Cheerful Kalanchoes for your garden & home

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Kalanchoe blossfeldiana Image by Karolina Grabowska from PixabayKalanchoe blossfeldiana Image by Karolina Grabowska from PixabayAll Kalanchoes are popular plants for the garden and home, but the little ones, appropriately called “Flaming Katy” have become one of the most popular flowering succulents in South Africa and the world. People love to use them for instant colour indoors because they are easy to care for and are available all year round in full bloom. And, because they are inexpensive they can be discarded once they’ve finished blooming. However, frugal gardeners transplant them into the garden or outdoor pots, knowing that if cared for correctly, they will return and flower again every winter and spring.

Kalanchoes are tropical flowering succulents in the family Crassulaceae, and there are about 125 species. The genus is predominantly native to the Old World, tropical Africa, and especially Madagascar where 60 species occur. In southern and eastern Africa there are about 56 species, only 1 species occurs in the Americas, and a few are found in south-eastern Asia and China.

Kalanchoe blossfeldiana 'Double White'Kalanchoe blossfeldiana 'Double White'Flaming Katy (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana) was discovered by the German seed merchant Robert Blossfeld, who brought it to Paris.  After a period of selective breeding, in 1932 he marketed the plant as a houseplant, much to the delight of gardeners. Danish and Dutch breeders also saw the potential of Kalanchoes, and in the late 1980’s their breeding efforts helped the humble Kalanchoe break through internationally. The popularity of “Flaming Katy” never seems to wane; and in 1971 it was one of the first plants to be sent into space on a resupply to the Soviet Salyut 1 space station – quite a feat for such a little plant!

Today hybridization continues and there are several species of Kalanchoe available for the garden and home. These gorgeous hybrids have luscious succulent leaves and sturdy stems, bearing clusters of long lasting flowers in vibrant shades of pink, yellow, orange and red, as well as lighter shades which include white and cream. Because of their popularity, they are available everywhere - garden centres, grocery stores, and florists. Flowering Kalanchoes bloom for at least eight weeks, and it is this endurance that gives the plant its symbolic meaning of persistence and eternal love, making these little gems cheerful and inexpensive gifts. They are adorable potted together in clumps, or mixed with other water-wise plants and succulents.

Kalanchoe blossfeldiana 'Double Pink'Kalanchoe blossfeldiana 'Double Pink'Kalanchoe blossfeldiana (Florist Kalanchoe, Flaming Katy, Christmas Kalanchoe) is most commonly sold as a houseplant, but also thrives outdoors in mild climates. It is native to the island of Madagascar, where it grows in the relatively cool plateaus of the Tsarantanana Mountains, in humus soil, forming small upright shrubs with thick, waxy green foliage with a succulent appearance. Today a wonderful selection of this Kalachoe is available to gardeners, and their large, scalloped, emerald green leaves, and profusion of single or double blooms in many shades of pink, yellow, orange, red, white, and cream, makes them simply irresistible! Hybrids remain compact and bushy, growing between 30 and 45cm tall. Indoors the Flaming Katy grows best in bright filtered light.
 
Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ generally grows about 30cm tall and 60cm wide, but with maturity can get a lot larger. This evergreen perennial has oval, medium-green leaves, often with red edges, and the flowers start appearing in late winter to spring, on pendent panicles which bear an abundance of tubular, 2cm long, nodding flowers in various shades of orange-red. This lovely garden hybrid is most attractive and hard to ignore when in full bloom, and its spreading growth habit makes it a perfect groundcover for mild regions. It is also perfect for pots, hanging baskets and window boxes. Indoors, it grows best in bright filtered light.

Kalanchoe pumila Image by Jason from PixabayKalanchoe pumila Image by Jason from PixabayKalanchoe pumila (Flower Dust Plant) is a tough little groundcover for the garden in mild winter regions because it seldom exceeds 25cm in height, but spreads 40 to 50cm wide. It is low maintenance, water-wise, and will take full sun or semi-shade. Its serrated leaves are powdery grey with a lilac tint, and lovely clusters of lilac to mauve flowers with conspicuous yellow anthers appear in winter to spring. Its lovely grey leaves are perfect in the garden to highlight other colours, and grey also shows up beautifully at night. This plant is also a great to plant in pots, window boxes or hanging baskets because it is neat and attractive all year round.  It can be grown indoors if given enough bright filtered light.

