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Gardeners' Dirt: Kalanchoe flowers, unique leaves add beauty to garden

By By Linda Hartman - Victoria County Master Gardener Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
April 25, 2013 at midnight
Updated April 24, 2013 at 11:25 p.m.

Trays and trays of about-to-bloom kalanchoes lined an entrance aisle to the local H-E-B in Victoria a couple of weeks ago.  Hard to resist an impulse buy of purchasing a whole tray of them, they could find their way to both indoor and outdoor locations.

Caring For Kalanchoes

Outdoors

•  Plant in light, well-drained soil.

•  Position in bright, filtered sunlight.

Supplement soil to improve drainage.

Indoors

•  Consider using cactus mix in pot.

•  Let dry before repeat watering.

•  Use half-strength houseplant liquid fertilizer once a month.

•  Allow plenty of air flow around plant.

•  Do not let kalanchoes sit in water.

Our mild winter provided many blessings, such as no heavy coats, no icy roads and the perfect conditions for my kalanchoes to provide beautiful spring flowers in my yard. They were protected from the north winds, and the rewarding blooms have been a bright signal of the spring and summer flowers, which will follow in warmer months.



Succulents that grow in tropical areas

We are fortunate to live in zone 9 (planting guide), for there are many plants that are available to us. The kalanchoe genus is native to Madagascar and other areas in the Old World. There are more than 125 different plants in the genus, but few are seen in cultivation. The plants are succulents and will grow in warm, tropical areas, zones 8-10. Kalanchoes can be grown as ornamental houseplants in cooler climates.

Leaves resemble cactus

The leaves of the kalanchoe are identified by their thick, multi stemmed, fleshy leaves, which resemble a cactus.

Flowers bloom in tight clusters

During the warm months, tight clusters of small flowers will bloom in colors from white to deep red. Petals may be as few as four to more than 20 and may bloom up to three months.



Which one is which?

There are the more traditional kalanchoes that bloom in various colors and others without blooms that resemble their name in appearance.

Best known

The best known is the Christmas kalanchoe, which is usually red. This popular plant is often available at florists or garden centers year-round. It is identified as kalanchoe blossfeldiana or flaming Katy. New hybrids are available in pink, yellow, orange and violet.

If you have been out and about at the larger superstores the past couple of weeks, you likely saw this variety in various pot sizes about ready to pop with blooms of color.

Unique by resemblance to name

Other kalanchoes include mother-of-thousands (kalanchoe delagoensis) and the chandelier plant, which are herbaceous perennial plants.

Other names for the mother-of-thousands are the alligator plant or the Mexican hat plant, which is very popular with children who visit Victoria Educational Gardens.

The felt bush (K. beharensis) has silvery, felted leaves and antler-like branches.

More common names

Common kalanchoes include lavender scallop, yellow kalanchoe, panda plant, flapjacks or pancake plant, elephant's ear kalanchoe, the South American air plant and the new variety named kalanchoe lucky bells.



Growing tips

Kalanchoes prefer light, well-drained soil in an area that receives bright, filtered sunlight. Soil should be supplemented with peat or perlite to improve the drainage.

If you are potting a kalanchoe for indoors, I would suggest using a cactus mix. Plants should be allowed to dry completely before adding water.

Liquid fertilizer that is approved for houseplants should be used at half-strength about once a month.



Few problems

1. Too much or too little water. Kalanchoes should not sit in water.

2. Powdery mildew can be a problem, which may be recognized by mottled leaves with yellow spotting, dead flecks and line or ring spot patterns. Allow for plenty of air flow around your plant.

3. Mealybugs, aphids and brown scale are the most common pests of kalanchoes. Isolate the infested plants. Use alcohol on a cotton ball to control mealy bugs. Brown scale can be scraped away and aphids can be removed by hand.



Search for kalanchoes

If possible, I would travel to Africa to locate new kalanchoes for my garden, but I have decided that would just be a dream.

I am searching for the panda bear, which has silver, fuzzy leaves and greenish-white flowers.

Pink butterflies is an ornamental hybrid of mother-of-thousands, but it does not produce the hundreds of leaflets, which can invade one's garden.

I considered adding blooming boxes, but it can reach 10 feet in height and can be invasive.

The walking kalanchoe sounds interesting, but I am not certain how far it will walk.

Not all of the kalanchoe plants will produce flowers, but the uniqueness of the leaf shapes will be a beautiful addition to your garden. Let your search begin.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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