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Croton: Here’s a houseplant that shines outdoors

The croton plant, scientifically known as Codiaeum-variegatum, is most often used as an indoor houseplant in our region. The leaves of this unusual plant are large and can be 3 to 6 inches in length and 1 to 3 inches wide. The leathery, glossy multi-colored foliage is in shades of green with variegated red, orange, pink and yellow all on one plant leaf.

Croton likes fertile, moist and well-drained soil. Water only when the top 1/2 to 1 inch of soil becomes dry; slightly less in winter. They like high humidity and warm temperatures between 60 and 85 degrees. It will love you more if you mist occasionally and avoid drafts.

As an indoor plant, it needs bright indirect light. Fertilize once or twice during active growing season or more often for quicker growth.

In warm climates, croton can be used as a tropical shrub outdoors growing 3 to 8 feet in height. Here in Ohio, croton can be placed outdoors in summer to brighten up your displays of container annuals or provide a contrast to a home with white siding.

This past summer I visited a garden that displayed croton grouped together in an outdoor garden space. No other plants were in the same bed and it was striking! All foliage and lots of color.

The display was under a tree with a high canopy, so it received plenty of light. They do best in a partially shaded space.

Crotons also would look lovely displayed with other plants either singly or in small clusters in your garden. Add one to an outdoor patio container with annuals during summer. A few ideas for a contrasting flower might be angelonia or petunia in purple shades. Try marigolds or nasturtiums for repetitive color. There are many possibilities.

Use croton as an annual plant outdoors. Croton doesn’t like temperatures below 50 degrees so you can bring it indoors when the temperatures turn cold.

When potting up for removal remember the root ball doesn’t like disturbance. Dig up with a big amount of soil around it to keep the root ball intact.

The croton plant produces insignificant flowers. It can be easily propagated by air layering in spring or softwood cuttings in summer.

A word of caution; a milky sap exudes when a leaf or stem is broken which can cause minor skin irritation and is toxic if eaten in large quantities.

I plan to use croton this coming growing season as an annual foliage plant in my garden.

For photos of this lovely plant and more details on how to grow it, visit http://go.osu.edu/croton.

Shively is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.

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