The Growing Habits Of The Croton Plant
The croton plant is a tropical plant. It features a variety of leaf types and colors. Though relatively easy to grow, and usually propagated through cuttings, it is most at home in the South Sea islands. In the United States, the only place you can grow the croton plant out of doors is in southern Florida, and the warmer parts of southern Florida at that. Leaf colors range from pinks and yellows to oranges, and occasionally purples.
Many Different Shapes Of Leaves
The leaves are not a solid color, but usually feature one of the above colors patterned against a glossy green background. Plants located in shade or partial shade are apt to have leaves that are predominately green, while those in full sun display larger and more pronounced colored patterns. Insofar as leaf shapes are concerned, some leaf types mimic an oak tree leaf, others are simply large and broad, while still others are narrow, or in some instances, very narrow. The leaves on some varieties are quite large, and on others quite small. Some varieties have twisted leaves, and for those looking for a challenge, finding the rather rare croton plant featuring a recurved leaf, one that curls back on itself, can involve quite a bit of searching.
Warm, But Cool Also
A gardener or home owner who, having seen some of these plants and just have to have some, can plant them on decks and patios, where they can be moved inside if temperatures cool. Or they can be grown in containers as house plants. In warmer outside locations, such as central Florida, they can be planted to form a colorful hedge. The plant has been grown in Florida for many years, but only fairly recently has been grown elsewhere as an indoor container plant. Although a tropical plant, its colors are often more intense when the plant is kept relatively cool, than is the case if it is kept in too hot an environment. The question then of course becomes, how cool is cool, before the plant rebels and starts to drop its leaves, a sign that it has suffered from the cold?
About the only negative associated with this plant, aside from it being intolerant of cold weather, is its sap. If a leaf is cut, punctured, or otherwise damaged, a white sap will often flow from it. White is not normally a bad color, but this sap is very good at staining clothing. It also can irritate the skin. For those reasons, a little caution should be in order when pruning or working with the croton plant.
Pruning And Propagating
If you do choose to grow a croton plant indoors, a certain amount of pruning is going to be required. This is necessary to maintain a good shape and keep the plant at the desired height. A fully grown croton plant can reach a height of 8 to 12 feet, fine for a hotel lobby, but not so fine for a living room in the average home. If you are happy with the plant you have, and want more of the same, propagation is quite easy. One can take root cuttings, or stem cuttings, or for that matter, simply place a leaf in some potting soil. Roots will soon develop. New plants can also be produced by layering, with the new plant cut away from the parent as soon as the new roots have developed.
The planting soil should be fairly rich; a mixture of peat moss and compost will be a good start. Like most plants, good drainage is important, but on the other hand, the soil needs to retain moisture. If the soil is allowed to dry out, the plant will usually not survive. A good rule of thumb is to give the plant a frequent good watering without absolutely soaking it. The plant requires periodic feedings of fertilizer. Almost any house plant fertilizer will do as long as it is somewhat acidic. The plant needs to be fed more during the growing season, and less so during the winter months, when growth slows or stops. If planted indoors, the best light usually comes from an east or west facing window. A north facing window (in the Northern hemisphere) will not give the croton plant optimum light, and a south facing window is apt to give it too much.
A Balancing Act
In summary, growing the croton plant as an indoor plant involves somewhat of a balancing act. It is a tropical plant which displays the best colors when it is in a cool rather than a hot location. It requires frequent watering (misting is good for it too), but not to the point where root rot might develop. On the other hand, the soil must not be allowed to become dry. It likes light that is not too bright and not too dim, with filtered sunlight probably fitting that requirement best. Get all of this right, and the croton plant can be considered an easy keeper, except for an occasional need for pruning.