by Matt Gibson
There are over 100 different types of plants in the genus Kalanchoe, but only a handful are regularly cultivated by gardeners. Kalanchoes are popular succulents, and are native to Madagascar and grow wildly in other, similarly arid areas such as Australia and South Africa. New hybrid cultivars were bred to create a wider range of colors and interesting variegated leaf-types and to make available combinations of the different colors and leaf types. Similar to poinsettias and holiday cactus, kalanchoes are cultivated to sell as holiday decorations and over the years have become very popular around the holiday season.
The flowering kalanchoe plant is available in varieties of pink, red, yellow, and white blooms, and like most succulents, are easy to grow as long as you don’t give them too much water, especially during the warm summer months. Clusters of tiny flowers grow all over the plant in a huge floral display. The kalanchoe is a perennial, but it takes some special knowledge and care to get it to bloom after the first year. Training your kalanchoe to bloom again is challenging, but not impossible.
Flowering kalanchoe plants contain cardiac glycosides, a substance that is toxic to animals. The flowers of the plant contain a higher concentration of glycosides than the stems, leaves, or roots. Native to Australia and South Africa, where it grows in the wild, kalanchoe has been the cause of many cattle and sheep poisonings. In the United States, kalanchoe doesn’t grow in the wild, so it is not a risk to poison grazing animals in pastures, however, kalanchoe can be a risk to household pets, such as cats, dogs, and birds, as it is often grown as a houseplant, or used in landscaping and gardening. If you have pets, you might want to select a safer alternative, or carefully place your kalanchoe plants in an area of the home where pets do not go.
Varieties of Kalanchoe
Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is the most popularly cultivated Kalanchoe, known for its large flowerheads and large variety of colors. Though they naturally only flower in the springtime, modern gardeners have developed techniques to get them to flower year round.
Kalanchoe pinnata is also known as Mother of Thousands due to its ability to self-seed and multiply quickly. The pinnata has fleshy green leaves that each are adorned with tiny plantlets along the margins.
Kalanchoe porphyrocalyx and Kalanchoe manginii both produce similar-looking pendant flowers in various colors. The larger porphyrocalyx has trailing stems, and makes an excellent choice for hanging baskets.
Kalanchoe beharensis is another flowering kalanchoe with impressive blooms, but the beharensis is actually prized for its large, velvety, donkey-ear-shaped leaves which cover the plant in a pale silvery green sheen.
Growing Conditions for Kalanchoe
Select a bright warm spot with plenty of sunlight exposure and light, sandy soil. Kalanchoe enjoys bright, sunny locations especially during the summer months. In the winter, place kalanchoe plants in a south-facing window. They prefer moist, but not overly wet conditions, so let the surface area of the soil dry out completely between waterings. Ordinary potting soil mix is perfect for kalanchoe. In the winter, they enjoy low humidity environments, so it’s best to let the plant to dry out completely and resume watering regularly in the springtime. Watch out for signs of water distress on the plant’s fleshy leaves, which will wilt, yellow, or curl to indicate over or under watering. They like warm weather, and even in the wintertime, will not live in temperatures below 55 degrees F.
Care of Kalanchoe
Plant kalanchoe in an area with plenty of sunlight and a light sandy soil. Amend the soil if it’s too heavy with a cactus mix or a sand-based mix. Dig a hole deep enough to cover the roots and place kalanchoe plants into the hole. Fill in the area around the roots with soil and lightly pack it into place. You can also plant kalanchoe outdoors in a planter or container and follow the same basic care guidelines as you would with indoor care.
Water when the soil feels dry to the touch but try to avoid getting the leaves wet when watering. Allow time between waterings for the soil to dry out, as too much moisture will cause root rot. Prune back any dead or wilting flowers at their stems. Kalanchoe will bloom all throughout the year randomly, but deadheading them when necessary can help the plant continue to produce flowers vigorously. Between blooms, kalanchoe enters a resting period. During this time, watering should be reduced.
Feed kalanchoe sparingly and only during new growth periods using a 20-8-20 fertilizer every two weeks during these times. Use one-half to one-quarter of the manufacturer’s recommended amount. Kalanchoe plants grow best in clay pots with good drainage. Set the pots on a dish filled with rocks or gravel to improve drainage. Increase the plant’s output of buds and flowers by providing them with eight to 10 hours of direct sunlight per day.
