How to Care for Crassula ovata, or the Jade Plant

Crassula ovata, or the Jade plant, has been a popular houseplant for a long, long time because it is so wonderfully low maintenance and rewarding to grow.

Today we will dig into the history of Jade plants in the wild and as a houseplant, as well as, how to care for a Crassula ovata, what some common varieties are, and more!

Table of Contents

Where is the Jade plant, Crassula ovata, native to?

Crassula Ovata in South Africa 2
Crassula Ovata in South Africa, Photo by: Craig Peter, iNaturalist, Source

Crassula ovata is native to South Africa and can grow up to 6 feet tall in the wild! It rarely surpasses 3 feet indoors, however.

Jade technically grows into a shrub-like form but can look very much like a tree with the older branches developing a brown and woody appearance.

Due to its ability to branch and appear tree-like, it is a popular choice in bonsai because it is both beautiful and easy to care for.

It’s name, Crassula ovata, describes the plant’s appearance: Crassula means thick or fat and ovata means oval or egg-shaped (describing the leaves).

It rarely flowers indoors, but outdoors it develops white or pink bloom clusters.

What is the history of Crassula ovata, or the Jade plant, as a houseplant?

The Jade plant was discovered in the 1700s and has been said to bring wealth and prosperity to its grower.

It is for this reason that Crassula ovata is sometimes calledThe Money tree.

C. ovata has stayed a popular houseplant because of its drought tolerance and preference for normal indoor temps.

According to the Washington Post:

“How [the Jade plant] came into cultivation is clouded in history. Dutch explorers and developers of shipping routes around the Cape of Good Hope in the 17th century sent back to Holland collections of living plants and seeds.

This succulent plant, which grows naturally in broad areas from east to west in South Africa, was undoubtedly among those collected.

A French naturalist reported in 1786 that the plant had been “growing for a long time” in the Jardin du Roi in Paris and he believed it came from Africa.

The Jade Plant – A Bit of the Exotic from South Africa, by Jane Steffey, The Washington Post, September 22, 1977, Source
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Crassula ovata ‘Gollum’ at the New York Botanical Gardens, photographed on 1/1/1980, Photo by: Ryan Somma, Source
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How do you care for Crassula ovata?

Crassula ovata Care Summary

In-depth care is below this chart

Humidity:Normal household humidity levels
Light:Bright indirect light to direct sun
Pot:Any pot with a drainage hole
Potting Mix:A well-draining mix
Water:Water when dry
Fertilizer:Fertilize at a diluted strength a few times during active growth

Temperature and Humidity

If you are comfortable, a Crassula ovata is most likely comfortable as well. It can tolerate pretty warm temperatures but will not do well in temperatures colder than around 50 degrees.

Jade plants do not need any special level of humidity. Normal household humidity levels should be just fine.

Light preference

Jade plants can tolerate many light levels from bright indirect light to all-day full sun. They do prefer to receive at least some direct sun, like that provided in an East or West facing window.

North windows (assuming you are in the Northern hemisphere) will likely not be enough to sustain healthy growth since they receive no direct sun. The plant may stay alive, but may not grow or may grow leggy, stretched growth.

If you want to place your Jade plant in a South facing window where it will receive ample direct sun, you may want to acclimate your plant slowly to ensure it doesn’t burn.

Begin by placing the plant a few feet back from the window and then move it a little closer each day over the course of a week. This will allow the Jade to properly acclimate and you will be rewarded with gorgeous growth and glossy leaves.

Potting mix preference

Crassula ovata is a succulent plant that is used to poor soil quality. That means that the soil contains little nutrients and little components that retain water for long periods of time.

As such, lots of drainage is key. 50/50 perlite to potting mix would work well. Fancier mixes with sand, pumice, and other coarse materials would work well also.

If the plant is retaining a lot of moisture in its pot for more than a week, something needs to be added to the potting mix to increase drainage. Examples of items you could add: perlite, pumice, or horticultural sand.

Pot/Planter preference

The most important part of choosing a pot for Crassula ovata is to ensure there are drainage holes so excess water can be removed from the pot.

To maximize drainage (and minimize your chances of the plant sitting too wet), use a terracotta pot because it is porous and wicks water away from the potting mix and roots.

I personally have all of my sizeable Jade plants in terracotta. My really small plants (3 inches or smaller) are in plastic or ceramic since they dry out so quickly.

When does Crassula ovata prefer to be watered?

Crassula ovata prefers to dry out completely before being watered.

This plant stores lots of water in its leaves and stems, so we want to be sure not to give too much water or the plant will quickly rot.

Some people wait until the leaves become softer and more pliable. I don’t wait that long. I prefer to just ensure the potting mix is dried from top to bottom and then water.

When does Crassula ovata need to be fertilized?

Because Crassulas are used to poor conditions, they need little nutrients to survive.

However, occasionally fertilizing your plant throughout the year will help your plant to remain healthy and vibrant.

I fertilize my plants a few times throughout the growing season with diluted organic fertilizer (probably around half strength or less).

Caution should be taken if using chemical fertilizers with a higher concentration of nutrients. You may want to dilute chemical fertilizers to a quarter strength and choose one designed for cacti/succulents.

This will help to ensure you do not accidentally overfertilize your plant.

What varieties of Jade plant are there?

This is by no means an all-inclusive list of Jade plant cultivars. However, here are several of the most popular varieties I am aware of!

