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In the Garden

Kalanchoe blossfeldiana have become highly popular holiday-gift plants. In their native Madagascar, these succulents normally blossom as the winter days get shorter, so they are available in full-bloom right in time for Christmas.

The large, long-lasting clusters of wildly colorful, yellow, orange, lilac, white, pink or red flowers look great through the entire holiday season.

Don’t make the common mistake of tossing this easy-care plant in the compost bin after the blossoms fade. The round, dark-green fleshy leaves are attractive in their own right, especially during summer if you move the plant outside, where direct sunshine turns the foliage rosy pink.

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After the holidays, when the blossoms fade, cut off the spent flowers as well as the top layer of leaves. Then let the plant rest on a shady windowsill for a month, watering only if the leaves begin to wilt. In early March, encourage it to grow again by moving the plant into bright light and watering normally, allowing it to dry in between.

Around Mother’s Day, move the plant outdoors, acclimating it slowly to a location in full sun. Continue watering whenever the soil feels dry, and feed every two weeks with half-strength soluble houseplant fertilizer. In fall, keep your Kalanchoe away from artificial light and wait to bring it inside until nighttime temperatures drop into the 40s.

Once inside, keep it in bright light during the day, but try to have it in total darkness for 14 hours a night. The shorter day length should activate bud formation, and with a bit of luck (OK, maybe a lot of luck) your Kalanchoe will burst into bloom right on time for another colorful Christmas display!

Ladder safety

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, every year more than 547,000 people are treated in hospital-emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, clinics and other medical settings because of injuries related to ladder use. Typical stepladders are designed to be used only on flat surfaces and can be hazardous when used outdoors.

If you use a ladder to prune fruit trees or other plants, do yourself a big favor and ask Santa to bring you an orchard ladder for Christmas. Orchard ladders have a tripod design that provides much more stability on uneven ground. Orchard ladders are also much safer and easier to maneuver if the tree you’re pruning is located in a shrub bed or other heavily planted area.

I ordered my ladder online from It’s lightweight aluminum, and although it’s only 5½ feet tall, even a shrimp like me can reach 10-12 feet safely.

Just be sure the ladder is secure before climbing it. And unless you want an excuse to eat extra Brussels sprouts to help with your recovery, even with an orchard ladder don’t disregard the safety notice near the top, warning you that only daredevils and dim-dims step on or above this rung!

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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