Christmas kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana) hybrids are popular around the holiday because the blooms of double types resemble waxy miniature roses. Fortunately they are much easier to grow indoors than roses are, since they don’t require high humidity.
Name Your Poison
Even the single-flowered varieties can light up the dark months since, as their nickname of Flaming Kathy or Katy indicates, their colors tend to blaze. This particular kalanchoe also is called Madagascar Widow’s Thrill. Since it is native to that island, perhaps it was a popular funeral plant there. Or perhaps the widow was thrilled because the poisonous kalanchoe made her a widow! At any rate, you should keep the plant out of reach of your small children or pets if they are prone to grazing on your greenery.
However, I’ve had several kalanchoes over the years with no problems toxicology wise. In fact, I purchased one with single orange flowers last year after it had been marked down due to shriveling blooms. Expecting that the large plant wouldn’t flower again until the following year, I snipped off the faded blooms and set it under my grow light. It rewarded me with another flush of flowers, so I’m guessing there were more bud stalks hidden by the foliage which I simply hadn’t noticed.
The Mother of All Prolific Plants
It’s also possible that you may receive another type of kalanchoe, the infamous “Mother of Thousands” plant (Kalanchoe diagremontiana) for Christmas, since the only way other gardeners can get rid of those thousands is by giving them away! Also known as Devil’s Backbone, this mother makes cute little plantlets around the edges of her leaves.
You’ll want to keep her away from the rest of your greenery, though, since she is not a very good parent. She has, in fact, a habit of dropping her young off into other plants’ digs, where those upstarts eventually can crowd out the original occupants. The Chandelier Plant (Kalanchoe delagoensis) spreads itself about in similar fashion, and so is often called the Mother of Millions.
Despite their sometimes shady reputation, kalanchoes actually are easy-to-grow plants. Although they enjoy lots of sun when indoors during the winter, they can thrive in lower light too, and should only be watered when the surface of their soil is dry to the touch. Outdoors during summer, they prefer more indirect illumination, such as on a porch which is brightly lit but not sunny. The porch roof also should prevent their being overwatered by rain.
Some do tend to get leggy, so you may want to cut them back a bit before moving them outside. I learned by accident that the cuttings can survive a long time, since I left some laying around after pruning a plant this summer. When I noticed those cuttings still were alive in autumn, I felt guilty about abandoning them and potted them up. Since they naturally make little roots at their joints, they didn’t require rooting compound.
Leave Your Kalanchoe in the Dark
To bring your Christmas kalanchoes back into bloom during their second winter, keep in mind that the plants require short days—with no more than 12 hours of illumination—to budge them into budding. You can meet their requirements by leaving them outdoors as late as possible in autumn, preferably away from street or yard lights. When temperatures threaten to dip to the freezing point (usually around mid-October here in zone 5), bring the plants indoors. Position them on a windowsill which is sunlit during the day but completely dark during the evening hours, perhaps in an unused guest room.
Alternatively, you can place them under a grow light timed to run for no more than 12 hours per day. Under those conditions, the orange-flowered kalanchoe I mentioned previously already has buds on it again, but some plants may put off blooming until January or February.
In The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, Barbara Pleasant reports that you can more closely regulate when a kalanchoe will flower by covering the plant with a box which excludes all light for 14 hours every night for two weeks—possibly from supper time to breakfast time. If you allow the plant its normal light for 10 hours each day of that two week period, It should bloom about six weeks after this treatment is over.
So, if you want it to flower for next Christmas, you probably should try the covering regime during the last couple weeks of October of that year. As for the Mother of Thousands, I vaguely recall it producing bell-shaped blooms similar to the ones above under a grow light for me once, but that blooming seems more unpredictable. After all, what plant has time for flowers with all those kids to get established?
Photos: The Kalanchoe daigremontiana photo is by greenlarry from the Dave's Garden PlantFiles. All of the other photos included in the article are my own.