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Jade Plants: A Survival Guide
By Kathleen Franklin (kfranklin@potomacnet.com)

The jade plant (Crassula argentea) originated in South Africa, but has been cultivated as a house plant in Europe and America for over a hundred years. Their dark-green, fleshy leaves can have blue or red tinges, depending on the cultivar, and they produce clusters of white or pink star-shaped flowers in winter.

Jade plants are succulents; they can store water in their stems, trunks, and roots. They like the warm, dry conditions that characterize most homes. The best soil for jades is a cactus-mix with some regular sterilized potting soil added, plus a dash of peat moss. Don’t fertilize between November and March; then use a 10-20-10 or 5-10-5 ratio soluble plant food every six weeks or so. African violet food works very well.

Like most succulents, jades prefer full sun or bright filtered light. South-facing windows are ideal, and the plants need at least four hours per day of direct light. Never let jade plants touch cold windowpanes in winter or stand in drafts. Jade plants are more likely to bloom if they are kept in rooms that are naturally dark at night.

The major enemy of jade plants is overwatering. If the soil does not drain well, or if you water the plant too frequently, it will develop root-rot and the leaves will become mushy and yellow. If the jade plant is allowed to become too dry, you will notice leaf drop. In winter when jade plants are dormant, let the soil dry out more than in spring and summer when the plant is actively growing. Try not to splash water on the leaves.

Jades are prone to mealybugs, which look like tiny white cotton balls. Get rid of them with rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab. Never use insecticidal soap or horticultural oil on jade plants, as it will damage the leaves.

Finally, jade plants don’t mind cramped quarters, so you don’t need to re-pot them often. If you do re-pot, wait until new growth starts in the spring, and make sure the container is heavy and stable enough to support the foliage, which can get quite heavy as the plant matures.

Next week: Caring for Conifers

2006 – Kathleen Franklin, All Rights Reserved. Kathleen is a Montgomery county, MD -certified Master Gardener and a longtime employee of a local garden nursery. To ask a question or to schedule a garden consultation, contact kfranklin@potomacnet.com