Kalanchoe – A Holiday Plant

Kalanchoe

Kalanchoe is a popular flowering indoor plant used year round but particularly found for sale during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.  This succulent plant (thick, fleshy leaves) has bright flowers, coming in various colors, and with the proper care lasts for weeks. 

Kalanchoe (pronounced kal-AN-cho or KAL-an-CO-ee) come with either red, pink, orange, yellow, or white flowers.  Often you can enjoy their blooms for a couple months or more.  While they naturally bloom in spring, growers “force” them to bloom any time of year.

While most discard plants after bloom, you can try to rebloom them again.   Grow them normally then, about 8 weeks or so before you want them to bloom, give them “short days”.  This photoperiod treatment is actually long nights—no light for 14 hours daily, such as in a dark closet between 6 pm and 8 am.  During this time, reduce watering.  After about six weeks you should see buds forming, at which time leave them in full light daily and water normally.  

Kalanchoe like bright light, such as a south-facing window.  Leggy plants mean they aren’t getting enough light.  Also, they like warm temperatures as in most homes, and should not be exposed to cold below about 50 degrees (F).  While the plant is growing, and in particular blooming, fertilize with a product of your choice according to label directions.  They don’t need much fertilizer, so you may want to use half strength or fertilize less often than recommended.

Their succulent leaves that are designed not to dry out readily, and to store water, give the clue that they prefer drier soils.  So, if in doubt, don’t water them.  This is the main means plants die indoors prematurely.  Watering once a week, often less, will be sufficient.  Make sure if they’re in a foil wrapper or saucer that water can drain, or empty any after watering the plant.  These thick leaves also make them adaptable to the normally dry air indoors during winter.

If you’re keeping your plants and they need repotting, don’t use a pot much larger than the current one, and use a well-draining potting mix such as for cacti and succulents—one often containing perlite (white granules) or sand.  Clay pots help keep the soil drier than plastic ones.  Just make sure pots have drainage holes.  

Other than root rots from overwatering, the only problems you may encounter on kalanchoe are white mealybugs and brown scale insects.  If you’re discarding the plant after bloom, these won’t be a concern.  But if keeping the plant, check it weekly (when you’re watering is a good time) for such pests.  If found, merely wipe off with a damp cloth or swab and rubbing alcohol.  Wiping leaves periodically will keep the dust off too.  

Kalanchoe is in the Crassula family, with the well-known Jade Plant a close relative.  While there are 125 or more species of kalanchoe, some more upright and some hanging and many just grown for attractive leaves, most flowering selections you’ll find for sale are of one species (blossfeldiana).  This originally came from Madagascar, introduced in 1932 by the German botanist Robert Blossfeld.  It and its selections range from six to 12 inches tall.  

One variation in particular that you may find is the Calandiva series.  The small, tubular flowers have 32 petals instead of 4, so resemble a miniature rose.  This mutant was first found by a Swedish grower in 1998 among purple flowers and then was first introduced to the public in 2002.  This series includes a wide range of colors, including salmon, lavender, and burgundy.  

Keep them out of reach of dogs and cats as, if ingested, they may make pets sick.

Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor Emeritus
University of Vermont

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