Start the gardening year off right with florists’ flapjacks

This year, all the haute florists will sell flapjacks. Kalanchoe thyrsiflora is the hottest red plant going, despite its preference for arid climates. Their peculiar shapes are added to the most impossible companions in holiday and gift plants. You’ll see flapjacks added for color with orchids and moss, set into dense pots of house plants and holiday wreaths. Though beautiful at first, eventually you’ll have to choose to save the dry flapjacks or save the moist tropicals they’re planted with, as they are mutually exclusive. Unless the flapjacks are extracted and repotted early in the new year, they are doomed.

Flapjacks in pots are really juveniles newly rooted from last year’s cuttings. They are in the vegetative phase, growing larger and larger like a head of lettuce. Growers adjust the light on their young plants to bring out the bright red coloring on schedule for the holiday sales.

Along the coast and in the mild Southwest, flapjacks are popular landscape plants, proving they do well in most natural soils. Their Achilles’ heel is too much moisture for too long or in conjunction with frost or extended rains. They are most reliable on gentle slopes and banks with a south-facing exposure to ensure drainage. If not cut by frost, the plants become perennial.

The flapjack of summer must bloom and shed seed. This spoils their original form as they bolt before they bloom. Bolting is a process where the central stem of that tidy clump of pancakes starts telescoping upward, extending the amount of stem in between each leaf. They do not die, but simply hunker down for the rains to come and begin growing again.

Gardeners experienced with flapjacks have learned that once they bolt, the beauty wanes. If cut short in winter, the remaining stem will regrow the following year, gradually replacing its foliage. Leave that tall bolt-stem too long and you get more massive growth that won’t have the youthful beauty of the parent. It will however continue to add seasonal color to that frost-free landscape.

For many, the stalks en masse create a beautiful textural effect late in the season. They will be visited by hummingbirds and other pollinators, then birds come for seed, so don’t be in a hurry to remove them. Do so when they can’t stand up properly and just before they flop.

Those who are ready to salvage holiday succulents from wholly unsuitable compositions should put them in a bag of cactus soil and well drained pots. To transplant gently, insert a utensil under the succulent to push it up and out from underneath. Don’t pull it out or the roots may break off, which can start rot. Let it sit in the open air to dry out for a couple of days before transplanting. Then set it in an empty pot and fill with dry cactus mix. Leave it for a week or two in moderate light to adjust. Watch for fine wrinkling of the leaves to indicate dehydration before watering in.

Flapjacks are sold at most florists and greenhouses during the cold months and in garden centers everywhere else. Buy young plants and nurse them along to decorate future holidays with their progeny. An old flapjack with multiple re-growths can be cut into many new plants for next year.

Keep in mind that flapjacks grown in too much shade remain light green. Those in the sun take on a vivid reddish coral coloring. Best of all it’ll be with you throughout the new year indoors and out.


Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at

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