Healthy paddle plant looks a bit like a head of red romaine lettuce in succulent form. Also known by the nickname “flapjacks,” due to its orderly layers of flat fleshy leaves, this succulent is easy to grow indoors or outdoors.
If you have a sunny spot and want to fill it with a resilient, low-maintenance, pest- and disease-resistant succulent, paddle plant is a great choice.
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Quick Guide to Paddle Plant
|Botanical name (Family)||Kalanchoe thyrsiflora and Kalanchoe luciae (Crassulaceae family)|
|Sun requirements||Direct sunlight with dappled shade in peak afternoon sun is ideal|
|Hardiness/Zone||Hardy outdoors only in Zones 9+|
|Water needs||Low water needs; drought-tolerant|
|Toxicity||Toxic to human and pets|
|Primary growth season||Spring and fall; plant may have a summer and/or winter dormancy|
|Typical sizes||Mature outdoor plant can grow up to a couple of feet tall, and flower spikes may be up to six feet. Indoors typically they stay under a foot.|
Identifying Paddle Plant
The name paddle plant is used to describe two different but closely related plants, both from South Africa. K. thyrsiflora and K. luciae are similar looking for most of their life cycles. They are most easily distinguished with certainty when they reach the flowering stage.
Paddle plant’s flowering process works much like hens and chicks plant (Sempervivum). After producing offsets in late winter to early spring, the plant produces a giant flower spike and gets leggy. After flowering, the mother plant dies. This is true for both varieties of paddle plant.
However, this flowering stage is the easiest time to distinguish between the plants. K. luciae, the more common of the two plants, produces odorless white or whitish flowers. K. thyrsiflora has bright yellow flowers with a strong fragrance.
If you are trying to identify a plant before it flowers, there is some difference in the leaves. K. luciae have flatter leaves with bright red edges (assuming adequate sunlight). K. thyrsiflora leaves are smaller, rounded slightly like clamshells, and are less likely to have red highlights.
Luckily, you don’t necessarily have to identify which plant you have because the growing requirements for both plants are the same.
Growing Requirements for Paddle Plant
Where to Plant Kalanchoe Thyrsiflora
These flapjacks want to be cooked. The paddle plant prefers as much direct sunlight as possible – at least six hours will suffice, but the more, the better. This is because inadequate sunlight makes them stretch out too much, growing taller but less densely leafed.
Info: Sun stress is what gives K. luciae (and occasionally K. thyrsiflora) leaves their gorgeous pinkish red edges.
Root rot is a problem for over-hydrated paddle plants. Make sure you plant them in a location with good drainage, not anywhere water tends to puddle.
Although the foliage will die back when it’s under freezing, this succulent can withstand temperature down to around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, regrowing the next year. However, it is best to keep it out of freezing temperatures. That means unless you live in USDA zone 9 or higher, you should grow your paddle plant in a pot and bring it inside for winter.
Indoors, if you are relying entirely on natural light, paddle plant strongly prefers a south-facing window. You can grow it in a window without direct southern exposure, but it may become etiolated and lose its reddish accents.
If you find that your indoor location is not providing enough sunlight for your paddle plant, you have two options.
- First, you can put your potted paddle plant outdoors for the summer. Just make sure to transition the plant gradually. Start by moving the plant to a spot with dappled sunlight, and gradually move it to give it more and more direct light.
Note: Moving the pot directly from an indoor location to bright direct outdoor sunlight can cause sunburn.
- Your second option is to add supplemental indoor light. A grow light will keep your plant as compact and healthy as possible and encourage the red tips to develop.
Kalanchoes are mildly poisonous for pets and small children. If you have any naughty snackers in your household, don’t paddle them for it; give away your flapjacks and check out our guide to pet-safe succulents instead.
Container and Soil
These paddles are not meant for deep water. Like virtually all succulents, paddle plants are very tolerant of drought, but they can’t grow in a lake.
It is essential to provide inadequate drainage by using a suitable pot and well-draining potting mix. Otherwise, your paddle plant may develop root rot, among other potential problems. Even pests like mealybugs are more attracted to a plant that is weakened by water damage.
The best choice for a healthy paddle plant is an unglazed ceramic pot with a good-sized drainage hole. Unglazed ceramics, like terra cotta, work well. This is because when the plant is too soggy, the unglazed pot will wick away and absorb the excess moisture, allowing it to evaporate more quickly.
Sometimes you fall in love with a pot with no drainage hole. Totally understandable. If you are committed to using a pot that doesn’t have one, check out our guide to succulent pots. It includes a couple of strategies for creating good drainage when using a pot with no hole.
Note: Using proper potting mix is another key way to encourage your paddle plant to thrive. Use a well-draining succulent or cactus mix with lots of sand and perlite or pumice in it.
You can use a commercial potting mix meant for succulents, but most are peat-based, which is environmentally unsustainable and has some other disadvantages.
We recommend making your own succulent potting mix using our recipe and DIY guide. With just four inexpensive and readily available ingredients, you can make a potting mix that is environmentally sustainable and perfect for your paddle plant, providing for its drainage, nutrition, and pH needs.
Our recipe is also cheaper than using commercially produced cactus or succulent potting mixes and can be used for other types of plants as well.
Watering Kalanchoe Thyrsiflora
Like most succulents, paddle plant comes from semi-arid environments and comes with thick, fleshy leaves to store lots of water between infrequent rainstorms. That means they do not need frequent watering. In fact, frequent watering will keep the roots wet and cause the same problems as a lack of drainage.
