The name kalanchoe refers to a large group of highly varied plants. Some kalanchoes produce colorful, eye-catching blooms; some rarely flower at all. Some feature fuzzy leaves while others feature smooth leaves. Sizes range from tiny sub-shrubs less than 12 inches tall to tree-sized plants. They all share a few characteristics, though, including flowers with four petals, fleshy succulent leaves and a preference for warm locations.
Kalanchoe species are native to Africa, India, Malaysia and islands in the Indian Ocean, including Madagascar. They prefer warm climates, and although some will survive temperatures that drop down close to freezing, a frost will kill most kalanchoe plants.
You can grow kalanchoes from seed or from vegetative cuttings. Some kalanchoe species will bloom their first year after planting; others require a few years before they reach flowering size. Some kalanchoes develop tiny plants on the edges of the leaves that can be removed and planted individually. One species, the mother-of-thousands plant (Kalanchoe daigremontiana), produces so many of these plantlets it can become a nuisance removing them all when they drop off the plant.
The common houseplant kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana) is a perennial hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11. It may be grown as an annual or houseplant in cooler zones and blooms 9 to 12 months after planting, reaching 6 to 12 inches tall. In the late winter or early spring it blooms with clusters of flowers in shades of pink, red and yellow.
Flapjack plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora) is hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11 and also may be grown as a houseplant. Its paddle-shaped leaves typically reach 6 inches in diameter and grow on the plant stems in a way that resembles a stack of flapjacks. This plant will grow 2 feet tall and bears tiny flowers in dense clusters when the plants are about three to four years old.
A trailing variety, beach bells kalanchoe (Kalanchoe manginii), is hardy in USDA zone 10. It grows well in hanging baskets, which gives trailing stems room to grow. Coral-pink, bell-shaped flowers bloom in late winter or early spring.
Mother-of-thousands plant (Kalanchoe daigremontiana) is hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11. This kalanchoe rarely blooms when grown as a houseplant, and the flowers are barely noticeable. Plants typically die after flowering and may be replaced by potting up the tiny plantlets that form along leaf edges.
Caring for kalanchoes involves providing them with a growth habitat that mimics their natural environment. As with most succulents, kalanchoes thrive in garden locations or containers with well-drained soil. They grow well in loose or sandy soils and tolerate drought once established. Let soil dry slightly in between waterings.
Kalanchoe plants grow best in bright shade. They need lots of light to produce the most colorful leaves and flowers, but direct sunlight can damage plants. In heavy shade, plants become leggy with spindly stems. To help keep kalanchoes bushy and compact, remove flowers after blooming and pinch off stems that get too long.