Updated: Feb 9, 2020
Portulacaria afra, Elephant Bush, or Dwarf Jade as it is commonly called is native to South Africa and Swaziland, where it is found in the arider and desert parts. It is frequently mistaken with the unrelated Crassula ovata, but the Portulacaria has much smaller leaves, more compact and denser foliage pads. It is capable of both CAM and C4 photosynthesis and will use either depending on the climatic conditions and age of the leaf. It’s ability to hold 4-5 times as much carbon as other plants is a factor that may help us deal with the effects of global warming.
Styles: The Elephant Bush tree can be grown as a medium to large Bonsai bonsai in most upright styles.
Position: In the UK and most of temperate Europe it needs to be grown as an indoor bonsai as it is not at all frost hardy. It requires a bright south-facing window or well light conservatory. Temperatures below 10°C can be problematic for Jade.
Watering: The Dwarf Jade don’t need much watering, in fact, if overwatered the plant swells out, and the leaves become heavy and chunky. During the winter months, you usually do not need to water them un-less your room in unusually dry.
Feeding: Portulacaria are able to fix their own carbon, so can go long without feeding. When feeding them use an organic feed. Feed them during the growing season between April and October.
Repotting: Repot, every second or third year, when nighttime temperatures are above 10°C. Remember that the soil needs to be dry out before you repot. After repotting do not water for a couple of weeks. Use a well-draining growing medium mix. You can use Akadama and pumice, in equal parts by volume. You can reduce the root ball by about a third do not bare root.
Pruning: This is a continuously growing species so you will need to prune throughout the year. Remove heaver branches only during the slower growth periods. On more mature bonsai you may have to pinch or prune news leaf tips every couple of weeks, to keep branches small. If you need longer limbs, then it is best to let the apex grow, but remove all the leaves from the base of the shoot leaving only 3 or 4 leaves at the tip of the branch.
Wiring: Shaping is best carried out with the ‘clip and grow’ method. The branches do scar easily when wired.