How To Care for the Dwarf Jade (Portulacaria afra) Bonsai Tree

The Portulacaria afra, commonly known as the Dwarf Jade or Elephant Bush, is a captivating succulent species that thrives as a bonsai. Its resilience, low maintenance requirements, and appealing appearance make it an excellent choice for beginners and experienced enthusiasts alike.

This comprehensive care guide will help you cultivate and nurture a thriving Portulacaria afra bonsai.

Portulacaria afra Bonsai Tree Features:

Sporting thick, round, deep green leaves and delicate pink flowers atop succulent stems and branches, this plant's water-retentive attributes enhance its charm. Getting a Portulacaria afra to flower is not easy. They typically starts flowering when it reaches a certain level of maturity. Young plants are less likely to flower.


Enduring temperatures between 50 and 71 degrees Fahrenheit, with a preference for outdoor exposure during summer. The Dwarf Jade can thrives indoors near bright windows and flourishes when allowed outdoor respite during the warm months, avoiding freezing temperatures.

Placement and Lighting:

Place your Dwarf Jade bonsai where it can receive plenty of bright, indirect sunlight. While it tolerates partial shade, it benefits from direct sunlight during the morning or late afternoon. Indoors, keep it near a south or west-facing window to provide adequate light.

  • Sunlight Intensity: Portulacaria afra, thrives in bright, indirect sunlight. It can handle some direct sunlight, but excessive exposure to intense sunlight, especially during the hottest parts of the day, can scorch its leaves. For indoor cultivation, a south or west-facing window that receives ample sunlight is ideal.
  • Natural Light: Outdoors, the Portulacaria afra bonsai benefits from natural sunlight, including morning and late afternoon sun. During the growing season (spring to early autumn), provide your bonsai with around 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. In hotter regions, partial shade during the hottest part of the day can prevent leaf burn.
  • Artificial Light: If growing indoors, you can supplement natural light with artificial lighting, especially during the winter months when sunlight might be limited. Use fluorescent grow lights or LED plant lights designed for succulents and cacti. Place the lights 6 to 12 inches above the bonsai and keep them on for 10 to 12 hours a day.
  • Seasonal Adjustments: As the seasons change, the intensity and duration of sunlight also change. During spring and autumn, when sunlight is gentler, your Portulacaria afra can tolerate more direct sunlight without risk of burning. In the height of summer, it's a good idea to provide partial shade during the hottest hours to protect the leaves.
  • Monitoring and Adaptation: Regularly observe your Portulacaria afra bonsai for signs of light-related stress. If you notice leaves turning yellow or brown at the tips or edges, it might be an indication of too much light. Conversely, if the plant's growth becomes leggy, with elongated stems and large gaps between leaves, it could be a sign of insufficient light.
  • Rotating the Bonsai: To ensure even growth and prevent your bonsai from leaning toward the light source, rotate the plant by a quarter turn every week or so. This practice ensures that all sides of the bonsai receive equal exposure to light.
  • Outdoor vs. Indoor Lighting: Outdoors, the changing angle of the sun throughout the day provides a natural variation in light intensity. Indoors, you may need to adjust the height and duration of artificial lights to mimic this natural variation. Observation and responsiveness to the plant's condition are key.
  • Acclimation: If you're transitioning your Portulacaria afra bonsai from indoor to outdoor or vice versa, do so gradually. Sudden changes in light intensity can shock the plant. Gradually increase or decrease the amount of light it receives over a period of several days to help the plant adjust.
  • Conclusion: Providing the appropriate lighting conditions is crucial for the health and well-being of your Portulacaria afra bonsai. By understanding its lighting requirements and making necessary adjustments based on the seasons and your growing environment, you'll be well on your way to nurturing a thriving and vibrant bonsai specimen.


Water only when the soil is notably dry. Water your bonsai moderately, allowing the soil to dry out between watering sessions. Overwatering can lead to root rot. Test the moisture level by inserting your finger about an inch into the soil. Water thoroughly when the soil feels dry to the touch. In winter, when kept in a cooler spot, watering can be spaced.

