Many people have a love-hate relationship with their mother, so it makes sense that Mother of Thousands, Kalanchoe daigremontiana, is considered both a charming and beloved houseplant and a toxic invasive weed. Its bluish-green foliage is eye-catching, mainly because it grows dozens of adorable baby plantlets along the edges of its leaves. Once they fall off or are removed, the leaves have attractively toothy serrated edges that earned the plant one of its other nicknames, Alligator Plant.
Kalanchoe diagremontiana is a resilient starter plant for someone new to growing houseplants or succulents. Its eagerness to reproduce makes this succulent a good choice if you’re trying home propagation for the first time. To learn more about keeping your Mother of Thousands happy and becoming a bona fide succulent midwife, read on.
Quick Guide to Mother of Thousands
|Sun requirements||Full sun preferred, partial shade tolerated|
|Hardiness/Zone||Hardy outdoors only in Zones 9b+|
|Water needs||Low water needs; drought-tolerant|
|Primary growth season||Fall and spring; may have summer and winter dormancies|
|Typical size at maturity||Three feet maximum; typically one foot indoors|
Growing Requirements for Kalanchoe Daigremontiana
Where to Plant
The Kalanchoe genus is full of beautiful succulents that are, unfortunately, not pet-safe. They contain toxins that can cause severe cardiac arrhythmia, gastrointestinal distress, paralysis, and ultimately death. These plants are known killers of dogs and livestock. While some research has been done into the potential medical uses of Kalanchoe, it is toxic to humans as well.
We strongly recommend that you do not grow Mother of Thousands if you have pets or small children in your home. It is also best to avoid keeping it in a yard where animals can access it.
Mother of Thousands generally does fine indoors, even if it only gets lots of indirect light. Aim for at least 5-6 hours of good sun exposure each day. Extra sunlight helps the plant to produce attractive purple blotches on the leaves.
Indoor Kalanchoe daigremontiana rarely produces flowers. And that’s okay.
Most people grow this plant for its unusual foliage alone. If you want your indoor plant to flower, you will probably need a grow light.
Mother of Thousands originates in arid areas of Madagascar, and it is happy to make its home in any warm, dry region. True to its name, this plant reproduces en masse once it nests. As a result, Kalanchoe daigremontiana (also known as Devil’s Backbone) is considered invasive. As such, we don’t recommend planting Mother of Thousands outdoors in the ground in any growing zone.
Note: If you want to grow them outdoors, plant them in a pot with a wide brim to catch the babies as they drop off. When throwing the babies, don’t just drop them into your compost pile, where they could grow.
Growing Mother of Thousands in a pot is also preferable because it is not very cold-hardy and won’t survive the winter in Zones 9a and colder. They may persevere through an occasional brief frost, but you should move them inside before winter temperatures drop too low.
When moving them back, gradually transition them into direct light to avoid sunburn. For more on how to grow healthy indoor and outdoor succulents, check out our guide to succulent care.
Grown outdoors, with enough sunlight, Mother of Thousands will produce pale pink bell-shaped flowers from a cluster of flower spikes.
Container and Soil
Like all succulents, Mother of Thousand prefers a well-draining potting mix in a pot with drainage holes. If you have cachepots (pots without drainage), you can drill holes or use the ‘pot in a pot’ method. This way, you can ensure your mother of thousands doesn’t soak too long in her bath.
As for the potting mix, it’s a good idea to make your own. It is better for your plants than anything you’ll find at your local big-box store. Plus, it’s cheaper. You don’t have to be strict about the ratios, but a good basic recipe is:
- Two parts potting soil, ideally a cactus blend,
- One part coarse sand (optional), and
- One part gritty amendment (such as perlite or pumice).
The sand and perlite will ensure that your plant’s roots don’t become water-logged, which is a leading cause of root rot and other pests and diseases. If you don’t like the look of the perlite, use mulch, such as a thin layer of potting soil or coarse sand, or a decorative layer of pebbles, small seashells, or bark, on top of the potting mix.
