Here’s a cheerful plant that rates high on the list of eco-garden ornamentals.
I’m referring to kalanchoe (pronounced cal-ANN-koee), a close relative of the jade plant and a member of the Crassulaceae family. This hardy ornamental can be found growing around the world as a potted plant, though it originally came from Madagascar.
The plant was brought to France in 1927. A German merchant named Blossfeld began growing it as a houseplant and traded it with collectors around 1932 – hence its scientific name, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana. Since then, plant breeders have developed many new traits and colors from the original species.
Today in Costa Rica, you can find kalanchoe plants for sale in many leading nurseries. These plants are easy to identify by their thick, succulent, green leaves, which often produce new plants on the edge of each leaf. The flowers, which have four petals forming a tube, come in shades of yellow, orange, pink, purple, white and, just recently, bicolored varieties.
Requiring minimum care, kalanchoes are ideal for Costa Rica’s warm temperatures. They can be grown indoors and outdoors, in pots or in the ground as a border cover or rock garden specialty.
The root system is sensitive and needs excellent drainage, which can be achieved by placing pebbles at the bottom of the pot and using light soil containing lots of compost and sand. Always empty excess water from the tray and never let your pot stand in water, which is the main cause of root diseases.
Avoid planting companion plants in the same pot with kalanchoes, and repot each year, adding fresh soil. Experienced gardeners propagate new vegetative plants that arise from the leaves and base of the mother plants to eventually replace the older mother plants that no longer bloom.
You can keep your plants healthy and vigorous with bimonthly applications of organic foliar sprays, such as seaweed extract. Occasional problems with mealybugs and thrips can be controlled with soapy water treatments.
These plants require special light to grow. If light is adequate, the leaves will develop a beautiful reddish outline; however, direct sunlight causes sunburned leaves, so try to place them in an area with good sun broken by shade.
Why not start your collection of kalanchoes this gardening year? If you are raising children here in Costa Rica, every child should experience this plant.