A mother of thousands plant can provide endless interest and fascination in a home. Mother of thousands plant produces one large, central stem from which large blue-green leaves emerge. About 6 inches in length, this narrow, pointed foliage is rarely wider than 3 inches. Along the edge of each leaf, tiny plantlets emerge.
After growing for a while, the plantlets drop from the main plant and attempt to root where they land. This habit enables a mother of thousands plant to spread easily through a space. It also means that these plants are best grown on their own or in a container. This ability to produce numerous plantlets is the inspiration for the plant’s name, mother of thousands.
Adding to the interest, these plants produce scores of little plantlets along the edges of its foliage. It is this habit that gives the plant its name.
The mother of thousands plant is also known as the ‘Mexican Hat Plant’, ‘Devil’s Backbone’ or ‘Alligator Plant’. Originating in Madagascar, these plants can reach up to 35 inches in height.
When grown as a houseplant, mother of thousands rarely flowers. Growing outside, in favourable conditions, the plants will produce pink or purple, tubular flowers. After flowering, usually in fall or winter the plant dies away. It’s place is quickly occupied by the plantlets that it sheds.
Warning: like other species of kalanchoe plants, the stem, leaves and plantlets of mother of thousands are all toxic. Keep the plants well away from small children and pets.
How to Grow a Mother of Thousands Plant
Generally grown as a houseplant, mother of thousands plants can also be grown outside in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. It also thrives as part of a terrarium. This is a mini-garden and is a great way to display succulents and small plants.
Be warned, while mother of thousands likes the conditions a terrarium provides, it’s invasive growth habit means that, if left unchecked, it will take over a terrarium, smothering other plants. The easiest way to prevent this is by regularly checking the plants foliage and removing any visible plantlets before they have a chance to develop and drop.
While the plants can thrive in terrariums or raised beds, they are usually grown in containers. Like other container growing plants, you will need to regularly re-pot your mother of thousands plant.
The plant’s ability to spread easily means that it is best grown in a container. If you are growing it in a space with other plants, regularly remove the plantlets. This helps to check the spread of mother of thousands, preventing it from taking over a space.
When Should I Re-pot my Mother of Thousands Plant?
The clearest indication that it is time to re-pot your houseplant is when roots begin to emerge from the drainage holes in the bottom of the container. This is a sign that the plant is running out of room to grow, or becoming potbound.
Other indications that it is time to re-pot include the soil drying out more quickly than before, even during cool spells. Growth also slows or ceases as the plant outgrows its container.
The best time to re-pot is in spring. As daylight increases and temperatures rise, the re-potted roots will receive plenty of encouragement to establish themselves in their new home.
Which Container is Best?
Like other succulents, these plants like the air to circulate around it. A terracotta pot is more porous than a plastic alternative. This means that water and air can circulate more freely. While a mother of thousands plant will be happier in a terracotta flower pot, with the right care they will also thrive in plastic containers.
Your chosen container should be clean and have drainage holes in the bottom. Adding a handful of small pebbles to the bottom of the container further helps to improve drainage.
Many plants like to sit in a large pot that they can grow into. Conversely, mother of thousands likes a small, compact container. This means that as the plant grows, you will need to regularly re-pot it into a slightly larger container.
Your new container should be slightly larger than the one currently housing your plant. If you are unsure, select a pot no more than 2 inches wider and deeper than the current container.
Sit the container on a tray or saucer so that excess water can drain freely out. Remember to empty the tray when water gathers. Like other succulents, mother of thousands struggles in damp and wet conditions.
Terracotta flower pots allow air and water to circulate more easily than plastic containers. Many succulents are happier in these more porous containers.
What Sort of Soil Should I Use?
The mother of thousands does best in sandy or well-draining soil. A cactus potting mix, such as the Miracle-Gro Cactus, Palm and Citrus Mix, is ideal. Alternatively, you can make your own well-draining soil by mixing coarse sand into fresh, general purpose potting soil. Perlite, vermiculite and pumice can also be added to soil to help improve drainage.
Don’t use soil mixed with load, humus, or peat moss. These combinations are designed to help soil retain moisture. Allowing mother of thousands plants to sit in moist soil for an extended period can cause the roots to rot. This can lead to the plants becoming unhealthy and, in the worst cases, dying.
How to Pot
Fill the new container about one-third full with well-draining soil.
Carefully remove the mother of thousands from its container. To do this place your palm on the soil, spreading your fingers around the plant’s stem. With your other hand carefully turn the plant upside down. If it still doesn’t move, gently squeeze the sides of the pot. This moves the soil and helps to loosen the roots. You can then, gently, slide the plant out.
Inspect the root system, looking for any roots that are damaged or dead. These can be trimmed away. Mushy or rotting roots can also be trimmed away. Overly long roots should also be trimmed. Cutting away some of a root system can help plants fit into a new container.
Place your plant in the middle of the new pot. The top of the root system should be about an inch below the top of the container. When you are happy with the position of the plant, add more well-draining soil, tamping it down gently.
Once planted water well, ensuring the soil is evenly moist.
