Crassula ovata

The Liverpool Branch of the British Cactus and Succulent Society

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Growing Crassula ovata (Jade Plant - Money Tree)

Contents

Crassula ?    Watering & Feeding    Light     Pests    Flowering     Pruning/Taking Cuttings     Pots & Soil

This page is based on an article that I (Jim Mercer) originally wrote for the March/April 2001 Newsletter of the Liverpool Branch of the BCSS -this followed an earlier article where one of our members', Ken Marley, concluded a short article on Crassula ovata with the words “If anybody knows anything further about these plants please let me know”. The pictures for this article are mainly taken by me of my own plants, notable exceptions are the habitat pictures which are reproduced here with the kind permission of M. Lehmann and the plant grown in his garden by cactus_corner (but he does have the advantage of living in Southern California). All the pictures on this page are supposed to be thumbnails which should link to larger pictures when you click on them. (More pictures available on our Crassula page)

Crassula ?

Contents    Watering & Feeding    Light     Pests    Flowering     Pruning/Taking Cuttings     Pots & Soil

What's in a name? most people seem to call them either Jade Plants or Money Trees, it would appear that we are now supposed to call them Crassula ovata - but in my 1964 copy of Vera Higgins' book "Crassula in Cultivation" Crassula ovata is not mentioned, Crassula portulacea is the preferred name with both Crassula argentea and Crassula obliqua being rejected (Crassula obliqua considered as Crassula portulacea var. obliqua).

obliqua.jpg (49146 bytes) Going further back I have a 1955 handbook by H.M. Roan which lists only Crassula argentea and Crassula obliqua and a 1955 book by E. Lamb that only mentions Crassula argentea. I suppose that the most authoritative book I have is volume 14 of the Flora of Southern Africa - Crassulaceae by H. R. Tölken, which gives Crassula ovata as the name for the Jade plant (if I am reading the key and botanical Latin correctly).

Crassula obliqua 
variagated form

 

 Ken's miniature plants are both probably Crassula ovata 'Crosby's Compact', there is quite a detailed list of cultivars available on the Web at the Crassulaceae group that has a link from our site. I posted a picture there of my 'Nobbit' (like Ken I bought one from Taskers) and it was thought to be the same as 'Crosby's Compact' - not 'Crosby's miniature' as Ken's other plant was labelled. Recently one of my small leaved plants has grown a stem with "normal" leaves as shown in the picture to the right.

 

'Nobbit'

It would seem that the nurseries supplying plants use names that they think will sell the plants regardless of the accepted name. I've noticed recently that B&Q were selling Crassula "Money plants" (this was on the large sign by the plants), looking at them it was obvious that there were at least four different plants on offer but on all of the pots the label said Crassula portul. mix.
arborescens.jpg (37522 bytes) This was one of the plants, to me it looks more like Crassula arborescens. 
The leaves are bigger, rounder and paler than I would expect for Crassula ovata.
They also had a cylindrical leaved form ('Hobbit' or 'Gollum' or 'Coral'?), one that looked similar to 'Bluebird' which I think is Crassula arborescens ssp. undulatifolia, and they had Crassula ovata in both its normal form and a more colourful variety that could have been 'Hummel's Sunset'. I didn't buy any of these as I already had some similar plants.

bluebird.jpg (73341 bytes)

coral.jpg (55521 bytes)

c_leaves.jpg (35524 bytes)

Bluebird?

Coral/Coralle ?

Hummel's Sunset
one of mine

Hummel's Sunset
shown by Craig House Cacti at Malvern Show May 2001

small-hummels.jpg (29828 bytes) The plant to the left is a small Crassula ovata 'Hummel's Sunset' - as this picture was taken in February the leaves have not developed their yellow/red stripes that come from full sunlight.

Watering & Feeding

Contents     Crassula ?    Light     Pests    Flowering     Pruning/Taking Cuttings     Pots & Soil

Most of the questions people ask concern watering; as it is not always possible to identify where people live when they write their questions the simple answer is if it is warm and the soil is dry then water, but if it is very hot or cold then don't. The usual rule of not watering in Winter does not work for many Crassulas, they expect some rain and to prove it they flower.

ovata_flower.jpg (56187 bytes) Picture taken 13 January 2001

When deciding what compost to put your plant in and which watering regime to use it is always useful to have some idea what conditions the plant puts up with in habitat treatment. On one of the Garden Web forums I came across some pictures of Crassula ovata in habitat (they were actually on the Bonsai gallery!). These plants are about 2m (that's 6ft in English) tall, and can grow even taller, which means my 7 inch Hummel's Sunset shown above has a bit of growing to do.

jade-in-habitat-1.jpg (39785 bytes) jade-in-habitat-2.jpg (39705 bytes) jade-in-habitat-3.jpg (43630 bytes)

Photos by M.Lehmann, South Africa.
These pictures were taken north-west of Graaff-Reinet.

