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The Plant Doctor: Fragile croton requires careful indoor attention

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Easily one of the most popular houseplants is the multicolored croton. This spectacular plant is native to Malaysia, where it grows in an environment characterized by bright, indirect light, plenty of rain, high humidity and temperatures ranging between warm and hot.

Now let’s compare this ideal but natural environment with the one the croton is exposed to when living in your home. Most indoor environments offer heat — and most often too much — drafts, low light and very low humidity. These conditions prevail in our homes and apartments during the winter, and they constitute a recipe that causes the croton to drop its leaves.

Crotons are very sensitive to change. Bring them indoors for the fall and winter or out of doors during the spring and summer and they drop their leaves. Another factor is age. Regardless of how happy the plant may be, after five or six years it will begin to drop some leaves.

The one major advantage of crotons is that they recover incredibly fast once conditions are made available to their liking.

To mollify this plant during the fall and winter, place it in an area that is bright and where it will receive the most light possible. Mist it often to maintain a level of humidity around the plant, and fertilize it monthly at half-strength.

Watering is a bit tricky but nothing you can’t handle. Allow the topsoil to dry out slightly to a depth of about 1/2 inch. Don’t allow the soil beneath this depth to become dry. Water to maintain moist soil. Both overwatering and drying will cause this plant to drop leaves.

There are more than 100 types of crotons. While it is unlikely you will find that many in a nursery, at a minimum you will probably find at least three to six different varieties. Not all cultivars (varieties) will behave the same in your home. You may wish to experiment by trying out different varieties in your home to determine which is best.

A final word of caution: Many of our home gardeners are attracted to seasonal clearance sales provided by nurseries to get your mind off the snow and onto their flora. Any plants purchased during the winter must be protected in transit from the store to your home. Most nurseries will double-wrap the plant and advise you to take the plant home as soon as possible. Even brief exposure to the frigid weather we are experiencing will make the leaves fall off.

Questions or concerns regarding gardening or plant care should be addressed by e-mail to Harvey.Goodman@att.net.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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