Experimenting with Jade

Jade Plant Crassula Ovata

Some years ago, my friend Barry gave me a large jade (Crassula ovata), an extra that had become crowded in with another in the pot they shared. Through the years since, I had been caring for this large-trunked succulent much like I do many of my other tender(ish) succulents. They spend winter in the south-facing bay window in my office (you can see the jade in the top photo of this post) and are gradually hauled outside in the late spring/early summer once all danger of frost has long passed.

I have done well enough by the plant: it is healthy and continues to grow strong. It is 22 inches tall (measured from the soil surface) and the trunk is 2″ at its widest part. I can’t claim full responsibility for its majesty, but I am proud to have got it this far. However, mature jade plants are supposed to flower in mid-winter; mine hasn’t. Last fall when the houseplants came indoors, I started thinking about what it was that I’ve been doing wrong. To stay healthy, jade’s need:

  • Lots of light in the summer months.
  • Well-draining soil.
  • Water well during the summer months, allowing it to dry out slightly in between.
  • When moved outdoors, I put it into the shade, gradually moving it until it into a bright, protected spot once it is conditioned to the outdoors.
  • Fertilize only during the warm months when the plant is actively growing. I use vermicompost and sometimes very diluted fish emulsion and sea kelp.
  • Reduce water considerably during the winter.

I’m doing everything my plant needs to stay healthy, but I’m not doing what it needs to produce flowers. I started to think about the jades I have seen growing in front yards on trips to San Francisco. They are monsters there, sometimes growing (and blooming) despite difficult conditions that pass for neglect. I thought about the fact that it is sometimes quite cool in San Francisco. I was surprised by this the first time I visited. I brought only shorts and t-shirts expecting the California I had only seen on TV and nearly froze the first night when we went down to Ocean Beach. I also thought about Barry’s cold greenhouse where he had been overwintering this plant. It is almost as cold as my unheated porch, although he insulates it with bubble wrap and uses a portable heater now and again to prevent a deep freeze.

All of this suggests that jade can withstand a lot more than I’d been giving it credit for. In fact, jade can withstand temperatures as low as 32 degrees F (0 C). I was cutting back on the winter waterings, but I was not giving the plant a period of colder temperatures (especially at night), which would be a lot closer to what outdoor plants are experiencing in places like the Bay Area. My sunny, warm office window just wasn’t cutting it.

This fall, I decided to try something new with the jade. I moved it into the north-facing window in the coldest room in my house: a poorly insulated room that was probably built on as an edition some 50+ years ago. The room doesn’t freeze, but it is cold enough that you need a space heater to sit comfortably when temperatures are below 0 degrees C outside. It is even colder at night once the sun goes down.

So far the jade is the happiest it has ever been. It’s leaves are plump and bright. In my warm office the leaves would start to whither a little as it was difficult to maintain balance between the warm, dry air and bright sun while reducing the amount of water. Many of my other succulents love this treatment — the jade does not. But in the cold room the balance is just right and my jade hasn’t had any problems at all.

Unfortunately, it has not yet bloomed and doesn’t show signs that it will this year. It could be that the light isn’t intense enough. It is also a possibility that the shift between daytime and nighttime temperatures isn’t extreme enough. I need to get a thermometer in there to confirm the shift. I have also heard that jades require a contrast between short daytime hours and total darkness in order to bloom. I find this hard to believe as plants in San Francisco would still be subjected to light pollution in the same way that my city dwelling plants are and since they bloom… I can’t see that this is the issue. My last thought is that perhaps my plant needs at least one full year of this treatment in order to establish a cycle of contrasts between warm and cold, bright sun and a dark winter, in order to kickstart the impulse to bloom.

I’ll let you know what happens next year. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your thoughts on this subject (blooming), or anything about jades in general. They’re such a gorgeous plant that is taken for granted. I have to admit that I had considered passing this one along to someone else in order to make space for something else. But now that I’ve locked into this growing experiment, I find I have a new appreciation for mine, and my desire to grow it into the sort of monster houseplant that inspires awe has been newly rekindled.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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21 thoughts on “Experimenting with Jade

  1. My jade plant was resuscitated from near drowning at the hands of a know-nothing secretary where my husband worked in the 1990′s. The woman kept pouring water on, (and cutting dead parts off) believing dryness to be the culprit responsible for the plant’s distress when clearly it was overwatering along with lack of direct light. The jade looked like it should be trashed when I received it. I remember repotting it immediately with fast draining soil. It lived in my classroom in a western facing window for several years and came home with me when I retired from teaching. Each year it was larger, with more branches, but has never flowered. I always rotate it for even growth. Infrequently, I shape it into a globe, removing branches here and there and propagating new plants from them. Last summer as an experiment, I placed it outside, against the house, to allow morning sun to hit the leaves.

