The jade plant, scientifically known as Crassula ovata, is a succulent beloved for its thick glossy leaves in deep emerald green. As part of the succulent family, jade plants prefer to grow in conditions that have a dry warm climate, ample sun exposure, and infrequent watering. While it’s often simply grown as a houseplant, it can also be grown using bonsai techniques.
In this article, we’ll be specifically focusing on growing Jade plants as bonsai trees. Much of the care remains the same, but there are a few differences. If you’re interested in just growing the jade plant normally, you can see that article here.
Growing Requirements for Jade Bonsai Trees
Jade plants are ideal for novice gardeners because they are easy to grow with very little maintenance and special requirements. Also, they do not possess thorns or spikes that can accidentally prick the skin. This attribute makes them perfect for gardeners who have curious pets and children.
To keep your jade plant healthy, here are some quick facts:
Jade bonsai trees prefer to grow in bright light, whether direct or indirect exposure. They can also tolerate partial shade, although too much shade can cause the plants to become leggy. When grown indoors, it is best to place them near sunny window sills. In outdoor settings, you can grow them in areas that receive at least four to six hours of full sun or bright indirect light.
Once jade plants receive the right amount of light, the edges of their green succulent leaves may turn reddish. This is a normal occurrence, and you shouldn’t worry about it if you see this happen. The red tinge merely implies that your jade plants are receiving ample amounts of sunlight. Additionally, indoor jade plants sometimes have issues producing flowers even under plant grow lights. In order to induce flowering, it is best to place your jade plants outside.
Given that jade bonsai trees are succulents, they prefer to grow in drier climates where water is occasional. Grow your jade bonsai in well-draining sandy soil to help keep their roots from getting overly wet. You can also use succulent or cactus soil mixes found in gardening centers. These are ideal growing mediums for jade bonsai trees due to the quick-draining properties of the soil mixes.
When potting jade plants, place them in small pots which will contain the size of your plant. The jade bonsai likes to be slightly root bound, so will do well in smaller pots only slightly larger than their root ball.
However, if you are looking to have a large jade bonsai, you can repot your plant in a larger container every few years. Another indication for repotting is when you notice the root systems growing out of the drainage holes of the current container, which signals the need for a larger container.
Jade plants prefer to receive as little water as possible, making this the part that makes the plant ideal for beginner gardeners. The thick fleshy leaves hold water to keep the plants well-hydrated for about a week or so. Consequently, you should water your jade bonsai once every 10 to 20 days, depending on the humidity of your area. Where possible, use rain water or distilled water as the chemicals in tap water can harm your plant in large quantities.
Water only the soil and not the leaves or stems of the jade bonsai. This prevents water from sitting on and damaging the fragile leaves. Allow some water runoff to drain from the plant’s container before stopping. This allows your jade plants to experience hydration similar to their native growing environments.
You will also know if you’ve overwatered your jade plants when you see blisters form on their leaves. Once you spot this, ease up on your watering. Shriveled leaves indicate that your jade plants require more water. Once you see this, slowly increase your watering frequency.
During the winter, you can cut back and water even less as the plant will go dormant. Once a month is a good rule of thumb during the winter.
The most ideal temperature to grow jade plants ranges from 70 F to 75 F during the day, with nighttime temperatures that range from 50 F to 55 F. These plants can tolerate a slight shift in temperature, but make sure that they do not experience any cold drafts. Cold temperatures can cause your jade plants to lose their leaves, and prolonged cold exposure can eventually cause them to perish.
Jade bonsai trees thrive when they are almost neglected, and that includes avoiding fertilizers. Given that they get their nutrients mainly from water, all you need to do is provide their hydration and they will often be perfectly fine.
However, you can choose to feed your jade plants to increase their nutrient intake. Succulent and cactus fertilizers are widely available in many garden centers. You can purchase these and follow the instructions on the label.
Spring and summer are the best seasons to trim and prune your jade bonsai. During these periods, your jade plants are actively growing and will tend to heal faster. When pruning, always make sure that all your tools are sharp, clean, and sanitized.
You can clip away unwanted parts by cutting right above the nodes, where one branch grows out from another branch. Of course, you don’t need to wait for spring and summer to remove dead leaves and stems. Simply use sharp, clean, and sanitized tools to remove dead plant parts.
Preparing Jade Plants for Bonsai
As a bonsai plant, the jade tree is a wonderful specimen to cultivate due to its ability to adapt and adjust to its growing conditions. Gardeners have been successful in ensuring that their jade plants remain healthy while being groomed for bonsai growth.
Jade bonsai trees take wiring exceptionally well. Wiring is often used in training bonsai plants to shape them into various styles and positions. All you need to do to train your jade plants into bonsai specimens is to heed the following reminders:
Select the Right Container
In general, containers that are 4 inches to 6 inches in diameter are ideal to grow a jade plant for bonsai purposes. When in doubt, pick a container that is one size bigger than the root ball of your jade plant. Refrain from placing your jade plants in overly large containers.
Overly large containers will require more soil, which will increase the water retention in the soil. This can eventually cause your soil to become waterlogged, which can result in having your jade plants develop root rot. While you can grow in a larger container if you wish to cultivate a larger plant, you will have to be extra careful regarding your watering habits to prevent the aforementioned rot.
Train Your Plant
Jade trees can be easily trained to grow into bonsai of differing styles and shapes. First, you will have to determine the main trunks of your plant that you will keep. Once you have identified the main trunks, snip off the stems that might impede the development of the trunk. Include the stems in the lower part of the trunk to give your plant a tree-like appearance.
At this stage, you can slowly introduce wires to help shape your tree into your desired shape. You can also use supports, such as bamboo sticks, stones, and other materials, to keep your bonsai plant supported, especially when the top becomes heavy.
Follow the pruning tips listed above, but keep in mind it’s okay to be a bit aggressive when it comes to shaping your bonsai. Jade plants take well to pruning, and will tend to recover quickly. You’ll likely do the most pruning in the spring/summer as this is when the plant is actively growing.
Provide the Ideal Growing Conditions
Now that you’ve set up your jade plants for bonsai, you can provide them with the right light, water, and feeding requirements. For sunlight, make sure that all parts of your jade plants receive equal amounts of exposure. This is important because jade plants tend to grow in the direction of sun exposure and this can throw off the balance of the plant.
If sunlight exposure is from the side, then your jade plants will grow sideways. This is ideal if you shape your jade plants into a side-growing shape. If you are looking to grow your jade plants in an upright position, then ensure that they receive sunlight from the top. At this point, your wiring and supports will play important roles as well in helping your plants grow into their desired shape.
As long as you water them correctly and feed them occasionally, your bonsai jade plants will grow to be healthy. By giving them their appropriate growing requirements, your bonsai jade plants will give you plenty of horticultural pleasure for years to come.
Growing Jade Bonsai Plants
Jade plants make excellent, low maintenance bonsai trees perfect for all levels of gardeners. Given a sunny spot, and some minimal watering, jade bonsai plants will happily grow for many years. If you’re looking for a good bonsai tree to get started with, try the jade bonsai, you won’t be disappointed.