Clearly in the UK we can never reproduce the amount of light that the plants would get in South Africa, but the pictures do show plants that has been growing in some shade so there is hope for us. The normal flowering period for Crassula ovata is said to be June-August (Tölken), which is their Winter.

My plants are watered with the other plants in my "collection" (mostly Cacti & Succulents) during the Summer, they usually get watered weekly but they often miss a week. Not only do I water during the summer, but I also feed them. My usual "feed" is reduced strength Phostrogen Plant Food or occasionally Tomato fertilizers such as Tomorite (again at reduced strength). When choosing a fertilizer I look for a high potash value (the K value in the NPK numbers that should be quoted on any fertilizer). I use a reduced strength as all my plants grow slowly compared with most plants that these fertilizers are formulated for. There are some detailed thoughts about feeding based on a number of years of experiments by Dr Ray Allcock on links from our fertilizer page

During the Winter when the cacti are not getting any water I do water my Crassulas, but only if it looks like the sun will shine for a couple of hours and the compost has dried out after the last watering.

Another picture I found at Garden Web was a plant growing outside in Southern California grown by cactus_corner and included here with his kind permission.

 
Large Jade in flower grown in Southern California  

Light

Contents     Crassula ?    Watering & Feeding     Pests    Flowering     Pruning/Taking Cuttings     Pots & Soil

In order to give some of my plants as much light as possible they spend the summer outside. As last year was one of the wettest ever the compost seldom dried out between natural watering. It seemed to do the plants no harm, presumably because it was never hot enough for them to go into a Summer dormancy. Unfortunately I didn't bring my plants in before we had a couple of hailstorms, which did cause some damage to many of the leaves.

Even here in the UK it is possible to give these plants too much light.
I recently gained some extra growing space on the south side of the house as a result of having a new porch built over the front door. One of the plants that I moved into the porch was a C. ovata "Hummels sunset" which had not been getting enough light so its leaves were all green.
Unfortunately the week after I moved the plant coincided with unusually hot and sunny weather, and the result was a number of scorched leaves on the plant, one of which is shown in the picture to the right.  

Some leaf loss appears to be normal during the Winter, this usually takes the form of the leaves shrivelling up before they drop so that the plant doesn't lose any moisture. Green leaves dropping off is not normal in my experience unless the plants have been kept too cold/dry. The plants in my main greenhouse, where I try to maintain a minimum 5°C (40°F), have not dropped any green leaves but they have been watered and most of them have flowered. But in the small lean-to that only has an anti-frost heater I don't water any plants apart from Crassula sarcocaulis (I keep some of these outside all Winter and so far they have survived) and here some of the Crassula ovata have dropped green leaves and none of them flowered. The leaves remaining on these plants are noticeably paler than those on the other plants so it could also be that they are short of light. However I have plants on windowsills that receive no more light than the lean-to and these have remained healthy with no leaves being lost.
In extreme cases stems can drop as well as leaves, again the more normal behaviour is for some shrivelling to take place before the stem drops. Many of these bits that drop off can make perfect cuttings, in some cases the plant will start to form roots near the end of the stem before the branch drops.

cutting.jpg (27675 bytes)

Pests

Contents     Crassula ?    Watering & Feeding    Light    Flowering     Pruning/Taking Cuttings     Pots & Soil

After watering the next most asked question is about mealy bugs, although sometimes people don't know that is what they have got. Although physical removal of the bugs is best you can never be sure you get them all so I used to recommend a systemic insecticide containing dimethoate (available here as Doff) and warn against malathion as although it will kill the mealy bugs it will also damage the leaves. I also prefer to soak the soil with the insecticide rather than spraying. These insecticides no are no longer available and I now use products from the Provado Ultimate Bug Killer range.

AUT_2352.jpg (67711 bytes) Although this plant is covered in white spots it is not infested with mealy bugs (the spots do not move). These spots sometimes appear on some of my plants, perhaps the plant is getting rid of excess Calcium like some Saxifrages.
The new leaves on this plant are misshaped, I think this was due to mealy bug damage as the leaves where forming.

