SUNDAY GARDENING – Kalanchoe Blossfeldiana

Contributed to hellasfrappe from Martha Plousos
Plowing Through Life

Belonging to the Crassulaceae (Crassula) family, the Kalanchoe has a reputation as one of the most prominent members of the succulent family, even giving its celebrated relative, the Jade plant, a run for its money. Although there are over 200 species of Kalanchoe, the popular Blossfeldiana – sometimes referred to as Flaming Katy – is the one typically found in local garden centers.

Native to Madagascar and Africa, this pretty plant – that is now cultivated all over the world – boasts a variety of flower colours in vivid shades of red, pink, orange, yellow, white and purple. Every Kalanchoe has several flower heads that are borne on long stems and each flower head consists of many tiny blooms, sometimes 20 or more, closely grouped together.

While it’s true that Kalanchoe Blossfeldiana is not as popular as the notorious Poinsettia or the mesmerizing Christmas Cactus, it is nonetheless a big seller, holding its own with its lovely flowers that last for weeks, even months; that’s an incredibly long – and welcome – blooming period for an indoor plant, especially during the gloomier months of the year. In addition, this undemanding succulent is quite often available throughout the winter and during different periods of the year.

No matter what the occasion, there’s no doubt that Kalanchoe is the most commonly-used flowering plant in arrangements and in festive planters. You’ll find one with vivid red or white blooms coupled up with a Peace Lily and a Dracaena Sanderiana in plant baskets for Christmas, another with bright orange blooms potted up in a ceramic pumpkin – or cauldron – for Halloween and still another with soft or hot pink flower clusters in a small wicker basket for Valentine’s.

Pronounced Kal-an-CHOH-ee or Kal-an-KO-ee, this is the perfect choice if you’re searching for a plant that will make a nice gift – or one that will add a splash of colour to your own bright windowsill. Even between blooming periods, Kalanchoe makes a great foliage plant with its waxy, dark green, fleshy leaves. On top of everything else, it’s easy to care for; perhaps that’s one of the reasons it’s snatched up so quickly when it arrive at local stores.

Looking After A Kalanchoe

Like any other succulent, a Kalanchoe cannot tolerate wet feet. Over-watering for extended periods will inevitably lead to rot. Allow the soil to dry out considerably and then water thoroughly until it runs out of the drainage holes. Although Kalanchoe does not want to be kept constantly moist like some tropical plants, it should not be kept dry for very long periods like you would with a cactus.

Be extra careful when watering if your plant is growing in a decorative basket or festive container that does not have drainage holes. After the holiday season is over and the ornamental plant holder is no longer needed to adorn a table or mantle, consider transplanting the Kalanchoe into a regular pot filled with a fast-draining, highly-porous soil.

Almost any light level will be tolerated but bright light and even full sun is preferred. Providing at least four hours of direct (early morning or late day) sun each day, which is essential for flowering, and indirect sunlight for the remainder is ideal. Bright, indirect light without direct sun will suffice for awhile but may compromise the vitality of the plant. A Kalanchoe that does not receive enough light for long periods will become leggy and blooms will not be as generous.

Warm, dry conditions are tolerated well by this succulent. A night temperature from 16°C (60°F) to 18°C (65°F) is ideal, with slightly higher levels during the day between 18°C (65°F) and 24°C (75°F). When the blooming period is in full force, keeping the plant on the cooler side during the evenings will also help extend the lifespan of the flowers.

To Keep Or Not To Keep

Kalanchoe is usually treated as a temporary plant and discarded when the blooming period is over and that’s one reason why there is limited information about long term care. But it can be kept for many years if a few cultural requirements are met. And although getting it to bloom again is not easy, it’s also not impossible. If you’re willing to pamper it, a Kalanchoe can continue to look great and reward you with a new set of buds every year.

After the colourful display is over and there are no flowers in sight, cut back the plant by half to two-thirds, repot it in fresh soil and place in a warm, sunny location. Water your plant moderately and fertilize it monthly with a water-soluble formula.

When all danger of frost has passed, move your Kalanchoe outside to a bright, shady location. Gradually introduce it to the new environment by allowing it to spend time outside daily – but only for a few hours. Extend the length of the outdoor stay slowly until your plant is spending its entire days and nights outside. If some of the nights are too cool for your liking, bring it back indoors in the late evening and take it back outside the next day. Keep pinching the plant until later summer or early fall to encourage it to branch out and stay compact.

Bring your plant back indoors when temperatures start to dip below 10°C (50°F) and place it near a bright window. By Christmas, your Kalanchoe should be in bloom.
If you prefer not to move your plant outdoors, you can encourage your plant to bloom by manipulating day length. Kalanchoes are short day plants and need to have 12 – 15 hours of complete darkness every day for about six weeks for flower development.

Shield your Kalanchoe from any light sources starting from about 5 in the evening to 8 o’clock in the morning by placing it in a dark room or inside a closet (remember to move it back in the sun in the morning). You can also provide complete darkness by placing a large cardboard box over the plant in the early evening for at least 12 hours. Remove the cover in the morning and place the plant back in the sun.

Incidentally, if you live in an area where the day length is naturally shortened by the arrival of fall, your plant may flower without any assistance from you.

Kalanchoe and Hydroculture

There is only one word to describe this union: perfect. In this growing style all water woes are solved and there is no need to worry about rot. Kalanchoes convert easily to the hydroculture growing method with little or no negative reactions – and thrive in it. And although they do tend to hold onto their flowers while they develop water roots, I suggest you wait until after your plant has finished blooming to transplant it – just in case.

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