Kalanchoe: A Festive Alternative to Poinsettias

If you are looking for a practical alternative to traditional holiday poinsettias, then flowering kalanchoes may be worth considering. Over the past few years, these happy little succulents have enjoyed a steady gain in popularity as houseplants and Christmas-flowering gift plants, and it's easy to see why. Kalanchoes are easy to care for, come in a variety of festive colors, and offer a long-lasting supply of blooms-from 6 to 8 weeks or longer.


Types of Kalanchoes

Some types of kalanchoes are grown for their foliage, while others are grown for their flowers. For the purposes of this article, I'm going to be referring only to those types that are grown for their flowers.

Flowering kalanchoes are divided into two basic types: Kalanchoe blossfeldiana and K. manginii hybrids. Of the two, K. blossfeldiana is by far the more popular of the two, and is the type that growers are able to coax into flowering at any time of the year. They come in two sizes: standard (1-1.5 ft high) and miniature (6 inches high), and in a variety of colors including white, yellow, salmon, orange, purple, pink, and red. These compact, bushy plants are easy to distinguish from other holiday plants. Look for plump 2-inch glossy leaves under umbrella-shaped flower heads containing 20-50 tubular blooms.


Basic Care Requirements

When received as gifts, kalanchoes are often thrown away after flowering. With the proper care, it is possible to keep them all year long and coax them to flower again.

  • Soil: Prefers loose soil with excellent drainage. Temperature: Between 60-70 F. Higher temperatures may delay flowering. Cooler nighttime temperatures (between 60-65 F ) are best for vigorous growth.

  • Light: An east or west-facing window with bright light is best from spring until fall. A south-facing window is best in winter.

  • Water: Water deeply and let surface (top 1-inch) dry out between each watering. If leaves start to yellow, you are watering too much. If leaves start to shrivel, you may not be watering often enough.

  • Fertilizer: Feed once every three weeks with houseplant food.

  • Humidity: These plants are native to the lush tropical climate of Madagascar in Africa, and although they don't require it, these plants will appreciate an occasionally mist when indoor air becomes dry during winter.

  • Care after flowering: Prune the tops and place the plant in a shady windowsill. Stop feeding and keep the compost nearly dry for a month while the plant rests. After a month, place the plant back in a well-lit spot and resume watering.

Encouraging Repeat Flowering

Similar to poinsettias and Christmas cacti, kalanchoes require shorter days for flowers to develop. Commercial growers fool the plants into flowering by covering them with special shades for 14 hours each day until they form buds. You can accomplish the same thing at home using a simple cardboard box or by placing the plant in a dark closet. Plan to keep the plants in total darkness for 14 hours each day until the flower buds form (about 5-6 weeks), and expect to see flowers about three months after your start this "short day" treatment. For holiday blooms, plan to start a "short day" treatment in early to mid September.

Planting Outdoors

In the spring, when danger of frost has passed, kalachoes can be planted outdoors in your garden in light shade. Plants that become leggy can be cut back to half their size to encourage a more compact form.

red flowering kalachoe

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com


December 8, 20140 found this helpful

I also applaud these plants that bloom during the holiday season. I have several, at least two of which bloom with red blossoms. These look especially festive when paired with something that carries white flowers. Add something that puts a "holiday" scent in the air (something like pine, or cinnamon), and you've got all the elements needed to make your home festive.

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