Yes, a kalanchoe is succulent. It has sturdy stems and fleshy leaves that are able to absorb and store water for use in the event of a drought.
Kalanchoes are native to Madagascar and tropical parts of Africa and produce white, yellow, purple, pink, or red bell-shaped flowers. Due to their attractive foliage and flowers, they have gained popularity as houseplants in the United States. They are also low-maintenance and very easy to grow, which makes them the ideal choice for novice succulent collectors.
In this article, we will learn more about kalanchoe and its proper cultural care. So, if you plan on adding one to your collection and you wish to learn more, just keep reading.
Is a Kalanchoe a succulent?
Yes, a kalanchoe is succulent because its fleshy leaves and stems can absorb and store water for use during dry spells. It is a slow-growing succulent that can take up to five years to reach full maturity, and its different varieties produce flowers in various shades, such as white, yellow, purple, pink or red.
Kalanchoe is actually a genus of succulents with over 100 different species. Not all of them are commonly grown as houseplants, though. Many of the species come from the island of Madagascar, and they have very long blooming periods compared with other succulents.
One of the reasons they are so popular is because of their interesting-looking leaves and vibrant flowers.
Some Kalanchoe species are also used for medicinal purposes in certain cultures.
Most of the common kalanchoe varieties are easy to procure from your local nursery or gardening stores.
It bears mentioning that this plant is toxic when ingested, so if you want to keep it indoors, make sure it is out of reach of your pets.
Kalanchoe plant care
The kalanchoe likes bright sunlight for six hours a day. It can also thrive in indirect light, but direct sunlight really brings out the vibrant colors on the edges of its leaves. That said, during the hottest months of the year, it is best to give the plant a few hours of shade each day so that it does not get sun damage.
If the plant does not get the light that it needs every day, its leaves will start to become pale. This is due to an inability to produce chlorophyll, which is the pigment that gives plants its green color and for which sunlight is necessary.
In the absence of sufficient light, the plant may also grow unnaturally long stems in an effort to reach the closest source of light. This is known as etiolation and does not really harm the plant, although the underlying lack of light will harm it in the long run.
If you think your kalanchoe is not getting as much light as it needs, transfers it to a sunnier spot as soon as you can.
If you are keeping the plant indoors and the only window available lets in harsh light, you can still place the plant next to it, but put a sheer curtain over the window to diffuse the intensity of the light.
If your home does not get enough natural sunlight during the winter, you can help the plant out by placing it under a grow light.
Kalanchoes, like all succulents, need less water than other houseplants.
When watering your plant, drench the soil until you see excess water flowing out of the holes at the bottom of the pot. Then, do not water it again until the top two inches of soil in the pot are dry to the touch.
If your kalanchoe is underwatered, its leaves will start to wilt and the stems will not be as sturdy as normal. You need to remember that, when a plant does not get enough water, it not only loses moisture; it also loses access to the nutrients and minerals in the soil. Plants use water as a vessel to transport essential substances from the soil into their roots, and without these nutrients, they become weak.
If you think your kalanchoe is not getting enough water, all you need to do is water it generously until all of the soil in the pot is soaked.
Overwatering your kalanchoe, on the other hand, is more damaging than underwatering because it can lead to root rot.
An overwatered plant’s roots are constantly exposed to soggy soil and are thus unable to dry out between waterings. The leaves and stems will keep absorbing water until their cells burst, which manifests as yellow, droopy leaves. The plant can also feel wet and slimy.
If you do not resolve to overwater in its early stages, it can also cause root rot.
Root rot is a more serious condition, caused by constant exposure of the roots to waterlogged soil until they drown and die. The dead roots will start to rot and become susceptible to opportunistic pathogens such as fungi and bacteria in the soil. These pathogens will make the rot more aggressive, helping it spread faster to the rest of the plant.
If you are not able to catch the root rot in time, it will reach the leaves and crown and the plant might even die.
If you suspect your kalanchoe is overwatered, stop watering it immediately and place it where it can get plenty of light to help the soil dry out faster.
Let the soil dry out completely before watering it again.
If you want to check for root rot, you need to remove the plant from its pot and wash off as much soil as you can from the roots. Do this gently, because the roots will be quite fragile in their current state.
Inspect the roots for sections that have turned brown or black; those are rotten and will have to be removed. Use a sterile knife or scissors to cut off the rotten roots until only healthy, white roots remain.
Lay the plant on dry paper towels to allow the roots to air-dry for several hours, and prepare a new pot by filling it two-thirds of the way with fresh potting mix. Place the plant in the middle of the pot and cover the roots with more soil.
Water the soil until it is moist and place the pot where the plant can get lots of bright, indirect light.
The best way to avoid both underwatering and overwatering is to develop good watering habits. This includes adjusting your watering schedule to changes in the weather, season, and climate.
In its natural habitat in Madagascar, the plant grows in sandy soil near rocks and boulders.
This means that the best kind of potting mix for kalanchoes is well-draining and fertile. It should not be dense or compact.
Because the plant does poorly in heavy soil, regular potting soil is not ideal for it. There are plenty of commercially available succulent mixes that contain organic components that the plant will like.
If you want to make your own potting mix for the kalanchoe, you can do this by combining two parts of sand, one part of peat moss, one part of regular potting soil, and one part compost.
The soil should have a neutral pH, although the plant will likely do just fine in mildly alkaline or mildly acidic soil.
Make sure that the pot you use for this plant has drainage holes at the bottom so that any excess water in the soil will simply flow out, thus lessening the chances of overwatering and root rot.