Depending on the environment, these plants may have a winter and/or summer dormancy, a stage when their growth stops or slows down very substantially.
During these periods, you’ll want to water much less often. Let them get dry before watering again, even if it takes months. Err on the side of not watering, but definitely water if the leaves begin to become flaccid or wrinkled, which is a sign of dehydration.
We recommend the classic “soak and dry” method for watering your paddle plant. You drench the plant with water, let the pot drain fully, do that again, and then leave it alone until at least two inches of the potting mix has dried out before watering again.
Make sure to let the pot fully drain because you do not want water to collect in the pot’s saucer. For a more detailed explanation of the soak and dry method and other succulent-appropriate watering techniques, check out our complete guide to watering succulents.
Some people find that the infrequent/as-needed watering schedule makes it hard to remember to monitor their paddle plant to determine if it needs watering.
Our succulent guide includes a tracking card you can use to record your watering, fertilizing, and other maintenance, to help you develop a good schedule that meets the needs of your plant.
Fertilizer and Maintenance
Paddle plants don’t need a lot of maintenance. We recommend that you immediately repot all newly purchased succulents. That way, you can make sure the roots are healthy. Cut away any unhealthy roots before replanting. Repotting also ensures that the plant is potted at the right depth.
Often big box stores plant succulents too deep, which can cause the stem and lower leaves to rot. If leaves near the base die, you can remove them. You can twist them off with your fingers or cut them off with a sharp, sterile knife. You will end up with a plant that has a more tree-like appearance.
Note: Replacing the soil also reduces the likelihood of bringing in soil-borne diseases or pests that could infect your other plants.
I’ve dealt with mealybugs repeatedly this year, both as a result of a big box store sedum as well as an echeveria I bought from a local grower in my community. It happens. Quarantining your plants for long enough for the bugs to become visible is the only really safe method, but removing the potting soil helps.
Repotting your new plant also allows you to provide a fresh, well-draining potting mix for your succulent. After that, you won’t need to fertilize it for the first year. Your paddle plant will get plenty of nutrients from the fresh potting mix.
In subsequent years, fertilize your paddle plant occasionally with an organic, liquid cactus- or succulent-specific fertilizer. My go-to is Dr. Earth Organic & Natural Pump & Grow Succulence Cactus & Succulent Plant Food. You can follow the package instructions, but I pump mine into my watering can.
If you use a chemical fertilizer, it’s best to choose one for succulents. You should also ensure to dilute it to a quarter-strength, or at most half-strength, of the concentration instructions on the package.
Info: Excess fertilizer that your plant can’t absorb remains in the soil, where it can burn your plant’s roots. Avoid any fertilizer with an NPK ratio highest in nitrogen (N). Your paddle plant will prefer a balanced fertilizer.
Propagation of Kalanchoe Thyrsiflora
Paddle plants can be propagated easily. As a paddle plant is ending its natural life, it will produce offsets, then put up a flower spike, and after the flowers die, the plant as a whole will die, but the offsets will live on. The offsets grow at the base of the paddle plant.
To remove the offsets without un-potting the mother plant:
- Simply pull them up gently using your fingers or a spoon, making sure to keep the offset’s roots attached. If needed, you can use a sharp, sterile knife to cut through any connected roots.
- You can plant the offsets directly into a small pot of succulent-appropriate potting mix.
If you don’t want to wait until your paddle plant produces offsets, you can propagate it using a leaf cutting:
- Use a sterile, sharp blade to remove the leaf to avoid bruising the stem or spreading disease. Make sure the separation is flat (in other words, don’t leave a stump of leaf attached to the stem). The leaf’s connection point to the stem contains meristem tissue that will help the leaf grow roots.
- Before planting your cutting, allow it to cure (dry out) for a couple of days. It will form a callus over the raw area. During this period of time, keep the plant out of direct sunlight.
- Once it is cured, simply stick the end directly into a pot with a moist, well-draining succulent potting mix. Ideally, we recommend using our recipe for Seed Starting/Propagation Mix, but any of our recipes will work in a pinch.
- Gradually move it back to full sunlight to avoid shocking or sunburning your paddle plant.
You shouldn’t need to water much for the first few weeks. It’s okay if it gets a little dry. The leaf contains plenty of water and nutrients to sustain the new plant as its roots, and allowing the top of the soil to dry encourages the new roots to stretch for water.
Common Paddle Plant Problems
It’s rare for a healthy paddle plant to develop problems with disease or pests. As with all succulents, overwatering can cause root rot or powdery mildew. To diagnose these and other diseases and pests, and for tips on how to fix them, check out our succulent symptom decision tree and guide to reviving unhealthy succulents.
Mealybugs and aphids can infest a paddle plant. It’s unusual but more common if the plant is stressed (for example, due to root rot). For tips on dealing with mealybugs and other pests, check out our guide to getting rid of mealybugs.
Other than water and drainage, you’ll keep your paddle plant healthy and avoid opportunistic problems by providing adequate sunlight. Inadequate sunlight will weaken your plant, turn it pale and eliminate the rosy tint, and make it grow leggy.
Add a Paddle to your Pad
As long as you have a sunny south-facing windowsill or a grow lamp, and if you are willing to gradually move it outdoors for the sunny months, you can’t go wrong with a potted paddle plant. Whether you get the rosy-leafed K. luciae or the K. thyrsiflora, with its aromatic yellow flowers, this plant is a pleasure to have at your home.