It’s that time of the year again to start playing with my portulacaria.
Which sounds funny. Maybe a song title? Hmmmmnnnnn……
“Playing With My Portulacaria”
Just maybe.

Anyway, these two trees desperately need repotting


And I’m the man to do it. I mean, who else will?
I haven’t repotted either of these for two years. I think they need it.
This morning the sky was a harsh grey. Like a battleship cutting through the chop. I was wearing blue jeans. There were many weeds.
Short, declarative sentences. Hemingway-esque, no?
Anyway, the tree-

I love the tree-ness of this jade. It’s not stylized like most bonsai.
And, like I declared, there are many weeds

I’ve found that, if you don’t repot a dwarf jade, it will just sit. It really needs those airspaces between the soil particles to push the roots and (therefore) the leaves. At least in a bonsai pot.
If you’re growing it out in a regular nursery can, the roots will keep circling the pot until you have an unmanageable mass of solidness.
As is, this tree has filled the bonsai pot, so much I’ll need to cut it out

The tool I’m using is my homemade bonsai shank. I fashioned it out of a bed spring from my cot in the Key West Sheriff’s jail. A few years back I was caught collecting some buttonwoods on the coast. I claimed I was an Eco-Warrior liberating the trees from the depraved, exploitative tourist trade that has debased the native flora of The Keys. My story was one of rescuing these poor, stunted trees and relocating them to my backyard where I could take care of them and shield them from greedy developers.
I fashioned the shank to protect myself from the invasive Cuban tree frogs that kept me up at night while I was in the poke. Those suckers get big, man. And they’re invasive too. Bad actors dude.
Next pic please

When I repot I usually get the hose out to spray off the old soil. I find this method to be gentler that raking out the roots. Less abrasive.
With a jade though, because its a succulent, I need to keep everything dry.
If I don’t there is a good possibility the roots will rot and kill the tree.
As you see here

It is in desperate need of root pruning. Which means that, when I get the tree settled in the new soil, I will not water it for at least three days.

The cuts on a portulacaria (and most succulents in general) don’t heal like a regular tree. The cut dries out and simply transforms into new exterior tissue.

Time for new soil.
Here’s a good tip!

6 sheets of mesh at Walmart for $2.97. Good deal!
Now, I’d usually wash out the old pot but, since we’re going it dry I brush it out.

Which should be fine.
Pile new soil

Smash the tree down and seat it.

And chopstick the soil in between the roots.

The next tree is the evidence that a wound on a portulacaria just magically heals.

The tree was given to me by Paul Pikel. He knew how much I loved them.
This tree, earlier in its life, literally rotted out through the middle.
Mike Rogers was able to save it

It has a very baobab look to it. I love it.
It too needs repotting

But there is a bit of sneakiness on my part.
The roots are a bit underdeveloped

The roots only emerge from the left side.
That right corner

ain’t got none. But, hey, bonsai is an art of illusion, isn’t it?

That’s the only reason we use shallow containers; to make the trunks look bigger.
And eventually it will throw out roots. So it’s “fake it ’til you make it” for this tree

Which you can’t even tell, can you?
I wired a few branches but I didn’t do much trimming. In a few weeks, when the roots have settled, I’ll cut them both back, wire everything that needs it, and I’ll post an update.
To reiterate:
To repot a dwarf jade, do it dry.
Don’t water for 2-4 days (a succulent will throw out new roots in search of water. Take advantage of that mechanism. )
And don’t trim until it begins to grow again (which is indicative of root growth)



For further reading here is another post on portulacaria afra.

24 thoughts

  1. Have you tried true jade? I’ve got several and you’ve given me hope that there’s something worth doing with them besides trying to sell them for $1 at a yard sale. BTW, your posts are always worth reading. I always learn something and I always laugh. Usually out loud.


  2. Adam. I do not understand your level of technical abilities reguarding IT.I cant guess the appropriate way to ask a question of you or someone else as educated. It is about harvesting.Can you give me some guidance. I am not a stalker. Just someone that wants to do it right.We saw you at a show at Wigert’s those months ago and your skills are memerizing…It should be a simple question.




  3. Hi Adam I want ask for the components of sustrato, congratulations your did a great job with your bonsai trees


  4. Adam, I’m hoping you can help me out here. I’m just starting out in bonsai, and I’ve done a ton of reading on care and upkeep of already-bonsai. Decided to go ahead and get a tree, and being out in the sticks I had to order. (I’m wayyy down in the southeast corner of Colorado, I drive an hour to get to a Walmart.)