Because the plant is native to Madagascar, it prefers warmer climates, but can also grow just fine in temperate climates. As long as you bring your outdoor kalanchoe indoors when the winter frost comes, it should be alright. Kalanchoes are only hardy to zones 9 to 11.
Keep the temperature around your plant at around 60 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature goes beyond this range for extended periods of time, you will need to move the plant to another room where the temperature is more stable.
The plant can die in cold temperatures, while very hot conditions can stunt its growth.
The kalanchoe is not that picky when it comes to humidity, so it should have no problem with the humidity levels in your home.
These plants grow in the dry, rocky, coastal areas of Madagascar where the humidity level can change in the blink of an eye, so they are more than capable of adjusting quickly to such changes.
As long as the plant has good air circulation around it to prevent fungal growth, it will thrive. Remember to check the leaves and stems occasionally for powdery mildew growth, which can be caused by excess humidity or poor air circulation.
Kalanchoes, and succulents in general, do not really need to be fertilized because they are not heavy feeders. If you are already using a potting mix that contains a substantial amount of organic matter, you will not need to fertilize the plant; it can get all the nutrients and minerals that it needs from the soil.
If you still want to fertilize the plant to help it reach its full potential, you can give it a balanced fertilizer once a month during its growing season. It is important only to fertilize it during the growing season because this is the only time it will actively use up nutrients and minerals from the soil.
If you fertilize the plant outside of the growing season, it can cause soil toxicity. The unused minerals in the soil will accumulate and cause a salt buildup, which can damage the plant’s roots.
Some kalanchoe species can reach up to four feet high if planted directly in the ground in an outdoor garden. Even those that are grown in pots can reach several feet in height because they have quite sturdy stems.
The leaves of a kalanchoe are scallop-shaped with red edges that become more prominent when the plant gets lots of sunlight.
When the plant gets the appropriate amount of light every day, its leaves are a lighter green color and develop bulbils around the edges. Bulbils are actually baby plants that drop off the leaf and grow into new kalanchoes, which is one of the ways the plant can reproduce itself asexually.
If you simply allow your kalanchoe to drop its bulbils around itself, you will have a large area of your garden covered in kalanchoe plants in no time.
Pruning a kalanchoe
Kalanchoes do not need pruning because they tend to grow straight and upright, rarely spreading to the sides.
If you do want to tidy the plant up a bit, you can remove dead or damaged leaves. You can also remove spent flowers to encourage new growth. Make sure you use clean scissors or pruning shears so that there is no exchange of pathogens from one part of the plant to another.
If the plant has been in a low light situation and has grown an elongated stem, you can cut it off if you do not like the look of it, and use it to propagate the plant.
You can use either leaf or stem cuttings to propagate the kalanchoe. When using a leaf, you just need to remove it from the parent plant without tearing or breaking it.
Place the leaf on a bed of moist potting mix in a well-draining container, and put it in a spot where it can get bright light. After a few weeks, you will see bulbils growing new roots, and each bulbil can grow into a new plant.
The method is pretty much the same when using stem cuttings. This may not be quite as easy as using leaves, but if you want the new plant to be larger in a shorter space of time, then stem cutting is the way to go.
Even if you do not actively propagate the plant, letting the bulbils drop off will propagate it anyway, so all you need to do is wait. Make sure not to cover any of the baby plants with soil, because this can cause them to rot.
How to get a kalanchoe to bloom
If you are able to provide the kalanchoe with its ideal living conditions, it will have no problem blooming the entire year, potentially.
The most important factor for the plant to bloom is to make sure that it gets the light it needs. This is around six to eight hours of bright light every day.
In the fall and winter months, the plant needs up to 14 hours of total darkness to trigger blooming, and this should continue for six weeks. When we say total darkness, we mean total darkness. Even the glow from a distant lamp or a streetlight across the street can break this cycle and affect the plant’s blooming.
It can be difficult to achieve total darkness, so you can also just place a blanket over the plant to simulate darkness.
If there are spent blooms on the plant, you can remove them or deadhead the flowers to prompt continual flowering.
Fertilizer that is high in phosphorus can also help with bud production.
Common kalanchoe problems
The most common pests on kalanchoes are spider mites and aphids. These insects damage the plant when they feed on the sap from its foliage.
Remove the pests by knocking them off the plant with a stream of water from a garden hose. You can also apply to rub alcohol or neem oil directly on the affected areas to kill the pests.
Make sure that the infested plant is away from your other healthy plants, to avoid any spread of the pests. Repeat your chosen treatment every three days until you are sure that all of the pests have been eradicated.
Even when there are no more pests to be found, keep the plant in quarantine for a couple more weeks to be safe.
Powdery mildew is one of the most common problems on kalanchoes. If the plant is kept in a humid environment with poor air circulation, it is not uncommon to see this substance growing on the plant. It will look like white patches on the stems and the bottoms of the leaves.
To remove the mildew, spray some neem oil on the affected areas of the plant every three days until all of it has been cleared.
Yes, the kalanchoe is a succulent that is native to Madagascar and the tropical regions of Africa.
This succulent is a houseplant popular for its interesting-looking leaves, bell-shaped flowers that come in a variety of colors, and its overall low-maintenance requirements.
The plant likes bright, indirect light; well-draining, sandy soil; moderate humidity; temperatures not below those of hardiness zone 9 to 11; and fertilizer only during the growing season.
This is a very forgiving, resilient plant, and a great choice for newbie succulent collectors because of its minimal needs.
Image: istockphoto.com / Ivica Gulija