House Plants/Croton

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Question
I received a croton plant in August 2013 after my father passed away and I am desperately trying to keep the plant alive. Most of the leaves at the top have fallen off, but new ones are growing at the bottom of the plant. Now there are long stems sticking out of the plant. I try to keep the plant moist, but don't want to over water it. It is still in the original pot and straw hat from the florist. During the warmer months, we keep the our place pretty cool (68') and cooler months, maybe 72, not more than 75. Can I prune the stems and when should I take it out of the florist pot and hat? How often should I water?
Please help.

Answer
Hi Stephanie,
  It will be fine to prune the stems down but not to repot unless the pot has no drainage holes in the bottom or the plant is showing signs of rootbound stress.
Unnecessary repotting is one of the most common reasons for plant failure.
The most common signs a plant needs to be repotted is an almost constant need for water, little or no new growth and sometimes thick roots growing out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Sometimes there may even be roots growing on top of the soil.   (however it is normal for a few smaller roots to stray out of the drainage holes).
Also to check if a plant needs repotted carefully lift the plant out of the pot. If there is little or no soil visible in the root-ball and in the bottom of the pot, the plant may need to be repotted.
When repotting, carefully unwrap a couple of roots on the bottom of the rootball, to encourage the roots to spread out into the new fresh soil.
When a plant does need to be repotted, never repot a plant into a pot more than 2 inches bigger than the pot it was in. The soil in a pot that is too big can stay wet too long and cause root rot.

Crotons require moderate to bright sunlight. However, excessive light can cause fading of colors like red and orange. Alternately, excessive shade will prevent proper color development. Light level also affects leaf size, with high light reducing leaf size and heavy shade resulting in larger leaves. New leaves of crotons appear green and change to normal coloration with time under proper light.

Croton plants require heavy watering. During the active growing cycle keep the plants soil moist at all times but not wet. Croton leaves grow in a stiff upward shape. If leaves begin to fall off or slope downward, you are probably not providing the plant with enough water. Wilting of the leaves is a sign that the plant is being over-watered. Remember to cut back watering during the winter when crotons are in their dormant cycle.

Crotons prefer warm temperatures up to 80 degrees F. Crotons can tolerate temperatures as low as 55-60 degrees F and will suffer cold damage in temperatures below 50 degrees F. A lot of problems that occur with Croton are caused from drastic temperature changes and not enough humidity. Temperatures that are either too hot or too cold or do not stay consistent can cause leaf drop. It is best to keep crotons away from cold or hot drafts such as from heating/cooling vents and near windows and doors during the winter.

Crotons also require high humidity. One way to increase the humidity around a croton is to place the croton in a group with other plants. Plants give off moisture into the air around them. The moisture given off by each of the plants will help to raise the humidity around the whole group. Another way to raise the humidity around a croton is to place the croton on a tray of pebbles filled halfway with water. Be sure that the bottom of the pot is not sitting in the water as this will cause the soil to stay too wet.

The active growing season for crotons is early spring to autumn. During this time, fertilizing is required but should be stopped during the dormant cycle (winter). You can use any well balanced fertilizer.  I recommend using 1/3 of the amount called for in the directions on the package. Liquid fertilizers are best. Dilute 1 part liquid fertilizer to 2 parts distilled water. Be sure to never fertilize a plant when the soil is dry. This could cause the plant to take up too much fertilizer at once.

** Please be aware that crotons are considered to be very poisonous plants. Please be careful to keep crotons out of reach of children and pets. The white sap that seeps out from punctured or broken croton leaves can also cause skin irritation and possibly leave stains on clothing.

I hope this helps. If you have any questions or need additional information please don't hesitate to ask.
     Thanks
       Tracy  

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Tracy

Expertise

I am knowledgeable and experienced (professionally) in the care of many different kinds of houseplants as well as the pests and diseases common to houseplants. I have had a lot of experience and success with most propagation techniques. I am also knowledgeable and experienced with artificial lighting for plants. I can answer questions about all aspects of 'indoor gardening'. Not only questions about growing foliage plants and starting seeds under artificial plant lighting but also questions about artificial plant light system set up, supplemental artificial lighting and cost. ~ I can help identify plants accurately ONLY if you submit a picture of the plant with your question.~

Experience

I usually always have at least 70 houseplants at all times. I have done extensive research, education and have over 20 years of experience with houseplants, indoor gardening, interior landscaping and artificial plant lighting. About 30% of my houseplants are grown exclusively under artificial plant lighting. Many of the other houseplants that are growing in natural light are also given supplemental lighting using artificial plant light. I have 5 complete artificial plant light systems that I designed and built.

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I have written extensively about plants, all aspects of houseplant care, indoor gardening and artificial plant lighting. I have written many informational blogs, articles and 'plant care guides' for many websites, forums and some online horticultural communities.

Education/Credentials
I have knowledge and experience on the care of houseplants, the different kinds of houseplants, pests and diseases common to houseplants, indoor gardening/landscaping and artificial plant lighting.

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