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Brighten up with a kalanchoe

During the winter many folks like to purchase a bright, flowering plant to add a bit of cheer and colour to the indoors of their own homes or those of shut-ins and friends. Many of these are what I call “disposable” plants in that they are inexpensive, so many people enjoy their beauty while it lasts and then dispose of them, often replacing them with another. It is amazing how much one’s spirit can be lifted by having a lovely blooming plant sitting on a table where it can be enjoyed all day long.

One such disposable plant is the kalanchoe. They are usually sold in four-inch pots because they are not large plants (about 15 to 20 cm tall) — just the right size to be used on a tabletop. Kalanchoes come in a wide variety of colours, ranging from pure white to pink through lavender, red, yellow and brilliant orange. The flowers are composed of clusters that are held above the foliage on stiff stems and a plant will produce several clusters that provide a very nice display.

Kalanchoe blooms are long lasting and a plant (unless it had bloomed for several weeks in the place of purchase) will be colourful for well over a month. The foliage is quite attractive as well; the dark-green, lobed leaves are fleshy and closely spaced on the stem, providing an attractive foil for the flowers. The fleshy leaves are a reminder that kalanchoes are succulents, and like most succulents, they must be watered with care.

Allow the planting medium to dry out before you water the plant again. The leaves of succulents will store water in their tissues and overwatering will lead to root and stem rot. Locating the plant where there is good air circulation will help to prevent such problems. If you plan to dispose of the plant after it has finished blooming, you will not need to fertilize it as there will be enough residual fertilizer in the planting medium.

Kalanchoes like warm temperatures and sunlight, so locate the plant where it will get some direct sun. They are easy-maintenance plants although you will want to deadhead any spent blooms. If you do want to try to get the plant to rebloom, when the blooms fade cut the plant back to about half its height, water and feed it. Kalanchoes are photosensitive plants that set bloom in response to daily periods of darkness. Place the plant in a dark closet for up to 12 hours each night, bringing it out into sunshine during the day. You may have luck in inducing your kalanchoe to set buds — but if you don’t, you will have already had your money’s worth out of the plant and can discard it without regret.

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