How to Plant, Grow and Care For Panda Plants
Of the many Kalanchoe species to choose from, Kalanchoe tomentosa or Panda Plant is a wonderful option for indoor growth. We’ll take you through every aspect of Panda Plant care, from keeping their fuzzy leaves healthy to propagating and more.
With an adorable common name like the panda plant, it’s impossible not to love the fuzzy succulent species Kalanchoe tomentosa.
These succulents are native to Madagascar, where they grow a few feet tall in warm and bright conditions. Their ability to grow well in containers, relative tolerance to partial shade, and cute textured leaves have made them great succulent choices for indoor growth.
There are even a few cultivars to choose from, allowing you to grow a whole collection of this fluffy species. ‘Chocolate Soldier’ is one of the most common, but you can also look out for ‘Gold’ or a personal favorite with the best name of them all, ‘Teddy Bear.’
Follow this guide to take good care of your Kalanchoe collection.
Panda Plant Overview
Plant Type Succulent
Species Kalanchoe tomentosa
Native Area Madagascar
Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Watering Requirements Low
Pests u0026amp; Diseases Mealybug
Soil Type Succulent mix
Soil pH 5.5 to 6.0
What Is It?
The Kalanchoe genus is vast, containing over 100 species of interesting succulent plants with unique looks. Many of these are popular for growing indoors and are particularly beloved for their ability to produce flowers under lower light conditions.
Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is the species most houseplant lovers will recognize, but another adorable Kalanchoe option you should look out for is Kalanchoe tomentosa. They are also known as panda plants for their fuzzy gray leaves and deep edges in colors ranging from chocolate brown to burgundy red.
As cute and harmless as they seem, panda plants are, unfortunately, toxic to pets. Keep them away from prying paws by raising the pots off the ground or growing them in separate parts of your home.
How to Grow
As succulents, panda plants are not demanding when it comes to care. They won’t grow as tall or quick indoors as they would outdoors in native conditions, but they don’t ask for much, making them great for beginners. They are also unlikely to flower indoors, although their leaves are usually considered the main attraction.
Kalanchoe tomentosa is accustomed to far more direct sunlight than typical houseplants. Like other succulents, they grow best in front of bright south-facing windows that receive plenty of direct sun throughout the day. Depending on your climate, they may need some protection from the harsh afternoon sun right in front of glass windows but are usually happy to grow in as much light as possible.
That doesn’t mean you can’t grow these plants if conditions in your home don’t quite match up. Panda plants tolerate more shade than other succulents, so they can also handle spots with bright indirect light throughout the day. They won’t grow as well as they would in a brighter spot, but they won’t show too many signs of struggle either.
If you don’t have an available south or west-facing window, I would aim for an east-facing window that gets a few hours of direct morning sun at a minimum. This will give the plants a sunlight boost in the morning and keep them in bright indirect light for the rest of the day.
The one mistake you should avoid is keeping them far away from windows or in rooms with only north-facing windows. I, unfortunately, made this mistake with my Chocolate Soldier, keeping it on my dining table purely because it was so cute, and I wanted it to be as visible as possible. Unfortunately, minimal light isn’t enough to keep these plants growing, and mine quickly began dropping leaves.
If the stem begins to stretch and the leaves look diminished, the plant lacks sunlight. It will begin to lean toward the nearest light source in search of more sun for photosynthesis. If you notice any stretching, move the pot to a brighter area or use indoor grow lights in the darker months.
One of the great benefits of growing panda plants as houseplants is that they need very little water. I am a forgetful waterer (or perhaps a better term is lazy waterer), often waiting a little longer than I should before giving my houseplants a drink. When it comes to Kalanchoe tomentosa, this long wait is actually preferred.
In their native environments, panda plants grow in rocky soil that drains quickly and doesn’t retain much moisture. They must also survive long periods without rainfall and store water in their leaves to compensate for the shortfall. These native conditions mean these drought-tolerant plants prefer too little water to too much.
It’s best to leave the soil to dry out completely and wait a couple of days before watering again. The exact time will depend on the container’s size, the plant’s growth, and, most importantly, the environmental conditions. For example, a panda plant in full sun all day and in a small pot will dry out far quicker than one in indirect sun and a large container.
