Ablazajade - specialist grower of jade plants in New Zealand.
Small jades do very well in quite tiny pots. These are best placed to feature their highly decorative smooth and glossy leaves as seen from above. When potting-on it is usually best to move one pot size up at a time rather than plant into a much larger container, which might promote richer, wetter, cooler soil that could result in root rot. Larger jades also perform well in unusually small containers, which should be decorative enough to enhance the dramatic bonsai tree-like character of the maturing plant as seen from side-on. These can be most imposing when the ‘bonsai’ jade is displayed on a raised stand or pedestal. Because jades can become quite big and top-heavy, it is best that these containers be heavy and wide rather than deep so as to keep jade trees from toppling.
When growing jades in containers the potting mix must remain light and freely draining. A cactus potting mix is ideal. Otherwise choose a standard potting mixing this with an equal portion of pumice, washed river gravel or sharp sand. Also add just a pinch of slow release fertiliser, blood and bone plus lime or dolomite.
Watering is best done on warm, sunny days preferably in the morning so the pot can dry out before evening. Because these are plants native to arid zones, they need less watering than many plants but never allow the potting soil to dry out completely nor stand in water for more than a brief period of time. Always allow the pot to dry out a little before its next re-watering. Water just enough to keep the soil moist and liquid feed only lightly no more than once per month throughout the spring-summer growing season then reduce watering and stop feeding as cool weather and longer nights return in the autumn. Guard especially against freezing, chilling drafts, winds and cold, water-logged soil. In climatically controlled urban environments with constant temperatures and strong light, jades can be fed and watered lightly all year.
When in-ground planted, jades require little if any feeding or watering once established unless they begin to look sparse and even then apply only moderate liquid feeding or watering no more often than once a month until the plants recover. Alternatively dust over the plants with a little powdered blood and bone plus lime or dolomite and water this in well.
Pruning, propagation and problems: jade plants are naturally compact, balanced and well formed growers so will need little pruning or encouragement to maintain a classic shape. But careful pruning can greatly enhance the dramatic forms of maturing jade trees. This pruning includes pinching or cutting out shoots and growing tips heading in wayward directions or unruly heights. On mat-forming jades, vertical shoots are either removed or tied down. On shrubby upright varieties small, weak vertical shoots can be thinned leaving the rest to create a ‘grove’ effect. For that classic look, all shoots save the strongest are removed forcing growth into a single or multiple trunk to create a bonsai ‘tree’ effect.
Few pests or problems affect jade plants. Most common would be ants, aphids, mealy bug and mites all of which are easily controlled. Pest problems are usually a sign that the plant is under some sort of environmental stress (too dry, drafty, dark, wet) that if corrected will almost automatically correct the plants health. Usually a simple hosing or washing over with soapy water will control the immediate problem. Jades are sensitive to some sprays so test a small patch of foliage and wait for a couple of days for adverse reactions before using strong insecticides or systemic pesticide sprays that can easily damage tender leaf tissues causing leaves to drop as quickly as the insects!
Over-watering and overfeeding are by far the greatest killers. Always water and feed during warm, bright conditions preferably early enough in the day for the plant and soil to dry out before evening. Only feed during the spring to early autumn growing period. Avoid watering or feeding during cloudy, cool weather when the jade could chill. If conditions become tropically hot and humid water only moderately and not during the heat of the day to avoid ‘cooking’ the plant. When conditions are cool to avoid chilling never allow the jade to become water-saturated by standing in water.
Soil, water and feeding requirements: jades being succulents prefer quite light, freely draining soils. When grown outdoors, a very free-draining, gravely soil mix suitable for growing cacti with some screened compost or very well aged manure added is ideal. Jades also respond to a dusting of lime and blood and bone powders plus a pinch of a slow release plant food added to the soil mix. But it is best that the soil not be overly rich. Heavy or boggy sodden soils must be avoided.
Container grown jades need regular but light feeding and watering only during the growing period usually from mid spring through to early autumn. Feed with a balanced 20-20-20 type liquid fertiliser or use a similar slow-release pellet. Once days shorten and weather cools in autumn stop feeding and reduce watering so the potting soil just remains slightly moist. Container grown jades grown indoors usually respond well to a ‘summer holiday’ outdoors. Be sure the weather has thoroughly warmed before bringing the plant outdoors. Protect in a very sheltered and partially shaded position for several weeks from scalding sun and chilling winds. Sheltered positions exposed to strong morning sun best suit container-grown jades outdoors.
In the wild and outdoors, jades naturally drop branches that eventually take root and form new plants. Thus any live part of the plant removed can be used to propagate new jades. This is especially successful in the warm and brighter spring and summer growth period and the warmer days of early autumn. Cuttings taken during the cooler winter months are sometime slow to strike or will rot if conditions become cold and wet. Cuttings often strike better when allowed to sit in a dry, shaded and sheltered location for at least a few hours to a day or more before planting. This allows the cut end to callous over the wound which seems to offer better protection against rotting or bleeding out of plant sap and offers a solid basal end upon which roots can form.
The ideal growing medium for cuttings depends on how wet and humid the growing environment remains. In wet, humid warm locations the propagating mix can be straight propagating sand. In drier climates good results come using cactus potting mix or from a mix of equal parts propagating sand and peat, or substitute a peaty african violet potting mix .
Cuttings of almost any length and size will strike rather quickly in warm bright sheltered conditions. Trunks, stems and even leaves can be either laid on their side so they evenly contact the propagating mix or inserted upright and will often produce a new jade plant within a few months.
It is often best to wet the propagating mix first before inserting the jade cuttings. Then water in again lightly to settle the cuttings snugly into the mix and place in a warm, airy, sheltered bright spot out of direct sun. Keep the mix lightly moist until new growth becomes obvious. Sometimes cuttings may need misting to keep tender small leaves from shrivelling.
After several months once some new growth is obvious, the plantlets should have developed at least a few fine roots enough to support themselves. At this stage they can be moved on into individual containers being careful not to damage the delicate emerging roots. Some growers elect to plant the young propagations in their own individual containers from the start. This way they can leave the plantlets to mature for upwards of a year or more in the mix so that they develop stronger root systems before moving them on into larger more permanent containers.
Lucky jade trees are highly self-reliant and as such perform at their best with minimum care.