Very popular as houseplants in temperate climates, jade plants are succulent shrubs that originate from the Cape Province of South Africa. Known by their current botanical name as crassula ovata, they were previously called crassula argentea. Classified as USDA plant hardiness zones 10 and 11, they are usually grown outdoors only in southern Florida and coastal southern California. Other common names for crassula ovata include money tree and friendship tree.
Jade plants typically grow from two to four feet tall with a maximum spread of about three feet. They are very woody plants with thick trunks and branches. The oval-shaped leaves are deep green in color and very dense texture, typical of plants classified as succulents. Many jade plants may not bloom for years, but those that do produce small white or pink flowers that grow in clusters at the branch tips.
The ability to retain water in the thick branches and leaves allows crassula ovata to thrive in dry, poorly developed soils. This high drought tolerance partially accounts for their popularity as house plants, since they are very forgiving if forgotten about on occasion. Jade plants are adapted to growing in full sun but will tolerate partial shade as well. Indoor plants will do best in locations with plenty of natural light.
Water jade plants thoroughly during the spring, summer and fall but allow the soil to completely dry out between each watering. Be sure that the soil drains well to avoid potential root rot problems. A blend of equal parts coarse sand and potting soil will make a good growing medium for indoor plants. Jade plants require little, if any, fertilizer. If desired, use a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer sparingly in the spring and summer months.
Jade plants are best propagated by taking cuttings. Although stem cuttings are the most common method of propagating house plants, leaf blade cuttings are the best method for jade plants. Rooting compound should be applied to the base of the leaf prior to setting it upright in the potting mix. Patience is needed as leaf-blade cuttings can be quite slow to root.
One of the reasons jade plants are so well liked by indoor gardeners is their relative immunity to disease. The most common insect problem with crassula ovata is mealy bugs, which can be treated by gently wiping the leaves and stem with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Although rare, root mealy bug, scale and spider mite infestations can also occur. Insecticidal soap may be effective against the mites and scale, but root mealy bugs are hard to dislodge.