Can a Jade Plant Survive Without Leaves?

Jade plants (Crassula ovata) are some of the sturdiest and longest-living plants you can grow at home. Interestingly, these plants can live up to a hundred years and are exceptionally tolerant to heavy pruning.

A Jade plant can survive without leaves for several months, especially if it’s already fully grown and well-established. The plant stores food and energy in its trunk and can develop new leaves within a month or so under the right conditions. 

In this article, I will explain how a Jade plant survives without leaves and discuss possible reasons the plant loses them. You’ll also learn how to address these issues to help your plant recover. Keep reading for more information. 

The Trunks Serve as Water and Energy Reservoirs

It’s no secret that leaves are vital for a plant to perform photosynthesis and other metabolic activities crucial for its growth and development. Plants that don’t have typical leaves have modified ones that perform more or less the same functions.

Succulents like Jade plants have modified leaves that can store extra moisture to sustain the plant during extended periods of drought. They also thrive in warm and dry environments because of their plump leaves.

It’s only natural to imagine that a Jade plant might not survive without these highly functional leaves. However, you’ll be surprised that it’s rather difficult to kill a Jade plant, even after removing its foliage.

Jade plants have thick tree-like trunks capable of storing enough water and energy to sustain the plant even after the leaves are removed. 

In fact, it’s a common practice to prune an old Jade plant by cutting the upper third or half, leaving behind a leafless main trunk with a few nodes and desired branches. Gardeners do this to train the plant to grow like a bonsai.

As long as the plant is healthy and kept under suitable conditions, it won’t die without its foliage. Instead, it efficiently directs its remaining energy to produce new leaves. During the growing season in spring, it can take approximately 30 days for the plant to grow new leaves.

Depending on the variety, it can take longer. Some Jade plant varieties grow relatively slower than others.

Reasons Behind Leaf Loss in Jade Plants

Besides the occasional pruning due to training or treatment, some Jade plants also lose their leaves in large volumes. While some of them occur due to natural reasons, others can be alarming and might need immediate attention.

Let’s look at some of the reasons Jade plants lose their leaves:

Age

As the Jade plant gets older and taller, the lower part of the trunk becomes woodier, making them unsuitable and incapable of producing leaves. As a result, the plant sheds most of its lower leaves permanently.

This trait gives a Jade plant the image of a small tree. It is also part of the reason some gardeners cut the trunk back. Doing so will keep the plant short and encourage lateral branching to keep the foliage low.

However, if you want your Jade plant to grow taller, like a hedge or a tree, you can train your plant differently. It still requires regular pruning to encourage the stem to grow thicker to support the height you want it to grow into and the dense foliage that will come with it.

Don’t worry about your plant losing leaves as it gets older because it can still grow new and healthy ones. You can also propagate it and grow a new Jade plant the way you want.

Underwatering

Although Jade plants are drought-tolerant, they can still suffer from underwatering, especially when exposed to dry soil conditions for a long time.

However, a full-grown Jade plant with established roots and dense foliage can tolerate dry soil for two weeks in spring and summer. They can also last much longer during the cold season and require less frequent watering

You’ll know your Jade plant is distressed if the leaves dry up and wrinkle. Watering your plant deeply will allow it to absorb enough moisture to help the leaves restore their plump texture and succulence. 

In extreme cases, the leaves will have dry, brown tips and start to fall off. While it won’t kill your plant immediately, it can make it susceptible to diseases. Left unattended for a long time, even the fleshy stem will dry up, reducing the chances of your plant recovering.

There’s no telling how long a Jade plant can survive after it sheds its leaves due to underwatering. Ideally, you should rehydrate your plant immediately after noticing the leaves falling off. 

If you want to see if you can still revive a leafless Jade plant, you can cut off a third of its upper body. If the inner layers of the stem appear dry throughout, your plant is beyond reviving.

However, if the stem still looks green and healthy, you can repot the plant in a fresh, sterile, and moist potting mix. Allow the soil to dry out before watering again deeply to avoid shock and waterlogging. 

Overwatering

Jade plants also lose their leaves due to overwatering. Like most succulents, Jade plants are very sensitive to wet soil and will quickly show signs of distress, mainly root rot

Luckily, even after being severely damaged from root rot, a Jade plant can still survive once you remove all the affected roots and cut off the foliage. Your plant can recover if the rot hasn’t reached and damaged the stems.

One way to treat a Jade plant with root rot is to dig it out of the soil and remove the damaged roots with a sterile knife or pruning shears. Eliminating large portions of the roots warrants the thinning or total removal of foliage for faster recovery. 

If the damage on the roots is extensive, I recommend cutting the plant down to the trunk. The roots won’t be able to provide enough nutrients to the leaves while they’re recovering. Therefore, removing the entire foliage will actually be beneficial for your Jade plant.

Repotting your Jade plant in a damp potting mix with adequate light and air circulation will reduce transplant shock and encourage the stem to focus on growing fresh and healthy roots and leaves.

While this can be done at any time throughout the year, you can expect faster growth in spring and summer than in fall and winter.

Lack of Sunlight

Jade plants love bright light but can tolerate low-light conditions. However, they’re likely to become leggy with scarce leaves when kept in the shade for a long time. 

Although a Jade plant won’t lose its leaves completely due to insufficient light, it can significantly reduce the quality and appearance of the plant.

To improve your plant’s condition and appearance, you can do the following:

  1. Cut off the unwanted leggy outgrowths and their foliage.
  2. Water the plant adequately.
  3. Place the pot next to a bright window. An uncurtained southern or western window would suffice. 
  4. Rotate the plant by 90° every week to prevent new leggy outgrowths.

Cutting off the foliage from undesirable branches shouldn’t be a problem. The plant can grow new branches and leaves from existing nodes.

Low or High Temperatures

Jade plants can do well outdoors in warm and dry regions but must be taken indoors when evening temperatures drop below 50 °F (10 °C). Fall frosts can injure the plants, causing them to shed their leaves. On the other hand, constantly low temperatures in winter can kill them.

Additionally, although some varieties can survive up to 110 °F (43.3 °C), extremely high temperatures can also be detrimental to them. Jade plants do best at temperatures between 65 and 75 °F (18.3-23.9 °C)

Even if Jade plants are considered drought-tolerant, the sun’s heat can dry the soil more quickly in the peak of summer, potentially leading to dehydration. That’s why you must adjust the watering frequency accordingly. 

It’s also best to give your plant some shade to relieve the intense heat, as the sun’s bright rays and high environmental temperatures can burn the leaves, causing them to fall off. 

Diseases

Although Jade plants can recover from root rot with proper care, it can be challenging when the infection reaches the main stem and branches. 

Severe overwatering can lead to stem rot. In this case, the leaves fall off as an early sign.

Eventually, without intervention, the branches will break and fall off. Due to the compromised condition of the stem, the plant will be unlikely to survive.

Final Thoughts

A Jade plant can survive without its leaves for a month if the roots and stems are healthy. Keeping the plant in suitable conditions will encourage it to grow new leaves within a month. However, leaving the plant leafless and unattended for extended periods will likely reduce its chances of recovering. In the worst case, the plant may even die.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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