Plant of the month: Jade plants work well in drier weather

Despite the current weather pattern that has brought us some welcome rain, and even snow and cold temperatures at upper elevations, the global climate is still warming, and we should be planning for hotter, drier weather in the future. If you have room to plant some drought tolerant succulents consider including a sturdy little jade plant in the ground or an attractive pot in your garden or in a pot indoors. Jade plants are good candidates for bonsai growers as they can tolerate severe pruning of stems as well as roots.

Jade plant is a member of the Crassulaceae family of plants that are known to thrive in warm, dry climates. Native to hot, dry rocky hillsides in South Africa and Mozambique, this plant Crassula ovata, can also adapt to a variety of habitats including cool and shady locations. Plants in this family have a particular metabolic system that allows them to photosynthesize during the day while keeping the stomata on their leaves closed to conserve water. Their succulent, water storing stems and fleshy leaves increase their drought tolerance making them ideal candidates for a xeriscape garden.

This Crassula is an attractive, slow growing evergreen shrub with stout branches that grows in a compact, rounded shape. A mature plant can reach ten feet but in most gardens it will determine less than six feet tall. The jade-green oval leaves are glossy and fleshy and range from one to three inches long and about one inch wide. When exposed to lots of sun, the leaf edges will get a lovely red tinge.

This tough plant can tolerate drought, wind and salt air. It can also survive being grazed, stepped on or being knocked over. It can root and regrow from a piece of stem or even a single leaf. Though this characteristic might classify jade plant as invasive, it has not become a pest in Hawaii.

The most common species of jade plant grown in Hawaii has the characteristic jade-green oval leaves and white flowers but several other forms are sometimes available. “Pink Beauty” has the same leaf but a pink flower. Another variety, C. arborescens ‘Tricolor’ is occasionally available. It is a larger specimen and has a slightly cupped, variegated leaf. A variety that has a finger-like leaf is called “Gollum.” All are similar in their preferences, growth habits and methods of propagation.

Though not all jade plants will flower, those at upper elevations between 800 and 1,200 feet are currently covered in bunches of small sweet-scented white or pale pink star shaped flowers that are one inch or less in size. Our short days and cool winter weather seem to encourage flowering. Sun exposure for part of each day is essential to producing flowers, however. Following flowering small capsules develop that are filled with tiny seeds.

Propagating jade plants is quite easy. The seeds can be dried and planted in a potting mix but may take quite a while to germinate. Stem cuttings of three to five inches should be left for a week or so to dry out before potting. Pot in a medium that drains well, keep it slightly moist and the cutting should root in a few months. It should be ready to move in about three months. You can also propagate from the leaves. The leaf base also needs to dry and callous over after it is taken from the stem. Once dry, the leaves can be placed on potting soil and kept warm and moist. Roots should begin to grow within a month. Foliage will appear once the roots have formed.

The best growing medium for jade plants is one that drains well. The most common disease of this plant is root rot. It cannot tolerate sitting in wet soil for very long. The plant attracts few insects but is very intolerant of chemical pesticides. If pests appear, be sure to use low-tox organic products and test them on a few leaves before applying them to the whole plant. Mealybugs are sometimes attracted to jade plants. An easy control for these is to dab the insect with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Spraying with Safer Soap will also kill these and other sucking insects and should be safe.

Jade plants usually require little care. They can be pruned to maintain a desired shape and can be lightly fertilized seasonally to help them thrive.

Crassula ovata can be grown outdoors in rockeries, on retaining walls and in gravel-based gardens. They make attractive specimen plants and can also be used as hedging plants.

In addition to their appeal in drought tolerant gardens, jade plants do well as a container plant or a bonsai. Since they do not have deep root systems, jade plants can be grown in small shallow pots. Care should be taken, however, to keep them low so they don’t become top heavy and prone to topple. Their tolerance for root and stem pruning adds to their appeal to bonsai enthusiasts and judicious pruning can help them develop an attractive thick main trunk. They can tolerate life in containers for a long time. Kept in a sunny spot and watered sparingly they can thrive for years.

Traditionally grown in square porcelain tubs with “lion feet” jade plants are thought to bring good financial luck. They are a popular good luck charm in Asia and are a traditional gift for new businesses. Many business owners place a jade plant near their entrance to bring prosperity and success.

To bring good luck to your home and garden, consider placing a jade plant prominently somewhere on your property.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living on an organic farm in Captain Cook.

Gardening Events

Saturday: “Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden” from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet at the Garden Visitor Center across from the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. Volunteers will be able to help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brown bag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Call Peter at 323-3318 for more information.

Farmer Direct Markets

Wednesday: “Sunset Farmers Market” 2 to 6 p.m. in the HPM parking lot at 74-5511 Luhia Street in Kailua-Kona (across from Target)

Wednesday: “Ho’oulu Farmers Market” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay

Friday: “Pure Kona Market” 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market” 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center

“Kamuela Farmer’s Market” from 7 a.m. to noon at Pukalani Stables

Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market” 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

“Hamakua Harvest” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hwy 19 and Mamane Street in Honoka’a

Plant Advice Lines Anytime: Tuesdays &Thursdays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu – 322-4892

Mon., Tues. &Fri: 9 a.m. to noon at UH CES at Komohana in Hilo 981-5199 or