Before I start cutting stems from my two and a half year old Christmas Kalanchoe and plunking them into dirt in an attempt to propagate it I figure I should find out how to properly care for it in case I’m successful.
As mentioned in my previous post the Kalanchoe Blossfeldiana (aka Christmas Kalanchoe, Florist Kalanchoe and I love this name – Flaming Katy) is a succulent native to Madagascar. It was introduced in Potsdam, Germany in 1932 by Robert Blossfeld thus it’s name. It produces clusters of small flowers above dark green, waxy leaves in single and double flowering varieties. The flowers come in many brilliant colours such as white, pink, fuchsia, red, yellow, orange, etc.
Basic Tips For Maintaining Healthy And Happy Kalanchoe
• Use a good draining potting mix like cactus or succulent soil.
• Allow the soil to dry to the touch before watering thoroughly.
• Place in very bright indirect light or even full sun if it’s unavoidable.
• Fertilize once a month (except during the darkness phase if you’re trying to re-flower). A balanced 20-20-20 fertilizer is ideal but make sure to dilute it.
• Prune back as much as you like after flowering season to encourage compact and bushy growth.
Watering and Soil
Kalanchoe need a quick draining potting mix such as a succulent or cactus soil. Alternatively, you can mix one part coarse sand with two parts potting soil. Perlite can also be used.
They should be watered thoroughly and a good method is to fill a sink with water and soak the pot until the soil stops releasing bubbles. Make sure there is at least one drainage hole in the pot for excess water to escape and never let the plant sit in water or get the leaves wet. Drain the plant completely and allow the soil to dry about a quarter of the way down between watering. The leaves can rot if overwatered or shrivel when under watered.
My Kalanchoe has have been very resilient to under watering as it’s very dry but still sprouting a few leaves. I can also attest to the shrivelling that results from under watering ;o) Kalanchoes are succulents so they don’t need misting and can tolerate low humidity.
Kalanchoe Blossfeldiana is great for indoor window boxes, the more light the bigger and prettier the leaves are. The best spot for them is in a south or west facing window where they like very bright indirect light and can even tolerate full sun. Without enough light they become leggy, weak and may not flower. Hmmm… that sounds like another one of my problems! Kalanchoe thrives in moderate to warm temperatures in the 15-20o C range (60-70o F) and 5o C (10o F) cooler at night. They are frost sensitive and will only tolerate temperatures to 5-10o C (40s o F).
The Kalanchoe is generally not a hobby plant. Instead it’s most often sold around Christmas time and tossed out in the Spring once the blooms have faded, just like the Poinsettia. However, with proper care they can be successfully brought back to flower the next season.
They are photoperiodic (also like the Poinsettia), meaning blossoming is dependent on periods of darkness. Beginning in mid September to encourage budding, give the plant 10 hours of daylight followed by 14 hours complete darkness (minimum 12 hours) every day, over a period of two to three months, during which no fertilizer is required. To achieve this put the Kalanchoe in a room or closet in the evening where no artificial light will be turned on and then return the plant to a high light location during the day. Any temperature over 25o C (80o F) or any light during the night darkness will negatively impact the bud setting process.
Once the new buds emerge above the leaves, the night darkness can be relaxed. Blooms should start in December and last 6-8 weeks. To encourage the plant to flower for an extended period, remove older flowers as they wither and new ones open. The flowers sprout from terminal stems so it’s beneficial to cut them below 1-2 sets of leaves to promote additional blooming during the winter months.
After flowering season the Christmas Kalanchoe will enter a rest period. It’s a good idea to give it a major pruning at this point to help increase the diameter of the stems and to encourage compact and bushy growth. Cut the stems just above where two leaves meet and the stem will usually grow two new branches at the cut.
The plant will easily survive and thrive from cutting it back by more than half. That’s another thing I neglected to do since getting this plant over two years ago. I’m just starting to wrap my head around the concept of regenerating stems. We can’t re-grow limbs after all!
Re-pot if necessary by putting horticultural charcoal about 1-2″ deep at the bottom of the pot to absorb excess moisture and to keep the soil in good condition (thus avoiding root rot). Resume feeding once a month during the growing period (spring and summer). Any general houseplant fertilizer will do but a balanced 20-20-20 fertilizer is ideal (at half strength to prevent deformed leaf growth).
House plant problems usually arise from light, water and soil conditions but Kalanchoe is a very hardy and forgiving plant which can tolerate most conditions (except over-watering). Symptoms of a distressed plant is usually leaf drop no matter what the underlying cause. As the Kalanchoe is more often over watered than under watered let that be your first assumption.
Kalanchoes are generally free from pests but occasionally get mealy bugs and aphids. The bugs are hard to see but cottony-white spots where leaves meet the stems are obvious signs. Avoid commercial pesticides as these can kill succulents. Instead, use a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol to wipe away the cotton. Check weekly and repeat as necessary.
Most people feel the Kalanchoe plant is attractive only in its first growing year so new plants are propagated from old ones and the old ones thrown away. If the appearance of my scrawny plant is an indication then let it be an example. I will try to propagate my leggy Kalanchoe and keep you posted.
Let me know your experiences with re-flowering or propagating any Christmas plants.