How to Plant, Grow and Care For Kalanchoe ‘Dragonfire’
Thinking of adding a new and unique succulent to your indoor or outdoor garden? Kalanchoe 'Dragonfire' can be an eye-catching option for any succulent enthusiast. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss examines all you need to know about growing Kalanchoe 'Dragonfire' as well as their care!
For a quick-growing plant with a pop of color, look no further than the Kalanchoe ‘Dragonfire‘. This succulent plant is a fairly new hybrid that has grown in popularity thanks to its bright colors. Vivid apple-green leaves with red margins are displayed in rounded clumps that grow reliably.
With such an appealing aesthetic, one may assume these plants are precarious to grow. However, that is far from the truth! These succulents are very low-maintenance and can thrive in just about any home under the proper care.
These firey plants grow to be only about 6 inches tall, making them an excellent option for a windowsill or atop a table. Under the right conditions, Kalanchoe ‘Dragonfire’ will easily become one of your favorite houseplants. Read on to find out how to plant, grow, and care for this fascinating hybrid.
Kalanchoe ‘Dragonfire’ Plant Overview
Plant Type Succulent
Season Winter and Spring
Hardiness Zones 8-10 (Houseplants elsewhere)
Exposure Full Sun
Watering Needs Low
Plant Spacing 6-12 inches
Planting Depth Surface Level
Soil Type Well-Draining, Sandy
Native Area Madagascar
Height 4-6 inches
Plant With Succulents
Diseases Fungal Root Rot, Powdery Mildew
Attracts Hummingbirds, Bees, Butterflies
Pests Scale, Mealybugs, Spider Mites
Foliage Color Red and Green
About Kalanchoe ‘Dragonfire’
Kalanchoe ‘Dragonfire’ is a relatively new cultivar of kalanchoe and is the result of the cross-pollination of K. luciae with an unnamed hybrid species. This variety was first bred in California in 2015.
Over the years since its origination, it has been shown to breed true through asexual reproduction, making it a reliably attractive and hardy cultivar.
This pretty kalanchoe is known for its apple green and bright red leaves, as well as for its habit of producing offsets from a young age. This habit means that early on, this kalanchoe will create a very nice clumping effect, filling in a container quickly. Dragonfire offsets much sooner than its parent plants.
Kalanchoe plants are native mainly to the Island of Madagascar, but in recent years they have become very popular as houseplants. Some species are especially treasured for their long-lasting, winter-blooming succulent flowers.
They are known for their hardiness and ease of propagation, in addition to their flowers. They also make great starter plants for novice succulent gardeners.
Dragonfire is classified as a hybrid species of the Kalanchoe genus. There are more than 250 species of kalanchoe and many hybrids, as its ease of care and propagation makes it a popular plant to breed and hybridize. Dragonfire is a single-variety hybrid species.
As a perennial succulent, Dragonfire can live for many years in the right environment and will bloom yearly if kept in the right conditions. However, it is less common for this type of Kalanchoe to bloom when kept indoors. Its attractive foliage is colorful and eye-catching, even without flowers.
Dragonfire is best known for its brilliantly colored leaves. The leaves are oblong and lightly pointed at the ends. They form a loose rosette and are glowing, apple green in the center, with bright red margins. The red color will deepen and spread when the plant is stressed by heat or cold.
This plant strongly resembles the larger Flapjacks variety but only grows to about 6 inches tall at maturity and the leaves are pointed at the ends rather than rounded. Dragonfire’s smaller size makes it a nice houseplant, as it can be easily contained.
The Dragonfire species is not known for its flowers, although this succulent does sometimes bloom. While some kalanchoe blooms spectacularly and in bold, bright colors, Dragonfire’s flowers are less conspicuous. It does bloom if given enough light, and the flowers are delicate and attractive.
The Dragonfire inflorescence is a clump of green buds that open to delicate, white blooms with a starlike quality. It blooms from winter to spring, making it a nice addition to a houseplant collection as it brings cheer in those colder months.
Unlike some species of kalanchoe, Dragonfire will repeatedly bloom from the same plant. The parent plant does not die after blooming.
Kalanchoes are notoriously easy to propagate. In fact, when planted in the ground in their native zones, they have a tendency to become invasive, forming lots of offsets and crowding out other plants. The three most common methods of propagating kalanchoes are from offsets, cuttings, and seeds.
The simplest way to propagate a kalanchoe is by offsets. Dragonfire has a habit of producing these offsets plentifully and at an early age. If left to their own devices, these offsets will form an attractive mound of colorful rosettes, and if left entirely unchecked, they can become invasive and may be seen popping up in neighboring planters.
The offsets are simple to remove and repot. All you have to do is cut them away from the parent plant and pot in a succulent potting mix.
Offsets can be taxing on the parent plant, so removing them to grow independently is the best idea for all parts of the plant but leaving them to clump will not kill the parent plant, but it will slow its growth.
