Ultimate Guide: How to Care For Portulacaria Afra

Caring for a portulacaria afra (Elephant Bush) is fairly simple but it does have some specialized needs. Elephant bush is native to the Kalahari region of Africa and will do remarkably well in similar conditions.
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Succulents are fast gaining popularity across many homes. These hassle-free plants are great if you work all day or are just not good at taking care of plants. Portulacaria Afra is one succulent that you should consider giving a spot in your home. The Rainbow Bush Plant, elevated and shrub-like, originates from South Africa. 

If you shop for a houseplant, you will realize that this beauty goes by Elephant Bush Cactus, Rainbow Elephant Bush, Spekboom, Dwarf Jade Plant, and Porkbush. However, most gardening stores stock the petite and multicolored variety, the Rainbow Bush. 

In this guide, we will discuss the Elephant Bush Cactus, the best conditions necessary for your plant to thrive, and what to avoid, and with time you’ll get the hang of it. So let’s get into it.

The popular Uses Of Portulacaria Afra

The Elephant Bush plant is a delicacy to South African natives and prepares stew and salads. The plant has been used traditionally to treat fatigue and exhaustion. The plant also makes a good feed for elephants, tortoises, and goats. In addition, it improves air quality by absorbing carbon and converting it to plant matter. Most homeowners go for this plant for its aesthetic value. The wild-growing sprawling Rainbow Bush plant is decorative and can be very appealing in a hanging basket.

The Different Plant Varieties

Before you settle on your preferred cultivar, you should know the recommended varieties and choose the one best suited to you. 

  • Variegata- Petite variation with cream-colored leaf edges; the leaf is variegated.
  • Cork Bark- Has a corky bark
  • Medio-picta- Deep red stems with variegated leaves
  • Prostrata- Glossy green leaves; great as ground cover
  • Aurea- Leaves are bright yellow in full Sunlight
An Elephant Bush Plant in a pot.
The Elephant Bush Plant with the Jade Plant as they are strikingly similar.

Be careful not to confuse the Elephant Bush Plant with the Jade Plant as they are strikingly similar. The main difference is that Portulacaria Afra requires support to stay upright while the Jade Plant does not.

Light & Temperature

The Portulacara Afra plant blossoms in warm conditions require bright and unfiltered light. Direct Sunlight will scorch the leaves. Please place it in a south-facing window, although east or west-facing windows can also do. The plant requires at least 5-6 hours of light. Occasionally put it outside to get the full sun for a few hours.

A Elephant bush plant under the sun.
Place it in a south-facing window, although east or west-facing windows can also do.

You can use a grow light if your environment does not get adequate light or in case of poor lighting in your home. However, be careful not to let your plant stay outside too long because too much heat can damage it. If you live in hot areas, you can place them under a shade to protect your Elephant Bush from sunburn.

This succulent can only tolerate mild frost and low temperatures for a short time. Unfortunately, freezing temperatures are destructive to the Elephant Bush Plant, which cannot take too much frosting. 

Soil

The Dwarf Jade Plant has minimum soil requirements as long as the potting mix is well-draining and the plot has enough holes to pour out any excess water. Succulent plants store water in their stems, which they rely on for nourishment in dry seasons. For that reason, think about the air-circulation needs of your plant and buy cactus potting soil

Portulacaria Afra on the ground.
It has minimum soil requirements as long as the potting mix is well-draining.

The recommended mix keeps excess moisture from impairing the stems and roots. You can also come up with your potting mix. To create a rich blend, you need peat moss, perlite, and sand. We suggest using a 2:1 ratio of cactus mix to perlite or 2:1 of potting mix to coarse sand. You can get the materials at your local hardware store or buy them online.

The peat moss can hold in any excess moisture and release it when needed. In addition, perlite and sand assist with stimulating the drainage rate. 

Transplanting

Prepare a new potting mix before you transfer your Portulacaria Afra for the renewal of the nutrients.

Watering

The Elephant Bush is drought tolerant, so it does not require watering daily. Your plant’s watering requirements will depend on the climatic conditions of your region. Water your plant more regularly during the summer because of warmer temperatures. If there is intense heat, you can water your Porkbush every seven to ten days.

