croton plant

Growing and Caring for Croton Plants

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Want to learn how to grow and care for Croton plants? Look no further than this ultimate croton plant care guide. 

Croton plants are, by far, some of the most beautiful and interesting-looking plants you can grow. The cornucopia of colors that different Croton varieties can display is unmatched by other evergreen shrubs. 

Their wild colors, along with their unique foliage shapes and sizes, create an overall plant that stands out from the rest. Plus, they tend to be easy to grow, and beginner friendly. So what’s not to love?

Codiaeum variegatum offers the perfect way to bring more vibrant colors, texture and character to your home as a houseplant. They can also be grown in your yard or garden as a tropical accent plant. 

So if you are planning on bringing one of these tropical rainbow plants home, keep on reading for a deep dive on how to grow and care for croton plants. 

Plant Facts

Scientific nameCodiaeum variegatum
Common namesCroton, garden croton
FamilyEuphorbiaceae
Plant TypeEvergreen Shrub
Height and Width3 ft. to 6 ft. tall, 3 to 5 ft. wide
OriginTropical Asia and Pacific Regions
Flower colorsYellow, although indoor plants rarely flower
Foliage colorGreen, red, orange, yellow, pink and purple
Sun ExposureFull sun, partial sun
Soil Type & pHMoist, rich and well-draining with a pH of 4.5 to 6.5
Special featuresColors change based on light exposure

How to Grow Croton Plants

Croton plants are tropical evergreen shrubs that are native to different areas throughout tropical parts of Asia and the Pacific regions. This means that they naturally are most comfortable in warmer, more humid environments. 

But that does not mean that you cannot grow your own! All you have to do is pay close attention to its natural growing environment, and do your best to replicate the conditions it prefers if it were growing in the wild. 

C. variegatum is versatile. Smaller varieties of this species can be successful in containers and grown indoors. Other, larger varieties are perfect for your outdoor spaces. 

Codiaeum variegatum

Propagation

If you want to expand your Croton family, it’s best to do so via propagation. C. variegatum doesn’t grow well from seed. Plus, you have no way of knowing how the new plant will develop. But with propagation, you can assume the new plant will be as beautiful as the parent plant. 

C. variegatum is easily propagated from stem cuttings. If you live in a warm-weather locale, which would be somewhere between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you can propagate outdoors year-round. However, if you live somewhere with colder temperatures, it’s best to wait for warm weather to propagate. Or, do all of your propagation indoors. 

Use a pair of shears (ideally cleaned or sterilized) to cut a – to 6-inch stem off the parent plant at a 45-degree angle. The croton cutting should have at least 3-4 leaves. Before replanting, dip the fresh cutting in rooting hormone. Then place it in already watered soil, about 1 to 1.5 inches deep. Pat the soil around the cutting to help it establish itself and stand up straight.

Cover the newly planted cutting with a plastic bag, or plastic bottle to create a greenhouse-like environment that is warmer and more humid. Finally, care for the cutting like you would a typical C. variegatum plant (more on this below). Allow the cutting to grow for about a month before checking for root growth. 

Gently tug upwards on the cutting to feel for resistance. If there is resistance, roots are successfully growing. You can also assume root growth has occurred if you notice new growth on the cutting itself. 

Soil

C. variegatum is native to areas that contain rich, organically rich, and moist soils. The croton soil conditions you create for your plan should be similar. 

For potting mix, consider a mixture that has plenty of peat moss, and vermiculite. You can enrich the soil your plant grows in by adding organic material, such as mulch. In ideal conditions, the soil for Croton plants will be slightly acidic, and somewhere between 4.5 and 6.5.

The soil to grow croton needs to be well draining. If you are concerned about drainage when growing Crotons in containers, make sure your container has plenty of drainage holes. In addition, you can line the bottom of the container with pebbles to prevent soil compaction and clogging. 

Pruning

Garden croton plants respond well to pruning. This is good news if you are trying to maintain a certain shape or size of C. variegatum. The best time to prune your Croton plant is just before the growing season. In general, you are looking to remove unhealthy looking, or leggy portions of the plant. 

When pruning, cut just above a leaf set or node. Remember to avoid pruning more than ⅓ of any one stem at a single time. 

Repotting and Transplanting

Repotting and transplanting your Croton may be necessary in order to keep up with its growth. This will especially be necessary for young C. variegatum plants during their first three growing seasons. After that, simply monitor for roots growing out of the drainage holes, or roots approaching the top soil. 

