My favorite (also first) plant of mine is a "gold dust" croton that I bought on a whim. Having had it for a little over a year now, I've realized that I can't just take care of it on a whim like I thought.
Crotons are very sensitive to changes in their environment. If they don't like where they've been moved, they can go into shock and start dropping leaves left and right. It's about two feet tall currently, and after moving it into the bathroom (it seemed like it was the brightest room here), it quickly dropped almost all of its leaves and became a shell of its former self.
I moved it back onto the balcony, which is unfortunately northwestern facing so it doesn't get as much like as I'd like, but it's more direct sun than the bathroom. But even after some time outside, it was looking sad. Many of its remaining leaves were yellowed and dry and crunchy to the touch. It couldn't have been happy like that.
I finally decided to trust my instincts and brought out the pruning shears. Crotons are dramatic, so I thought they may be vain too. If a leave looked bad to me, it probably looked bad to the plant. With this in mind, I went to cutting. Drooping? You're gone. Yellowing? Out of here. Brown tips? Snip, snip.
I was left with a joke of a plant, with two feet of long, bare stems, and just a tuft of dark green at the top. Yet it still looked better than it had 30 minutes prior, having gone from a plant seemingly abandoned to a plant that looked weird, but at least appeared cared for.
And, over the following weeks, it rebounded. The dark green tufts sprouted light green tufts, and my pruning became targeted to avoid it growing any taller, or prevent new leaves from competing with the already established ones. The new growth was healthy, instead of the twisted and curled leaves that were born while the plant was dropping leaves.
Most importantly, I've started to see new stems and leaves coming in further down the main stem. Some are showing more growth than others, but each stem has new buds breaking through all along its length. We're approaching the end of the growing season, though I'm expecting this to have filled out just enough before dormancy.
When I was pruning the other day, the classic science fair project where plants that are spoken to or have music played to them grow better and stronger than those that don't came to mind. I'm not talking to or playing music directly to the croton, but I'm doing it for myself while I take care of it. Maybe that's the confound to the study: those plants are just getting better care taken of them as an extension of the extra attention.
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