Grow this Succulent for its Flowers, Then Throw it Away

– Posted in: Garden Adventures
Prior to hosting the 2011 biennial convention of the Cactus & Succulent Society of America, a San Diego hotel replaced water-thirsty annuals in planters with succulents. After several months, hotel management discovered a surprising benefit: $4,000 in reduced water bills and labor costs.
Ironically, a showy succulent used extensively by the hotel, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana (dubbed “supermarket kalanchoe” in my book, Succulent Container Gardens) probably didn’t impress hundreds of cacti-and-succulent collectors who came from all over the world.
But you can hardly blame the Marriott for planting it. After all, the hotel was replacing flowers, and this succulent has them in abundance.
Because it produces several flushes of flowers a year and is easy to grow, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana has great commercial value and has been hybridized extensively. Supermarket kalanchoes now come in every warm hue, as well as shades of cream and white.
A variety known as calandiva has ruffled petals. Each dime-sized floret resembles a tiny chrysanthemum.
I wait until the plants go on sale. I remove the spent flower stalks, tuck several plants into a pot, and give them good air circulation, three or four hours of bright but not hot sun daily (morning sun is best), protect them from frost and extreme heat, and keep the soil moist but not soggy.  The plants flourish, and a few months later, give an even better bloom show.
This composition is one example. The yellow, star-shaped flowers are Sedum rubrotinctum, used to fill gaps between the kalanchoes.
A red supermarket kalanchoe, in a pot atop my deck railing, didn’t let a lack of light slow it down.
White supermarket kalanchoes are useful in centerpieces at wedding receptions and for reflecting moonlight alongside walkways.
And what do you think of this? I saw it in a model home. Not only are the plants fake, so are the artichokes! Well, you know what they say: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
A few design and cultivation tips:
– Deadhead spent flowers. This seems obvious, but the plants are repeat bloomers. They’ll perform better and look best with old flowers out of the way.
– Combine several of the same color in one pot to get what looks like one big, lush plant.
–Use with rosette succulents to create floral-style compositions. Supermarket kalanchoes with cream or pastel blooms look especially good with rose, pink and/or teal echeverias.
–After a year of repeat blooming, the plants tend to go downhill. Take cuttings if you want the same color again, or simply discard the plants. Replacements are easy to come by.
My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified.  www.debraleebaldwin.com 
Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified. Debra is a regular contributor to Sunset and other publications, and her own half-acre garden near San Diego has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens. Debra specializes in showing how to use architectural, waterwise and easy-care succulents in a wide variety of appealing and creative applications. www.debraleebaldwin.com.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin

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Darla May 6, 2011, 5:21 am

I have always liked kalanchoes….you sound indifferent towards it.

Hi, Darla — Hm. Yes, I guess I am. But there are so many kalanchoes that are interesting primarily for their foliage, such as silvery gray and fuzzy panda plant (K. tomentosa) and bright red paddle plant (K. luciae). It’s not fair that this one gets all the attention! Debra

Annelie May 6, 2011, 5:53 am

I just happened to have one of these in a spring arrangement that was given to me by a friend. Great information, thanks!

Annelie

You’re welcome! It is a glorious spring bloomer. — Debra

Matti May 6, 2011, 10:04 am

Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is what I like to call the gateway succulent. Not certain what it is, cute, widely available, and a start to getting into succulents. I think we got our first one from our neighbor who passed one over the fence to us. I think we were still not sure what should grow in or outdoors, but at that price worth experimenting with and outside planting. It did great for us in SF. Matti

Hi, Matti — It’s a good one for the Bay Area, providing you protect it from frost. I like the term “gateway succulent.” Sums it up perfectly! — Debra

prometheus May 6, 2011, 1:33 pm

what the…fake plants.

I know. Ironic, isn’t it, that this one is nearly bulletproof? It’s the closest thing to plastic (or silk, as the case may be) as any flowering plant. — Debra

Elephant's Eye May 6, 2011, 3:50 pm

From Madagascar ‘that country called Africa’ I’ll count mine as indigenous/native ;~) It did start as part of a potplant arrangement years ago, a wedding anniversary present from an old friend, no longer with us. Today I was retrieving vigorous new bits and starting again.

I would LOVE to visit Madagascar and South Africa someday, especially to see where so many of my favorite plants come from, but also the amazing wildlife. Thanks very much for stopping by! — Debra

Dawn May 6, 2011, 5:02 pm

I love kalanchoe. Many years ago I successfully grew a huge flower bed with kalanchoe and roses. Roses don’t usually “share” their space well. Very nice photos Debra.

What an interesting combination! Makes me wonder what color/s the roses were, and which colors of supermarket kalanchoes you chose to go with them. Some might work really well, others could be positively painful! — Debra

Dee/reddirtramblings May 7, 2011, 8:00 am

My goodness Debra, those plants on that countertop look real. :) I’ve never grown one outdoors, but I can see it in a desert climate. Honestly, they remind me of supermarket plants.~~Dee

Good point, Dee, they’re outdoor plants only in very mild climates. Even where I live, in the foothills north of San Diego, the climate is too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer for them. But they’re fine closer to the coast. — Debra

Dustin May 8, 2011, 12:32 am

Don’t throw it away, they will bloom again! :-)

Yes, but the plants do tend to look more and more ratty, with fewer flowers, after several rounds. — Debra

Andrea May 9, 2011, 1:03 am

Wow those are amazing Kalanchoes! What i only have in my mother’s garden are the Kalanchoe pinnata and K. daigremontana. They are so different in flowering habits than those you have. I am sure they can withstand neglect also, being succulents. They are the plants suited for me, especially when i leave town.

Welcome, Andrea, all the way from the Philippines! The kalanchoes you mention are in a subcategory called bryophyllum (it was once a separate genus). One characteristic is that they form plantlets along leaf margins. These fall off and root if they can. Some gardeners consider them weeds, but I’ve never had a problem with them. Bryophyllums also produce lovely panicles of bell-shaped, satiny orange flowers. Very different from those of K. blossfeldiana. — Debra

michele May 11, 2011, 11:52 am

Beautiful pictures especially the calandiva.

Thanks, Michele. I’m continually amazed at what hybridizers come up with. Creating new cultivars is an art form. — Debra

Nicole May 13, 2011, 8:23 am

Not sure about the throwaway part in the tropics -here people have their plants for YEARS. I have a yellow one for six years now with the most architectural foliage when not in bloom-people actually remark more on the foliage than the flower. The foliage gets massive when not in bloom. Haven’t seen any rattiness yet, but perhaps its that particular type.