Elephants eat it, but you need not fear for your Portulacaria unless you have a pet pachyderm. The plant is a succulent with fleshy, glossy leaves that grows as a small bush. They are only hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 and 11. Elephant Bush (Portulacaria afra) thrive in bright light in a warm, draft free room. A few rules on how to care for Elephant Bush will help you grow a specimen of interest that may be a stand-alone plant or part of an intricate succulent garden.
Elephant Bush plant may get 6 – 20 feet (15 – 50 cm) tall in habitat where it is a favorite food of elephants. In the home interior, it is much more likely to remain just a few feet tall. The bush has thick succulent brown stems with small tender green leaves that resemble a diminutive Jade Plant.
The home interior is an excellent place to grow Elephant Bush houseplants. Portulacaria care requires warm temperatures and bright light. After a dormant period in winter, the bush produces small pink flowers grouped in clusters at the ends of the branches.
These succulents need well drained soil and an unglazed pot that will help excess moisture evaporate. The best mixture for this type of plant is cactus soil or potting soil cut by half with sand, vermiculite or pumice.
Choose a location with indirect sunlight when growing Elephant Bush indoors. Overly bright sunlight can char the leaves and cause them to drop off. Ensure that the container you choose has wide drainage holes. Elephant Bush work well as part of a succulent display with plants that require similar care and situations.
Portulacaria care is similar to other succulent plants. If planted outdoors in warm climates, dig in 3 inches of sand or gritty material to provide well drained soil. Watch for pests like whitefly, spider mites and mealybugs.
The most common mistake made in succulent plants is watering. They are drought tolerant but do require watering from April to October. In winter the plants are dormant and you may suspend watering. Elephant Bush plants in the home interior should not have consistently wet feet. Make sure the pot drains well and don't leave a saucer with water sitting under the container.
Fertilize in late winter to early spring with an indoor plant fertilizer diluted by half.
Like most succulents, Elephant Bush is easy to reproduce from cuttings. Take cuttings in spring or summer for best results. Let the cutting dry out and callous for a couple of days and then plant the cutting in damp gritty soil in a small pot.
Place the cutting in a moderately lit area where temperatures are at least 65˚F (18˚C). Keep the soil lightly moist and in a few weeks the cutting will root and you will have a new elephant bush succulent to share with a friend or add to your collection.
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