    The transformation was amazing. The jade was unrecognizable after about a month of warmth and rainfall. Each individual leaf widened and plumped. I felt very stupid having never allowed the plant outside until its 20th year with me. Its weight became hard for me to lift (!) so I pruned judiciously for new cuttings and reduced the “canopy”. Each cut piece was left to scar over for at least 2 days before being replanted in gravelly soil. Right now it lives by the bedroom window, facing south, getting lots of direct light, sparse watering in winter, only slight temperature differential from day to night. (63 – 65 degrees at night). Foliage looks a bit dusty and will get a shower shortly. I’ll put foil across the top of the root ball to divert extra water as I spray the foliage clean in the bathtub.

    Jade has a majestic appearance to it. I am terribly fond of my specimen. I plan to put it outside again this coming summer.

  2. I love jade, it’s a beautiful plant. I used to have a good-sized one that I’d grown for several years. It was nice and healthy, but never flowered. I’ll be interested to see if you have any success.

  3. When my daughter officially moved out of my house to start her adult life, a leaf fell off her jade plant. I found it in my driveway later that day. I plopped it in a pot filled with potting soil and over the last ten year, it has become a little jade tree. Although not the most spectacular plant in my house, I am quite fond of it because of the story behind it. Until I read your post, I hadn’t realized that it might bloom. I have it in a west facing window, but perhaps I could move it out into the cooler garage at night for a while and see what happens.

  4. Gosh, I feel *almost* guilty.

    I abuse my jade here in Eastern Massachusetts. It goes out in the summer – direct sunlight, after a week or two in partial shade – and comes in in the winter. This summer, I managed to burn nearly every single leaf off. I was going to cry, but it came back. By October, when I typically bring it in, it is ready to flower. It’s flowered for years (10?). I water it when I remember and have it under some home made grow lights in the winter – the light is terrible in my apartment. It stands 30″ tall and has a trunk of 12″ – 14″ round. The branch drops I’ve planted begin strong and grow quickly. My soil is poor and very fast draining. What can I say?

    • Ha! No need to feel guilty — it’s great! I know that a little “abuse” can often trigger a plant to bloom and that sometimes being cautious is not the best way to go. You are inspiring me to let go a little further with this one.

  5. Mine finally flowered this year after 3 years. It stays outside all summer and I only water it when I see the leaves looking “thin”. Then it comes in doors at the first sign of 45-50 weather into a constant 68 degrees and I don’t water it after that. Remember this is a desert plant.

    It wasn’t a giant bloom or anything but someone did tell me it’s hard to get the right conditions. I bet yours will be bonkers next year with the cool temps where it’s at.

  6. Sometimes neglect is really what a plant needs to flower. The stress can kick other genetic programs into gear (the plant is thinking ‘gah! I have to reproduce, or else!) Clearly it isn’t terrible stress, just a little kick. The succulents at my work always bloom (and no one waters them), but their cuttings that I have babied at home don’t bloom. Good luck!

  7. I have a VERY large jade plant that I have grown for about 20 years. I just went and measured it and the trunk (at the base) is 12 inches around. I put it outside in the spring and leave it out all summer long. It is not in bright sunshine, more like dappled sun I would say. I water it whenever I think of it and don’t fertilize it regularly. When the weather starts to turn cold I bring it into the house and put it about 5 feet back from a west facing window. At night the temperature in the room falls to about 60 degrees fahrenheit. By December it is absolutely covered in blooms. People are astounded when they see it and cannot believe that it is just a regular jade plant that I bought at a department store. it has bloomed every year for me. I live in Eastern Ontario.
    Good luck with yours.

  8. The Jade Plant was my third house plant. Heartleaf philodendron, (Philodendron hederaceum oxycardium) was my first, Snake Plant, (Sansevieria trifasciata) was my second.