Throughout the growing season, usually from spring to fall, give your plant a good drink of water. Pour out any excess water collected and allow excess moisture to drain out. We recommend a watering frequency of once every 10-14 days.

When it’s winter, space out the watering schedule because the plant is dormant during this time. We suggest watering your plant once every three to four weeks during freezing temperatures. Overwatering will lead to root rot and yellowing of leaves.

The elephant Bus plant leaf with water droplets.
When spraying, don’t just mist the surface but make sure the water gets to the roots.

How can you tell that it’s time to water your plant? First, check if one or two inches of the surface soil is completely dry before your next watering session. Underwatering can be equally damaging to your plant and is characterized by droopy and mushy leaves.

You can use a spray bottle to control your plant’s amount of water. When spraying, don’t just mist the surface but make sure the water gets to the roots. If you are confused about watering your plants, use moisture meters to gauge the soil humidity.

Feeding

The ideal time to feed your Rainbow Bush is in spring when the temperatures are at least 15°C. Before fertilizing your plant, make sure you water it. Use a fertilizer that can easily dissolve in water to keep the roots from getting burned. We recommend using a well-balanced fertilizer with equal amounts of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. Pour half the dose of diluted liquid fertilizer into the soil and wait for it to drain out. You can also use organic substances like manure soaked in water, soluble fish emulsion, and coconut fiber.

Flowering

The Dwarf Jade Plant does not bloom readily, but it can bring some flowers in clusters if you give it the best possible care. The flowers grow in contrasting shades of pink, white or purple. The star-shaped blooms develop once the plant is relatively mature, mainly following a rainy season. To protect your young flowers from decaying, keep your plant dry. To encourage your plant to bloom, provide adequate lighting and keep them cool and dry during the wintering period.

The Propagating Process

The Portulacaria Afra can be propagated from seeds, leaf cuttings, or stem cuttings. The best time for propagation is during spring and summer. You can either let leaf cuttings be when they land in the pot or use the whole leaf plus the base to propagate. Stem cuttings are faster than seeds that may take some time to mature depending on age and storage conditions. Apply these simple steps to get started.

Portulacaria Afra Leaf propagation.
You can either let leaf cuttings be when they land in the pot or use the whole leaf plus the base to propagate.
  1. Dissect some healthy stems at the foot of the parent plant using a sharp kitchen knife or a pair of scissors.
  2. You can also settle for the outgrowths which fall from the parent plant and develop on the container edges.
  3. Sterilize your scissors to avoid infecting the freshly propagated cuttings with trouble-some diseases.
  4. Dry the cuttings for about 24hrs so that the wounds heal and form a callus.
  5. Dip the bottom bit of the cuttings in apple cider vinegar to stimulate root growth. You also dilute a teaspoon of vinegar with 5-6 cups of water and use the solution. Alternatively, buy the rooting hormone.
  6. Plant the cuttings in a cactus mix to allow water to drain through it seamlessly without stagnating. If you use leaves, you can stick them in or place them flat-out on the soil.
  7. Position your cuttings in a spot that has indirect light. The roots will begin forming anytime from 2-4 weeks. After about a month, the cuttings will be firmly rooted, and new growth will develop from the top.

Pests and Diseases

The Spekboom Plant attracts mealybugs, spider mites, and whiteflies, which feed on the plant fluid from succulents. For a quick fix, you can wipe the affected areas with cotton sponges that have been immersed in an alcoholic solution. Early detection is vital in controlling any infestations.

Common Problems Portulacaria Afra Face

Yellow Leaves

Yellow leaves are caused by poor draining soil. If the medium is too wet, your plant will display signs of stress. Move the plant to another container with a well-draining potting mix to remedy the situation.

Lack of nutrients can also lead to yellowing. Repot your plant every two years to avoid depletion of nutrients. Alternatively, you can feed your plant with the recommended fertilizers discussed earlier.

Leaves Dropping

Underwatering and overwatering is possible reason for the dropping of leaves. Though both scenarios will lead to leaf dropping, under-watered leaves will appear shriveled and flat, while excess water will lead to soft and mushy leaves.

Bottom Line

The Portulacaria Afra Plant is an excellent choice for your indoor garden if you are looking for a succulent with many benefits and pleasing to the eye.

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