Garden Variety: Flowering kalanchoe brightens up indoors

Looking for something less traditional than poinsettias, holiday cacti and amaryllis to provide indoor gardening cheer this winter?

Consider growing or gifting flowering kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana), a small- to medium-sized houseplant with thick, succulent green leaves and bright orange, pink, yellow, red or white flowers held in clusters above the leaves. Flowering kalanchoe are easy to care for, and the blooms may last several months.

Flowering kalanchoe have a lot of kalanchoe cousins, almost all of which lack unique common names. Adding to the confusion is a lack of consensus on how to pronounce kalanchoe, with the “choe” portion being one or two syllables but always a “k” sound. The easiest way to find the flowering variety is to look for it in bloom. Some kalanchoe cousins are becoming popular in the succulent market and are also excellent choices for houseplants but may rarely bloom.

Flowering kalanchoe may be 6 to 18 inches tall with equal width. The leaves are round to oval with scalloped edges. Flowers are small (one-half inch diameter) but borne in large clusters that make them quite showy. There are also “double-flowering” varieties with more petals per individual flower.

Grow flowering kalanchoe in a window with bright, direct or indirect light. Protect from drafts. If repotting, use a very well-drained potting mix designed for cacti and succulents. Allow the soil to dry between waterings. When water is needed, place the plant in the sink or bathtub and apply water until the soil is moist again and any excess water has thoroughly drained out the bottom of the pot.

When the blooms fade, trim the flower stems from the plant. Water sparingly and use houseplant fertilizer according to label directions, if desired, but also sparingly. In summer, the plant can be moved outside into a shady location. Avoid exposing kalanchoe to temperatures below 55 degrees F.

As kalanchoe grow, pinch stems to maintain size and shape as desired. (Pinching means to remove the tip of a growing stem, usually by squeezing it with two fingers until it breaks off from the plant.)

Flowering kalanchoe will flower again after being exposed to six weeks of 14-hour nights. Sometimes simply bringing them inside in fall after being out for the summer is enough to induce flowering. They could also be cloaked like poinsettias or holiday cacti to ensure flowering at a certain time. Water and fertilize even more sparingly than usual while inducing flowering. Once buds appear, the plant can be moved to bright light for the rest of the winter.

Overwatering is the most common problem with growing kalanchoe. Allow soil to dry between waterings, empty saucers and otherwise keep the root system as dry as possible while providing enough water for the plant to survive.

Inadequate light may also be a problem with kalanchoe. Keep it in a bright window or sunroom to maintain plant health.

— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation.