Take care when watering jade plants during the winter

Bob Dluzen
Special to The Detroit News

Plant industry folks are seeing a revival in the interest of houseplants. Some are saying this latest resurgence is beginning to rival the boom times of the 1970s, when nearly every household had at least one houseplant.

Jade plants have endured as one of the most favorite plants through the decades. They are relatively straightforward to grow, but this time of year it’s easy to run into problems if you’re not careful.

As winter sunlight diminishes, photosynthesis slows down in proportion to the amount of photons received by the leaves. Reduced light causes indoor plants to change the amount of water they require.

First-time “plant parents” often will inadvertently kill their plants with kindness by overwatering.

Since the plant is not taking up and transpiring much water during the winter, more water is left behind in the soil. With constant watering, soil can eventually become waterlogged, driving crucial oxygen from the roots resulting in an anaerobic soil situation. A lack of oxygen can quickly kill plant roots. Often plants cannot recover from the damage and eventually the rest of the plant will die.

The cruel irony is overwatering has symptoms that look just like plants suffering from lack of water. In each case the upper part of the plant is not receiving enough water for vital plant functions. In one case, the soil conditions are so dry that the plant is in a drought-like state from no water. In the other, the plant cannot take up water due to dead roots. Either case will lead to wilting and death as if the plant was in a drought.

You cannot water jade plants on a rigid schedule; that will almost certainly cause major problems.

Simply looking at the soil is also a highly unreliable way to determine soil moisture and plant needs.  Instead, listen to your jade plant, it will tell you when it needs water.

OK, it won’t actually speak to you, but it will let you know if it needs water by way of its leaves. Gently squeeze a leaf between your finger and thumb. If  the leaf feels firm, the plant still has plenty of water and there is no need to water it.

Gently squeeze a leaf with a pinching motion. Check a few leaves to make sure you get a good sampling of the plant’s condition.

Remember, jade plants are succulents. They have evolved to survive droughts by storing water in their leaves between extended dry periods.

If the leaf feels soft and flexible, then it is time to water. Soft leaves means it has used up much of its stored water and can use some more.

When watering your jade plants, never let water stand in the saucer. Water must drain completely through the soil with each watering. A pot sitting in standing water will cause excessively wet root conditions by not allowing complete drainage. That is the worst thing you can do to a jade plant.

Ideally what we’re trying to do, as much as possible, is mimic the dry, rocky hillsides of the jade plant’s native habitat in South Africa.

With proper care, your jade plant could possibly outlive you.