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Donkey Ear Succulent: Care, Growing & Propagation Guide

Donkey ear plants are low-maintenance outdoor or indoor biennial succulents. They are relatively fast-growing plants with a growth cycle of 2 years. You can either grow them outdoors or indoors. These ornamental plants can be grown for their flowers, and health benefits.

Donkey Ears Description

Small plant varieties of this succulent can grow between 12 and 18 inches tall. “Giant” types are erect and can reach about 1 meter tall. The species of the donkey ears grow 15 inches wide and don’t spread out much.

Kalanchoe tomentosa (Panda Plant) is a giant donkey ears
Kalanchoe thyfisfora
Kalanchoe thyfisfora

Leaf surfaces are lined with epicuticular wax to decrease surface wetting and help lock in moisture. The wax appears like a whitish film. When mature, the leaves appear green tinted with bronze or grey. They are unique leaves. Along the margins of leaves are bulbils or blunt teeth from which roots can grow. The leaves can grow 31cm to 49 cm with excellent care.

At maturity, flowering varieties bear from green-yellow, orange, to pink-red tints of flowers. These flowers are bell-like in shape with clusters of pale peach buds on top. Each flower is supported with inflated calyces. These succulents bloom in winter.

They also produce fruits. These fruits are slender with a characteristic carpel form with a membrane covering. Inside these carpels are the seeds.

The donkey ear succulents are one of about 125 tropical plant species. They are widely found growing in Madagascar where they are natives. It got the name “donkey ears” from the close looks of long donkey ear-shaped leaves. Apart from Madagascar, these plants grow in tropical regions of Brazil, the United States and India. They are succulents growing in USDA hardiness zones 10 – 12.

Other common plant names: miracle leaf, Good Luck Leaf, cathedral bells, palm beachbells, life plant or Goethe plant.
Bryophyllum pinnatum is its former scientific name.

IMPORTANT: All parts of Kalanchoe Tomentosa (aka Panda Plant) are toxic to humans if eaten.

(Kalanchoe) Donkey Ears Care

As mentioned, donkey ears are low-maintenance plants.

1) Light Requirements

Donkey ear plants thrive in full sun or partial shade. They require about six hours of sun every day. Newly propagated plants are vulnerable to sun scorching effects. The leaves may also get burnt and die.

Young plants, therefore, need protection against the strong sun. An ideal location would be under a tree shade where it receives part sun or filtered light.

During the summer, donkey ear plants can get burnt or die. You can grow or move them under shading conditions. But ensure there is some filtered light for them to keep enjoying.

You can train your new plants to (acclimatize) adapt to the full sun outdoors. Start by giving them 4 hours of morning light. Then gradually introduce it to the full sun or part shade in the afternoon. When they have grown

2) Temperature and Moisture

Cold temperatures will likely lead to stunting growth or kill your plant. During the winter frost and cold nights, keep the donkey plant indoors. However, keep it in locations that get some light during the day. 

They enjoy warmth. For them to keep growing and doing well, they need temperature readings around 55 °F. Maintaining this temperature means that you keep up the required moisture levels.

3) Watering – When & How Often

How often should you water your donkey ear plats? Being succulent plants means that you water them with a lot of caution. Check for water needs by pressing them between fingers. If they are soft and look wrinkled, then you are denying them water.

Overwatering them will lead to root rot development. So have containers with drainage holes.

Many succulents need more water in the summer. Water every two weeks in the summer. And stop adding as soon as water begins trickling out of the holes. Then increase to 18 days gap as the plant needs less water in winter.

If you are growing donkey ears in hanging baskets, let the water dry out completely. Constantly keep an eye on the progress of your hanging plant. Let the soil dry out between waterings in the summer.

TOP TIP: Always dip a dry stick 2 – 3 inches deep to check the dryness of soil before you water.

4) Feeding

During its growing season, the donkey ears plant grows more leaves. More leaves mean its nutritional needs go up a bit. Therefore, they need a good feeding plan.

Feed the plant once a week in summer. I prefer using a liquid fertilizer with a more balanced ratio. In the winter, reduce to ½ strength water-soluble fertilizer for hanging baskets.

You can also feed them with manure tea lightly once a month. Just add a ¼ serving spoon or adjust according to the size of the hanging basket.

5) Pruning

Donkey Ears require light trimming to enable them to grow up and stop falling aside. In most cases, trimming or pruning is done for plants growing outdoors. The good thing is that you can prune the donkey ear plant at any time of the growing season.

Use a pair of scissors when trimming. Remove dead and old leaves by cutting them at the base of the plant. Don’t overdo it but be gentle.