How to Propagate Kalanchoe
Most varieties of kalanchoe produce tiny plantlets along the leaf margins. All you need to do is pull them off and pot them up individually. Among these types are K. pinnata, which is actually an air plant, and K.beharensis. The most popular kalanchoe, K. blossfeldiana, as well as pendant variety K. manginii, can be propagated by leaf or tip cuttings. Sever a several inch section at the beginning of the growing season and plant it in a pot with warm, moist soil. Cuttings can be bagged up to increase the chance of rooting and to lock in moisture.
Getting Kalanchoe to Rebloom
Succulent plants usually don’t need flowers to be interesting looking, and kalanchoe is no exception to that rule, but a kalanchoe in full bloom is still quite preferable to one without flowers. It takes a bit of know-how and effort to get kalanchoe plants to rebloom during the second growing season, but it is not an impossible task.
To force the plant to rebloom, you have to trick it into thinking that it has gone through a full winter. During October and early March, the day lengths become short enough to force the plant to create flower buds. During other months, however, you will need to hide the plant in a dark closet or dim room for the majority of the day, bringing it out only during the early morning, then putting it away again for a few hours.
Kalanchoe plants need six weeks of 12 to 14 hour darkness in order to produce a new batch of beautiful flowers. The best temperatures for flower production are 40-45 degrees F during the night and 60 degrees F during the daytime. Once the kalanchoe plant begins to form buds, treat it the same way you would any flowering plant.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Kalanchoe
Kalanchoe is a very hardy plant that requires very little intensive care, but it can still be troubled by a handful of diseases and garden pests. Though kalanchoe is considered a pest-resistant plant, it can still be affected by scale, mealybugs and aphids.
Aphids appear in large swarms and feed on the sap of the plant. Treat aphid infestations by hitting the plant with a strong blast of water from your garden hose to dislodge the tiny green insects from the underside of the plant’s leaves.
Mealybugs are tiny but visible cotton-like masses that appear in the joints of the plant and on the undersides of leaves, sucking juices and sap from the plant. If caught early enough, infestations can be wiped out with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol manually run across the underside of leaves and stems.
Scale appear as a wax-like substance that you must pick off of the leaves manually by hand. Severe infestations of any of the three garden pests should be treated with a horticultural oil spray or an insecticidal soap spray.
Kalanchoe plants can also be affected by rot and powdery mildew diseases. Like most succulents, kalanchoe requires well-drained soil and can be damaged by high moisture levels. One of the most common symptoms of too much water or improper drainage is rot. Rot appears as a black, soggy mess at the base of the stem. A plant with rot is usually not saveable, but you can try to allow the soil to dry out completely and see if the plant will recover after it has a chance to dry out. If your kalanchoe is just barely showing signs of rot and is in a container, move it into a new container with fresh, well-draining potting soil as soon as you notice signs of rot. Clip off any damaged roots before repotting. If your kalanchoe is experiencing severe rot, it is best to discard the plant and start anew.
Powdery mildew can also affect kalanchoe plants, causing the leaves to yellow and appear mottled, with a ring-like pattern appearing on the leaves. The mildew appears as a fine, white, web-like compound that is difficult to spot with the naked eye. If not treated, the plant’s growth will be stunted, its leaves will be deformed, and its ability to flower will be severely decreased. Like rot, powdery mildew is commonly caused by excessive watering and a lack of proper air circulation. Powdery mildew is treated with a fungicide such as potassium bicarbonate.
The best way to help your kalanchoe avoid health troubles and pests is to provide it with a constantly healthy growing environment. To do this, humidity must be avoided by practicing proper watering and providing well-drained soil. Kalanchoe is drought-tolerant, so water the plant deeply and allow the soil to dry out fully before watering the plant again. Never allow kalanchoe to stand in water or muddy soils. No fertilizer is needed during the blooming period, but after blooms begin to fade, the plant can benefit from a light application of general purpose liquid fertilizer. A diluted solution of half of the recommended strength is perfect for the task.
Common Questions and Answers About Kalanchoe
Are kalanchoe indoor or outdoor plants?