  • Watering Frequency: The Portulacaria afra bonsai has succulent characteristics, meaning it stores water in its leaves and stems. As a result, it prefers infrequent but deep watering sessions. Allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again.
  • Testing Soil Moisture: Before watering, check the moisture level of the soil by inserting your finger about an inch into the soil. If it feels dry at this depth, it's time to water. If it's still moist, wait a few days and check again. Avoid overwatering, as it can lead to root rot.
  • Watering Technique: When watering your Portulacaria afra bonsai, thoroughly soak the soil until water starts draining from the bottom of the pot. This ensures that the entire root system receives moisture. Ensure proper drainage to prevent water from pooling at the bottom of the pot, which can lead to root issues.
  • Preventing Waterlogged Soil: Dwarf Jade bonsai prefers well-draining soil to prevent excess moisture retention. Use Tinyroots All-Purpose or Tinyroots Tropical to promote efficient drainage.
  • Seasonal Adjustments: In the active growing seasons of spring and summer, the Portulacaria afra bonsai requires more frequent watering due to increased metabolic activity and higher light levels. In contrast, during the dormant period in winter, when growth slows down, you'll need to reduce watering to prevent overhydration.
  • Observation and Adaptation: Watch for signs of under- or overwatering. If the leaves become wrinkled and thin, your bonsai is likely dehydrated and needs water. On the other hand, if leaves turn yellow or feel mushy, you may be overwatering. Adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
  • Humidity Considerations: Humidity levels play a role in watering requirements. If you're growing your Portulacaria afra bonsai indoors, especially in a dry climate, you might need to water more frequently. You can also increase humidity around the bonsai by placing a humidity tray filled with water and pebbles beneath it.
  • Rainwater and Temperature: If possible, use rainwater or distilled water for watering your bonsai, as it lacks the minerals found in tap water that can accumulate in the soil over time. Adjust your watering schedule during periods of extreme heat or cold, as temperature fluctuations can influence water absorption.
  • Conclusion: Understanding the water needs of your Portulacaria afra bonsai is crucial for maintaining its health and vitality. By adhering to a consistent watering routine, adjusting based on the growing season and environmental conditions, and closely observing your bonsai's response, you can ensure that your Dwarf Jade thrives and remains a stunning addition to your collection.


During the growing season, which typically spans from spring to early autumn, fertilize your bonsai with a balanced, diluted liquid fertilizer every two to four weeks. Reduce or stop fertilizing during the dormant winter months.

  • Liquid versus Dry Fertilizer: liquid fertilizers provide rapid nutrient availability and precise control, while pellet fertilizers offer slow and consistent nutrient release with reduced frequency of application. The choice between the two depends on factors like the plant's requirements, your preferred feeding schedule, and the convenience that best suits your gardening practices.
  • Types of Liquid Fertilizers: Choose a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer that is specifically formulated for succulents or cacti. Look for a well-balanced fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium). Additionally, you can opt for a specialized bonsai fertilizer designed to meet the nutritional needs of your Portulacaria afra bonsai. Tinyroots 3-3-3 is an option, but you can go with a much stronger NPK.
  • Fertilizing Schedule: During the growing season, which typically spans from spring to early autumn, your Portulacaria afra bonsai benefits from regular fertilization. Aim to fertilize every two to four weeks. Reduce or stop fertilizing during the dormant winter months when the plant's growth slows down.
  • Dilution and Application: Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the fertilizer package for proper dilution ratios. Generally, you'll mix the fertilizer with water to achieve the recommended concentration. Apply the diluted fertilizer to the soil, making sure to thoroughly wet the entire root area. Avoid getting fertilizer on the leaves, as it can cause burns.
  • Application Technique: You can apply the fertilizer by using one of the following methods:
  • Pour-and-drench: Pour the diluted fertilizer slowly and evenly over the soil surface until it starts draining from the bottom of the pot.
  • Soaking: Submerge the entire bonsai pot in a container of the diluted fertilizer mixture for a few minutes. Allow excess water to drain before returning the bonsai to its display area.This assumed you are using a liquid fertilizer.
  • Additional Tips:
  • Water your bonsai thoroughly before applying fertilizer. This helps prevent the roots from absorbing too much fertilizer in concentrated form. If you're using granular slow-release fertilizer, apply it on the soil surface according to the package instructions. Gently work it into the top layer of soil.
    • Avoid Overfertilization: More isn't always better when it comes to fertilizing. The only exception seems to be with Portulacaria afra. Most people say to “nuke” them. They love fertilizer. However, overfertilization can lead to salt buildup in the soil. If you notice white crusts forming on the soil surface, it's a sign of excess salts. Flush the soil with plain water to prevent buildup.
    • Organic Alternatives: If you prefer organic options, consider using compost or well-rotted manure as a natural fertilizer. Apply them sparingly, as excessive organic matter can retain moisture and lead to root rot.
    • Monitoring and Adjustments: Observe your Portulacaria afra bonsai for any signs of nutrient deficiencies or excesses. These can manifest as discolored or distorted leaves. Adjust your fertilizing schedule or concentration if you notice any issues.
    • Seasonal Variations: During the active growing season, your bonsai requires more nutrients due to increased metabolic activity. Adjust your fertilizing frequency and concentration accordingly.
    • Repotting and Fertilization: When repotting your Portulacaria afra bonsai, refresh the soil with a nutrient-rich mixture. This reduces the need for immediate fertilization after repotting.
    • Conclusion: Providing the right nutrients through proper fertilization is essential for the health and growth of your Portulacaria afra bonsai. By adhering to a consistent fertilizing schedule, choosing the right type of fertilizer, and closely monitoring your bonsai's response, you can ensure that it remains vibrant, healthy, and a testament to your diligent care.

