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Jade plant — beautiful and versatile

I was strolling through a garden centre some time ago, and came upon a stunning sight — a large potted jade plant in full bloom. While most of us do not have the space for such a plant, particularly where it will receive enough light to produce such abundant bloom, seeing the plant reminded me of its beauty and versatility. You can grow a smaller version of the jade plant and incorporate one into your interior landscape even if you have limited space.

The jade plant is a member of the genus Crassula whose members are all succulents. It has plump, fleshy, almost-round leaves that are glossy and usually bright green, although there are variegated cultivars on the market. The stems are thick with a woody-looking bark; the leaves have very small stems so that the leaves seem almost directly attached to the thick stems.

A jade plant can grow up to a metre and a half tall and wide, but its size can be restricted by limiting the size of the container in which it is grown and by judicious pruning. It does like as much light as you can give it — ideally between three and five hours of direct sunlight each day. If it receives too little light, the growth becomes spindly and straggly and the stems get elongated and twisted. Like many succulents, the jade plant requires little water. It should only be watered after the soil has almost completely dried out. It likes a well-drained, loam-based potting mix that includes some sand. A peat-based planting medium tends to retain too much water.

The plants are easily propagated from cuttings, and small stems can be planted directly into soil where they will readily develop roots. Small plants can be incorporated into cacti/succulent dish gardens, they can be potted up individually and displayed in a plant grouping that includes other succulents and cacti, or a larger specimen might be displayed on its own in an large, attractive container. In the latter case, the plant should be pruned regularly to keep it compact and bushy.

If you are interested in bonsai, the jade plant lends itself well to being grown in this manner. One advantage is that it grows much more quickly than most of the other plants that are more often recommended for bonsai.

A large specimen looks good in its container in the summer garden, but it must be taken indoors if any threat of frost occurs. The plant must be introduced to direct outdoor sun gradually, but once acclimatized, it will be happy in a full-sun location. It may even bloom when it is receiving so much light. The only chance of getting a jade plant to bloom indoors is to locate it on a south windowsill or place it directly under the lights of a light garden.

The jade plant is attractive and has several uses, depending on how it is grown and how large it is allowed to get. Its rather oriental architecture will complement any modern interior décor, especially if there are other hints of the Orient in the room.

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