There have been so many varieties of succulents all over the world, which are usually grown indoors. The beauty of succulents is that they can be small, and their small size makes them require less labor.
One variety of succulents is known as Portulacaria Afra that has been attracting the eyes of succulent lovers worldwide. If you happen to grow a Portulacaria Afra or plan to grow one, this article is for you. Continue reading to make sure that you will gather all relevant information regarding Portulacaria Afra.
• What is Portulacaria Afra?
• How to Take Care and Prune Portulacaria Afra?
• How to Water Portulacaria Afra?
• Common problems of Portulacaria Afra?
• How to Revive Portulacaria Afra? ;and
• What Type of Soil is Ideal for Portulacaria Afra?
What is Portulacaria Afra?
Portulacaria Afra is known with different names: Elephant Bush, Elephant Food, Porkbush, Spekboom, and Dwarf Jade. This type of plant is a member of the succulent family, and it has reddish-brown woody stems that can grow incredibly tall for up to 20 feet when appropriately nurtured.
This succulent plant is pretty common in dry regions where it can be a lifeline to different herbivore animals because it is a valuable fodder plant. They are kept in small sizes enough to fit in a small pot in a decorative setting, just like a typical succulent.
Portulacaria Afra is sometimes compared with Crassula Ovata because of their similar structure. What makes them different is that Portulacaria Afra has smaller leaves, wiry stems, and tiny pink flowers that appear in summer.
The name Elephant Bush or Elephant Jade is derived from the fact that they are food to elephants and goats, and tortoises. Interestingly, they are also used in Southern African cuisine like salads, soups, and stew because of their sour taste. Aside from its being edible, it is also known as a carbon sponge because it is incredible in absorbing high carbon levels in the air.
Portulacaria Afra is commonly found in Transkei, Natal, and Northern Transvaal alongside the dry river valleys of the Eastern Cape and into other Northern provinces.
It grows on dry flatlands in bushveld and savanna thicket, which can become dominant over large areas. These beautiful-looking creatures are enemies of humans who love cliff-hanging because they usually occupy empty spaces between rocks.
In general, Portulacaria Afra can survive in full direct sunlight to partial shade, and they are summer dormant. Another advantage of this plant is they are non-toxic to both humans and animals. Hence, no worrying would occur even if your pets accidentally eat it.
Like any other plants, they start small and grow like a tree as time goes by. As it grows, the stems of Portulacaria Afra also thickens to balance the height it grew. They grow horizontally and spread out laterally, and this feature makes them ideal for sprawl or hanging designs.
How to Take Care of Portulacaria Afra?
Taking care of Portulacaria Afra is an easy task if you know all the necessary steps. The first thing you need to do is to place it in direct sunlight because they need plenty of it to survive. This is because they grow in vast drylands, where they are drawn to bright sunlight.
Remember, you do not have to worry about them being exposed to the sun because they can tolerate the heat. However, in extreme heat conditions, you may observe some sunburn on their body, but they can handle heat pretty well. Hence, it would help if you made an effort by putting them in a place to maximize the sun to grow fully.
When growing the plants outdoors, you have to acclimate the plant to prevent them from getting sunburn. Although they can tolerate plenty of sunlight, they prefer bright filtered sunlight. The purpose of acclimating the plants is to help them adjust to the heat temperature until they are exposed to full sun.
When putting them outdoors, you have to gradually increase the amount of sunlight it receives before they are exposed to direct bright sunlight. This will help them from getting sunburn or sun damage. But keep in mind that they might still get sunburn or sun damage in extreme heat conditions.
To remedy this problem, you can use sunshades to control the sunlight they receive. If you live in a place like in Northern California, where the sun could reach up to 37.8°C during the peak of the summer season, you have to consider using sunshade.
This will also help your plants recover from intensive heat, but if your place only has adequate sunlight, you are fine.
In case you grow those precious Portulacaria Afra indoors, the first thing you need to make sure of is to provide them the brightest light possible. It would help if you placed them beside the window where they can be exposed to sunlight. You have to find the perfect spot where there is enough sunlight.
Ideally, the Portulacaria Afra needs 5-6 hours of light exposure daily. You have to be observant whether they are getting enough light where you put them and transfer them to another window where the sunlight is brighter.
But in cases where your apartments typically do not have that many windows, you might as well place them on the porch. Always see to it that there is enough sunlight passing on that porch. Constantly move the Portulacaria from side to side where the sun shines.
However, in rare cases where there is not enough sunlight passing your house, the best remedy for you is to consider using a grow light. This will act as a substitute for the natural sunlight, and grow light can provide the lighting needs for your Portulacaria Afra to grow effectively.
Do not worry about spending more on the grow light for your plants because you might need it in the dark winter months. In other words, growers in some parts of the world have some grow light reserves for the dark winter times. But of course, there will be a difference in terms of power consumption between those who rely on growing light full time than those who are blessed with direct sunlight in their areas.
But, for some reason, you cannot take them inside during the dark winter season, then the best remedy for you is to use frost protection like frost cloths or mini-greenhouses to help them survive.
Take note, Portulacaria Afra can tolerate mild frost and freezing temperatures only if not for more extended periods; otherwise, they would die. But if you can bring them indoors, then you have to place them in a container and nurture them inside.
How to Prune Portulacaria Afra?
Another step of growing Portulacaria Afra is to know pruning techniques for a variety of purposes. This pruning Portulacaria Afra method is to make use of the length of the plant and place them in smaller batches like typical succulents. In other words, Portulacaria Afra pruning helps the plant to be nurtured domestically other than living in the wild.
There are only two requirements for pruning which are: sharp knife and soap. A sharp knife will be used to cut the plant, and soap is used to sterilize the knife before cutting the plant.