Kalanchoe can be grown indoors, or gardeners in the right areas can grow kalanchoe outdoors, either in containers or planted directly in the soil. Gardeners in USDA hardiness zones 10 through 12 can cultivate kalanchoe plants outdoors. Temperatures lower than 45 degrees will keep kalanchoe from blooming. In colder zones, kalanchoe should be moved inside when temperatures fall below 45 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
To grow kalanchoe outdoors, choose locations in full sun with well-draining, alkaline soil, and water when the top inch of the soil is dry. Outdoor kalanchoes only need to be fertilized once per year, using an all-purpose fertilizer. To grow kalanchoe as a houseplant, make sure it gets eight to 10 hours of bright sunlight per day, and use half peat and half perlite soil. Water whenever the soil is dry to the touch when you stick a finger into the soil in the container. Soil that sticks to the finger when you perform this test is still moist. Fertilize no more than once per month when growing indoors.
Are kalanchoe poisonous to humans, cats, or dogs?
Kalanchoe is not poisonous to humans. However, kalanchoe is toxic to both dogs and cats, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and in rare cases, abnormal heart rhythm. If your pet has ingested kalanchoe, contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Hotline at 888-426-4435.
Can cats eat kalanchoe?
Cats should not be permitted to eat kalanchoe, as it is poisonous to cats and dogs alike. Consumption of kalanchoe by pets can result in diarrhea, vomiting, and in rare instances, abnormal heart rhythm. If your pet has consumed kalanchoe, contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Hotline at 888-426-4435.
Can I put my kalanchoe plant outside?
Yes, if you are a gardener in USDA hardiness zones 10 through 12, you can grow kalanchoe outside. Gardeners in colder zones can grow kalanchoe outside in containers as long as they bring it indoors when it gets too cold. The ideal temperature range for kalanchoe is a high of 85 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 45 degrees. Kalanchoes will stop blooming when temperatures are under 45, and once nighttime temperatures begin to fall lower than 45, kalanchoe should be moved indoors. Choose a place where kalanchoe will get at least eight hours of sunlight per day but where they also get some shade, as too much direct sunlight (especially strong southern light) can burn their leaves with sunscald. Also choose a spot where the soil is alkaline and well-draining. Kalanchoe only need water when the top inch of the soil is dry. You can test the moisture level by sticking your finger into the soil near your kalanchoe plant. If soil clings to your skin, it is still moist.
Can kalanchoe be grown indoors?
Yes, kalanchoe can be grown indoors as a houseplant. Choose a location for your kalanchoe where it receives eight to 10 hours of sunlight each day, but avoid too much bright sunlight (particularly strong southern light), as it can cause sunscald. Partially sunny areas or locations in light shade are the best bet. Use a light potting soil that drains well and is made up of about half peat and half perlite. Let the soil dry out completely between waterings. Fertilize indoor kalanchoe once per month with a blend made for houseplants. Pinch off spent blooms or stems that have gotten too leggy to encourage more blooms fuller growth.
Can kalanchoe grow from leaves?
Yes, it’s easy to propagate kalanchoe from a stem cutting including leaves to produce new plants, or you can propagate from a plantlet, the small growths along the edges of the leaves. The best time to take a cutting to propagate kalanchoe is in the late spring or early summer. Choose a two-inch-long section of stem with at least two leaves, and snip it off the plant using clean, sterilized shears. Avoid flowering areas of the plant when selecting foliage for a cutting. Place your cutting in a dry location, such as on a windowsill, to let the cut end scar over. You can do the same thing with a plantlet, the miniature leaves that grow along the edges of the kalanchoe’s leaves, by cutting it off at its base and allowing it to dry out and scar.
In one or two weeks, the cutting or plantlet should be ready to plant. A four-inch pot works well for newly propagated kalanchoe, using a soil blend of half peat and half perlite. Plant with the cut end just under the surface of the soil. If you want to grow your newly propagated kalanchoe directly in the soil outdoors, let it develop in the small container for two or three weeks, then it will be ready to transplant into the ground outdoors. New cuttings don’t like getting too much water, so misting will be sufficient. Once the new plant begins to establish itself, water lightly as it grows. Cuttings do not need as much water as mature kalanchoe plants, which are already known for being drought resistant.
Can you cut back kalanchoe?