Pruning / Training:

Pruning helps maintain the bonsai shape and encourages new growth. To encourage branching, prune back to a pair of healthy leaves. Wiring can be applied with care to shape branches; however, the bark is delicate, so use gentle techniques.

  • Purpose of Pruning: Pruning is a vital aspect of bonsai care that helps shape the appearance, structure, and overall health of your Portulacaria afra bonsai. Pruning encourages new growth, maintains the desired size, and creates a balanced and aesthetically pleasing form.
  • Tools Needed: Gather the following tools before you start pruning:
  • Branch Pruning: Prune branches that are growing in undesirable directions or are crossing each other. Choose which branches to keep based on the bonsai's desired shape and design. Make clean cuts at a slight angle, just above a leaf node or a bud. This promotes new growth from the remaining bud.
  • Thinning: Thinning involves selectively removing branches or shoots that are overly dense. This helps improve air circulation and sunlight penetration, reducing the risk of fungal issues.
  • Pruning Guidelines:
  • Timing: Pruning can be done throughout the growing season, but the best times are in spring and early summer when the plant is actively growing. Avoid heavy pruning during the dormant winter period.
  • Gradual Approach: When shaping or styling your Portulacaria afra bonsai, take a gradual approach. Avoid removing too much foliage or branches at once, as this can stress the plant.
  • Wiring: If you wish to shape branches or guide the bonsai's growth, consider using bonsai wire. Apply the wire gently to bend branches to your desired position. Be cautious not to damage the delicate bark.
  • Healing: After pruning, the bonsai may experience some stress. Ensure your bonsai is kept in optimal conditions (light, water, and humidity) to aid in healing and recovery.
  • Aftercare: Once you've completed the pruning, ensure that the bonsai is well-watered and placed in a suitable location with appropriate lighting.
  • Maintenance Pruning: Regular maintenance pruning is important to maintain the bonsai's shape and prevent excessive growth. Check your bonsai regularly and prune as needed.
  • Aesthetic Considerations: Consider the desired bonsai style (formal, informal, cascading, etc.) when pruning. Maintain a balanced distribution of branches to achieve the intended design.
  • Conclusion: Pruning your Portulacaria afra bonsai requires a thoughtful and gentle approach. By carefully selecting which leaves and branches to prune, considering the bonsai's overall shape and design, and providing proper aftercare, you can shape a visually appealing, healthy, and thriving bonsai that reflects your dedicated care and artistic vision.

Insects / Pests:

Portulacaria afra is fortunately not highly susceptible to pests, although instances of mealybugs and aphids infestations are not uncommon.

Mealybugs typically target the roots, and Aphids tend to emerge during warmer and more humid months, particularly when conditions are damp. They primarily target the tender new growth that emerges in spring.

Neem oil is an option. Neem oil is a natural and effective solution for killing mealybugs and controlling various other pests on plants. Derived from the neem tree's seeds, neem oil contains compounds that disrupt the growth, feeding, and reproduction of insects like mealybugs.


Propagation of the Portulacaria afra bonsai can be done through stem cuttings. Take a healthy cutting, allow it to dry for a few days, then plant it in a well-draining soil mix. Keep the soil lightly moist until roots establish.


Repot every two years in late spring, trimming roots and using bonsai soil such as Tinyroots All-Purpose or Tinyroots Tropical Blend for optimal drainage. Plant your Portulacaria afra bonsai in well-draining soil. Repot every two to three years, usually in spring or early summer, to refresh the soil and encourage healthy growth.


With its unique appearance, low-maintenance nature, and adaptability, the Portulacaria afra bonsai offers a rewarding and enjoyable experience for bonsai enthusiasts of all levels. By following these guidelines and providing attentive care, you can watch your Dwarf Jade thrive and flourish as a stunning miniature representation of nature's beauty.

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