How to Grow and Care for a Chocolate Soldier Plant

Last Updated: October 16, 2023

Small Chocolate Soldier Plant

Chocolate Soldier Plant in a small concrete planter

Chocolate Soldier Plants are popular succulents as they are super low effort and easy to care for. They have a few specific requirements when it comes to light level and water but other than that, you don’t need to worry about much!

Native to Madagascar, these succulents are part of the Crassulaceae family (also known as the Stonecrop family). They can be easily identified through their pale green fuzzy leaves that have brown spots lining the rim of each leaf.

Known sometimes by their Latin name of Kalanchoe tomentosa, they are commonly called either the Chocolate Solider Plant, Panda Plant or Pussy Ears.

How to Care for a Chocolate Soldier Plant

Other than their gorgeous leaves, these plants are loved for their easy care routine and adaptability. When it comes to sunlight, bright but indirect light is best. A lot of succulents love the warm direct summer rays but these plants don’t like it so much and can become scorched if placed in intense light.

The other important thing to remember is to water your Chocolate Soldier Plant infrequently. These plants need their potting soil to fully dry out between waterings which is why we recommend watering deeply but not very often.

We’ll go into both of these points as well as plenty of other care guidance below!

Chocolate Soldier Plant Overview

Origin: Madagascar

Latin Name: Kalanchoe tomentosa

Common Name(s): Chocolate Solider Plant, Panda Plant, Pussy Ears.

Plant Family: Crassulaceae family (also known as the Stonecrop family)

Difficulty Level: Easy

Appearance: Green fuzzy leaves that have brown spots lining the rim of each leaf.

Height and Size: Maximum height of 2 feet (30cm)

Growth Rate: Slow-growing

Flowering: Small red flowers when grown outdoors, rare for it to bloom as a houseplant.

Pruning: Only to remove dead or dying leaves

Cleaning: Use a soft-bristled brush or feather duster to remove dust.

Light Requirements: Bright but indirect.

Water Requirements: Deep but infrequent watering.

Best Soil: Well-draining cacti and succulent potting mix

Ideal temperature: 65-80⁰ F (16-27⁰C)

Fertilizing Routine: Apply a water-soluble fertilizer once a year, in late spring.

Ideal Humidity Level: 30-50% humidity

Propagation: Through leaf cuttings

Repotting Frequency: Every 2-4 years

Toxicity: Toxic to pets and humans

Risk of Pests: Spider mites and mealybugs

Common Problems: Brown, yellow or soft leaves

Origin of a Chocolate Soldier Plant

Native to Madagascar, Chocolate Soldier Plants are slow-growing compact succulents.

Plant Family

Chocolate Soldier Plants are part of the Crassulaceae family (also known as the Stonecrop or Orpine family). This is a diverse family of flowering plants that are characterised by not only their succulent leaves but by their own unique form of photosynthesis, called Crassulacean acid metabolism.

Latin and Common Names

The Latin name for this succulent is Kalanchoe tomentosa but they are commonly known as  either the Chocolate Solider Plant, Panda Plant or Pussy Ears.

Chocolate Soldier Plant Appearance

They can be easily identified through their pale green fuzzy leaves that have brown spots lining the rim of each leaf. They are compact succulents with slightly concave narrow leaves. The thin short hairs that cover the small leaves give it a furry texture and make it almost look velvety.

Chocolate Soldier Plant Height and Size

These are compact plants that will only grow to about 2 feet (30cm) in size. The individual leaves are also very small, on average only a few centimetres in width and length.

Care Difficulty Level

Chocolate Soldier Plants are easy to care for and adaptable to a range of environments.

Growth Rate of a Chocolate Soldier Plant

Chocolate Soldier Plants are slow-growing succulents so don’t expect more than a few new leaves each year. However, there are a few benefits to this as it makes them perfect for smaller spaces and you don’t need to worry about repotting for a while.

Flowers on a Chocolate Soldier Plant

When grown outdoors in their ideal environment, they can develop small red flowers in spring and summer. However, it is very rare for them to bloom when grown indoors as houseplants.

Pruning your Chocolate Soldier Plant

They do not need regular pruning and we only recommend trimming your plant back if it has developed brown, yellow or soft leaves. Once the leaf has started to die, the damage to that leaf is irreversible. Pruning it will allow your plant to refocus that energy on producing new healthy leaves rather than trying to keep the dying ones alive.

When pruning, make sure that you use clean, sharp scissors to avoid transferring bacteria into the cut. You should also wear gloves as Chocolate Soldier Plants are toxic.

Cleaning your Chocolate Soldier Plant

It can be difficult to properly clean these plants as they have very small furry leaves. Wiping them with a cloth can damage them so we recommend a soft-bristled brush or feather duster to remove any dirt or dust from your plant.

It’s important to keep your plant clean as dust not only forms a thin barrier between the leaf and sunlight, but it can also clog up the pores, making it harder for your plant to ‘breathe’.

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Mother Chocolate Soldier Plant

Chocolate Soldier Plant Light Requirements

Keep your Chocolate Soldier Plant away from intense bright sunlight during summer. Instead, bright but indirect light is best to prevent the leaves from becoming burnt and scorched. This is slightly different to a lot of other succulent types who love bright sunshine so it can be something that a lot of plant parents get wrong with these plants.