Cut back kalanchoe as desired when it gets too leggy or spindly to encourage fuller growth. It’s important to time your pruning properly so you don’t interfere with your kalanchoe’s blooming cycle. Wait until spring when the kalanchoe is done blooming and flowers have faded to cut it back. Sterilize your pruning shears with a tablespoon of bleach diluted in two cups of water before you begin. First, cut back the empty or wilted flower stems to encourage another round of blooming. Then cut back any especially long, leggy foliage to maintain the kalanchoe’s rounded, compact shape. Make your cuts as close to the base of the plant as you can, and cut straight across and cleanly to avoid damaging the kalanchoe. Also cut back any discolored or damaged leaves at this time. Dispose of all cuttings and fallen plant debris properly.
Can you root kalanchoe in water?
You can choose to root kalanchoe in water, but you can also root cuttings or plantlets (the small leaf-shaped growths along the edges of leaves) in soil. Use clean shears sterilized in one teaspoon bleach diluted in two cups of water. Select a cutting that’s about two inches long and has at least two leaves, avoiding flowers. Make your cutting near the base of the plant, and allow the cut end to scar over by leaving it sitting out somewhere to dry, such as a windowsill. If you’re using a plantlet instead of a stem cutting, follow the same procedure, simply making your cut at the base of an individual plantlet.
Let your plantlet or stem cutting sit out to dry for a week or two, then set up a container for it. A four-inch pot is a good size for propagating kalanchoe, filled with a soil that’s half peat and half perlite. Bury the cut end just under the soil’s surface, and allow the cutting to develop roots in this small container for at least two or three weeks before transplanting it to a more permanent home either in a larger pot or directly in the ground outside. Instead of watering a newly propagated kalanchoe cutting, just mist it until it begins to establish itself. Then water lightly as it grows. Cuttings need less water than mature kalanchoe plants, which are already not too thirsty.
Do kalanchoe come back every year?
Kalanchoe is a deciduous perennial succulent that flowers and has evergreen leaves. That means that although kalanchoe might lose some foliage in the winter and go dormant, the plant stays alive underground under normal winter conditions in its growing zones (10 to 12). In fact, most winters won’t cause foliage loss either. Kalanchoe’s leaves change color from green to bronze when temperatures go under 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but they don’t begin to drop off the plant until the temperature drops to 10 degrees. Most years in zones 10 to 12, kalanchoe’s evergreen foliage stays on the plant all winter long. And the plant is perfectly capable of bouncing back in the spring even if it loses some leaves, as long as the roots remain healthy underground. Only the coldest winters will keep kalanchoe from coming back in the spring.
Do kalanchoe like to be root bound?
No, kalanchoe do not like their roots to be crowded. If your kalanchoe is showing symptoms of being rootbound, you should transplant it to a larger container.
Do kalanchoe plants need full sun?
Although kalanchoe do need eight to 10 hours of sunlight each day, it’s best if kalanchoe plants are grown in dappled sunlight or partial shade. Relentless bright sun can burn the kalanchoe’s leaves, resulting in sunscald.
Do you deadhead kalanchoe?
Older varieties of kalanchoe will keep spent blossoms attached to the plant, allowing gardeners to deadhead, while newer varieties of kalanchoe will drop their flowers themselves and not require this maintenance. Gardeners can deadhead the older kalanchoe varieties after their blooms have faded to clean the plant up visually and encourage another round of flowers. Use shears sterilized in a teaspoon of bleach diluted in two cups of water. Cut the stems with wilted flowers attached to them off your kalanchoe plant as close to its base as possible and above the first two large leaves. When you’re done, dispose of all trimmings and plant debris properly. Perform this deadheading process every week or two during kalanchoe’s blossoming season, such as whenever you water your kalanchoe plants.
How big do kalanchoe plants get?
The name “kalanchoe” encompasses more than 100 individual plant species within the kalanchoe genus, and each species has its own individual parameters when it comes to size. That said, the largest kalanchoe can reach heights of up to 20 feet tall with proper care.
How do you divide kalanchoe?
Some species of kalanchoe are suitable for propagating via division and some are not. You can divide a kalanchoe plant most easily when it has multiple stems. Remove your kalanchoe from its container. Divide it into equally sized portions using your hands or a gardening tool that’s been sterilized with a teaspoon of bleach diluted in two cups of water. Look for natural divisions to use when breaking your kalanchoe into sections, such as the spots between the plant’s stems. Keep the roots as intact as possible when you’re dividing kalanchoe.
