Leaves Always Fall Off. What's The Secret?

suntower(z5 WA)June 25, 2012


We've had about six of these things over the years. I forget their name, but they're an incredibly common houseplant and we've NEVER been able to get it to grow.

What always happens is... they start out with lots of leaves at the bottom and then, little by little, the leaves start dropping from the bottom. New leaves keep coming out the top but the lowest leaves start to get dry edges. And then at some point they fall off where they join the stem. So eventually, the thing has a few fresh little leaves at the top and lots of missing things on the stem.

We try soaking, misting. We can't see any visible 'bugs'.

1. What are they called?

2.What do we have to do to get them to thrive? I'm assuming it's either a humidity issue or some micro-bug or... WHAT?

Or are these just plants that cannot exist in a house with central heating?

Is there hope?


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suntower(z5 WA)

Here's the picture... didn't upload properly.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 2:16AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It looks like you're over-watering, but over-fertilizing could also be the culprit. Both conditions impair the plant's ability to take up and efficiently move water, which is what causes the necrosis at leaf tips & margins. It's difficult to determine how the blame should be distributed. A portion of it belongs to you (for over-watering) and a portion to the soil (for being too water-retentive). Heavy (water-retentive) soils are very unforgiving of over-watering, while fast draining/porous soils can increase your margin for error to the point where over-watering is almost impossible, and they have the very significant advantage of being able to offer a much healthier environment for healthy roots.

All healthy plants start with a healthy root system. Without happy roots, a happy plant is impossible. Roots are the heart of the plant, but unless the importance of a healthy root system is pointed out, it often gets no consideration at all. Your soil is the foundation of every conventional container planting. You can make/use a soil that you can rely on to work FOR you and your plants, or you can choose on you'll be fighting against for the entire life of the planting.

To me, the choice is clear. I've posted hundreds of pictures of perfectly healthy plants - not a blemished leaf to be seen. I'm not saying that as a boast, because I give credit to a good soil and nutritional supplementation program - not to any special ability or a magical green thumb. Learn how to tell the difference between a good soil and a middling/poor soil, and you'll have taken a giant step forward in your quest for the ability to keep plants happy.

If you'd like to invest a little time, I think the reward for your effort will be well worth it. The links I left below should provide you with information you can put to use immediately. If you're willing to follow some simple instructions, your plant is still salvable. It can't be restored to perfect condition overnight, but by this time next year, you could have a plant that's been turned completely around.

What do you think?


    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 8:55AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

What is the identity of the plant?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 1:13PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hard to tell - maybe Castanospermum australe.


    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 2:23PM
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suntower(z5 WA)

I'm pretty sure it's a 'Croton'.

What I'm -not- sure of is how to get it to -live-!

I see all kinds of conflicting ideas on care: don't water too much. Water a lot. Keep moist. Keep warm. Not too warm.

There's -gotta- be some reliable 'trick' to this, right?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 2:28PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

I don't think this is a Croton (Codaeum), unless the curly leafed one & likely quite neglected if it is (sorry).

Crotons have some really specific care requirements, I've grown them well indoors (didn't have conflicting advice or problems).

Does this plant exude white sap when cut? Have you checked it closely for insects? I think I see white dots on some of its leaves.

We need better pix of the plant, perhaps one from above to tell what it is.

FYI, lower leaves dropping off a stem is not always abnormal (a bit like shedding hair), the older (bottom most) leaves go first.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 4:00PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I forgot to leave the links.

If you take cacti out of the mix, almost all plants respond very well to pretty much the same conditions. A soil that is damp (not soggy) after you water and a well-considered nutritional supplementation program. The largest variation is probably in light needs/tolerance. I have hundreds of different plants, all growing in the same soil and watered/fertilized the same way - all very healthy.

This link covers the basics anyone growing plants in containers should understand.

This one is specifically about the air:water relationship in soils. Taking the time to read and understand what's in these threads should put you in a position well advanced from where you are now.


    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 4:28PM
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JC...you need to post more pics...upright pics. lol. It's difficult trying to ID, sideways.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 4:29PM
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suntower(z5 WA)

FWIW: I am now 100% sure this is a 'Croton'. The leaf edges get papery... then after a few weeks the leave falls off at the joint. Again, new leaves develop at the top but over time the thing goes from being a 'bush' to a very feeble 'palm tree'.

I'm assuming that even if it gets 'healthy' it will -never- regrow leaves down that the bottom where they've already dropped, right?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 4:43PM
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What I haven't seen mentioned or asked is this: what kind of light is this plant getting? I agree that it is a curly/twisty leafed croton. IME, crotons need to be in bright indirect light, like a southern window. Deviate from that and they drop leaves like crazy.
Don't soak, don't mist. Get it into a faster draining soil (yours is very heavy), water 'til you see it draining out the drainage holes and don't water again until the top inch of soil is dry.


    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 6:03PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Why so sure it's a Croton? The papery leaf edges are a sign of not enough watering. My experience indoors w/ Crotons was as much bright light as possible & a lot of water (but MUST have very fast draining mix). I did always keep it on a pebble tray, I'm sure that helped a lot.

I've been able to grow them well indoors, cut them back to soil level when grew taller than I could accommodate & had them grow back in completely, full & lush.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 6:15PM
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Suntower..If your plant is a Croton, the answer is no to your question regarding new growth on the bottom.

However, once you get it going, you'll have a pretty, Croton tree.

Is it possible to summer outdoors? You won't believe the difference between summering outside and keeping indoors.

Fresh, circulating air is important, otherwise, pests, especially spider mites, choose Croton as a home.

I haven't placed my Croton outside this year, 'mainly due to ants.' It's showing a huge difference, too.

Bright light..Crotons do not need direct sun. When grown outdoors year round, they adapt to full sun. As an indoor plant setting out in direct light can scorch leaves. Even after acclimation. Two of my Crotons died for this very reason.
Small-Medium Crotons endure bright, indirect light. Large, established Crotons, grown outdoors year round do well in full sun.
Soil, well-draining but fertile.
Fertilize, once a month during growing season with an All-Purpose or balanced fertilizer. Eg. 5-10-5 or 10-10-10
Temps. Crotons will thrive between 50-80F degrees, give or take a few either way.
Watering. Water throughly. In summer, soil should be kept moist, 'not muddy.'
Winter, soil must dry between waterings.

Fresh air is required throughout the year.

They need humidity, so mist daily, place on stones w/water just beneath the pot, and/or add a humidifer to your home.

Good luck, Toni

    Bookmark   June 25, 2012 at 7:18PM
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