The 12 days of Christmas plants -- kalanchoe

Because kalanchoe blooms in winter -- with red flowers (also other cheerful colors) -- it's often sold as a holiday houseplant this time of year. And it's an excellent choice if you can provide half a day of sun and a warm room.

Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is an easy-to-grow succulent that's ideal for those who occasionally forget to water. I just wish it had a common name, because many gardeners stumble over the pronunciation. (It's cal-an-KOH-ee.) I've read that it's called Flaming Katy in Britain; wish that would catch on in the US.

The basics of kalanchoe care are simple:
Daytime temperatures: 65 to 75 degrees F. (XX to xx C) during the day, 50 to 65 degrees F. ( XX to XX C) at night

Light: Bright, including about half a day of sun.

Watering: Water thoroughly when the soil's surface feels dry.

Fertilizer: About twice a month when the plant's in bloom.

Because kalanchoe is inexpensive and difficult to get to rebloom, it's often tossed when it finishes flowering. But if you're up for a challenge, here's what it takes:

One, consider propagating it from a leaf cutting, creating a new plant: It's easy and a good choice because most agree that the original plant never looks as good in future years as it did initially.

But to get this native of Madasgar to bloom a second year, repot it in late spring -- use a cactus potting mix -- and move outdoors for the summer. On Labor Day weekend (the first Monday in September for those of you in other countries), bring the plant back indoors, continuing to provide sun.

Like a Christmas cactus, it forms flower buds in response to a certain number of hours of darkness each day. So you'll want to put it in a closet or unused room or beneath a black cloth or cardboard box late each afternoon and back into sun and bright light the next morning (providing 14 to 16 hours of darkness out of each 24).

You'll need to do this for about six weeks. Once flower stalks are above the foliage, you can return the plant to normal care.

Just as with Christmas cactus, though, if you keep your kalanchoe on a windowsill where it's exposed to the normal cycle of longer winter evenings (and no artifical light), it will produce flowers on its own -- but often not till January. Still, cheerful blooms are needed in January, too, and what could be easier?

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