Every bit as simple as propagation by offsets, Dragonfire can also be propagated by leaf cuttings. These cuttings don’t even need to be propagated in water. Simply cut mature leaves from the base of the plant and allow the end to cure for 24 hours.
Once the end has dried, the cutting can be placed, cut end down, into a moist potting mix. The leaf will create roots and quickly become its own plant.
Some additional helpful tools in this process are rooting hormone, which will help your cutting to root faster, and a clear plastic bag to cover the cutting. The plastic creates a tiny greenhouse, which holds in moisture and keeps the cutting from drying out before it puts down roots. This should happen in a matter of weeks.
Growing Kalanchoe from seed is a bit more time-consuming but no less simple. Spring is the best time to plant kalanchoe seeds. Surface sow the seeds into a container with moist potting soil. The seeds do not need to be covered by soil. Place a plastic bag over the top of the container and place it in a sunny spot.
The seeds should germinate between 1-2 weeks. The seedlings should be ready to transplant into their own containers within two months. Planting in winter can be difficult because of a lack of daylight hours, so it is best to wait until mid-spring to give your kalanchoe seedlings the best start.
Growing Kalanchoe ‘Dragonfire’
Kalanchoe Dragonfires are truly easy plants to grow. They like to be treated like typical succulents, and as long as you don’t mind things getting a little crowded, they make a beautiful addition to a succulent garden.
They do reproduce quickly, so they will need to be thinned out over time to prevent them from overtaking the container, which makes them a great space filler if that’s your aim.
Planting Depth and Potting Needs
In terms of potting needs, kalanchoes are not picky. They like well-draining soil and containers. A mixture of peat moss and perlite is a good potting medium. They will also do just fine in a standard tropical potting mix with some larger particles to help with drainage.
As we discussed earlier, kalanchoe seeds and plantlets do not need to be covered in soil, they merely need to be set on top of the potting medium, and they will root in no time at all. For a mature plant, plant it only as deep as the root ball. Kalanchoes do derive most of their nutrients from the soil in which they are planted, so it is a good idea to repot every couple of years.
Dragonfire can tolerate full, direct sun, but bright filtered light will keep it quite happy as well. This species is one that will show if it is stressed by changing color. The edges of the leaves will take on more of the red color if the plant is getting more sun than it needs and also in cooler weather.
This shift in color does not necessarily indicate that the plant is suffering, but rather, it can mean that the plant is happily stressed. Kalanchoe, as many succulents do, get prettier when happily stressed by temperature or sun exposure.
The only cause for concern is if you notice your Dragonfire’s leaves looking bleached, this means that they are getting too much of that hot afternoon sun and should be placed in a more sheltered spot or given a filter such as a sheer curtain.
If you have your kalanchoe in a pot with good drainage, it will be much easier to avoid overwatering. Since kalanchoes are succulents, they don’t like to have wet roots.
Soggy soil will lead to root rot, that’s typically a plant killer. In spring and fall, Dragonfire will need less water, and you can increase watering slightly in summer.
A single plant needs about 6 ounces of water every 9-10 days when it is placed in indirect sun. If your Dragonfire gets a lot of sunlight, increase watering to once per week.
If your kalanchoes live outdoors, they will need a bit more water. As a general rule, let them dry out between waterings. Depending on their sun exposure, that can be as little as two and as many as ten days.
Climate and Temperature
Kalanchoe plants typically like mild temperatures, and Dragonfire is no exception. These plants can be quite happy indoors, as their ideal temperature is around 65°F. They can tolerate temperatures down to 45°F if left outdoors. Below 45°F, they should be brought indoors to avoid leaf damage.
Kalanchoes are not frost tolerant and will die off in a freeze. I will say, though, that I have left one out and it died back in a freeze, but came back the following year, so they are quite resilient in this way.
Kalanchoes will also tolerate lower humidity levels than many houseplants. They will survive at 40-50% humidity, however, they will thrive with slightly more humidity than the average succulent.
50-60% humidity is ideal and will keep your Dragonfire’s foliage happy. In very high humidity, problems with leaf spot and rotting leaves can become an issue.
Kalanchoes don’t typically need much fertilizer. They are very good at utilizing nutrients that they get from their soil and sunlight. They do not need any fertilizer during the dormant periods of little growth.
During their growing season, a standard fertilizer can encourage more growth and vigor but should not be applied more than once per month. Fertilizing this plant is entirely optional, as Dragonfire will be fine without any fertilizing at all.
Pruning and Maintenance
Pruning your Dragonfire should take place after blooming or, in the case of no blooms, in the spring. As with most plants, this is the ideal time to do any pruning such that the plant has as much time as possible to regain strength and set buds again in the next year.
Prune by trimming off the spent flowers and cutting down some of the top leaves. Kalanchoe can tend to get a bit leggy and will fill in nicely if you cut off any portions of overgrown stems.
Doing this also allows air to circulate through the interior of the plant, which will help to prevent root rot and interior leaf decay. Any dead or ailing leaves should be removed when the damage is observed.
Leaf damage can be a simple dying off of old foliage or a symptom of a larger issue, so always inspect the damaged or dying leaves and try to determine the cause.
