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Kalanchoe plants are a gift that keeps on giving and ask for very little. In fact, they do much better if you leave them alone.
These are succulents that can withstand neglect. The trick to keeping them alive is knowing just how long you can ignore these flowering studs, and when you really need to intervene to stop your Kalanchoe from dying.
Several succulent diseases and problems with the growing conditions can be fatal.
If you find your Kalanchoe is showing signs of illness or appears to be stressed, such as wilting, spindly growth, or the leaves are paler than usual, keep reading below to discover the common culprits for killing Kalanchoe plants.
Discover ALL the Reasons That Can Lead to a Kalanchoe Dying
Kalanchoe have a reputation for being an easy to care for plant. Unlike many indoor plants that thrive best when the soil is kept moist, Kalanchoe is a little bit different.
This sturdy plant does best when not watered too often. The reason for that is because it is a succulent. These types of plants hold excess water in their leaves.
If you keep on watering a Kalanchoe, it is going to keep on drinking… To the point that the leaves will swell and eventually rupture, inviting pests and diseases to take hold.
The worst-case scenario that plays out when a Kalanchoe is overwatered is it leads to stem rot. This is easily identified when the stem turns brown and can be squished with your fingers.
The Right Way to Water Any Kalanchoe Plant
Of all the species of Kalanchoe plants (over 125 types), they all benefit from the same watering pattern.
A Soak and Dry Cycle!
The container needs to have a drainage hole, and it is that you can use as a measuring guide to know when you have added enough water.
Continuously pour water into the soil until the water begins to pour through the drainage hole into a saucer, or the sink if that is where you are watering the plant.
Keep the water off the leaves. These benefit from bottom watering as wet foliage can lead to fungal diseases.
Once watered, rest the plant atop a drainage tray and leave it there for up to 20-minutes, then empty the tray. These cannot be left in standing water, as that is another way that Kalanchoe plants can become overwatered, accidentally.
Lack of Water
Plant stores market Kalanchoe plants as being drought tolerant. They are ideal for people with busy lifestyles that may often forget to water their plants regularly. Drought tolerant is not the same as wilful neglect that mitigates the need to water the plant.
As a succulent, Kalanchoes store a lot of reserves in their fleshy leaves. Those should remain as reserves.
By following a soak and dry watering cycle, when the soil dries, top the water up so the plant can keep its water reserves stocked up.
When left in dry soil for too long, the water will evaporate from the leaves. As the leaves dry up, they begin to droop, turn brown, and shrivel up, starting around the leaf edges.
To conserve energy, the margins of the leaf curl inward, thus stopping as much transpiration.
When you see the signs of dehydration on your Kalanchoe, water it as normal. There is no need to give it more than is needed. Take care at this stage not to give it too much water.
Any plant that produces blooms requires a lot of sunlight. Kalanchoes are flowering succulents so they do require sunlight. More in the summer months when they are actively growing, then less in the winter when they need to rest.
In the summer months, these do well when grown near to an east or west facing window.
In the winter, that can become too much sunlight, preventing re-blooming the following year.
To rest these for the following year, relocate them to a north or south facing window at the end of the flowering season, around September.
When Kalanchoes are actively growing (from March) keep an eye on the growth habit of the stems. Etiolation is a sign that the light conditions are too low.
You can tell this is an issue when the stems grow in spindly, stretching towards a light source. The thinner the stems are, the less nutrients are being carried to the leaves leading to less foliage.
Less green leaves mean less chlorophyll and that slows photosynthesis leaving the plant in a constant state of hunger.
When addressing low light conditions, gradually increase the amount of bright indirect sunlight the plant gets. If the sunlight is too intense, it can cause leaf scorching (aka sunburn), which although not deadly right away, it will eventually kill the leaves that are burned.
Avoid exposing Kalanchoes to direct sunlight. If growing on an east or west facing window ledge, or in the garden, provide some shade or UV filter.
Pots and Potting Soil
Keeping Kalanchoes healthy relies on the soil being able to drain efficiently. Two factors that play into drainage is the container the plant is grown in and the soil mix.
Clay pots are porous therefore those help to oxygenate the soil and lend an assist to help the soil drain faster. Beyond that, clay retains heat, so while the porous nature of clay pots improves aeration and drainage, it also means evaporation will be faster than the same soil mix in a plastic pot.
As for the soil mix to use, there are two blends that work well for container grown Kalanchoes indoors. A 50/50 mix of potting soil and cactus mix, or a soil mix of 60% peat moss with 40% perlite.
The pot your plant came in is not what to grow it in. Those are only sufficient to keep the plant alive. To help it grow, transfer it into a bigger pot, a few centimeters larger than its original. And swap the potting medium for one of the above mixes.
Once repotted in a better soil mix it will grow for two years. After two years, repot it. The nutrients in the soil diminish over time, and the plant can outgrow its container. Even if it is not rootbound in its pot, change the soil every two years.