I recommend testing the soil rather than watering on a schedule. Strict watering schedules completely ignore the actual soil conditions, often leading to watering too late or, more often, too early. Rotting is a serious risk for these succulents, so watering more than required will usually lead to stunted growth or the death of the plant.
Test the soil with your finger every couple of days. Once it completely dries out, wait a day or two and water again. Look out for signs of under or overwatering (discussed later) to adjust your watering until you get it right.
Although these plants are known for being tough and tolerant, the one thing they are fussy about is soil. Regular garden soil or even standard potting soil doesn’t have the right texture to keep the roots happy. As soil has a massive impact on how the plant grows, it’s vital to get this step right.
Luckily, if you’ve purchased your plant from a nursery or online in a container, you won’t need to worry about soil early on. They will grow happily in the soil they came in for a while. You’ll only need to think about changing the soil when it’s time to repot or if you want to move the plant to a different container.
When the time comes, choose a textured and well-draining potting mix suitable for succulents. You should be able to find succulent and cacti potting mix at your local nursery or online. These mixes contain a variety of ingredients suitable for growing succulent plants, eliminating the guesswork from your side.
If you love a good DIY and prefer to make your mixes, you can amend regular potting soil with sand and perlite. This will create a grittier texture and improve drainage, preventing rotting. Avoid dense soils that don’t allow excess moisture to drain or air to flow around the roots.
Temperature and Humidity
To match the conditions in their native habitats, warmth is essential to keeping these plants happy. They don’t handle cold weather well and need to be protected from dips below 50F, so they are often kept as houseplants in most climates – at least over fall and winter.
It’s best to keep temperatures as consistent and close to around 70F as possible for optimal growth. They can handle multiple conditions but struggle if it’s too hot or cold. Keep them in a warm room in your home, and don’t forget to monitor changes in temperature throughout the seasons. Also, keep them away from cold drafts from open windows or air conditioners.
Their humidity requirements differ from other tropical houseplants. Dry air is usually preferred over excessively high humidity, especially due to the fine hairs on the leaves. But they are not fussy and will generally be happy in most home humidity conditions.
Panda plants are not reliant on fertilizers to grow well. They are accustomed to nutrient-poor soils in their native habitats and don’t mind fewer nutrients than some other houseplants. But it won’t hurt to give them the occasional boost if you want them to grow to their full potential.
To provide consistent but minimal nutrients, you can fertilize every season at half-strength during spring and summer. Use a low-concentration fertilizer to avoid overwhelming the roots. If that seems like too much effort, they will be satisfied with an annual fertilizer application. Choose a balanced formula or a fertilizer specially formulated for succulents.
You’re in luck if you want to expand your collection of these fuzzy plants. They are incredibly easy to propagate in two ways – from stem cuttings and from leaf cuttings. Both methods are simple, but these plants take a little longer than others to develop roots. If you’re happy to be patient, you will definitely be rewarded.
Propagating From Stem Cuttings
For the fastest results, it’s best to propagate from stem cuttings. This method will deliver a mature plant quicker than propagating from single leaves, but it requires quite a large panda plant to start with. I also like to use this method if the plant has stretched out, removing the tops and replanting to keep leaf growth compact.
All you need is a sharp pair of shears, a small pot, and a succulent potting mix. As always, ensure your shears are clean before you start to prevent the spread of disease.
To start, identify a healthy stem with plenty of strong leaves. Damaged or diseased stems will struggle to root and will only spread the issue to your new plants. Trim off part of the stem just below a set of leaves, cutting as cleanly as possible to promote quick healing.
Next, remove the leaves from the bottom half of your cutting. This will remove any that would be below the soil line. Ensure there are still a couple of leaves at the top to aid in root growth.
It’s best to leave the cutting for a couple of days to heal before planting. Either leave it on a sheet of newspaper to seal off or plant it in a dry succulent mix and wait a couple of days before watering. When you’re ready to plant, fill your pot with soil mix and make a small hole with your finger, burying the bottom half of the stem.
Water sparingly, adding enough moisture to promote root growth without risking stem rot. After several weeks, the stem should have developed enough roots to anchor into the soil. All you need to do from that point on is wait for new, adorable growth to appear.
