Friday, November 19, 2010

Croton

Crotons are often referred to as easy-to-grow, perfect-for-beginners, undemanding plants. And they can be – if you equip yourself with some care information specific to their needs. If you don’t, they can be quite difficult. And they certainly won’t look their best, even if you manage to keep them alive with slapdash care. And although I personally recommend these plants to individuals with considerably more experience with indoor plants, even beginners can manage to grow one decently, if they take the time to learn and understand what’s required in growing a Croton.

Native to tropical areas such as Malaysia, Southern Asia and the Pacific Islands, these gorgeous plants boast multicoloured foliage in shades of yellow, green, red, orange, brown and even pink. The ornamental leaves are also available in a variety of shapes and patterns. Crotons, if grown in ideal conditions, are fast-growing, capable of reaching heights of 3 to 5 feet within a couple of years.

One of the basic requirements for a healthy Croton is plenty of light. Although these plants will endure dimmer areas – for awhile – they do best in very bright ones. In the winter, try to place your plant in the sunniest spot available. A location that offers a few hours of direct or semi-direct (through a sheer curtain) light or a location that offers some early morning or late afternoon sun will suffice. If exposure to sunshine is not possible, choose a spot right in front of a window that is very bright. In the summer, caution is advised. Although a southern exposure will offer the adequate light that this plant prefers, the temperature may be too hot. Watch your plant for signs of stress and move it to another location if necessary. Always offer protection against the strong rays of the summer’s midday sun. Do not deprive this plant of the high levels of light that it needs. If you do, the leaves will lose their remarkable leaf coloration and revert to various shades of green. Crotons need plenty of light to maintain their multihued foliage.

Next in line of importance is humidity, which Crotons need plenty of. Keep the levels high by placing the plant on a pebble tray filled with water or by adding a humidifier nearby. You’ll likely run across many sources that recommend misting as a way of raising humidity. And although it does combat dry air, it’s temporary. You’d have to mist all day long for this method to be significantly effective. Because high levels of humidity are so vital to the overall wellbeing of this plant, practice methods that provide lasting relief. In addition to keeping a Croton healthy, higher levels of humidity help to deter spider mites, which this lovely plant is susceptible to.

The secret to watering a Croton properly is mastering the ‘not too much and not too little’ water juggling act. If the plant is constantly kept too wet, it will rot. On the other hand, the plant will drop leaves if it’s constantly kept too dry it. During the active growing season, always keep the soil evenly moist and never allow it to dry out completely. A Croton’s leaves will droop miserably if the medium is allowed to become bone-dry. Although the plant will bounce back after a generous watering, if you take too long showing up with the watering can, it might be inclined to decorate your floor with some of its healthy leaves. During the winter season, allow the soil to dry out a little more but never entirely. Always use an airy, fast-draining medium that will provide excellent drainage and help prevent rot.

Temperature fluctuations and cold drafts are something to be avoided, both of which can cause leaf drop. Choose a location that is warm but not too hot; average room temperatures are generally sufficient. Providing suitable temperatures is important; if a Croton is grown in a room that is too cold, it may drop many of its leaves, possibly all of them.

And finally, keep an eye out for Spider Mites. As mentioned above, Crotons are very prone to attacks by these persistent plant pests. This information is not meant to discourage you from growing one of these charming plants; it’s meant to alert you to a problem that can be avoided with preventive measures. Avoid infestations by inspecting this plant regularly and cleaning its leaves, over and under, as often as possible. Make sure there is adequate ventilation to discourage stagnant air, which creates a haven for pests. Keep the air fresh and in constant motion by running floor or ceiling fans, and by opening up windows regularly. Keep humidity high, water properly and avoid rooms that are too hot, which invite spider mites, or too cold, which stress and weaken the plant.

Keeping your plant in tiptop shape is the best deterrent against infestations because (I know I’ve said this many times before, but I’m going to say it again): “A healthy plant utilizes its own resources to defend itself against infestations while a plant under stress is much more vulnerable to them.”

Transplanting To Hydroculture

Crotons are wonderful candidates for the hydroculture way of growing houseplants that replaces soil with clay pellets. And a growing method that eliminates soil completely also eliminates the water juggling act associated with it. When transplanting, make sure you eliminate all traces of soil from the roots to avoid rot.

Conversion is fairly quick (water roots will emerge within a month) but the plant will begin to show signs of stress within a few short days after it’s been removed from soil (and it realizes what’s going on). Two of the most probable reactions are wilting and minimal leaf dropping. But whether your Croton sheds a couple of leaves or hangs over its pot miserably, do not give up on it. The dramatic display is temporary and the plant will bounce back as soon as it forms water roots. In the meantime, make sure you provide plenty of humidity to aid in the process.

When the basic needs of this plant are met - ample light, high humidity, suitable temperatures and careful watering – it can be grown successfully. And a well-grown Croton - with a stem full of vividly-coloured foliage - is one of the most eye-catching plants you’ll ever introduce inside your home.

3 comments:

  1. This post drives home the fact that plant care can vary greatly between gardening zones. We have an almost endless supply of sunlight and high humidity levels which is probably why locally, crotons seem to be everywhere, especially in the provinces. They grow along the roadside and almost every house has them although I do not know if this is by design or accidental.

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  2. Ahh...this is very timely indeed, Martha. My crotons, which I just recently brought indoors after a summer on the front porch, are dropping their leaves like crazy. I didn't know how important it was to keep them thoroughly hydrated. Thanks to you, now I do.

    I thank you and my crotons thank you. :-)

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  3. Bom, you're very fortunate to have so much sunlight! And warmer weather. Crotons could NEVER grow outdoors here. And they struggle inside as well. Mostly with humidity, which never seems to be high enough for them. And that's why they're always infested by spider mites...those rotten bugs...

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    Beth, they're also trying to adjust to lower humidity, less light and a change of temperature now that you've brought them indoors. They'll get used to it. Next year, you might want to slowly acclimatize them to the changes to avoid losing too many leaves.

    Anyway, I'm happy to help. I'm very experienced with indoor plants, much more than outdoors, so I enjoy helping people out with them.

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