How to Care for a Mother of Thousands Plant
As long as it is sited in well-draining soil, in a favorable position, mother of thousands is pleasingly easy to care for.
Light and Position
Mother of thousands plants thrive in light positions.
During the warmest months of the year, site your houseplant away from direct sunlight. The intense heat from the summer sun can burn or scorch foliage.
For the rest of the year, from fall until spring, your mother of thousands plants will appreciate a position in direct sunlight.
East facing windows are ideal. This position allows the plants to access lots of early morning sun. During the summer, the sun will have moved away from any east facing windows before it fully heats up. This means that the plants get lots of light without being damaged by the intense, afternoon heat.
When selecting a position for your mother of thousands plant, avoid north facing windows. These can be dark and cold meaning that plants will struggle without lots of artificial help such as grow lights.
The foliage of your mother of thousands plant will tell you if it is receiving enough light. Happy plants produce lots of healthy green foliage, often marked with a rich red outline.
Plants that aren’t receiving enough light will become leggy, as if they are reaching up to the light. There will also be large spaces between the leaves, making plants look sparse. Any foliage that is produced may also begin to curl.
The mother of thousands plant prefers temperatures between 65 and 75 ℉. During the winter months, don’t place your houseplants or succulents in close proximity to any heating source. Artificial heat can cause the soil to dry out quickly and can damage foliage.
Happy and healthy plants produce lots of healthy green foliage with a distinct red outline. If your plant’s foliage fades, or doesn’t look as bright as it could be, try changing its position.
Watering and Feeding
Water your mother of thousands plants until water begins to drain from the bottom of the container. Allow at least the top 2 inches of soil to dry out before watering again. In the cooler, winter months as growth slows, your plants will require less frequent watering. Don’t let your plants dry out completely.
When watering always use water that is at room temperature. Cold water can shock the plant, causing damage to the roots.
Finally, when watering aim to water only the soil of your plant. Damp leaves can rot or become unsightly.
During the growing period, usually from March until September, the mother of thousands plant can be fertilized once every three months. A well-balanced or general purpose liquid fertilizer, diluted by half is ideal.
While commercial products are easily available you can also make your own liquid plant feed or fertilizer. When correctly made these are just as effective as commercial products. They are also more affordable. Another bonus of making your own plant fertilizer is that it allows you to know exactly what you are putting into your soil.
Prune your mother of thousands plant regularly. This helps the plants to keep their neat appearance. Regular pruning also helps to prevent foliage from becoming too dense. Overly dense foliage can hinder air circulation. These plants like the air to circulate freely around it. If this doesn’t happen the plants can struggle or become unhealthy.
Occasionally you will need to pinch off the tops of the plant above any large leaves. This prevents your plants from overgrowing their situation and becoming spindly. Pinching off also encourages foliage to emerge further down the stem, promoting a bushier growth habit.
Common Pests and Diseases
The mother of thousands plant is a pleasingly problem free houseplant.
Aphids, various scale insects and mealybugs can all target mother of thousands. Regularly check your plants for signs of infestation. Should you spot any pests, an application of insecticidal soap can be used to wash away the pests. Persistent infestations may require more than one application.
Root rot can occur if plants are allowed to sit in damp or wet soil for a prolonged period. If the roots become too diseased the plant is probably lost. Instead attempt to harvest the plantlets and grow them on in fresh, well-draining soil.
How to Propagate
Thanks to its habit of producing lots of little plantlets, mother of thousand plant propagation is easy.
To propagate, pick a few plantlets from the leaves. If you do not wish to propagate immediately, the plantlets can be kept in a plastic bag. Keep the plantlets moist until you are ready to plant them on.
Fill a small terracotta pot with a fresh, well-draining soil mix. A cactus mix can also be used.
Put the plantlets on the soil, spacing them at least half an inch apart. Alternatively plant one plantlet in each small, seedling pot. Spray with water, moistening the soil.
Once planted, place the pot in a mini propagator. If you do not have a propagator place the pots in a plastic bag. This helps to maintain warmth, as well as protecting the plantlets.
Place your plantlets in a sunny position. Keep the soil moist, not wet. Wet soil can damage the plantlets and their roots.
When the planets have reached at least an inch in height, remove the plastic cover.
Allow the plants to grow on in their sunny position. Sometimes the plantlets will flower, producing clusters of pink or purple flowers. However, this doesn’t always happen.
Occasionally these plants will produce clusters of pink or purple flowers. However, the plant’s flowering habit is unreliable and, for many growers, irrelevant. Instead it is the foliage which holds the main attraction.
If you have grown the plantlets in one pot, when they are large enough to handle, transplant them into individual pots. Be careful when transplanting, the young plants root systems are very sensitive and can easily be damaged.
A mother of thousands plant is a fascinatingly attractive addition to your home or terrarium. Easy to care for, it’s pleasing foliage and interesting plantlets will bring both color and interest to a space. While the plants can look attractive on their own, they also work well as part of a collection of other succulents such as Hens and Chicks. Just remember to keep the plantlets in check, otherwise it will happily try to take over.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.