Uses:

In traditional medicine, Kalanchoe species have been used to treat ailments such as infections, rheumatism and inflammation. Extracts are known to have immunosuppressive effects; and Kalanchoe pinnata has been recorded in Trinidad and Tobago as being used as a traditional treatment for hypertension.

In the home & garden:

All flowering Kalanchoes thrive outdoors in the subtropical, frost-free regions of South Africa, where they are invaluable in rock or succulent gardens for their blooming potential, easy care, low water requirements, as well as their ease of propagation, enabling gardeners to fill large areas at little cost.

Kalanchoe 'Tessa'Kalanchoe 'Tessa'In warm regions they can be planted outdoors at any time, and in colder regions they are often planted outdoors for special occasions, looking wonderful in mixed containers, window boxes and hanging baskets.

Because Flaming Katy Kalanchoes are available all year round in full bloom, and come in a good array of colours, they fit effortlessly into various styles of interior design, from classic to modern.

Cultivation/Propagation:

Kalanchoes are easy to grow indoors and thrive outdoors in subtropical and mild winter regions. They take heat and humidity, but are tender to frost. However, they can be cultivated in colder gardens, if they are protected and in a sheltered position, or are planted into pots which can be moved in winter.

Although they are succulents and require very well-drained soil, Kalanchoes will thrive if the soil contains a good amount of organic matter like compost or potting soil. To promote flowering, potted specimens, as well as those growing in beds, can be fed two to three times during the growing season with a liquid or foliar fertiliser for flowers. Do not overwater Kalanchoes, water thoroughly when the soil in the pot or garden bed is totally dry, and do not leave pots sitting in a drip tray full of water, or root rot will occur. Water your plants sparingly during their rest period in winter.

Although Kalanchoes will grow in full sun in the garden they may struggle or get scorched in our hot summer sun. They thrive in bright shade, or a couple of hours of direct sun, and if grown indoors they must be placed in a warm spot with very bright light, and although some direct sunlight won’t do them any harm, direct sunlight for more than 2 hours may damage your plant. Also, keep plants away from hot window panes – touching that glass will burn the plant - ouch! And in winter it’s the opposite – cold window panes will also cause damage.

Kalanchoe 'Tessa' Kalanchoe 'Tessa' Just like Poinsettias, Flaming Katy is generally not easy to get to repeat-flower indoors, because in nature they only flower in winter, and are forced to bloom all year round by the flower industry. They are photoperiodic, meaning they react to periods of light exposure and need at least 12 to 14 hours of complete darkness to bloom again. And, chances are if you have them in your home, you have them in a room that isn’t getting that amount of complete darkness. However, if you want to give it a try, starting in winter, cut back on watering and put them in a closet or a room that’s pitch black for 12 to 14 hours a day, and do this for at least 2 months. The best temperatures for formation of flowers are between 4 to 7° C at night and 16° C during the day.

Propagation of Kalanchoes is easy by stem cuttings taken in spring or summer. Cut stems about 10cm long and remove the bottom leaves. Allow the stems to lie for a day or so, or until the cut is dry. Plant in well-drained soil, or a specialist succulent & cactus mix. Rooting hormones can be applied to speed up rooting. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, mist the foliage regularly while they're rooting, and within about 3 weeks the cuttings will be ready to transplant into individual pots to grow on.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Kalanchoes are not susceptible to many pests and diseases but watch out for aphids and mealybugs. For most soft-bodies insects, an organic insecticidal soap like Neem can be used. If overwatered, stem rot can occur.

Warning:

All parts of Kalanchoe are poisonous, the roots, leaves, and especially the flowers, so keep them well away from children and pets.