Classic Crassula ovata

This is the classic Jade plant that you will be able to find at most greenhouses and even many grocery stores. It is classic for good reason and well worth your time to try one if you haven’t!

Crassula ovata ‘Tricolor’

Crassula ovata ‘Tricolor’ is a gorgeous variegated version of the classic jade. I have 2 of these plants in my home, one with more variegation than the other.

They certainly grow more slowly than an all-green plant, but they are stunning and enjoyable at any size.

Crassula ovata ‘Hummel’s Sunset’

Crassula ovata ‘Hummel’s Sunset’ is another variegated Jade where the leaves have yellow around the edges and sometimes across more of the leaf. In high light, the yellowed edges also develop a little orange or red coloration, truly creating a sunset view.

Crassula ovata ‘Baby Jade’

Crassula ovata ‘Baby Jade’ sports smaller leaves and smaller internodes as well, creating a more compact and mini plant. I believe this one is also called ‘Crosby’s Compact’.

I read somewhere that this plant is a cross between the classic Jade and Portularia afra (commonly called dwarf jade, mini jade, elephant bush, and more), but I am not sure if that’s true. It might just truly be a Jade plant with a smaller growth habit.

If you know, let me know 🙂

Crassula ovata ‘Gollum’ & ‘Hobbit’

These two plants are both considered mutant varieties of the classic Jade whose names were inspired by The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

They are very similar in appearance but are indeed unique cultivars.

However, I have a very tough time identifying each so I found someone who is much more knowledgeable on the subject to help us understand the differences. Watch the video below to get an idea of how to identify the plant you might want or have at home.

Crassula ovata ‘Gollum’

Crassula ovata ‘Hobbit’

There are variegated plants available in each of these mutant varieties as well and I think the most expensive Crassula ovata cultivar that I’ve seen is the white variegated Gollum. It is a very pretty plant, but definitely out of my plant budget range currently. 🙂

Crassula arborescens

Crassula arborescens is actually a separate species from Crassula ovata. But, it is aften referred to as the Silver Dollar Jade and is a beautiful little plant for us Jade collectors and lovers.

Crassula ovata/arborescens ondulatifolia

This gorgeous little plant is known for its curly or ripply leaves that are gorgeous and blue-green-gray in color.

It is an absolutely stunning plant that can also develop some color on the leaf edges when a bit sun-stressed.

The leaves are a bit less succulent than many of the other jade varieties, but the stems are just as robust.

I’ve seen this particular plant listed under the species ovata and under the species arborescens. I’m not truly sure which it should be classified as so I’ve listed both!

It is also referred to as Ripple Jade, Curly Jade, Wavy Jade, and more.

What are some common issues that Jade plant may face?

Important Note: Overwatering can be the product of watering a plant too frequently, but it can also be the product of allowing a plant to sit super dry for too long.

The plant’s roots actually begin to dry up and die from drought. Then you provide your Jade with a thorough watering and it doesn’t have healthy roots to use the water up in a timely manner anymore.

The dried-up, dead roots then begin to rot when exposed to water and spread root rot to the rest of the plant. This causes the plant to collapse in much the same manner as it would if you were to water it too frequently.

So how do you avoid both of these issues? Check your plant frequently to see if its potting mix has dried from top to bottom. Once it is fully dry, give it a good thorough watering.

A cheap way to check whether your plant is ready for watering is to:

  1. Use a chopstick to go down the side of the pot to the bottom. Pull the chopstick out. If its clean and dry, time to water. If it comes out with some moist mix on it, wait longer before watering.
  2. Pick up the pot to assess whether it is light or heavy. Heavy means it still has water. Light means it is dry and ready for a drink. This technique works well when using standard terracotta pots and plastic pots. It does take a few tries to learn how heavy and light your pot typically becomes, but it is super easy once you’ve tried it out a few times.

If you think you’ve been underwatering your plant, don’t give the plant a thorough watering since it can’t use that water effectively.

Instead, give the plant a little bit of water periodically, when dry, to help it begin to bounce back and grow new roots. I try to add only enough to wet a fourth to a third of the potting mix.

After the plant has been receiving a little water for several weeks, then you may begin to slowly increase the amount of water. It does take time, but it also works! I’ve done this with several of my plants successfully. It just requires a little patience and love.

Brown spots on Crassula ovata

If the brown spots are dry, it is likely a product of underwatering.

If the brown spots are soft, it is likely a product of overwatering.

Tiny white or black spots on leaves

These little dots are totally normal and are actually pores called hydathodes, which can absorb water from the air.

Lanky, stretched growth

Lanky, stretched growth is usually because the plant isn’t getting enough light to produce thick, robust growth.

Leaf drop

Leaf drop can be caused by a variety of circumstances: too much water, too little water, cold shock, & pests. More investigation into the potential causes is needed.

Leaf wilt or discoloration

Leaf wilt can be caused by both over and under-watering. Discoloration is often a product of overwatering.

Stem collapse/rot

Stem collapse or rot is often a product of overwatering.

Powdery Mildew

Powdery mildew appears as small white dots on jade plants or as a powdery/discolored coating on the leaves. I’ll insert a couple of examples of this below.

Pests

Jade plants are susceptible to Mealybug, Scale, Spider mites, Aphids

To learn more about how to identify or treat these pests, click here to read the post.

Is Crassula ovata toxic to people or pets?

Unfortunately, Crassula ovata is not safe for consumption and can cause adverse effects.

Keep Crassula ovata in a safe place away from curious kids and pets who may want to take a bite!

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