Excluding fruitcakes and zucchinis, potted jades are probably the most common gift passed between friends and family members. But it’s not a high-maintenance acquisition, for the jade plant thrives on neglect. Treat it badly enough, and this humble servant may even bloom for you.
The jade plant, Crassula argentea, looks like a small, gracefully branched tree. Although it grows slowly, an elderly specimen three feet tall is not uncommon. Its sculptured brown trunk and branches and thick dark green leaves give it a bonsai look. It can, in fact, be pruned, trained, and even grown in ornate shallow containers like true bonsai.
Unglazed clay flowerpots have proven the best container for growing jades because they allow the soil to dry out quickly between waterings. Jades are succulents and can’t stand to have their feet wet. Unlike most plants, whose leaves shrivel when their roots are dying for a drink, jade’s leaves will pucker when the roots spend too long in wet soil. Water jades only when the soil becomes parched.
Although this easy keeper will tolerate some shade, lack of strong sun makes it grow leafy and weak. When grown in strong light, the margins of the leaves turn a handsome rosy red. Given hot, dry, and pot-bound conditions that would do in many other houseplants, jade plants, especially older ones, may decide to bloom for you in clusters of fragrant, waxy pink or white flowers.
Propagation is simple: All a branch has to do is touch the soil in the pot and it readily takes root. Just prune it from the mother plant and pot it. To produce a lot of new plants, root stem-tip cuttings in sand or a glass of water.
Small jades do best if repotted every year until they reach a desired size, but mature plants actually do best when their roots are cramped. A perfect potting mix for jades and other succulents can be made by combining two parts potting soil, two parts sand, one-quarter part bonemeal, and one-half part dehydrated manure.