Grow Elephant Bush with Keiki Paste (Portulacaria afra)

elephant bush

This three-step tutorial shows how to boost growth in your Portulacaria Afra 'Variegata' (Variegated elephant bush/Porkbush) with Keiki Paste. 

Keiki Paste contains plant hormones called cytokinin that encourage cell division in plants. It can make your plant to grow new shoots, stems, and leaves more quickly than it would otherwise. The best time to apply Keiki Paste is during spring, summer, or very early fall when the plant is actively growing.

The Portulacaria Afra 'Variegata' (Vareigated elephant bush) is a very easy succulent that doesn't get the attention it deserves. This slow-grower is originally from South Africa, home to many indoor succulent species. Its cheery ovate leaves and chubby stems are ideal for clean and bright modern spaces. The plant is also used as bonsai cheats because they are easier to cultivate than true bonsai  grown from tree species. 

Step 1: Find nodes

First, select ‘nodes’ to apply the Keiki paste to. Nodes are parts of the plant where new leaves and stems emerge from. Keiki paste contains growth hormones that encourage cell division in the nodes.

It is easy to find nodes along the thick fleshy stems of the portulacaria afra. They show up as indentations that ring the stem every couple of inches. Many of them will have leaves already growing out of them. 

The image below highlights some nodes. 

Step 2: Apply Keiki paste to nodes

Score the nodes slightly with a needle, pin, or knife, making sure not to sever the plant or damage it. This will make a slight wound. 

Scoring the stem will expose the plant better to the hormones contained in the Keiki paste. Portulacaria stems are quite thick so scoring them is important for the paste to work as quickly as possible.

Dip a cotton bud in the Keiki paste and dab the paste onto the wounds you have made. You only need a tiny amount. 

The photo below shows a wounded node applied with a smidgeon of Keiki Paste. 
 

Step 3: Wait

The Keiki paste can take up to a month or two to work, or even longer for slow-growing succulents like the portulacaria. After this period, you should see new shoots start to emerge from where you applied the paste. While you wait, place the plant in optimal conditions for growth.

Unlike most succulents, this one needs partial shade and will not tolerate bright direct sunlight. A good position would be an East or West-facing window with net curtains that filter the light. The temperature range should be between 41 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Portulacaria watering needs vary between seasons. From spring to fall you should water when the top two inches are dry. In winter, it needs just enough water to stop the leaves from drying up. The soil should be completely dry before watering. 

The portulacaria does not need humid conditions to survive but keep it away from air conditioners or heating vents because too little air moisture will be detrimental. T

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