If you have had your Kalanchoe for two years or longer in the same pot and soil mix and now worried that your Kalanchoe is dying, there is a good chance it is just a lack of quality soil.
Repotting the plant with a fresh potting mix can be all that is needed to revive it.
Diseases That Lead to a Kalanchoe Dying
This is a fungal disease that is rarely lethal, provided you act to remove it. Powdery mildew is like a white powder that coats the leaves on Kalanchoe plants. It blocks the sunlight, slowing down photosynthesis. It is a mild disease and easily fixed by wiping the fungus off the foliage, and applying a fungicide such as Neem oil.
To prevent powdery mildew returning, water the soil, not the leaves. The fungi travels in water and spreads in warm, humid climates. Keep the water off the leaves to stop the spread.
Phytophthora is a fungus found in the soil. As such, it attacks the roots of Kalanchoe plants. This can kill. The cause is overly moist soil.
Phytophthora starts in the soil, infects the roots, then travels up through the plant.
Signs of Phytophthora rot include yellowing leaves, stems wilting and blooms dropping from the plant before they open.
If you suspect this, like if you know the soil has never completely dried between watering cycles and now seeing the kalanchoe decline, repot it in a fresh potting mix. When you remove the plant from its current pot, inspect the roots for any rot.
Rotten roots can be black, brown, or even just slightly discolored. Pinch them with your thumb and forefinger to see if they feel mushy.
Any roots that are not firm, remove them. Those are diseased and if left on the plant, will infect the new soil with the same Phytophthora pathogen.
Unlike the Phytophthora fungus that travels through the plant, Pythium remains in the soil only attacking the roots. Because of this, it takes longer to kill a kalanchoe. It will eventually. Don’t doubt that.
With Phytophthora, the plant deteriorates at a faster pace. Pythium slowly kills plants by stealing the nutrients in the soil, cutting off vital supplies to the roots. The result is a slow dieback of the plant beginning with the lower leaves yellowing first.
As the disease progresses in the root system, less nutrients reach the plant resulting the leaves drying and dying and nothing ever blooming.
The fix, like with any soil-borne disease is to repot and remove damaged roots.
Brown Spots on the Leaves of Kalanchoe Are Definitely a Problem
No species of Kalanchoe should ever have brown spots. When this occurs, there is one of two things happening.
- It’s edema
- It’s brown scale insects
The first problem of edema is a watering problem. The second is a pest problem.
The quick test to tell what the brown spots are is to scratch the spot on the leaf. If it moves, or you can pick it off the leaf, it is a scale insect. If the spot is leaf discoloration only, that’s edema.
Edema spotting happens when the roots disperse more water than the plant can handle. Being a succulent, the Kalanchoe plant stores water in its leaves. If transpiration reduces due to perhaps overcrowding plants resulting in a lack of airflow, the plant can conserve too much water.
Excess water stored in the leaves first presents as blistering. Then those blisters burst leaving behind the reddy-brown edema spotting.
Edema is a physiological reaction to watering issues. It is not a disease, but the ruptures on the leaf surfaces can make the plant more susceptible to other diseases.
The fix for edema is to let the soil dry between watering. For brown scale insects, those need to be removed or they will continually drink the sap from the leaves, starving the plant of nutrients. Plants with any insects feeding on them can lead to the plant dying from dehydration.
Over Fertilization Causes Brown Spots Too
Kalanchoe plants do not need much fertilizer. Too much can result in brown spots. The reason is because excess salts draw moisture out of the plant.
Fertilizer should only be applied to the soil and never to the leaves. Foliar sprays are not recommended for Kalanchoe plants.
The earliest sign of over fertilization is brown tips on the leaves of Kalanchoe. The easiest way to fix fertilizer burn on plants is to flush the soil. With indoor plants, this is much easier because you only need to continually pour water through the soil to drain the fertilizer out.
Pests That Can Starve Kalanchoe Plants
Like with brown scale insects that pierce the leaves on Kalanchoe to feed on its juices, several other plant pests do the same.
The three common pests are aphids, mealy bugs, and spider mites.
Each of them is tiny and difficult to spot, however they do breed fast leading to an infestation and almost always congregate on the underside of the leaves.
To get rid of any bugs on indoor plants, numerous remedies exist, the simplest being Neem Oil.
Important: A Kalanchoe Can Struggle to Re-Bloom but That Does Not Mean It Is Dying
Kalanchoe plants are photoperiodic plants, meaning they need a cycle of light and “complete darkness” to spur them into a repeated bloom cycle.
Without darkness (12 to 14 hours for 2 months), all they do is grow green leaves.
If you had plenty of flowers on your Kalanchoe the first year, then the second year, saw little or no blooms, it is likely because there is too much light. To get a Kalanchoe to rebloom, cover it at night with a box or put in a cupboard.
A lack of flowering is not an indication that a Kalanchoe is dying. If it’s putting out green leaves, there’s nothing wrong. When it is dying, leaves discolor, usually turning yellow, then brown, then dropping from the plant.