Jade Plant: That's the Last Attempt

That’s it. That’s the end of my attempts with these beautiful, but ultimately unforgiving succulents.

The jade plant’s scientific name Crassula ovata, and is known also as lucky plant, money plant or money tree. Unfortunately, the latter three names it shares with many other plants. As you know, as a succulent, it shares the common characteristic of very thick leaves adapted to retaining water. If you cut one of the jade plant’s leaves, it’s very juicy. This is key to why the jade plant is unforgiving: succulents evolved in arid climates.

It's a beautiful plant

To get it out of the way, I really like how the jade plant looks. Succulents, in general are one of the prettiest groups of plants, from the radial echeverias to the bead-like string of pearl plants. The variety of succulents is pretty amazing. The jade plant is one of the most popular because of its tree-like structure. It has thick stems with pairs of leaves that grow all throughout it. It gets its name from the wonderful green of stems and leaves. One of the most amazing looks is when you have an older jade plant, and its stems become woody and brown. It has this ancient look to it that I really wanted to achieve. Out in the sun, some varieties will get a reddish-purple outline that looks really interesting.

As opposed to some sub-groups of succulents that grow flat or spherical, the jade plant will grow up (can reach about 2.5 meters) and bushy. It’ll grow stems and leaves will pop out where there are spaces. It’s great look and shape.

It thrives on neglect

The advice on jade plants has been consistent, they are to be watered in between dryings. It’s the polar opposite of some plants that need to be watered every day. And if you lose track of a watering schedule, you’re better off watering it the day after. Add to this that they don’t even need a lot of soil, that is to say, they do not grow deep roots. People often describe their old jade plants as top heavy, and a strong wind will often knock it over.

In the right conditions, even its propagation is of neglect. You can take a leaf and leave it out to dry. It will callous: that’s when the wound will dry and close off. These leaves can then be put in soil and it will root in the right conditions. Branches apparently regularly fall off, and these have the ability to root.

Objectivily, it’s an amazing evolution.

It’s one of the most unforgiving plants

And it’s here that you have to be aware of how difficult it is to maintain these plants. To be clear, I have been able to keep jade plants for over a year, but that year did not make it any hardier. The big issue is that a lot of things can go wrong:

Using the wrong potting mix: succulent mixes are the best because they are fast draining.

Using the wrong planter: use a planter that has a whole so that excess water has some way to escape

Having a humid and moist environment with not enough sun: do not try to keep this in an air-conditioned room that either has a cold draft or no draft to dry the soil

Over-watering: this will probably be the most common mistake, but this causes root rot

Over the years, I have killed around 10 batches of jade plants due to one or more of these issues. At first, I thought it was due to trying to keep jade plants inside, but this latest one was out on a balcony that got good morning sun. To be fair, all these issues are really just rooted in one problem about too much moisture, it’s just that many things can contribute to this. This problem is exacerbated living in a humid tropical country, so drier places will have better success with jade plants. 

So while the first issue is about the number of conditions you have to get right, the second issue is how unforgiving it is. The thing is, I’ve been able to save many plants after some mistakes, but not the jade plant. Once root rot sets, I have never been able to salvage any part of the plant, and it’s depressing when you start seeing the blackened leaves (they look like they are burnt).

This last batch was the longest I was able to keep jade plants, but one week, when I accidentally left it out during two days when it rained for an hour in the afternoons, was all it took to kill it. To be honest, I won't miss rushing to take it out of the rain (remember it likes the sun, but doesn't like the rain).

What it is not

Visually, the jade plant is not a cactus-looking succulent, nor one of those spherical or radial ones, so take note of this if you’re going for that kind of cute desk-plant aesthetic. You’ll really want it for its miniature bushy tree-like shape.

It’s also note an easy plant


■□□□ 1 point for how pretty it looks

I’ve given up on it, it’s one thing to be exacting in the many conditions you have to fulfill for it (well-draining soil, very good light, no overwater, etc.), but it’s worse that it’s very hard to save.

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