One of the most charming features of the money tree (Pachira aquatica) is its elegantly braided trunk. It’s actually the result of multiple separate plants all planted together then carefully woven into a single plant.
It’s said to have deep meaning to adherents of Feng Shui, helping to weave the luck brought into the home by this prosperity attracting plant. But how hard is it really to do, and can you do it yourself at home?
Money trees can be bent and braided into many shapes and forms. This must be done when the plant is young and pliable, and to groups that are planted together at a young age. Older trees are difficult to work with, but you can continue an established braid if you desire.
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Why Do People Braid Money Trees?
Braided money trees are a relatively new phenomena. It’s said that Taiwanese truck driver Wang Ching-fuin developed the braided money tree in 1986 after Typhoon Wayne forced him off the road for a full two weeks. Unable to draw an income, he turned to the charming plants growing around his home for inspiration.
He opted to braid a handful of saplings together and sell them. The braided plant proved popular, resulting in a fortune that sustained him and his family. The association between good luck and the money tree was firmly established.
While this is certainly plausible, there’s other reasons too. In Feng Shui, plants can be used to improve the energy in your home, and in turn attract consistently growing prosperity and good fortune.
The money plant is especially useful as it has five large leaves, an important number signifying unity and harmony in the philosophy. It also helps that the leaves are arranged like an inviting, open hand, as if to beckon in wealth.
Money trees are also braided to improve their appearance. Individual money trees can be spindly, with long narrow trunks and a small tuft of foliage at the top, almost like a badly maintained paintbrush. Braiding a bunch together creates a sturdier, more elegant trunk with a thicker, more verdant spread of leaves.
More pragmatically it also makes the money tree stronger. Prior to the 1980s money trees were not widely sold as an indoor plant, largely due to how fragile they were to transport. When braided, they’re stronger together, and are a hardier option for retailers and growers alike.
“Another thing that’s really great about plants is that you can pay attention to how they’re growing, and what that represents” writes Anjie Cho, New York based interior architect, feng shui advisor. “For example, I have a money tree that I got about ten years ago that started out just a couple of feet tall. Now it’s almost as tall as me! It’s reassuring to see a tangible representation of my own abundance and growth, not only financially but also spiritually.”
How Do you Shape a Money Tree?
It’s far easier than it would seem on first pass to shape a money tree. Young trees are pliable and will readily bend into twists and braid with the right pressure.
It’s a gentle process, with young branches re-positioned carefully then held in place with bracing made from strips of cloth, wire or twine. The limb is held in place as it matures, losing the bright green hue of its youth and becoming woody and strong.
Once that color change occurs, the bindings can be removed and the plant allowed to grow normally. It’s just a matter of positioning and patience.
Types of Shapes and Meanings
According to the basics of feng shui, the shape of the money tree plant and the number of trunks will have an impact on what they attract to your home.
Columns and tall shapes for example are associated with abundance, as well as the number three. A tall money tree with a triple trunk is one that brings new vitality and incoming wealth.
One with five braids is even more auspicious, as this number represents unity and wholeness. It’s linked to the five elements of Feng Shui – air, earth, metal, fire and water.
The number eight is most auspicious of all, signifying prosperity and success. It’s linked to square, balanced shapes, like a broad braided trunk and neatly trimmed canopy of leaves.
The most lucky arrangement is The Golden Cage, believed to attracted prosperity and keep it safely locked inside. This is a money tree with an eight-trunk braid open in the center, like a basket, a safe home for good fortune.
How to Braid a New Money Tree
The most important factor to consider when braiding a money tree is the age of the trunk and how pliable it is. The elaborate work you see in bonsai money trees is the work of a patient master, performed over months on a very young group of trees.
To produce your own new money tree, start with young saplings with green trunks. These are flexible and robust enough to endure the sort of man-handing that braiding requires. You’ll also need at least three. While some younger trees may produce enough shoots at their base to braid, the overall result won’t be as sturdy as one built from multiple saplings.
One you have your young plants they’ll need to be carefully re-potted in the same container, with their trunks close enough to touch. Position the root balls in the soil in order to get a bit of an angle on the trunks, too. Orienting them straight up is going to make your braiding all the more difficult.
I go into detail about how to pot money trees here, but in general it’s best done in the spring, and you’ll need to make sure you use a good quality potting mix that drains well, but still retains enough moisture to support the entire group.
Once they’re in their new pot, you can start your work. Very carefully and gently position your trunks. Avoid using force to bend the trunks or you risk snapping them entirely. Once you’re happy with the position, hold it in place with soft Velcro plant ties, or garden twine. It’s a good idea to provide a stake or two to keep the money tree upright as you work too.
