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brightly coloured kalanchoe flowers in pots outside
There are hundreds of types of kalanchoe, but the best known is the brightly coloured Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, also known as Flaming Katy or Widow’s Thrill. It thrives in the garden as well as in pots and hanging baskets, producing masses of flowers from white through to pinks, yellows and bright crimson.

What you need to know about kalanchoe

Name: kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfedldiana and varieties).

Height: up to 45cm and from 10–50cm in width, depending on variety.

Foliage: scalloped edge, oval, mid-green, fleshy leaves.

Climate: sub-tropical to tropical, arid; not cold-tolerant.

Soil: prefers well-drained, gritty soil, but tolerates loams.

Position: full sun, but tolerates light shade.

Flowering: dense heads of brightly coloured small flowers from cream to bright red.

Feeding: use a long-term controlled-release fertiliser.

Watering: water when conditions are hot and dry. Good drainage is essential; don’t overwater.

Appearance and characteristics of kalanchoe

The popular kalanchoe is a tropical and sub-tropical perennial that grows to around 30cm in height. In cool climates it’s usually treated as an annual because it doesn’t like cold weather.

It is a succulent, and its leaves are fleshy, usually glossy and bright green with a wavy or frilly edge. Some varieties may be red-tinged.

The leaves are attractive, but it is the flowers that catch the eye. Dense heads of small blooms will completely smother the leaves. When mass-planted along a border or in planter boxes, kalanchoe creates a sea of brilliant colour for months at a time.

close up of a vibrant and colourful kalanchoe flower

How to grow kalanchoe

While kalanchoe can be easily raised from seeds or cuttings, the quickest way to get a colourful display is to buy punnets of seedlings or small single plants and plant them out in mid-spring.

  • Being a succulent, kalanchoe prefers a light, sandy or gritty soil that drains freely—it does not like “wet feet”. When growing kalanchoe in the garden, work some coarse washed river sand through heavier loam or clay soils to “open” it up and improve drainage. In pots and baskets, use a premium-quality cacti and succulent potting mix.
  • Pinch out the tips of shoots so plants will become bushy and compact—the more shoots each plant has, the more flower heads it will produce.
  • Keep plants flowering right through to at least the end of summer by regularly cutting off dead flowers (called “deadheading”)—this encourages plants to develop new flowers quickly.

Climate

Kalanchoe thrives in any warm, frost-free area, but does particularly well in the northern parts of the country. In the south, where winter can be quite cold, kalanchoe is best grown as a flowering annual for summer colour, to be pulled out once autumn sets in.

It also does well in pots and hanging planters. In cool climates these can be moved to warm, protected positions over winter.

Watering

Kalanchoe doesn't need a lot of water—in fact, its roots are prone to rotting if they are too wet. However, don't neglect it completely, especially during hot weather when rainfall is minimal.

Give it a drink when the soil or potting mix looks and feels quite dry. Try to avoid wetting the leaves and flowers, as they may mark easily.

When they stop flowering as the weather cools, reduce watering so plants remain reasonably dry. Increase again in late winter or early spring when you notice the plants starting to make new growth.

Fertilising

Kalanchoe is not a heavy feeder, but it will respond well to regular fertiliser applications in spring to early summer when it is forming new growth.

In the garden and in pots, use a liquid or water-soluble fertiliser every 3–4 weeks at no more than half the strength recommended by the manufacturer.

In pots, premium quality potting mix will ensure plants are fed for up to six months. After that time, top up the controlled-release fertiliser at the start of spring. Apply sparingly, especially if you’re using a liquid fertiliser as well.

Kalanchoe diseases and pests

Although kalanchoe is fairly hardy, it may occasionally be attacked by sap-sucking pests such as aphids and mealy bugs. A pyrethrum spray will usually kill them. Don’t apply it in the heat of the day or when the sun is on plants, though, because it could burn the leaves.

Some fungal diseases may appear occasionally, particularly when the weather is very humid or when plants are over-watered. Treat with a general garden fungicide if required, and check watering and drainage. Plants suffering from root rot will be more susceptible to other disease problems.

Kalanchoe propagation

To grow kalanchoe from cuttings:

  1. Use a pair of sharp secateurs to cut a few 6–8in green shoots.
  2. Remove the leaves from the bottom 3in
  3. Let the cuttings dry for three days.
  4. Fill your container with damp succulent and cacti mix and dig small holes.
  5. Plant your cuttings and press firmly to hold in place.
  6. Don’t water for at least a week.

If you like this then try

Croton: brightly coloured foliage plant for sub-tropical and tropical gardens; ideal for borders in full sun.

Sedum: succulents ranging in form and height from groundcovers to low “shrubs” and with flowers from white to red.

Cordyline: “Architectural” foliage plants with foliage from green to deep red; some develop canes.

Start planting today

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