    Now this was in the day when Thalassa Cruso was on Public Television talking about “Making Things Grow” and house plants were something you got in a plant dish.

    I got it to bloom once by mistake, I neglected it, hadn’t watered it in weeks and I let it get rootbound and kaboom, it was full of flowers.

    S Webb, Men’s Garden Club of Pittsburgh.

  9. I once had a beautiful jade plant that was stolen from my back garden while it was outside on summer vacation. Somehow I’ve never replaced it. Mine never bloomed either, but was probably just at that perfect state of maturity when it was swiped.

    By coincidence, I was at Allan Gardens for the Christmas show this year and photographed the huge jade plants in the cactus house, fully in bloom. From that, I doubt that “too much light” is an issue.

    Was going to do a post on it. But maybe I’ll just post my pix and link back to your story. Thanks for the cultural info. Maybe it’s time to get back into jade.

    • Or cold for that matter. I wonder what the lows are in that greenhouse. It could experience dramatic temperature swings. Still, all of this may just come down to a little neglect to get the ball rolling. Still, I am pleased with how healthy my plant is in the cooler winter temperatures.

  10. Thanks for this. We have had Jade in the house for 20 years but never got it to bloom. Going to try some of these suggestions now and see of we an get some bloomers!

  11. My now very large Jade bloomed for me exactly one time. It was when we moved from Maine in May of 2007. I unashamedly admit that we had to rent our own truck just to move all my plants. I think being in the dark truck (or perhaps it was a change in temp) for the two day journey coerced it to bloom. I would love for it to bloom again!

  12. I have a customer with a thirty year old Jade. It blooms every year. She keeps it dry and waters infrequently. She is now having “sudden branch drop” due to the rapid intake of water when she waters. The weight of the water snaps the branch. We are considering pruning the plant–after the flowers go by.

  13. Five to ten years ago I rescued a jade plant leaf from a big box store’s garbage bin and brought it home to see if it would root. The plant has done super well and must be at least two feet tall. I’ve had to prune it a bit to make sure it doesn’t take up more than its fair share of space among the other houseplants.

    It has never bloomed (I didn’t realize they would) despite the fact that I live in the country (no nighttime light pollution) and that it sits in a bay window (either west or south facing) that gets quite chilly in the winter nights and warm & sunny during the days. Even without blooms though, I just love the variety it brings to the houseplant collection!

  14. I love jade plants and the one in my office now seems pretty healthy but I can’t get it to branch. Instead it keeps growing taller but is very lanky. It does have one small branch towards the bottom. I’ve tried various things, it’s been re-potted and I don’t over-water it, to my knowledge. I would love to know how I can get it to form branches instead of just a single leaf on the main stem. Thanks for any advice!!

  15. I have two mature Jade plants of 25 years or so that I have propagated into four. This year (November through January) they both have been blooming. The key…I fertilized them both in early November before going on a trip just for some TLC and they looked like they could use a little cactus juice boost. The temperatures on the southern and western windowsills where they are located dropped suddenly due to our first snow (temperature plumetted a about 20 degrees in a day) and when I came home they were both in flower! I think the combination of cold and ca thus juice did the trick!

  16. I have a 4 year jade that flowered for me this year on two sections that kind of came together to form a heart shape…it was pretty! Mine is about the size of yours in the picture, with less leaves. I did with it what I do with my orchids. Soon as frost is past in Central Pa, all the plants go outside. Dappled morning sun, only rain water unless it gets too hot, or if too rainy I move them back toward the center of my deck. Let them sit through some nice cold nights in the autumn, but never too close to frost. In for the winter in southern window…and by December things usually bloom. Except this year has been extremely cold here every day the entire winter. My orchids haven’t bloomed, nor my amaryllis! But the jade’s first blooming year made me so happy. The blooms were on well over a month and are just now starting to fade.

  17. We have a jade plant my husband had for years before we married (happily wed now for 20 years). It’s sat in our bedroom year round in the Colorado mountains and has bloomed only in the years we have it in the sunshine from the south-facing windows. If we keep it just outside of the direct sunlight – it won’t bloom. The night temps in our house we heat with wood only get down to the low 50s and sometimes the upper 40s on the coldest of nights, but most nights are probably 55-65 degrees.

    Our neighbor also has a huge monster of a jade plant and hers blooms every year – she keeps it in her south-facing windows and the temps are similar as she also heats with wood.

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