Crassula ovata, commonly known as Jade Plant, grows wild in its native southern Africa, where it can reach 8 to 9 feet (2.4 to 2.7 m) tall and spread about as wide. The fleshy oval leaves are about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long at maturity. Mature stems are barklike with softer tip growth. The plant responds to leaf pruning or removal by quickly sending out new small leaves. Use this natural trait to your advantage with Jade Bonsai to keep the leaves in scale and help keep a mature Jade Plant from becoming top-heavy.
1. Prune unwieldy branches with bonsai pruners or small, sharp-pointed scissors to achieve a tree framework. If necessary, do this in stages, allowing the plant to fill in with new growth between prunings so you can better envision the shape of the mature bonsai. Remove large leaves to open the plant and allow light to reach inner stems where you want new, smaller leaves to grow. Pruning cuts should be flush with the main branch to form a smooth callus. Both stubs and scooped-out cuts create conditions for stem rot infections.
2. Trim the plant once or twice a week to control the size and density of the leaf buds. Pinch off oversized leaves, or pinch off leaf buds growing in unwanted places, such as on the lower trunk of the plant. Nip the tips of leggy branches to encourage clusters of new leaf buds to develop. Long tweezers make it easy to reach within the plant to remove pruned bits.
3. Avoid using a wound sealant. Instead, let pruned areas air dry and form a callus. Pathogens trapped under sealant can cause bacterial or fungal rot. Clean the pruning cutter blades with rubbing alcohol after each cut to prevent the spread of disease, especially if you use the same tools with several plants.
4. Train longer branches into interesting configurations by gently coiling copper wire around each branch you want to manipulate. The coil should be loose. Carefully bend the branch once or twice a week in small increments, nudging it into the desired shape. Jade Plant responds quickly to wiring and can maintain its new form in as little as three weeks. If the wire leaves small imprints where it contacted the branch, the marks typically disappear as water replenishes the branch after the wire is removed.
Do not water Jade Plant immediately before wiring. After watering, plants' cells fill with water, making the stems rigid and more likely to break during the wiring process. Instead, resume regular watering after the wire is in place.
A similar plant sometimes sold as a Jade Plant, Portulacaria afra has naturally smaller, 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) long leaves. Therefore, it is useful for creating a smaller scale bonsai with minimum pruning. The space between leaf nodes is also shorter, so P. afra bonsai appears to be more compact than C. ovata.
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