Mini-Jade (Portulacaria afra) Bonsai Guide
Also known as the small leaf jade, portulacaria afra, are excellent bonsai for beginners and their ability to conform to most bonsai styles make them popular with enthusiasts as well. They are great for beginners because they grow very quickly, can be kept indoors, and can go a long time without needing water. This is because succulents store water in their stems and leaves. They also give clear signs when they need water which is helpful to those just starting out with bonsai growing.
Young shoots of the portulacaria afra start out as green and may turn red depending on sun exposure. Later mature branches will develop a gray color with rough texture. The shape of the leaves can best be described as a circle crossed with a teardrop. They grow perpendicular to the branch.
One needs to be really careful about overwatering jade. I find they can get root rot, especially in winter, very easy if overwatered. Often times this will first manifest itself in leaf or entire branch drop. One of the good things about them is they give you clear signs about when they actually need to be watered. Their leaves will begin to flatten and then wrinkle. I've found that when growing indoors waiting for the signs of this are safest to prevent these kind of issues. If you plant your mini-jade in a very fast draining bonsai soil mix in a good amount of sun or indoors on a bright windowsill this is less of a problem.
Portulacaria afra can be grown both indoors and outdoors. If grown indoors they like being close to a natural light source. Placement near an open window usually works best. If this is not possible then keeping them in a room that has bright fluorescent lights usually works as well. One just needs to be concerned with overwatering more in those situations. When kept outdoors they tend to grow very fast in full sun.
As they are a tropical succulent, mini-jade do best in USDA zones 10-11, but will also grow in most areas where they won't be exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees F.
It is very hard to train a small leaf jade by wiring branches. Their branches tend to be very brittle and might snap under the pressure. Pruning in the direction of preferred growth and pinching is more effective. Do not prune immediately after watering. Cuts flat with the bark are reported to heal with less scarring than concave, but I've not noticed any horrible scars when using a concave pruner myself.
The branches will naturally droop from the weight of the water they store in there leaves. Many people take advantage of this characteristic by training them into cascade styles.
Jades can be propagated by cuttings from pruned branches.
Jade will do well in most bonsai soil mixes, but prefer those that are very well draining. Your soil mix should have less organic materials and no peat. Their roots will rot easily if left wet for long periods of time.
Portulacaria afra Pests and Problems
Scale will wreak havoc on a jade. Root rot can also develop when the tree is watered too frequently with not enough light. The tree will show stress from both scale and root rot by dropping leaves and branches.