any new leaves that appear’ at the tips of the existing stems or cut back leaves to two sets. This forces the plant to produce entirely new branches. If you want a taller less branchy appearance, you need only remove the lower stems and leaves. If you want a stockier, sturdier trunk, you may wish to remove all but a few stems several times a year. In fact, every leaf and stem can be cut off of the main trunk and it will still produce new vigorous growth in a very short time. The upper part of the tree might need restyling from time to time,since the top can become very heavy.

By laying your plant, pot and all, on its side you can use your plant’s natural desire to aim for the sun to force it to grow into almost any shape you can imagine; do the same thing by tying, wiring or staking individual stems.

Wiring

You need to be careful when wiring any of the Jade plants. The limbs are broke off easily and they are easily bruised.Late summer is a good time for applying wire. The cage method (or air wiring method) is the best wiring technique. Another successful method is hanging a weight from the limbs to pull them down.

Discuss this article >>