Miss-leading: Root cellar for jade wasn't fully dark

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This story begins as a miss but ends a hit. Be sure to click "Miss becomes hit" to see this jade branch after three months of cold storage. 

Miss becomes hit as we overwinter a jade in darkness

My crown of thorns, stapelias and the largest jade plant stayed out all summer, through all that rain, and prospered like never before. Never saw them looking so good. It's always going to be hard to convince me now that they can easily be overwatered except in winter.

(You wrote) about someone who overwinters a jade in the root cellar. I have maybe a dozen offspring, little jades with rosettes of leaves, as well as the mom plant. Can I really keep them in a cool, dark place for the next four or five months? Not as cool or dark, I bet, as where I store the elephant-ear bulbs. But I'm very curious about this, mostly because it would ease my temptation to care for them too much in the cold months. What's the scoop on this root-cellar thing, especially light and temp? - B.C. -


We inadvertently mis-led you when we wrote Jade comes indoors...

"Those wintering in a friend's dark, cool root cellar will probably go the whole winter without water."

Sorry! And thank you for calling it to our attention.

Those jade trees are in the cellar, left to their own devices all winter, but regarding light: Our friend does leave one fluorescent fixture on down there, 24-7. With that one light for the whole cellar, it's darker than outdoors or a bright room but not pitch dark. It stays about 50-55F. The plants get no water until about March when they seem to be waking up and beginning to grow again.

The temperature's the key, and the reason we think most modern basements won't work. Insulated basements that are included in the home heating system are too darned warm. What works is the old fashioned root cellar where Aunt Mel or granny would stash bare root geraniums in a box or bag, right next to the onions and carrots.

RootCellarFryNi1205s.jpg (Larger please!)

Above: A root cellar: Room or closet you enter through a thick door in the basement wall, which is not heated nor is it under a heated room.

Below: The root cellar may be a room under a hill, independent of the house. Such storage rooms were common and important before the age of modern refrigeration. Here, the door to such a room in the hill behind an 1800's farm house, Ann Arbor,  Michigan. (More)


In a root cellar where it's cool and moist -- around 50°F and 50% humidity -- cold forces plants to rest, without dehydrating them. Growth stops, and the plants use little energy. What they need to get by they draw from internal reserves, like an animal in hibernation. With spring warm up, the need for light and water returns.

We're almost certain that someone we knew did indeed simply put the jade in his unheated, dirt floor cellar and close the door until spring. His geraniums and Brugmansia stayed there, too. However, he's long gone so we can't verify whether he made any special concession for the jade, like putting it near the one window.

So, we've asked help from C.F., a root cellar owner who turns on the light in that room only when stocking or retrieving canned goods or 'taters. He'll put a jade plant into the cellar -- or maybe just a jade branch, since we have jade pruning to do we all know that Crassula branches can be revived even after months of lying around on the ground -- close the door, and let us know what's left in March. Stay tuned.