Flowering

Contents     Crassula ?    Watering & Feeding    Light     Pests       Pruning/Taking Cuttings     Pots & Soil

The other main question is how to get your plant to flower. This seems to be impossible to some people, and all I can say is that most of the large plants in my greenhouse are flowering now (mid February) and have been flowering since mid December. Most of my other plants regardless of size have not flowered. From this I assume that the conditions in the greenhouse are those required for flowering, once the plant is about four years old and about 12 inches tall. Flowering appears to be triggered by the plant experiencing "short days", ie natural light only and also night-time temperatures of about 5°C (40°F), with higher day-time temperatures. I am not sure how long before flowering the buds are formed so cannot say exactly what is required, and I have seen pictures of much smaller plants than mine flowering, so my conditions may not be the optimum.
One thing is certain about flowering, the flower buds form at the end of the branches, so if you prune at the wrong time you will not get any flowers.

 

Most flowers have 5 petals, but  sometimes there are 4 or 6

or even 7

Early December, and the flower buds are opening    
flowering_jade_in_bowl.jpg (54769 bytes) It is also possible that keeping the plant pot-bound may promote flowering, most of my large plants are in bowls or bonsai pots. I'm not sure if this does help flowering, but it does make the plant more stable.
   

Pruning/Taking Cuttings

Contents     Crassula ?    Watering & Feeding    Light     Pests    Flowering    Pots & Soil

These plants are very easy to propagate, it is even possible to grow one from a single leaf.

    It can take a while to grow a plant from a leaf - these pictures are the same plant The new plant is still in the same 2 inch clay pot
  21 July 2001     25 Nov 2001   21 April 2003
A feature of Crassula ovata is that the leaves grow in pairs, with each pair at 90° to the previous pair. Between each leaf and the stem is a bud that can grow into a new stem, thus by choosing where to cut you can try to influence the shape of the plant. Unfortunately these buds do not always grow, sometimes only one will grow, and sometimes neither grows and the stem dies back to the site of the previous leaves.
In the picture to the right both buds are growing, and another is growing at the next  lower site  so I now have to choose which way I want a new stem to grow, or to leave them all on so that I get a bushier plant.
I try to make the cut between two "rings" on the stem (these rings form were the leaves grow). If the cutting is long enough remove the any leaves on the bottom two inches (or 50mm if you are metricated). Leave the cut stem to dry for two weeks but place the leaves immediately on some moist soil. It is normal for the stem between the cut and the nearest ring to dry and fall off, you might also get some roots forming. After your cutting has had two weeks (even longer if you forget about them!!) you can pot them up into individual pots no bigger than 3 inches (75mm).

This is one of my larger plants having its annual trim, 8th June 2001. All I am trying to do is make sure the plant will fit back in my greenhouse and that it is not too tall to fit in my car when I take it to a show.

The whole plant back in the Greenhouse 25th November 2001 (some of the leaves to the right are another C. ovata and Portulacaria afra)

 

And this is the top of the same plant 25th November 2001, with the first flower open and flower buds at the end of most of the stems

16th December 2001, more flowers open

Pots & Soil

Contents     Crassula ?    Watering & Feeding    Light     Pests    Flowering     Pruning/Taking cuttings

As you may have noticed I keep a lot of my plants in bowls or bonsai pots rather than full size pots. The main reason I do this is to save space, if I used full size pots for my larger plants they would be too tall to fit in my greenhouse (although I suppose I could remove the staging and put them on the floor) and they would not fit in my car. Keeping  these plants under-potted seems to do them no harm, but it does mean the pot gets very full of roots. As I do not want to give my largest plants any more room as well as cutting them back, as shown in some pictures above, I also take them out of their pots; cut a slice or two off the roots using a saw, then put them back in the same pot with some fresh soil.

Because I grow so many plants I make up my own mix using material I can easily obtain locally. My basic mix contains 3 parts (by volume) of sieved multi purpose peat based compost (I use a 1/8 inch sieve to remove the lumps) 1 part 1/8 inch horticultural grit (granite) 1 part coarse sand and for young plants 1 part perlite.

I usually have a heap of this mix on my potting bench, but as well as my cacti/succulents I also grow alpines and fuchsias which get different mixes of the same ingredients (the alpines are supposed to get more grit and the fuchsias are supposed to get no grit and more perlite).

If I am just re-potting one plant then they often get what is in the heap regardless of what it was originally mixed for, it does make me wonder if the mix makes much difference. One of the other members of the Liverpool Branch has been experimenting with soil mixes and he has found that adding extra grit and sand to commercial mixes does help to keep the soil free draining while ensuring that when you water it does spread through the soil.

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