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.