As you might expect from a plant that originates in arid areas of Madagascar, your Mother of Thousands doesn’t drink much. She might go weeks at a time without a drink. When she wants water, she wants to get sloshed.
We recommend the “soak and dry” method. This involves letting the plant’s soil completely dry, then watering repeatedly in the sink until the soil is fully saturated (allowing all excess water to drain).
For more information on the soak and dry method and other watering strategies, check out our complete guide to watering succulents. It includes a useful card we designed to help you track your watering, fertilizing and other succulent care.
Info: The ideal frequency of watering depends on many factors like dormancy. Kalanchoes typically go dormant during the summer and semi-dormant during the winter. When they aren’t growing, they consume far less water and nutrients, so make sure to water even less frequently.
Fertilizer and Maintenance
We recommend repotting all newly purchased succulents to ensure the roots are healthy. If you find unhealthy roots, cut them away with a sharp, sterile knife before replanting them into a pot with drainage. You might find our guide to choosing a succulent pot helpful.
Note: Refreshing the plant’s potting soil means you can avoid growing your plant in inappropriate potting soil too high in organic matter or soil that may contain soil-borne diseases or pests.
If you want your plant to have several branches rather than one central branch, you can top a young plant (behead it). The stump should regrow several branches, and you can propagate the stem.
It’s unnecessary to fertilize your Mother of Thousands the first year after repotting because it will get plenty of nutrients from the fresh potting mix. In the second year, fertilize it occasionally with an organic liquid cactus fertilizer:
- Dilute your fertilizer to at most half-strength (quarter-strength is best if it isn’t a cactus/succulent-specific fertilizer).
- Apply only during the spring and fall growing seasons, not during the plant’s winter and summer dormancy.
The only other maintenance your Mother of Thousands will need are:
- Removing any baby offsets that fall off so that they don’t sprout in the mother’s pot and crowd her.
- Occasionally removing old leaves from the base of the plant.
Mother of Thousands Propagation
You can propagate your Mother of Thousands using stem cuttings, but why bother?
This succulent got its common name from the dozens of adorable baby plantlets that grow along the edges of each leaf. These babies will fall off and die unless they are allowed to grow into a new plant, so by propagating your Mother of Thousands, you’re really doing her a favor by finding suitable homes for her excess offspring.
Harvesting the offsets is easy — you simply pull them gently off the leaves. An even easier method is to wait until they drop off on their own. In nature, they would regrow right then and there, so it doesn’t take much for you to replicate the necessary conditions.
- Harvest offsets by gently pulling them off the leaves or collecting the fallen babies
- Set them into a planter, roots down, on top of a bed of moist succulent-appropriate potting mix.
- They will take root and grow without any more help from you, just like they would in nature.
Note: Keep in mind that no matter how much experience you have with propagating plants, some of these babies will not make it. That’s why it’s a good idea to propagate a bunch of them at once. They also may take a few months to become well-rooted.
If you want to propagate the stem (for example, if it breaks accidentally, or you want to top your plant to encourage branching), you can easily do so.
- Cut it or trim the broken end with a sharp, sterile knife or pruners.
- Then cut or strip away a few leaves from that end.
- 3 Allow the stem to cure (dry out) by leaving it on a plate out of direct sunlight for a couple of days. It will form a dry callous over the raw area.
- Once it is cured, simply stick the end directly into a pot of moist, well-draining succulent potting mix and gradually return it to a sunny spot.
Note: Be careful not to leave craters on the stem when removing the leaves. You want the raw area to be flush with the stem. The material that connects the leaf to the stem, called meristem tissue, will encourage root growth.
Showing Your Mother (of Thousands) That You Love Her
Your Mother of Thousands is a woman of simple tastes. Give her a warm and sunny home, occasional help cleaning the house, childcare, and a night of heavy drinking once in a while, and she’ll be happy to let you live in her house as long as you want.