The jade plant, Crassula ovata, is a succulent that is native to southern Africa. Also known as the money or friendship plant, it looks a bit like a bonsai tree. Its thick stems turn woody as the plant ages while the fleshy leaves stay the same small size.
There are different jade plant species and cultivars but the common type has glossy green leaves. Some types have leaves with reddish tips or purple-red edges. But none has purple leaves.
There are many reasons why its leaves may turn purple including too much or too little heat or light, sudden changes in temperature, and too little or too much water.
Reasons why jade plant turns purple
The most common reasons a jade plant turns a purple color are temperature stress, excess water, dehydration, and too much sunlight. Other factors include a lack of light, incorrect nutrition, and sometimes, though occasionally, pests and diseases. These are the most common causes:
Too Much Sunlight
Quite often, in early spring or summer, when the sunlight becomes more intense than it was before, jade plants turn purple. This is a natural response of the plant to the sun. To adapt to the intensity of the sun, jade plants release anthocyanin, a pigment that helps them reflect the sun’s UV light. It’ll come as no surprise to discover that the pigment is a purple color!
Both sudden heat and sudden cold can result in temperature stress that causes a jade plant to turn purple. Photosynthesis, which is the process that green plants use to build up their carbohydrate reserves from sunlight, slows down. The plant stops growing for a bit and it tends to change color.
Lack of Light
Too little light can also cause a jade plant to turn purple. In addition to changing color, the leaves often become brittle and elongated. A lack of light will also affect the leaves and stems, which tend to become brittle when the leaves change color.
Excess water is another common reason why jade plants turn purple. If the soil your plants are growing in is constantly wet, pathogens are likely to develop and this can easily cause root rot. The first sign of overwatering is usually the leaves of the plant turning purple. But then they will often turn yellow. If it gets to this state, you might find that the stems are turning brown and the leaves are falling off the plant. If it’s deteriorated this much, you might have to do some drastic surgery and remove rotten bits.
Not enough water
While overwatering can be a major problem, and it is certainly a common reason for jade plants turning purple, the same can happen if your plants don’t get enough water. Generally, jade plants need a bit more water than most other succulents. In addition to turning purple, when these plants are thirsty, the leaf surface starts to become a little wrinkled. It is most likely to happen in the intense heat of summer.
Jade plants, like all plants, need certain nutrients to grow and remain healthy. Even though a lack of fertilizer isn’t a common cause of these plants changing color, it can happen. If you haven’t fertilized the soil for a long time, use a multi-purpose product that contains equal parts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Alternatively, use a fertilizer that is intended for cacti and succulents. You shouldn’t fertilize more than 2-3 times a year, and only in spring and summer, during the growing season. Avoid fertilizing in the fall and winter when the plant is dormant.
Pests & Diseases
Pests and diseases can affect jade plants in many different ways, including causing their leaves to change color. While you might not be able to identify a specific disease, they also cause leaves to wilt and sometimes result in brown spots on the leaves. You can usually spot pests, especially bugs like aphids, scale, mealybugs, and spider mites.
What to do when your jade plant turns purple?
While it’s best to do everything you can to avoid your jade plant turning purple, if it does, you need to take action quickly.
Change its location
Very often when jade plants have been producing anthocyanins, they adapt to increased sunlight and gradually turn green again. If they don’t, and your plant is still purple after a couple of weeks, move it to a location that gets indirect light and isn’t as bright. You can do this even if you are growing it outdoors. Obviously, just move if it’s in a pot, but otherwise, dig it up and move the plant to a new location. They adapt pretty easily.
Stop Watering it
Overwatering is a major problem. You need to establish just how much water your jade plant needs. And it doesn’t need very much! Only water it when the soil is completely dry. Even in the hot months, in late spring and summer, watering once every 1-2 weeks should be enough. Also, don’t give a small amount of water. Rather, make sure the potting soil is thoroughly moist. Then, let it dry out again. Some people call this the soak and dry method of watering.
Check for Pests & Diseases
If you suspect that your plants are diseased try spraying with a fungicide. If they have been attacked by pests like aphids, scale, and mealybugs, a little neem oil on cotton wool or cloth works wonders. Just wipe the leaves very gently. You will need a miticide to get rid of tiny, red-brown spider mites.
How to prevent your jade plant from turning purple?
We’ve talked about why jade plants turn purple, so it stands to reason that if you avoid these factors, it should remain green and healthy. Of course, not all jade plants are 100% green. Some species have different colored leaves.
While Crassula ovata (the common type) does have glossy green leaves, the edges of the golden jade, Crassula ovata Sunset are gold in color. The red jade, Crassula ovata California Red Tip, develops purple-red edges. The silver jade plant, Crassula arborescens, has blue-gray leaves with red edges.
Avoid Locations that Might Lead to Temperature Stress
There’s not a whole lot you can do if your jade plant is growing in your garden, but, if you’ve got it in a pot indoors, you can position it carefully. For instance, don’t place it too close to windows or where the sun can heat it up too much. Also, avoid placing jade plants near appliances like heaters or air conditioners. And keep them in a warm room where the temperature is maintained all year round.
The ideal surrounding temperature for jade plants is between 65 and 80℉. Even if it gets slightly warmer or colder, it should be fine. What you want to avoid are sudden, significant temperature changes that happen suddenly and stress plants out.
Give it the Sunlight it Needs
Crassula ovata and its various cultivated species all need about 3-4 hours of direct sunlight every day. The rest of the time, it needs indirect, reasonably bright light. It stands to reason that since it is native to southern Africa, it will need less direct light in southern regions than in the north.
If you’re growing it as a potted houseplant, you can move your jade plant around when you need to to make sure it gets the sunlight it needs. Just be aware that if you’ve been growing your jade plant in a shady spot, you’ll need to expose it to direct sunlight gradually. Ironically, if you don’t, it might turn purple!
Sort Out Overwatering Issues
If you establish that overwatering is the reason your plants turn purple, repot them in good quality, well-draining soil. Make sure the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot are adequate. First, remove any parts of the plant that are rotten. Discard the soil and clean the pot before filling it with a good quality potting mix.
Ideally, use potting soil that is intended for succulents. This will usually contain perlite and other components that loosen the soil. You can easily check how moist the soil is by sticking your finger into it. Only water when the soil is almost completely dry. Just be sure to give it enough water!
Feed it the Nutrients it Needs
A good quality multi-purpose fertilizer that contains equal quantities of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus should do the trick. Don’t be tempted to overfeed.
Other tips for a healthy jade plant
Jade plants will usually thrive when room temperatures are between 65 and 75℉ during the day and a little lower (about 55℉) at night. They aren’t frosted tolerant, so if you keep yours outdoors, bring them inside in cold climates, especially when you are expecting frost.
In winter, make an effort to keep them away from drafty areas. They can drop their leaves if they are exposed to cold temperatures. When you water your jade plants, only wet the soil. They don’t like to be splashed with water. You can encourage growth by repotting jade plants every few years.
Jade plants are incredibly easy to grow, but you do need to follow a few golden rules. These relate primarily to heat, light, water, and nutrition. If you don’t pay attention to their needs, they will probably survive, but there’s a good chance that their leaves will turn purple. These garden tips tell you what causes the leaves of a jade plant to turn purple and what to do about it if it happens.