Dwarf Jade Plant Profile

A Low-Maintenance Succulent for Indoors and Outdoors in the Summer

Dwarf jade (Portulacaria afra)

Andre Swart / Getty Images

Dwarf jade is a succulent with small, thick, glossy leaves and burgundy-red stems. It stores water in its trunk and leaves so it can survive without regular watering. If you sometimes forget to water your houseplants, or you are away from home often, it might be just the right houseplant for you.

Dwarf jade (Portulacaria afra) looks similar to jade plants (Crassula ovata and other Crassula species), another succulent, but the two are botanically not related.

Botanical Name Portulacaria afra
Common Name Dwarf jade plant, elephant bush, miniature jade, porkbush, spekboom
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size Six to eight feet height
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Potting soil
Soil pH 5.6 to 6.5
Bloom Time Late spring to early summer
Flower Color White, pink
Hardiness Zones 9-11
Native Area South Africa

How to Grow Dwarf Jade Plant 

Dwarf jade is a low-maintenance houseplant. But, if you don’t mind spending a bit of time pruning it, you can also turn your dwarf jade into a bonsai tree. Or, you can grow it in a hanging basket ant let it sprawl like a waterfall instead of growing it as an upright miniature tree.

Light

Dwarf jade requires at least five to six hours of indirect sunlight and can tolerate partial shade. Place it in a window facing south, east, or west, and make sure to protect it from direct sunlight with a window shade, otherwise it will suffer sunburn.

While dwarf jade is mainly grown as a houseplant, it will thrive in fresh air. After there is no further danger of frost, you can move it to your patio or porch. Choose a location where the plant gets the required five to six hours of indirect sunlight but is protected from direct sunlight, for example by an awning during the hot afternoon hours.

Bringing dwarf jade outdoors requires a gradual acclimatization to sunlight. Increase the time the plant is exposed to sunlight little by little to prevent sunburn. Keep in mind that even after it has been acclimated, it needs protection from direct sunlight.

As the plant grows towards the sunlight, rotating the pot during the summer will ensure that is grows evenly in all directions.

Soil

Excellent soil drainage is crucial for dwarf jade. Recommended soil mixes are potting soil and coarse sand, pumice, or vermiculite in a 2:1 ratio, or cactus potting soil with perlite in a 2:1 ratio.

Water

Indoors, dwarf jade has very low watering needs. When watering, let the soil dry slightly out before watering again. There is an easy way to check if it needs water: Put your finger into the top inch of soil. If it feels dry, it’s time to water moderately. Dwarf jade does not like wet feet so make sure you don’t water so much that water accumulates in the saucer.

If you bring dwarf jade outdoors during the summer, it will require more frequent watering, as the soil dries out more quickly outdoors. Again, monitor the soil moisture to determine when it’s time to water.

Temperature and Humidity

The ideal room temperature for dwarf jade is between 61 and 71 degrees F.

The plant is not frost-hardy. If left outdoors for the summer, make sure to watch the weather forecast and bring it inside before the first fall frost.

Fertilizer

Dwarf jade has moderate fertilization needs. During the growing season, from spring to autumn, apply a standard houseplant fertilizer or a special succulent plant food about once a month.

Stop fertilizing during the winter and restart the monthly fertilizing in late winter with a 50% diluted fertilizer.

Dwarf jade grown as a bonsai
Dwarf jade grown as a bonsai. photohomepage / Getty Images 

Potting and Repotting

Dwarf jade is a slow-growing plant that does not outgrow its pot quickly.

If you repot it, hold off on watering it for a week. This allows the roots to dry out and become callous, which is needed for the plant to establish itself. Watering immediately after repotting can cause root rot.

Pruning

Do not water the plant before pruning because its trunk, stems, and leaves will be filled with moisture. Wait until the soil is dry.

Sterilize the blade of a sharp knife with a 10% bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water). With straight cuts, prune out any dead or dying stems, and any shoots emerging from the trunk, or prune the plant to the desired shape.

To encourage a bushy growth, you can also pinch out the terminal buds with your fingers.

The cuts will callous over in a few days; hold off on the watering until then.

Propagating Dwarf Jade

It’s easy to propagate dwarf jade from cuttings during the growing season in spring and summer. Take a cutting of three to six inches and place it on a piece of paper towel. Let it dry out for few days until it becomes callous.

Dust the lower third or half with rooting hormone and plant it in moist but not wet soil that you have mixed as described above under “Soil”. When the soil dries out, lightly spray it with water to keep it just damp. Once new growth appears, you can switch to watering with a watering can.

Portulacaria afra 'Variegata'
Portulacaria afra 'Variegata'. Elizabeth Fernandez / Getty Images 

Varieties of Dwarf Jade

Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’, common names: rainbow bush, mini jade, or elephant bush, has cream-colored and green variegated leaves.

Portulacaria afra ‘Aurea’, common names: yellow rainbow Bush, yellow elephant food, has leaves that are bright yellow when young and turn lime green as they age.

Common Pests/Diseases

Dwarf jade can be affected by spider mites, mealybugs, and whiteflies.