Kalanchoe come in a range of brilliant oranges and reds. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Some varieties, like this white specimen, have double blooms. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
Kalanchoe also come in more subdued colours, such as this beautiful shade of yellow. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
As much as I dislike the idea of "disposable" plants, I have to admit that I do purchase them from time to time to brighten up the indoor landscape during our long winters.
I try to ease my conscience by patting myself on the back that when the plant has fulfilled its purpose, I consign it to the compost bin, not the garbage — so I am, in fact, recycling it.
Perhaps I am deluding myself, as this does not compensate for the energy used to grow and transport the plant or to manufacture the container in which it was grown — although I do usually reuse the pot.
Ethics aside, I do want to write today about one of the best of these inexpensive disposable plants, the kalanchoe.
Actually, one of the reasons that I like this particular disposable plant so well is that with a bit of effort, I can keep it and encourage it into bloom again, which helps to assuage my conscience even more! It is still disposed of eventually — just a little later than might occur with another plant.
Kalanchoe are succulent plants, meaning they have fleshy leaves that hold a lot of water. This is an advantage as succulents are very forgiving in terms of watering schedules — they do not easily dry out because if the soil in which they are growing happens to dry out, they rely on the water stored in their leaves and suffer no ill effects.
I find a kalanchoe to be a perfect plant to add colour and interest to the interior landscape. It is small enough to use as a tabletop plant — I usually place it on our dining room table as a table centre where we enjoy it every mealtime and whenever we are in the kitchen/dining room area of our home — which is often!
A kalanchoe is happiest in bright light and prefers some direct sun, but it will perform well for several weeks in medium light locations before it flags. By this time, it will have pretty much bloomed itself out.
The blooms of kalanchoe are so bright and cheery, ranging from brilliant orange through bright red to pink, yellow, and even white. The wide range of colours available means that most people will find a kalanchoe in a colour they like.
The fleshy leaves are dark green and attractively notched or lobed. The plants are quite bushy and most plants are comprised of several stems so a single plant fills a four or five-inch pot quite nicely.
Allow the soil in the pot to dry out somewhat before you water again and feed the plant every three weeks or so — particularly if you are going to save it after it has finished blooming.
Use a low nitrogen, soluble plant food. Be sure to take the plant out of its plant sleeve so it has adequate drainage — succulents do not like wet feet.
Kalanchoe are happy in ordinary room temperatures and the humidity level in the ordinary home will satisfy them with no problem. They are not prone to insect invasions but as with any plant you purchase, be vigilant in case you have brought home some uninvited guests.
As well as making a great tabletop plant, add one to a dish garden, or combine a kalanchoe with other plants in a plant grouping where it will add a spot of dramatic colour. Using an attractive jardinière will further enhance the plant’s appearance.
If you are not going to treat the plant as disposable right away and you want to try to get another round of bloom out of it after it has finished blooming, cut it back by about two thirds. Keep up the watering/feeding regimen and move the plant to a spot that receives direct sun for at least part of the day.
As the days get longer and the plant is exposed to more light, it will send up new growth and several new stems will grow from the old plant’s stems. By early summer, you should have a nice bushy plant that can be put outdoors where it will receive lots of light.
During the summer, care for the plant as usual, whether you grow it outdoors or indoors on a sunny windowsill, and bring it indoors before frost in the fall. Put it in a location that receives no artificial light — kalanchoe are photosensitive plants and the longer nights of late fall will promote bud development.
When the first buds open, you may want to move the plant to a spot where it can be displayed to best advantage, even if the location gets less light.
You will be able to enjoy your re-blooming kalanchoe for several weeks before you finally consign your "disposable" plant to the compost pail.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 14, 2013