A native of South Africa, the Jade tree (Crassula Ovata) is a very sturdy ever-green that makes an excellent choice for a bonsai. Because it is very easy to grow, hardy and drought resistant, it is very good for beginners.
In Chinese culture it is considered to bring fortune, hence it is called the Money Tree. The same name is often given to the Dwarf Jade bonsai (Portulacaria Afra) and the Silver Jade or Chinese Jade bonsai (Crassula Arborescens), and many people consider them to be one and the same plant. The truth is they are different, and they can easily be distinguished by observing their leaves. The Dwarf Jade has the smallest green-colored leaves, regular Jade – a little bigger and of the same color, while the Chinese Jade has the biggest ones, slightly cup-shaped and with visible tiny holes, and holding a distinctive greyish color.
Crassula Ovata or the Jade tree is part of the Crassula Genus. Crassula contains many various species of succulent plants, with the most common being our subject – the Jade tree- and the Silver Jade tree (Chinese Jade).
The Jade tree has deep green fleshy leaves of a round-oval shape, thick brown stems, and produce small white flowers with a slightly pink tip. Its leaves develop red edges if they have enough sunlight, which gives the tree a gorgeous appearance. Because the plant doesn’t usually bloom when kept indoors, many people don’t even know that the Jade tree flowers.
They usually have a thick dark-brown trunk and a very rich branch structure, hence you need to know how to prune correctly so that you can keep your tree in the desired shape. The most common two styles are informal upright and slanting.
They are easily adaptable to temperature variations; the key is to have them slowly acclimatized if you’re moving them from a shady to sunny position or the other way around. Keep them out of freezing temperatures, and know that, while extremes of 90 degrees Fahrenheit will not harm the plant, it will stop it from growing. When kept outside in the sun, they will develop the exquisite reddish leaf coloration. Even though they like sun and bright light and make perfect outdoors trees, they can be easily kept indoors as well, just consider keeping them somewhere close to a wide window for extra light.
Any normal soil mixture will be fine, just make sure it holds a part of free-draining soil in it. Repotting needs to be done every two years, during spring, and you need to prune the roots if you keep the same pot size. Fertilize the soil every month with a liquid diluted fertilizer, and twice as often during the growth period. They don’t need too much water, since they can retain a lot in their leaves, so you only need to water them once every two weeks (perhaps more often if kept in direct hot sun), and once every 3 to 4 weeks in the winter time.
If aphids have infested your plant, you will see white deposits (looking like a mold, but white in color) on the roots and sometimes on the stems. Because it most often appears on the roots, there is a risk that you will only see when repotting. If you spot a lot of dropping leaves and can’t see any other sign, it might be a good idea to check the roots. Mealybugs can attack your plant as well, and can only be seen by looking at a leaf held in a light direction, with a magnifying glass.
If the Jade is affected by root rot, which mainly happens to indoor Jades and due to over-watering, you need to remove all the affected roots and repot, because there is no chemical treatment for it. Again, dropping leaves might be a sign.
You can use insecticides or fungicides to treat your tree if it has been infected. Remember to water the plant before spraying.
Regularly clean the tree and remove old leaves from the branches, but don’t forget to remove as well all the dropping leaves from the top of the soil, as they may provide a shelter for pests.
Although you might think that succulents don’t make a good subject for styling, you would be surprised to know that the succulent Jade bonsai can be shaped into many different styles, and even beginners can successfully do it. Except for the informal upright style mentioned above, slanting (or leaning), root-over-rock and even cascading are three other ideal styles for the Jade tree. If you are a beginner, in order to attain a specific shape for your bonsai you need to learn when and how to prune and wire.
Spring and summer are the best seasons to prune your Jade bonsai, as the cuts will heal a lot faster at this time. Always use sharp tools that make clean cuts. Do not use tape to seal the wounds. Because this tree actually contains a lot of water, sealing the wounds could cause a lot of moist to be retained and it might cause rotting. They will naturally dry if left uncovered.
In order to reduce leaf size, you should pinch new growth regularly. The Jade bonsai responds very well to pruning, they easily grow new twigs from each cut. When pruning or even just removing leaves, the tree will quickly send out new ones to replace.
Pruning should be done on a consistent basis if you want to achieve one of your desired styles. If you don’t know how to prune your bonsai, it’s better to start learning, as otherwise it will become bushy in a very short time.
Some trees take months to respond to wiring, but with Jade bonsai, in a few weeks you can have a totally new looking tree.
When you train longer branches, bend gently once every few days, more and more towards your desired shape; do not bend the branch too much in a single move, or it might break. Monitor the wires regularly so that they don’t cut into the bark. Even if small scars remain, they will heal quickly, as the water abounds and speeds up the healing process.