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COL One of the best examples of a succulent, Kalanchoe, makes a great houseplant.

Although its name is Chinese, Kalanchoe originates from Madagascar and was brought to Paris in 1927.

Its big breakthrough was in the 1980s when Danish and Dutch growers created a variety with compact shape, rich foliage, sturdy stems and plenty of flowers. Today the beautiful red flowers appear in groups on top stems in plenty of colors: yellow, orange, pink, purple, and bi-colored varieties.

The plant is popular because of its long-lasting flowers and attractive foliage. Growers love it because it can be forced to bloom easily. Kalanchoe leaves are fleshy, wide and oval-shaped with indented edges. They are tender and break easily.

Kalanchoes are easy to grow; they need warm temperatures and minimum care. However, they are very sensitive to cold, and it takes only a few hours of cold weather for them to die.

You'll need to grow kalanchoes indoors or cover them with plastic. Their root systems are sensitive, and it's best to use clay pots that allow better aeration. Ensure excellent drainage by placing pebbles at the bottom of the pot, and use light soil with peat moss, perlite and sand. Always empty excess water from the tray, and never let the pot stand in water.

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This plant needs plenty of light to grow, but don't allow direct sunlight in summer because its leaves contain water and will get sun burned. However, direct sunlight from fall through early spring won't harm the plant.

Provide plenty of water when the soil seems dry, but don't overwater because the roots will rot.

Kalanchoes can stand dry conditions, but don't let them dry out completely because it will compromise growth.

When the flowers start to die back, cut them off and let the plant rest. Reduce watering after dead-heading because the plant will now need less water. Soon you'll notice new buds, and your plants will bloom again. This change in blooming and resting cycles will go on throughout the year, regardless of the season.

Keep in mind the plant bloom is tied to the amount of light it receives. Several hours of darkness will enhance flower production; in other words, if you limit the light to 8-10 hours per day or fewer, you'll help the plant produce new buds. Following bud formation you can bring the plant back to regular lighting.

Kalanchoes tend to bloom in fall through early spring because the days are shorter. Fertilize every two to three weeks with a liquid fertilizer for flowering plants. You can also add an all-purpose liquid or slow-release fertilizer every now and then.

Kalanchoes can be propagated through cuttings. Simply cut the stems a few inches long, fill a shallow pot with soil, then place the stem in up to the point where the last removed leaf was. Water cuttings less often than mature plants. Place the pot at a shaded, warm spot, and repot in a regular pot after 21 days.

Kalanchoes can be kept for years and are considered a fairly easy plant to maintain.

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Keep those questions and comments coming by mailing to Christine Schlueter, 19276 Walden Ave, Hutchinson, MN or e-mail to rcschlueter@yahoo.com

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