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Kalanchoe brings top holiday color
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Cnter
Kalanchoe, one of the most beautiful holiday plants in the world, is showing up at garden centers everywhere. A native to Madagascar and Africa, kalanchoe will certainly display its outstanding features in many Mississippi homes this holiday season.
In our part of the country, the plants are most often pronounced "kalantcho" (which rhymes with natchos), but most everywhere else seems to prefer "kalan'choe" (which rhymes with showy). Believe it or not, there are more than 125 species and many resulting hybrids. The one we see for sale most often is Kalanchoe blossfeldiana.
Kalanchoe is a member of the family known as Crassulaceae. The sedum is one relative that most Southerners are somewhat familiar with. When you think about it, they do have some similar traits, especially in leaf appearance.
The plant is so easy to grow and to get to bloom again each year that you would think every single home in America would have at least one. I was visiting with a gardener at a show in Morton recently who reported she has been growing kalanchoe for years. Not only has she been growing it for years, but she also has been propagating it by cutting and giving it away to everyone who wanted a plant.
The adjective describing the foliage would be words like lush, green, thick, glossy and succulent. Makes you want to grow it just like a jade plant.
The short days of fall bring about the most striking blooms in bright clusters of yellow, orange, or red. There are even new multi-colored selections available. In Mississippi we do have growers that produce them by the thousands every year. I wish that everyone could only see what a greenhouse full of kalanchoes looks like in full bloom. It is almost indescribable.
Their bloom time is incredibly long for a houseplant. These bright flower clusters last for weeks, even months. They are absolutely ideal for sunrooms or bright windowsills and can be grown on the porch or patio. We want to protect from freezing temperatures and from gusty winds. The plant is easily capsized by winds hitting the thick large leaves.
Water plentifully from spring through autumn and start cutting back a little after September. Take care to not over water, as the stems will rot. On the other hand, do not let the leaves reach a wilting point. The soil should be very light and drain rapidly.
Around Oct. 1, place your kalanchoe in an area where it will have darkness for about 12 hours from evening until morning. If this presents a problem, you may want to cover the plant with a box. Buds should begin to form in November.
Should you want to be like my friend in Morton and spread the blessing around, you will find it very easy to propagate by stem cuttings placed in a moist potting soil or my preference is sand. Wait until spring to take your cuttings.
Sure we all need poinsettias, Christmas cactus and cyclamen for the holidays, but once you start growing kalanchoes your home will take on a new colorful look.