Jade plants are very low maintenance and therefore make excellent house plants, especially for those who sometimes forget about details like watering. Crassula ovata, or Crassula argentea as it was previously known, is native to the warm, dry highlands of South Africa's Cape Province. There are few places in North America that are consistently warm enough for these succulents to survive outdoors. Specimens may be found in the extreme south of Florida or along the southern coast of California.
Jade plants have very fleshy leaves and thick branches that retain water to carry the plants through the dry spells common in their native habitat. As the name indicates, the leaves are very deep green with a glossy finish. In the wild jade plants are short and stocky, usually reaching maximum dimensions of 4 feet high by 3 feet wide. The emergence of delicate pink or white flowers is sporadic and many plants do not bloom for years at a time.
As a drought-tolerant plant, Crassula ovata is well suited to dry soils and infrequent watering. Indoor plants will do best with regular weekly irrigation and a potting soil that drains well. The top 2 to 3 inches of soil should be allowed to dry out between each watering. Indoor plants prefer bright, well lit rooms with direct sunlight. Check the leaves for signs of sunscald and move the plant away from the window if present.
Indoor plants grow well in a potting mix of coarse sand and soil blended in equal parts. Jade plants are prone to root rot if the soil drains poorly. Remove dead wood at any time and prune for shape during spring or early summer. Pinching stems just above a leaf node will force the plant to branch out and become bushier. Jade plants are good nutrient scavengers and therefore need very little fertilizer. Apply a diluted water soluble organic fertilizer every month or so.
Although slow to take root, leaf blade cuttings are the best propagation technique for jade plants. The leaf blade must be removed at the base and treated with rooting hormone before being placed upright in a planting container. Mix equal parts peat moss and sand together to make a good potting mix for rooting the cuttings.
Mealy bugs are a common problem with jade plants. If caught early, they are easily treated by swabbing the leaves carefully with rubbing alcohol. Spider mites and scale can also be an occasional nuisance and will normally disappear after an application of insecticidal soap. The toughest insects to dislodge are root mealy bugs. They may respond to treatments of insecticidal soap but only if the infestation is minimal.