Once everything is secure it’s time to wait for the plant to grow into that position. Over the coming weeks and months, carefully check the positioning of the trunks, and as each section of braid grows into place you can entwine the trunks further along. I
I can’t stress enough that this is not something you can achieve with a quick series of steps in a single afternoon, but something special that requires a lot of patience. Depending on the age of your trees, this can take as from between as six weeks to two years for more complex designs.
But if you stick with it, you’ll have a new money tree and all the good fortune that making your own luck brings.
How to Braid an Established Money Tree
You must be careful when braiding an established money tree. Firm, mature trunks produce sturdy trees, but they lack the flexibility to be braided into a new shape. I wouldn’t recommend doing so if it can be avoided.
If you must braid a mature tree, only work with the newer green shoots. It’s common for the trunks of a money tree to keep growing above the established braid. You can continue that braid by gently weaving the trunks together as they grow. Don’t force them, but rather apply gentle pressure using plant ties to keep them in place. Too much pressure and may well snap them altogether.
Make sure your money tree is well watered before you start manipulating its branches. Dry trunks are more brittle and less resilient, and there’s more chance of injury.
How to Braid a Cutting of a Money Tree
Young cuttings, especially taken from stems, are far and away the easiest to braid. They’re still very pliable, with long stems that flex into new shapes without much force at all.
You’ll need to plant your cuttings together so they grow as a group. Like their mature kin, they need a good quality potting medium that retains moisture well while still allowing excess water to drain. Let them put on a bit of height so you have something to work with – a foot or more is good.
After that it’s just a matter of positioning. Be sure to leave a bit more space to accommodate growth between the stems. Don’t bind the together too tightly, or the plants in the middle may become too constricted to grow. I’d suggest leaving an eighth of an inch or so ‘breathing room’ between the trunks when you tie them together.
They’ll grow in time, and once they start to become more stable and rigid you can consider removing the ties. But for very young cuttings this may take some time – you’ll be waiting six months to a year before I’d be confident in taking the supports away.
Money Tree Trunk Tips for Healthy Growth
A braided money tree trunk required a bit of extra help to keep it in good shape. It’s important to keep the nooks and crannies where the separate trunks meet free of water, dirt or debris. Any material trapped against the trunk is liable to rot, causing the tissue trapped beneath to decay too. You’ll need to make sure the trunk stays dry.
Any ribbons or decoration tied around the trunk needs to be selected with this in mind. Brightly colored synthetic materials are preferable, as they don’t readily absorb moisture and when they do get wet they dry quite quickly.
Don’t tie anything too narrow around the tree, too, especially wires or strings. They can cut into the plant as the trunk expands, or rub bark away and leave open wounds. Broad ribbons or tape is best.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Care for a Braided Money Tree?
Money trees, braided or not, are generally easy to care for once you have their needs accounted for. They enjoy a full day’s worth of bright, indirect sunlight, and do best if their soils are kept moist without becoming boggy.
They don’t need too much extra care than that, besides perhaps a little liquid fertilizer once or twice a month through the warmer part of the year. I’d also suggest keeping an eye on the growth and pruning back the top at the start of spring to prevent them becoming unwieldy.
Do I Need to Keep Braiding My Money Tree?
There’s no harm in letting a money tree do its own thing if you aren’t confident of braiding the new growth. It’ll simply become taller in time, with the same delightful spread of foliage.
But if you find it untidy, the new growth at the top is generally flexible enough to work into shape. It’s just a matter of following the established pattern when bending your branches into shape.
How Tall Does a Braided Money Tree Grow?
A dainty desktop money tree has the hidden power to become a real behemoth in time – when grown outdoors they can reach a whopping sixty feet tall. It’s not uncommon for indoor plants, when well cared for, topping out at six or seven feet tall and only stopping because the roof is in the way.
If this is unappealing, you can prevent your money tree getting out of control with a bit of light pruning in the spring. A trim back will prompt healthier growth as well as keeping the plant a manageable size.
Where Should I Place a Braided Money Tree in My Home?
If your primary concern is the health of the plant, a south or south eastern facing room with lots of bright light all day is ideal. I’d also suggest choosing a location free of cold drafts, away from vents or air conditioning ducts – money plants do not enjoy being buffeted by chilly air and may drop their leaves in protest.
But if you’ve come this far and are interested in the mystical properties of the money tree, consider a position that takes into account the feng shui of your home. Provided the light is right, you can opt to position the money plant in areas associated with a healthy career, like a desk, or near the front door to welcome in prosperity.
I personally find the money plant to be a prosperous part of my home, even without being too invested in any specific school of philosophy. Their simple elegance and enduring growth is inspiring enough, and I am lucky to be able to enjoy these lovely, charismatic plants.