How do you fertilize kalanchoe?
If you’re growing kalanchoe outdoors, feed it once a year with an all-purpose fertilizer. Kalanchoe growing indoors should be fertilized monthly with a blend especially for houseplants.
How do you repot a kalanchoe plant?
Once a kalanchoe plant’s roots become crowded by its container, it’s time to upgrade to a larger pot. Late February through early March is the best time for transplanting kalanchoe to a new container. About two weeks before you repot your plant, stop giving it water to allow the soil to dry out. Remove the kalanchoe from its pot, gently shaking excess dirt from its root system. You can use a pencil to break free caked soil from the roots where possible. Fill the new container with a potting soil made of about half peat and half perlite. Place the kalanchoe in its new home, burying so that about half an inch is left between the top of the plant’s roots and the rim of the container. Gently press the soil in around the plant to fill in the hole. Water deeply, until moisture drips from the container’s drainage holes.
How do you take care of kalanchoe in the winter?
Bring kalanchoe indoors if temperatures will drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, or your plant may die all the way down to its roots and fail to return the next spring.
How long do kalanchoe blooms last?
Kalanchoe blooms remain on the plant for weeks or months at a time.
How often should I water kalanchoe?
Water kalanchoe plants growing outdoors when the top inch of their soil is dry to the touch. You can test moisture level by sticking your finger into the soil near your kalanchoe plant. If soil clings to your skin, it’s still moist. Water kalanchoe growing indoors whenever the surface of the soil has dried out completely, and water until moisture drips from the drainage holes in the container.
Is kalanchoe a cactus?
Kalanchoe is not a cactus; it is a deciduous evergreen flowering perennial succulent.
Is kalanchoe a perennial?
Kalanchoe is a perennial. However, sometimes gardeners grow it exclusively for its blooms, discarding the plant after its annual flowering period. In those cases, the perennial kalanchoes are being grown as annuals.
Is kalanchoe a succulent?
Yes, kalanchoe is a deciduous evergreen flowering perennial succulent.
Is kalanchoe easy to grow?
Kalanchoe is one of the easiest plants to grow because it is drought tolerant and reproduces naturally so freely. It is known to take over in areas where its spread is not managed by the gardener.
What are other names for kalanchoe?
Kalanchoe plants are referred to by many common names, including devil’s backbone, chandelier plant, mother of thousands, mother of millions, and mother-in-law plant.
What type of soil do kalanchoe like?
In containers, kalanchoe likes a mix of half peat and half perlite. Grown directly in the soil outdoors, it prefers a well-draining soil. The ideal pH range for growing kalanchoe is 5.8 to 6.3. If you aren’t sure of the pH level of your soil, check out our article “How to Test pH in Your Soil.”
When can I plant kalanchoe outside?
You can plant kalanchoe outside whenever the temperatures won’t harm the plants. Kalanchoes thrive in temperatures between 85 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Underneath 45 degrees, they can be damaged by the cold.
When should I fertilize my kalanchoe?
Outdoor kalanchoe should be fertilized yearly during a period of new growth. Kalanchoe growing indoors as a houseplant should be fertilized monthly.
Why are my kalanchoe leaves falling off?
There are a few reasons the leaves of a kalanchoe might fall off. If the lower leaves are falling off while others turn yellow, your kalanchoe needs more light. Squishy, yellowed leaves that eventually fall off the plant indicate overwatering. Leaves that fall off after discolored, crispy black areas appear were likely burned by too-intense sunlight, as kalanchoe prefer dappled sun/partial shade. Finally, a kalanchoe exposed to temperatures under 45 degrees Fahrenheit may start to lose its leaves.
Why are my kalanchoe leaves turning yellow?
Yellowing leaves on a kalanchoe plant can be a symptom of a few different problems. Deformed leaves with sunken-in yellow spots point to kalanchoe top spotting, also called the badnavirus, or Potato-Y (poty) virus, which presents similarly. Yellow leaves that are soft and squishy that fall off the plant can be a sign of overwatering. Yellowed leaves that wilt or go soft and slimy are a symptom of root rot, which should be treated as it can lead to plant death. Learn about how to treat root rot in our article on the topic. Yellowing leaves at the top with the bottom leaves falling off show that your kalanchoe needs more sunlight.
Want to learn more about growing Kalanchoe?
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