Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.
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If you’re looking for a houseplant that is easy to grow, looks good and requires minimal care, consider the jade plant (Crassula ovata, formerly C. argentea). With its thick, glossy dark-green leaves, this plant is a beauty that can grow as tall as 4 feet and as wide as 4 feet. If you want to keep it to a compact size, it also can be pruned. My friend Laura Anderson gave me one for my November birthday, and it’s added some freshness to our indoor environment this winter.
The jade plant prefers a good amount of direct light and grows best in west-facing windows or a few feet from south-facing windows. If left in a shady spot too long, the stem will get leggy and spindly looking.
The jade plant is a succulent, meaning it can store copious amounts of water in its thick leaves. It needs minimal moisture and is known to last as long as six months without watering. But if it gets too dry, the leaves will begin to dry out and shrivel. Allow the soil to dry completely between waterings.
This plant should be grown in a well-drained potting mixture consisting of coarse sand, perlite and sphagnum moss. Or similar soil to what you would grow cactus or orchids in.
While jade plants don’t need a lot of fertilizer, they will benefit from a mix of 10-20-20 every few months while actively growing.
To propagate jade plants, you can take a leaf from the stem, let it dry for a few days and then place it into a soil mixture to cover the cut end. It should root within a month.
A native plant of South Africa, the jade plant thrives in low humidity conditions. It can sport fragrant white clusters of star-shaped flowers in the late fall or early winter if conditions are right, which usually means uninterrupted dark nights and dramatic temperature changes from day to night. That’s not likely to happen in the indoor environment of our homes, which is why we rarely see jade flowers.
One other nice benefit of jade plants is that they seem to have very few pest problems. Occasionally, mealy bugs or scale can infect the plant when stressed from overwatering or underwatering. Generally, an insecticidal soap or gentle washing of the leaves with an alcohol soaked cotton ball will take care of the problem. Keeping the soil free of debris such as fallen leaves and not allowing the soil to become soggy are your best defenses against these pests.
So if you need to bring a little green into your home during these monochromatic days of winter, consider the easy-to-care-for jade plant.
Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.