All parts of plants in the kalanchoe family are toxic to people and pets. Exercise caution around children and animals. They contain cardiac glycosides, which affect the heart.
Wild kalanchoes have been known to affect livestock in their native habitat, especially during times of drought or food scarcity, but they are unlikely to result in harm to humans unless ingested in significant amounts.
Pests and Diseases
Kalanchoes are not especially vulnerable to pests and diseases. They are resilient and hardy. However, there are a handful of issues that they can face, so it’s good to know what to be on the lookout for if your Dragonfire looks less than robust.
For indoor plants, the main culprit of pest infestation is bringing in infected plants. It is always a good idea to inspect any new plants you bring into the house for signs of insect or disease damage.
Scales are very small, brown insects that enjoy feeding on the sap of plants. They specifically like new, tender growth, so it is not uncommon to see the newer growth of an infested plant beginning to shrivel and look dehydrated and pale.
Scale is a very common issue, but it is treatable. They reproduce very quickly, so if you don’t catch and eradicate them early on, they can do significant damage. If you notice shriveling new growth, take a look under the leaves. Scales usually appear in clusters.
It is important to isolate any infested plants to prevent the spread to other plants. Scale can be successfully treated with neem and other horticultural oils. The oils will suffocate the scales and should be sprayed directly onto the infected leaves.
These fuzzy little sap suckers would love to make a meal of your juiciest kalanchoes. Mealy bugs are small, pale pink to white, fuzzy bugs that feed on the sap of those thick, fleshy leaves. They also leave behind a sticky excretion called honeydew, which, if left on the plants, can lead to a type of sooty mold, which will further deteriorate the health of the plant.
Mealybugs can be quite difficult to get rid of, as the juveniles are very small and difficult to see. They are great at hiding in tight spaces that can’t be easily reached by insecticides. With a mild infestation, you can rinse these guys off with a stream of water.
If the infestation is more advanced, you can use a cotton swab soaked in alcohol and wipe away both the insects, as well as the sticky, moldy mess they leave in their wake.
In general, prevention is the best way to avoid a mealy bug issue. Check new plants for clusters of these little guys that congregate on the stems and leaf junctures.
Spider mites are less like mites and more closely related to spiders. You may find their fine webbing on the underside of your kalanchoe’s leaves where they lay their eggs and drain leaves of their sap. Small brown spots will be the next sign as they attack newer growth.
Spider mites are very small and difficult to detect. In fact, they look like tiny specks of dirt on the underside of leaves, so they go undetected in many cases for quite a long time.
To check for spider mites, spray the underside of the leaf with water and then wipe it with a clean white cloth. The mites will leave brown streaks on the cloth if present.
The best way to treat spider mites is by using a miticide. These mites do not like humidity, so misting plants and raising the humidity will help deter them, but don’t overdo the humidity, as this can cause secondary issues.
Fungal Root Rot
Thielaviopsis root rot is the most common fungal disease that affects kalanchoes. It also goes by the name Black Rot, and it can be a problem. The effects are a badly rotted root system and stunted growth of newer tissue. If left untreated, it will cause whole plant death.
The issue of fungal rot is worse in cool, wet conditions. The disease shows up as a black central stem that eventually cracks, followed by leaf die-off.
Overwatering is the primary cause of most fungal diseases. Establishing good watering practices will help greatly reduce the occurrence of fungal infection. If you end up with infected roots, the best action is to repot and treat with benzimidazole fungicide.
If the problem is advanced, there is little chance of recovery, and to avoid spreading the fungus, it is best to dispose of the plant.
Powdery mildew is another fungal disease that is typically the result of too much moisture, but the cause is a humidity issue rather than a watering issue. Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that many succulents will encounter, including Dragonfire.
This fungal disease is not as severe a threat to the life of the plant as other types of fungal disease. However, if the conditions aren’t adjusted, it will continue to come back.
Kalanchoes prefer a lower humidity level than many houseplants, so they don’t thrive as well in bathrooms and kitchens. Choose a room for your kalanchoe with a brightly lit window, away from sources of humidity.
Bacterial Soft Rot
Soft rot caused by bacteria is not as serious an issue as fungal rot in kalanchoes. However, it does need to be managed as early as possible when it happens. The fleshy parts of the plant are the first to be affected. The bacteria feed on these parts of the plant and turn them into mush.
All infected plant parts should be discarded, and if the roots are affected, the entire plant needs to go. This disease cannot be reversed, but it is fairly uncommon, so it doesn’t tend to be much of an issue for most gardeners.
Dragonfire Kalanchoe is a stunning addition to any plant collection or succulent garden. It brings a bright pop of color and interesting texture in a very hardy little package. This low-maintenance succulent is resistant to pests and diseases, although not impervious, and is resilient and easy to care for.
With little more than a sunny window and bimonthly watering, this pretty plant will be quite happy and produce loads of colorful foliage for years to come. Dragonfire is a great plant for novices and expert gardeners alike.