The kalanchoe, with its ruddy, succulent leaves, and bright bouquets of red, orange, white, yellow, or pink, is one of the best gifts to give or receive in December. For here is a plant that blooms for six months of the year, and has no special requirements for high humidity and cool temperatures. My favorite variety is pink ‘Sensation,’ pictured above. Read on, and I’ll tell you how to make kalanchoe bloom when you want it to.
Like most succulents, this African tourist wants little except for twelve to fourteen hours of darkness every night for at least three weeks before Christmas — if you want it to bloom then. Like the chrysanthemum, it is a short-day plant. I take mine to a dark closet around Thanksgiving, where it sleeps from 6PM until 8AM. It resides in an east window during the day. Then, after flower buds have formed, I move the plant to a sunny, south-facing window. If the first crop of faded flowers is cut off, more soon push up, and this fabulous cycle continues through May.
I provide a porous soil, about half humus and half sand or perlite, very little fertilizer, and a clay pot. In summer I cut the plant back by half (to avoid repotting in a larger pot), and give it a sheltered position on the semi-shaded front porch. There it quickly grows new branches, and gains strength for another glorious winter performance.
Easy to grow, tolerant of high heat and low humidity, and constant flowers for six months of the year…what more could we ask from a houseplant? Well, perhaps an easier name. Properly, it is pronounced Kal-an-koh’ee.
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