A Gardening Journal

Variegated jade plant

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Not just any jade plant!  This is the jade with variegated leaves, and it's a free-thinker about how it does it.  How much of each leaf should be cream and how much should be green?  Each leaf reaches its own equilibrium. 

 

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Mostly green with just a creamy edge?  Mostly cream with a central band of green that's almost completely submerged?  All green?  All cream?  Each leaf finds its own solution; the plant is the libertarian of succulents.

 

Only the all-green leaves are to be discouraged.  They have so much more chlorophyll that they can outgrow the more colorful growth.  The albino growth is the most precious.  With no chlorophyll at all, it grows only with energy shared by its greener neighbors.

 

The occasional clipping-out of an all-green stem, the occasional watering—or not—and the jade plant is good for the year.

 

 

Here's how to grow this coloful succulent:


Latin Name

Crassula ovata 'Variegata'

Common Name

Variegated Jade Plant

Family

Crassulaceae, the Jade Plant family.

What kind of plant is it?

Shrubby succulent.

Hardiness

Zones 10 - 11.

Habit

Tree-like: Thick trunkish stems and limbs heavily foliaged with dense clusters of thornless, succulent leaves. 

Rate of Growth

Medium.

Size in ten years

Size depends on culture.  Plants that get more water can grow faster, but are looser and less attractive.  Under ideal conditions—see "Culture" and "How to handle it" below—three to four feet tall and only a bit less wide in a decade.  Ultimately to eight or nine feet tall, and about half that wide. 

Texture

Substantial, with areas of dense foliage held by thick and exposed trunks and limbs.

Grown for

its foliage: Smooth, thornless, and thick, the gently-pointed leaves are pale at the outside, variably deepening to a longitudinal section of green at the center.  New shoots are sometimes completely white or completely green.  Although the leaves grow in dense fat clusters, they're eventually shed so that portions of the plant's trunks and branches are revealed.

 

its trunks and limbs: Thick and heavy-looking, the few vertical stems are even more massive, proportionally, than the trunks of a beech.   The occasional branches have similar heft.  Jade plants have the appearance of arboreal solidity even in youth.

 

its tolerance and endurance: Jade plants are houseplants world-wide, surviving for years not in spite of neglectful watering and overheated interiors, but because of them. 

Flowering season

Jade plant is a short-day flowerer, which, in the Northern hemisphere, means Fall and Winter.  The flowers—faintly pink and profuse—are an achievement if you grow jade plant in the house (see "How to handle it" below) but are only a tangential part of the plant's appeal.  Jades growing outdoors in frost-free climates can be in bloom for weeks, even months.

Color combinations

Because flowering isn't reliable unless conditions are ideal, variegated jade plant adds just cream and grey-green to its environment.  Out of bloom, it goes with almost everything.

Partner plants

Jade plants can only be grown outdoors year-round in frost-free climates, where they bloom each Fall and Winter.  The floral display is substantial, so unless you're going to look the other way, planting with pink-friendly neighbors is best.  The cool mineral green of the jade plant's leaves and the pale (really, washed-out) pink of its flowers combine best with the irridescent colors you'd find in other gem stones such as sapphires, emeralds, rubies, and opal: Blue-leaved grasses, other pink-and-blue succulents, burgundy phormiums, and salvias that bloom in pink, blue, and violet.

 

As a container plant, jades bloom so rarely that successful flowering trumps considerations of the colors of neighboring plants.  And besides, you can move the pot away from clashing colors.      

Where to use it in your garden

Growing in frost-free climates, jades need to be sited beyond the range of irrigation, as part of a larger xeric planting. 

Culture

Gritty soil and full sun except in hot deserts.  Jades are so susceptible to rotting that planting on a slope is always best even in dry climates. 

How to handle it: The Basics

When in doubt, don't water.  When in growth, watering once or twice a month is fine as long as you forget to do it occasionally.  Unless you keep the plant warm enough that it grows year-round, water in Winter only if the plant seems to be shriveling.  This could mean watering every other month, if that. 

 

Jades benefit from pruning.  Branches can behave like those of live oaks, growing so far out that they start to sag.  Like all succulents, jade plants don't need roomy pots; growth can cantilever so far that the whole plant can tip.  Prune in Spring; the plants resprout readily. 

 

Variegated jade plant occasionally produces all-green stems.  They don't tend to revert back to variegated, so clip them off any time.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

In addition to short days, jades need frost-free coolness and drought to form buds and bloom in Fall and Winter.  They're most often grown indoors during cold months, where it's not difficult to achieve the drought: simply withold water for a month or two starting in October.  But the necessary cool—into the low 50's and even the 40's—is too chilly for normal households.  The short day is a challenge, too, because interior lighting would be so much in use.  Jade plants that bloom regularly and well indoors, then, are most often grown in greenhouses.

Quirks or special cases

None.

Downsides

None.

Variants

There are many Crassula species and cultivars, and even a few other variegated jades.  'Sunset' has foliage tinged yellow and red; it must be horrific when the lavender-pink flowers come out.  'Tricolor' has foliage in green, cream, and pink, which would harmonize well with the flowers.  In truth, unless you're a succulent aficionado, one variegated jade plant is enough.  My own exception—and it's a big one—is for the variegated cultivar of a jade look-alike that's known, alluringly, as elephant food, Portulacaria afra 'Variegata'.  Its trunky habit is similar, and while its foliage is identical, it's tiny.  Best of all, the small stems are burgundy.  Very showy, indeed.

Availability

On-line and at retailers.

Propagation

Variegated jade plants are propagated by cuttings.  

Native habitat

Crassula ovata is native to South Africa.

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