You can place your plant in direct sunlight during winter as the sun is a lot weaker (and around for less hours each day) but if you are doing this, then remember to relocate your plant in spring to avoid burning and/or drying out your succulent.

Chocolate Soldier Plants don’t survive well in low-light areas and will start to become leggy before losing leaves and eventually dying.

If you do find this to be an issue (particularly over winter which can be unavoidable), then it’s best to supplement the light level with an LED grow light. These are not only great at getting your houseplants through the darker months of the year but then can help to stimulate and strengthen growth when propagating your plants.

Chocolate Soldier Plant Water Requirements

Chocolate Soldier Plants need their potting mix to fully dry out between waterings as they are very sensitive to root rot. Because of this, it’s best to water deeply but infrequently rather than little but often.

Always make sure that the potting mix has fully dried out either by using a moisture meter, the finger method or the lifting method.

Avoid using a watering schedule with these plants as there are so many factors that can cause the potting mix to dry out faster or slower (eg. pot size, temperature and light level just to name a few). This is why you want to be adjusting how often you water according to the moisture level.

Too much or too little water can cause brown and soft leaves to develop on your plant so make sure to find a good balance and adjust depending on the seasons. You want to be watering less during the colder, darker months as your plant will be dormant.

Dry brown leaves can often indicate underwatering, whereas if the leaves on your Chocolate Soldier Plant are dark brown and soft, then you may be overwatering.

Best Soil for a Chocolate Soldier Plant

Choose a well-draining, high-quality, nutrient-rich potting soil for your Chocolate Soldier Plant. Ingredients such as perlite will help with drainage to prevent waterlogged soil and consequent root rot.

Other ingredients that work well for these succulents are sand, pumice and coir to create a porous, sandy potting mix.

Ideal temperature for your Chocolate Soldier Plant

Average room temperatures between 65-80⁰ F (16-27⁰C) are perfect for your Chocolate Soldier Plant. You want to avoid extremes as they can over time cause real issues for your plant.

Avoid placing your plant near drafty windows, external doors or air conditioning vents as a slow and steady stream of cold air can cause leaf loss and waterlogged soil. You also want to make sure that your plant isn’t too close to radiators or heating vents as this can dry out the leaves.

If you don’t already, use a digital thermometer to track any fluctuations in temperature. They will help you to spot and solve any issues before it’s caused any problems for your plant. You can often get thermometers that also have a humidity gauge as a 2 in 1 which is great for tracking your plant’s environment.

Chocolate Soldier Plant Fertilizer Requirements

Apply a well-balanced water-soluble fertilizer once a year, in late spring. They don’t need regular feeding and you risk issues caused by over-fertilizing if you feed more regularly throughout the year.

Although a regular-purpose houseplant fertilizer will work, sometimes you can get specific cacti and succulent fertilizers. Look out for a 5-10-10 blend or 10-10-10 fertilizer for the best results.

Top tip: Never fertilize your Chocolate Soldier Plant in autumn or winter as they will be in the dormant phase and it can cause serious, irreversible problems.

Ideal Humidity Level for your Chocolate Soldier Plant

Average humidity between 30-50% will be perfect for your Chocolate Soldier Plant. They thrive in slightly dry environments so high humidity levels can cause the leaves to become soft and rot.

Use a humidity monitor to ensure that the air is in the ideal range and avoid placing your plant in either the bathroom or the kitchen. The humidity level is naturally higher in these rooms due to steam from cooking and showering.

Chocolate Soldier Plant Propagation

The best way to propagate your Chocolate Soldier Plant is through single leaves and offshoots. Remove healthy leaves using sharp, clean shears and place them on top of a pot filled with soil. Mist gently and after a few weeks, you should start to see some roots growing into the soil.

This method of propagation does not have a 100% success rate so it’s best to propagate several leaves at once.

Top tip: wear protective gloves when you propagate your Chocolate Soldier Plant as the sap released when you cut a leaf off is toxic.

Repotting a Chocolate Soldier Plant

Chocolate Soldier Plants are slow growers so won’t become pot-bound very quickly. You might need to only repot it once every 2-4 years.

Look out for signs that your plant is rootbound such as roots growing out of the bottom or top of the pot, roots being coiled up when removed from their pot and stagnant growth during the peak growth period.

Chocolate Soldier Plant Toxicity to Humans and Pets

The sap found in the Chocolate Soldier Plant is mildly toxic to humans, and toxic to both dogs and cats. Symptoms of exposure include mouth and throat irritation and swelling, drooling, vomiting, and difficulty swallowing.

If you, your pet or anyone has come into contact with the sap from a Chocolate Soldier Plant then seek medical treatment immediately.

Treating and Preventing Pests

A pest infestation is rare but Chocolate Soldier Plants can suffer from mealybugs and spider mites. If you do find pests on your plant, make sure to isolate it and check all of your other houseplants in case the infestation is not only isolated to this one plant.

The next step is to remove any of the worst affected leaves. This will cut down the number of pests on your plant which makes the infestation slightly easier to tackle. You then want to treat with a rigorous routine of neem oil and an insecticide to remove the pests.

Fighting mealybugs or spider mites can be a tricky and lengthy process but it’s easier if you spot the problem early. Inspect your plant thoroughly about once a month and isolate it for several weeks if you are moving it inside from outdoors. This is when the risk of pests is at its highest compared with plants that only grow indoors.

Chocolate Soldier Plant Common Problems

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