How to Propagate Donkey Ears

If you want to start to reproduce your plants, the best time is early spring. Propagation in donkey ear plants is usually carried out through cuttings. You just need to follow a generic procedure to be able to propagate.

You may also get new plants employing leaf propagation. Seed reproduction is less practical and rarely successful.

To propagate through leaves, identify healthy and mature ones. Remove each by cutting at its base.

Succulent plant propagation
Propagating a new plant growing from a leaf
  • Cut short lines across the blades using a sterilized pair of scissors
  • Let the wounds dry out by situating them in a warm and wet with indirect light for 4 or so days
  • Prepare new planter soil
  • Wet the soil and then place your leaves on it

Growing Donkey Ear Succulents

The basic growing steps and procedures involve soil preparations and transplanting. First though, here are the soil requirements/soil mix preparations.

  • Well-drained humus-rich soil from native areas
  • A fertile potting mix
  • Loam, coarse sand, and lava grit/pumice

When to Transplant

After having propagated successfully, you need to transplant them when the time comes. The best time to transplant the flowering succulents is early fall. Fall weather conditions will enable them to establish (by the growth of buds) before winter arrives. Go for flowering donkey ear succulents. However, you’ll need to protect them from the first cold winter season.

How to Grow Plant Donkey Ears in Pots

The best way of growing them is the use of pots. Though you may decide to plant them on the grounds. If you choose to grow your donkey ear succulents in pots, here is how-to steps:

  • Add a little compost to native soil and mix well
  • Mix pumice, coarse sand and grit
  • Till thoroughly so that the mix gels well
  • Hydrate your mixture a day before planting
  • Fill your pot half-way compost soil mix first, then add 4 inches of pumice, coarse sand and grit
  • Make holes according to the size of your pot
  • Plant each donkey with a mound of soil keeping the root depth from the previous propagation pot
  • You may want to slightly firm the soil around the individual plant
  • Place your plants under cool shading conditions
  • Water lightly after 2 – 3 days

Don’t fertilize until early spring. Select low nitrogen garden fertilizers.

Donkey Ear Plant Sale – Where to Buy

First time growers may need to purchase transplants or young plants. You are wondering where to buy donkey ears from? Succulent Alley offers free a Buying guide. One can buy them online or by visiting succulent plant centres. When advertised to be on sale, however, be careful on what you want to buy. Be sure of delivery before you place any order.

Bottom line, I greatly advice not to make hasty moves with online businesses. Take time to know what plant services are actually offered to avoid incurring losses.

Donkey Ear Plant Benefits + Uses

Growing them in hanging baskets is one of the excellent ideas any gardener can come up with. Aided by resistance to drought makes donkey ear plants a great choice for dry garden spaces. The biennial plant grows flower buds during the fall season. The buds have an appealing to the senses that bring attraction to your garden. They can enhance and magnify its beauty.

Planting flowering species means you also get cut flowers. You can choose to arrange them as standalone flower décor or in companion with artificial ornaments. This brings out a visual enhancement to your indoor space. Gardeners with adequate space can grow these plants with other succulents in the same plant vessels.

Besides gardening, it is traditionally used in dealing with common colds and coughs. When mixed with other ingredients alleviate health conditions, disorders, and other ailments such as skin swellings and healing wounds. It can help treat are bowel diseases, kidney stones, boils eye pain, etc.

Common Pests & Diseases

Being succulents with vulnerable leaf cuticles, these plants need maximum protection from pest damage. Common pests include aphids and mealybugs.

Use household strength products to treat the pests. Always keep an eye to prevent any case of pest infestation.

The donkey ear plant species are also prone to plant fungal and viral infections. These fungal infections include leaf spot, crown rots, root rots, and bacterial rot. Fungus-like powdery mildew can be a threat.

Sources and References

  1. Health benefits of Life plant. Healthbenefitstimes. https://www.healthbenefitstimes.com/life-plant/. Accessed online 5 September 2021
  2. Kalanchoe pinnata. Integrated Taxonomic Information System, IT IS. https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=503277 – null. Accessed online 5 September 2021
  3. Kalanchoe thyrsiflora. Plats of the World Online. http://plantsoftheworldonline.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:274500-1. Accessed online 5 November 2021
  4. Tatsimo, S.J.N., Tamokou, J.d.D., Havyarimana, L. et al. Antimicrobial and antioxidant activity of kaempferol rhamnoside derivatives from Bryophyllum pinnatum. BMC Res Notes 5, 158 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/1756-0500-5-15

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