A Different Succulent for Your Indoor Garden

Linda Knox
Adams County Master Gardener

"What in the world is she talking about?" That was my first reaction to the lady at church who asked if I had any more plants like one I had taken to the church picnic. Her granddaughter had chosen it as a prize and wished to get another one. She had wondered why the girl brought it home, but then become enchanted with it. Then, unfortunately, she had left it out on the porch too long. Eventually we spoke on the phone and I understood which plant it was. The "little babies on the leaves" gave it away --- and I never would have thought of placing it outside, even in a somewhat protected spot!

Under the heading "succulent" the genus Kalanchoe belongs to the Crassulaceae family. Succulents are plants with fleshy or juicy leaves, like cacti. However, not all members of the genus have the characteristic of producing tiny plants along the points of the leaves. Kalanchoe dagremontianum and Kalanchoe pinnata are two that do this. My experience is with the first. These succulents are able to endure periods of little light and low temperatures. During winter, they are able to accept little sun and hours next to frosted windows. Of course, they naturally seek the warmth and light of a sunny window and lean quickly toward these sources. Whether from east or west, the morning or afternoon sunlight increases the number of small plantlets growing on the leaves. One plant sitting on a high shelf unreached by sun grew at a slower rate but did produce plantlets. In spite of their fragile appearance, the little plants can survive without light, soil or water for an unbelievable length of time. They may be successfully started in soil after days of being unattended. (They are succulents after all!) Mature plants may be divided anywhere along a stem where aerial roots are extended.

The unusual appearance of the small plantlets growing at the points of the leaves makes this Kalanchoe attractive to children. I think that is why the young girl chose the "prize" to take home to her mother. Instead of growing from seeds, the small roots on these miniscule plants take hold wherever they land. This fact will influence your choice of containers. A long rectangular container, or lower wide "garden" type, provides space for growing when plantlets fall off. Just be certain that drainage materials in the bottom allow soil to dry out between waterings so that moisture doesn’t ruin the plants. If you want to arrange them, you may delicately place roots of new plants in holes made with a stick or dowel. Fast draining soil is most important.

A wide range of shapes prevails with members of the genus Kalanchoe. Other species include tomentosa, commonly called "panda plant", and beharensis, known as "felt plant". The green oval leaves with a nappy white covering and brown edges of tomentosa resemble panda toes, giving it the nickname. It may reach a height of 20 inches. The "felt plant" may reach a height of 12 feet in its native Madagascar. It has long velvety leaves that can be dried and used in flower arrangements. Kalanchoe thyrsiflora has large orange-edged leaves shaped like saucers, with a flower stem rising from the center.

For most kalanchoes, especially non-blooming ones as mentioned, little fertilizer is required. Use half-strength fertilizer only in summer. Repot only when the roots are crowded. An easy-to-grow, interesting plant, kalanchoe dagremontianum may be a great addition to your indoor garden.

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