Propagating From Single Leaves
If you have a smaller panda plant not quite suitable for taking stem cuttings, or you have a couple of extra leaves you’ve pruned off and don’t want to waste, propagating from single leaves is for you. This easy method takes time to deliver results but does allow you to propagate far more panda plants at once.
You’ll need the same materials as if you were propagating from stem cuttings with one small change. I like to use a sharp knife rather than shears to remove the leaves, as it can get quite precise. Beyond these basics, all you need is a steady hand to get started.
If you prefer not to use a knife, you can twist off single leaves. But you’ll greatly increase your chances of success if you remove leaves with a knife, including a small part of the stem. Try not to damage the stem – you only need a small sliver of stem tissue to get it right. Also, ensure the leaf (or leaves) you’ve chosen are healthy and undamaged.
Fill a tray or container with succulent mix and lay the leaves on top, pressing the ends gently into the soil. As with stem cuttings, it’s best to wait a couple of days before watering to allow the ends to heal, limiting your chances of rot.
When ready to water, gently mist the soil rather than drench it. If you water too much, the sensitive leaves will quickly rot. Continue to mist for a few weeks until new growth appears at the base of the leaves. When roots are established, transplant them into individual containers to continue growing.
Although Kalanchoe tomentosa is quite compact, these plants will eventually outgrow small containers in the right conditions. Even if they grow slowly and don’t need much extra space, they will need a soil refresh every few years. When this time comes, grab a new container and prepare to repot.
Repotting panda plants is as easy as it is with any other houseplant. Make sure you only repot when necessary to avoid frequent stress on the roots. Following these easy steps will help you get it right:
- Remove the plant from its current container. If it feels stuck, squeeze the sides or run a knife around the edges of the pot to loosen the roots.
- Gently tease the roots and remove some of the old soil.
- Grab a new container one size up and fill the bottom with succulent soil mix. Lower the plant inside and fill in the gaps with the remaining mix.
- I like to wait a day or two for the roots to settle before watering for the first time.
When you’re done, you can continue caring for your panda plant as you did previously.
Panda plants are tough but not immune to growth problems. If you notice any of these troubling signs, follow these troubleshooting tips.
Any plant ditching leaves is usually showing signs of stress. This obviously doesn’t apply to the occasional leaf, especially if it is older and lower down on the plant.
But several leaves dropping at once indicates an environmental issue that needs to be tackled. Look at your watering, light levels, and temperature or drafts to determine which differs most from what they prefer. Make adjustments slowly until growth improves.
Browning or Shriveling
Brown and shriveled leaves on the lower half of the plant are usually just a sign that the lifespan of that leaf has come to an end.
Pull these off to direct the plant’s energy toward new growth. If several leaves are struggling at once, you must adjust your watering routine to prevent underwatering. You can also move them to a slightly shadier spot if they are exposed to intense direct sun in the afternoons.
Mushy stems are a sign of rot, likely due to overwatering or lack of drainage. Once the base of the plant has started rotting, it is incredibly difficult to save.
One way to keep growing your panda plant is to trim off healthy stems and leaves at the top half of the plant and attempt to propagate. You can also try repotting into fresh soil and trimming off the affected areas.
Fluffy white patches that look like cotton may indicate a mealybug issue. These common indoor pests suck the sap out of the leaves and quickly spread to other houseplants.
Spot treat with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to kill and remove the individual bugs from the plant, continuing treatment until all signs of pest problems have disappeared.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you propagate panda plant in water?
As Kalanchoe tomentosa is a succulent plant prone to rotting, it’s best to propagate them in soil rather than in water.
Do panda plants flower?
Panda plants do produce flowers in their native habitats, but they don’t flower very often indoors. Give them plenty of light and a nutrient boost to encourage them to flower.
Is panda plant toxic?
Kalanchoe tomentosa is considered toxic to pets, so keep them away from any curious furry or feathered friends in your home.
Why is my panda plant drooping?
If your panda plant suddenly starts drooping unusually, take a look at your watering schedule. You may be watering too little, or even too much.
Now that you know all you need to know about adding Panda Plants to your garden, the next step is to welcome them into your home. This unique Kalanchoe variety can make a wonderfully low-maintenance houseplant, and will reward you with beautiful foliage for many years to come!