    So, I was trying to be very picky about my tree. I didn’t want to wind up with a tree that would be dead by the time it got to me from the stress of being shipped. The problem is that a lot of online retailers use the same. Exact. Pictures. as everyone else. So I couldn’t tell what I was actually getting.

    Then I had a brainstorm. If I got a pre-bonsai then maybe it wouldn’t have been fiddled with as much by others, and would hopefully have a better chance. Also, they’re way cheaper so if it fails I’m out ten bucks rather than forty or fifty.

    I decided on a fukien tea tree since I will be moving to an apartment with very limited space outside, and it may have to be an inside plant. I got it and it’s gorgeous and seems very healthy, so kudos to the nursery. Lovely dark green leaves and plenty of developing fruits.

    I know that I want to let it just be a plant for a while, recover from the stress of being shipped. But it is teensy. I’ve read up on clip and grow and I know I can start influencing how it’s going to grow now, which is cool. I just can’t find much info on what to do to help it develop, it’s all on what to do once it’s ready to go into a bonsai pot or how to shape and develop it once it’s at that point.

    My current plan is, leave it in the sun as much as possible (night time temps are still getting a little low for it, and we’re bouncing back and forth between 80 degree days and spring snow storms, so it’s going to be a part time inside plant until the weather gets back on it’s medication and levels out) make sure it’s fed and watered for a while, then repot into a bigger pot than the 3″ that it came with. But that’s pretty much where my plan ends. Is there anything that I can do to help it grow faster, and healthier?

    Sorry for the long comment, I just wanted to make sure that you have all the info!


    1. Just make sure you use a fertilizer. I don’t use liquid myself. Use Osmocote or Dynamite or Miracle Gro shake-n-feed. So every time you water it gets fertilizer. Water from the top, I don’t recommend plunging the whole thing in a tub of water. Water until it drains out of the bottom.
      The more light the better. Plants make their own food from sunlight. If they don’t have it they will use up any stored energy and wither and die.


      1. Plenty of light was already on the plan, it’s outside in the sun now, actually, since it’s a gorgeous day. When and if the snow hits this week like they’re telling us it might, I have access to a grow-light setup that my mother uses to start from seed for her garden.

        Would you recommend putting it in a big pot with lots of room and just letting it be there for a while, or will I get the same results in a smaller pot with roughly the same kind of repotting and root pruning I would do if it were in a bonsai pot? Or does it really matter?


      2. To push growth it’s better to put it in a little bigger pot. If its in a 3 inch put it into a 6 inch.
        It won’t get bigger in a bonsai pot.
        When you are growing it out that’s how it’s done. A really big pot will stay too wet and not give the roots a reason to grow. If you want it to grow don’t trim the roots at all. And use the best draining mix you can. The roots will love it.
        Good luck. Stay warm


  5. That’s what I was looking for Adam, thank you! You are awesome for putting up with my questions and being kind enough to answer!


  6. I have a jade clump growing in a regular clay pot. I was told to progressively put it in shallower pot over 2 two to three year. Working my way down to a Bonsai pot. Is that correct? It is in a 10 inch pot now.


    1. I don’t do that myself, I prefer to repot all at once when a tree is healthiest. This way it can recover. If you do it in stages you should wait at least a year between reductions for it to recover.


      1. So I can go from a 10 inch pot to a 2 or 3 in Bonsai pot all at once. Should I do away with the soil and use a typical Bonsai media? I would like to send a couple of photos for you to see. Am I able to do that?


  7. Your article was very helpful thanks I’m also a jade lover but I have started making bonsai just recently and started with jade but I can’t figure out how and when to water it and where to keep it. Also if you can give me your email so I can ask about so many queries I have


  8. When repotting, do you have to remove all the old soil from the root ball? I tried to ‘ gently’ rake the cheap organic soil out of my p.afra, but alot of roots came with it. Like the roots were veeeeeery fragile. I can’t imagine how to get all the soil out and not taking roots with it.


    1. I use my hands to massage out the old soil. You don’t need to get it all at one potting though, the important soil to remove is that directly under the base of the trunk, from the bottom. The next time you repot you’ll be able to remove the rest easier.


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