Portulacaria Afra Bonsai Care

Portulacaria Afra is a small evergreen succulent, often called the Dwarf Jade, Spekboom or Elephant Bush. It looks like a smaller version of the jade, which is why its called a dwarf jade, but they are not actually the same species and not related to the Crassula family of plants.

It is commonly found as a houseplant, but it can make an excellent bonsai. You can read more about its suitability in Is Portulacaria Afra A Good Tree For Bonsai?

It is believed that it is one of the most effective plants at removing carbon from the air. So it helps undo the environmental mess we have all caused.

What Is The Natural Habitat Of A Portulacaria Afra Tree?

Portulacaria Afra is native to South Africa and is usually found in the drier rocker regions of the country. It is now find all across the world as a houseplant.

What Soil Do Portulacaria Afra Bonsai Need?

Portulacaria Afra bonsai needs a very loose, fast draining soil.

As it is a succulent it does not like being sat in water for too long.

I use a 50/50 mix of molar clay and perlite. Well maybe its more of a 49/49 mix with a little sprinkle of compost in there. Either way its a very very loose mix.

(For more info on soil read – A General Guide To Bonsai Soil)

How Do you Water A Portulacaria Afra Bonsai?

Portulacaria Afra bonsai will actually take a lot of water when growing.

However, you must remember that they are a succulent and it’s is best to let them dry out completely in-between watering.

Over watering will cause root rot. These trees can actually survive a long time without water. If you are new to this species I would err on the side of caution and water less. You can tell when it is really in need of water, as the leaves will start to shrivel up. I usually water before this happens, I just wait until the pot is bone dry and then water it thoroughly.

In the middle of winter when they are not growing, I only water my portulcarua afra once a month.

(For more info you can read –How To Water A Bonsai)

How Much Sun Light Does A Portulacaria Afra Bonsai Need?

Portulacaria Afra bonsai absolutely love the sun. They need lots of light and full sun.

Where I live it is very cloudy so I use a grow light to let my tree reach its optimum growth.

I also have a tree that sits on a south facing windowsill. It’s grows fine. Just a bit slower compared to the one under the grow light. Its growth is also more long and leggy as it is reaching for the light. For a dense, compact tree you need as much light as possible.

How Hardy Are Portulacaria Afra Bonsai?

Portulacaria Afra bonsai are not hardy. They are a tropical succulent. They should not be allowed to go under 5°C (41°F) and especially should not be exposed to frost.

I keep mine inside all year. But it is possible to keep them outside during the summer months.

I get a lot of summer rain, so to avoid over watering I keep mine inside all year.

How Often Do You Feed A Portulacaria Afra Bonsai?

I feed my Portulacaria Afra bosnai a general all purpose fertiliser once a month during the growing season.

(For more info you can read – Do You Need To Use “Bonsai” Fertiliser?)

How Do Portulacaria Afra Bonsai Respond to Pruning?

Portulacaria Afra bonsai respond very well to pruning.

To get good ramification you should cut back the branches to the first or second pair of leaves. You will then get two new shoots from the leaves directly below where you have cut.

If you repeat this over a few years you will end up with a very sense canopy. You can also do this from early on. unlike normal trees, you do not need to thicken the trunk first. With a normal tree you need to allow it to grow out very long and then cut it back. This is how you build thickness.

In a portulacaria afra you build thickness by having more leaves. You can of course do this through letting the tree grow long. However, you can also do this by constantly pruning. every time you prune it will create two new branches and very quickly you will have a lot of leaves and a lot of branches.

This building of ramification seems counter productive, but it will thicken your tree. These trees do not act like normal trees and so you must not treat them the same.

(For more info you can read- How To Prune A Bonsai Tree)

Repotting A Portulacaria Afra Bonsai

Repot a Portulacaria Afra bonsai summer. You can prune the roots hard but do not water it after cutting the roots.

Wait at least a week or two before you water again. The freshly cut roots need time to heal, so do not water straight away as it can risk root rot. You can wait until you see signs of new growth.

Once you see new leaves starting to emerge you know its safe to water your tree again as its actively growing and the roots should be healed.

(For more info you can read – How To Repot A Bonsai Tree)

Wiring A Portulacaria Afra Bonsai

You can wire Portulacaria Afra bonsai but be careful, the branches are easily snapped.

If you do wire, it should only really be used for the primary branch structure. If you try and wire the smaller tips you will probably find they snap.

It’s is better to do the majority of the styling with clip and grow techniques.

(For more info read – Why Do We Wire Bonsai?)

What Is The Leaf Pattern Of A Portulacaria Afra Bonsai?

The leaves of Portulacaria Afra are opposite, meaning two leaves appear at the same spot, on opposite side of the branch. the next set of leaves up from this will be at a 90′ angle.

When you prune it back, two new branches will appear at the set of leaves below where you have cut.

What Pests Does A Portulacaria Afra Bonsai Suffer From?

The main pest to attack Portulacaria Afra bonsai is Mealy bugs which can easily be dealt with if caught early. Check your tree regularly for signs of them. You will see little white areas form at the base of leaves. It looks like cotton or something like that. If you see that, you probably have mealy bugs.

Can You Propagate A Portulacaria Afra Bonsai?

Portulacaria Afra bonsai root very easily from cuttings. You can take any size cutting and root it.

You can either do the dry or wet method.

Dry – Let the cut end dry out for a few days and then plant the cutting in dry soil. Leave it untouched until you start to see new leaves. Do not water it until this point.

Wet– Although Portulacaria Afras can suffer root rot when they get too wet, strangely, cuttings will root in water. Take the cuttings and put them in a container, fill the container with water so the bottom portion of the cutting is under water. After 2 or 3 weeks roots will form. I have done this numerous times, but I always under my grow light. I believe having a strong light will keep these cuttings going and help them root a lot faster.

What Is The Growth Rate Of A Portulacaria Afra Bonsai?

Portulacaria Afra bonsai grows very fast and responds very well to pruning.

Should You Get A Portulacaria Afra Bonsai?

Portulacaria Afra is probably my number one choice for beginners in bonsai and if one of the few trees you can grow inside.

It is a very easy tree to care for. It is almost impossible to kill. It can grow all year and will need pruned often to develop it fast. You need one!

I have been growing one for a while and you can see its development in my Portulacaria Afra Bonsai Progression.