None of my thumbs are green!

johns5jrJanuary 12, 2014

Like most other newbies that drop by and post, I think I've done the impossible. I've slowly tortured and killed my jade tree. Please, I beg of you... help.

Problems I'm facing are below. Many high-res pictures available on flickr here:

I received a wonderfully giant beautiful jade tree for my birthday last April. I immediately started scouring the interwebs for tips and advice on not killing it. As soon as I got it home, I placed it against a wall in my living room. Far from the window. (did I mention I'm bad at this?) I saw the error of my ways, noticed the plant store had scorched and burned the leaves from full, direct light, took special care of it and bounced its leaves back to happy green life.

Fast forward a few months and leaves are falling everywhere. I frantically search the web and narrow my problems down to mites. I do a paper test and sure enough, I've got little red mites. I take my proud plant owner self to the plant store and talk carefully with the sales associate about what pesticides will not kill my sensitive jade plant. A few sprays and days later, no more mites.

Months go by. Leaves continue to drop. Things slowly get more bleak. I try to spray her leaves down with water/vinegar/soap solution thinking mold. I stop watering her for a long time (too long) thinking too much water. The drought seemed to help a bit... it slowed the problems, but they didn't stop.

Then I moved to a new apartment. Drier air, more heat. Less light? No water. And introduce the arch enemy... kitten.

PROBLEM 1: Crystallized leaves
For a long time, my leaves have slowly been drying and crystallizing when on the plant, surrounded by healthy leaves, and then falling. I've tried to clean these away a number of times, but it doesn't seem to change anything. Leaves appear to get soft, yellow-y and wrinkled before turning to flaky white.

PROBLEM 2: Softening branches
This is a newer problem, within the past few months. The smaller branches of my tree are getting soft and shriveling up, and entire branches are just falling off with healthy(ish) leaves still attached.

PROBLEM 3: Cracks and scabs on leaves
Long before the kitten came into the picture, my plant has shown brownish cracks or scratches in some of the leaves, and mysteriously I will find leaves that look like half of them have been cut off. Some weird mutations have occurred in new growth where leaves will be funny-shaped, but not recently.

PROBLEM 4: Brown scabby stems
I thought this was normal. Where new growth of stems is green, it looks all brown and scabby. I thought this was a normal growing part of turning from green stem to brown branch, but I'm having so many issues I'm doubting myself now.

PROBLEM 5: My cat.
My kitten is in love with my tree. She thinks it's the greatest thing to climb, ever. She's clawed the hell out of one poor branch, specifically, and it's now leaning over and weak. Should I stake it up or something? How do I help revive it? I've been telling her no and spraying an air can at her when she gets close and thinks about playing. It seems to work for the most part, unless I'm not around to watch her. Any suggestions on keeping her away?

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Firstly, you know from your reading this plant requires high light, and a fast draining potting medium. That is half the battle won, if you can take care of those issues. Secondly, no plant will survive well constant attacks from a cat. How about another photo of the entire plant?


    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 6:02PM
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Re: the cat, I spray my pots with bitter apple to keep the dogs from eating the soil (I don't understand it either). Is there such a thing for cats?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 11:14PM
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Sanfran - there is a product for cats that actually is supposed to keep them from scratching. I never had much success with it with my one cat, but I would think some cats would respond to it.

John - if you are going to look into that product, I would just make sure it is plant-friendly. I think it's original intent was for it to be used on furniture, but I'm not 100% positive

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 7:09PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

As much light as possible, and a fast-draining soil once the weather warms. Without light, it will continue to die back, branch by branch.

Those "crystalized" leaves are simply dried leaves....typical on any Jade that is shedding winter leaves.


    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 7:48PM
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I doubt that I am any good, but here in California a jade plant stays outside in the sun. Would it be possible for your plant to go outside maybe in a shaded area till it gets used to the weather? Here, you do nothing to them and they grow. Water, no water, they grow..............just a thought.

Neysa in California

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 10:02PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

John - find someone that's been around awhile and has established credibility, like Josh, and pay attention. I'm not dissing the other posters, it's just that I know Josh knows what he's doing from seeing him on a number of other forums (I don't come here all that often).

About your thumbs: Fortunately, the speed with which you arrive at green thumb status depends much more on how much you know about the plant sciences than how much experience you have. Experience is most valuable when it's used to validate something you've already learned; in most other cases it's what you get after you've just did something wrong and you're at the point where you have to do it all over again. If you're hoping to move ahead by guesswork - well, you can see how long THAT's going to take. Try to avoid guesswork as much as possible.

Learn all you can, and try to look at things from the plant's point of view. You'll soon discover it's very often a whole lot different than yours and that of most growers. If you're still around and at all curious about what I said, I'll link you to a couple hrs worth of reading that should eliminate most of the pitfalls likely to be in your immediate path.


    Bookmark   January 16, 2014 at 5:34PM
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Thanks for the replies, everybody!

I've been trying to do as much internet research as possible. I think maybe the tree needs more light, less heat, and more water. I'm going to keep trying to find the right balance, even though I seem to be really bad at it.

Sanfran and Hermie - I actually have that product, it's a cat pheromone that encourages calming behavior. It works well for car trips and introduction to new environments, but doesn't do what it promises with furniture-scratching or other unwanted behaviors. :/

Josh - thanks for the comment. I have been stressing over these crystallizing leaves for a year. I didn't realize they were normal! That makes me feel a LOT better.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 3:43PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Thanks, Al. I appreciate it.

Neysa, I'm in California, too, but in the foothills where the Winter nights are simply too cold. Even down in zone 9 Sacramento, the exposed outdoor Jades take a lot of frost/freeze damage, and smaller specimens die outright.

John, is it possible for you take your Jade outdoors during the day?


    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 4:31PM
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