The first step of Portulacaria Afra pruning is to let the soil base of the plant dry out. Do not water the plant before pruning otherwise, they would store moisture and will leak once cut. Do not forget to sterilize the knife with soap and rinse with clear water before cutting the plant.
Once you are completely done cutting the plant, the next step you have to do is to look for dead or dying branches. Place the knife over the dead or dying branches and cut your way through it.
After removing the dying and dead branches, the third step is to look for extra-long and misplaced branches to shape the plant in perfect sizes. The size of Portulacaria Afra boils down to your preference on how you want them to look. Important reminder, do not put any chemicals to the wound after pruning because the plants naturally form calluses over the cuts after a couple of days.
The last step is to remove the terminal buds or leaf clusters located at the branches’ tip using your fingers. This is to prevent them from growing too long and maintain those cute and adorable tiny sizes. When finally done pruning, wait until the calluses have formed over the cuts before watering them.
When performing Portulacaria Afra pruning, make sure not to cause little scars to the rest of the plant because it will result in the branch’s death. Do not make a concave cut, instead make a clean cut through the branch surface.
In propagating the Portulacaria Afra, you need to have a mother plant to get the baby plants to transfer to another plant. The same method is applied when cutting the branches of the plant for propagation.
When looking for a mother plant, you will examine the plant’s size that is 3 inches long and 2 inches wide. Your mother plant must have all these requirements; otherwise, the propagated plant will have noticeable cuts.
After cutting the branch, you will remove the leaves but keep at least two to four leaves on the top. You will then place the cut end of the branch halfway in a container with the recommended soil. Until then, you can now place them in sunny areas and do not water them until there is new growth.
How Often Should You Water Portulacaria Afra?
As you might not know, Jade plants are great at holding moisture within their leaves. This means that you do not have to water them frequently. But you have to make sure that you give them an adequate amount of water and leave them some time to dry out before watering again.
The best time to know when to water them is to monitor the soil if dried out; only then will you know that they need to be watered again. You can reduce the amount of water in the winter season, and you will only water once every two to three weeks. This is pretty obvious because they cannot dry out quickly in the cold season compared to being exposed to direct sunlight.
The ideal soil moisture is two inches, as this can be enough to prevent the plants from drying out.
You need to monitor the plant to know some signs of irregularities and take immediate actions to solve them. In outdoor setups, you have to transfer them during the rainy season to prevent waterlogging quickly.
When watering them, do not splash the water on the leaves because this will increase rotting chances, especially in a humid climate. Aside from that, the quality of water is also crucial because Portulacaria Afra is sensitive to salt. Hence, you need to be careful when giving them regular tap water as it might contain salt.
Generally, the watering cycle of Portulacaria Afra is significant because a mistake in watering will result in specific issues with the plants. For example, the dropping of leaves or when the leaves start to shrivel indicates that the plants lack an adequate amount of water. If the leaves appear to be squishy or waterlogged, then it is an indication that they are receiving an excessive amount of water.
What are the Common Problems of Portulacaria Afra?
Now, to get thoroughly familiar with Portulacaria Afra, we might as well discuss some common problems related to it. This way, we will know how to prevent and when to take action if a specific problem occurs.
Some common problems of Portulacaria Afra are outlined below:
Overwatering and Underwatering
Overwatering them results in the leaves getting squishy and waterlogged, which increases the chances of rotting. Underwatering may result in the dropping of leaves and drying up.
Like any other plant, unhealthy soil may result in the plants’ improper growth and eventually die. If you notice some leaves dropping even if there is proper moisture, then the problem might be the soil. Use perlite to improve aeration and drainage together with a balanced fertilizer.
Light, Temperature and Humidity fluxes
Since Portulacaria Afra prefer sunlight, they will usually react to sudden changes in light and temperature. They will manifest leaf drop when they experience sudden changes in light, temperature, and humidity.
Pests and Diseases
Portulacaria Afra is not safe when it comes to pests and diseases like whiteflies, scale moths, spider mites, mealy bugs, fungus, gnat larvae, and fungal. They can weaken the plant enough to cause leaf drop. Thankfully, you can prevent them through proper care and pest control.
How Can You Revive Portulacaria Afra?
In cases wherein you found out that your Portulacaria is dying, you need not panic because they can usually be revived. Follow these simple steps to save them:
• Remove them from the pot.
Removing them from the pot gives them a fighting chance for survival. After removing them, let them dry for about a week before replanting them to a new pot. The new pot must be a perfect size using ideal soil.
• Remove the rotten parts.
Removing the rotten parts of the plant will stop the rot from spreading all over the plant. After that, leave them to dry for a week before replanting them in another pot. Do not place them in direct sunlight until you see new growth and water them when dry.
What is the Ideal Soil for Portulacaria Afra?
When deciding the type of soil to use as a growing medium for Portulacaria Afra, it is best to use the soil that meets the plant’s needs. In general, succulents prefer well-drained and aerated soil. Since Portulacaria Afra is a member of the succulent family, the ideal soil is the same as other succulents.
The next thing you need to know is how to achieve that ideal soil that most succulents, including Portulacaria Afra, love. In most cases, cactus or succulent soil are already made available in your nearest garden store.
If you plan on making your ideal soil, you will need potting soil, sand, vermiculite, or pumice. Take note that you need not combine the sand, vermiculite, and pumice with the potting soil. You just have to pick one of them and combine them with your potting soil with an equal amount of ratio.
In conclusion, growing Portulacaria Afra, just like any other succulents, requires some effort. It needs precision when taking care of Portulacaria Afra, starting from pruning up to the watering cycle.
Nevertheless, you do not have to worry about it because if you know all the necessary steps on how to take care of Portulacaria Afra, you will guarantee successful farming. You might also want to use your knowledge to your advantage and start making a profit from Portulacaria Afra.