To repot, turn the plant on its side, and gently slide out the Croton. Place C. variegatum in a larger, new container. Fill in any empty space with fresh potting mixture, and then give the freshly repotted houseplant a good watering. 

variegated croton

How to Care for Croton Plants 

Here are some tips on how to care for C. variegatum. 

Water

Most Crotons are somewhat drought tolerant, but unlike other drought-tolerant plants, like succulents, C. variegatum does still require weekly watering. On average, about an inch of water per week will suffice, especially during the summer months. However, during the winter months, even less watering may be required. 

If your C. variegatum is not getting the water it needs, it may begin to show signs of wilting. If this is the case, you can check the top layer of soil with your finger. If it feels dry, the plant should be watered until the soil is moist again, but do not water too much to avoid root rot.

Sunlight

Generally speaking, C. variegatum needs bright, indirect sunlight. Most varieties do fine in full sun conditions, while others prefer partial shade, or dappled light conditions. The perfect placement of your Croton, in regard to its sunlight exposure, will depend on the variety you are growing.

The vibrant colors you see displayed by croton plants are a product of sun exposure. For certain varieties, the more sun exposure they receive, the more intense their color-changing will become. On the other hand, if the plant does not get much sunlight, its foliage will tend to remain green. 

Temperature and Humidity

Croton plants thrive well in environments that do not go below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Whenever possible, it’s best to avoid letting C. variegatum be exposed to cold drafts. 

In regard to humidity, the ideal spectrum is between 40 and 80%. If the environment is not humid enough, your Croton plant may drop its leaves. Getting the right humidity level may be difficult, especially if you are growing them outdoors. But if you are growing Crotons indoors, there are a couple of strategies you can employ to raise the humidity. 

You can position your C. variegatum around other, humidity-loving houseplants. Together, they help keep moisture in the air around them, and therefore more humid. You can run a humidifier machine in the room in order to put more moisture into the local environment.

Lastly, you may try putting your container on top of a humidifying tray. To make a humidifying tray, simply select a shallow tray that can accommodate your container. Then fill it with pebbles and water. As the water from the tray evaporates upwards, it increases the humidity percentage around your plants. 

croton plant

Fertilizer

Croton plants are considered to be heavy feeders. That is one reason why they love to be planted in rich, organically-amended soil. But if you think your soil may not be rich enough, you may consider adding mulch around the plant. 

The best fertilizer for croton you may also consider using is slow-release pellets or liquid fertilizer to produce faster, more vigorous growth. If you fertilize, we recommend diluting the recommended dosage by half. This allows time for you to observe the new growth, and avoid burning. 

The ideal nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium ratio is 3-1-2 and 8-2-10. 

Pest and Diseases

There are a few different pests that enjoy feasting on C. variegatum, including:

  • Spider mites
  • Mealybugs
  • Scales
  • Thrips

In all cases, you can use pesticides to remove the infestation and to prevent future infestation. The best options for this method would be horticultural oil, like neem oil, or insecticidal soap. These products help remove the pests but don’t bother the beneficial insects that may also come around. 

Crown Gall

Crown Gall is a common bacterial disease that can make croton sick. Crown Gall presents as thick, swollen growths around the stem of the plant, and along the veins of the foliage. 

If you suspect your plant is suffering from crown gall, it’s best to uproot and dispose of the plant. This may sound unwarranted, but the reason being that the infection can spread to other plants. 

If you plan to reuse the container or tools you used with the infected plant, it’s a good idea to sterilize them. 

Anthracnose

Anthracnose is a fungal infection. It is also sometimes called leaf blight or leaf spot. Anthracnose leaves behind tan or brown colored spots along the foliage of your Crotons.

If leaf blight has affected your plants, the best thing you can do is prune off the sick foliage and dispose of it before the spores of the fungus can spread to other parts of the plant, or worse, to other plants entirely. 

You may also consider using a traditional copper-based garden fungicide. 

Common Varieties and Cultivars

There are hundreds of different Croton varieties. The options are nearly endless. But to help get you started with your browsing, some of our favorites are listed below. 

C. variegatum ‘Petra’

These variegated croton plants are one of the most common varieties out there. The aesthetic of this variety is unmistakable.  They have medium-sized, broad leaves that resemble shields. The Petra has a variegated color scheme, with mixtures of bright yellow, orange and red. This variety can be grown successfully indoors as a houseplant, or outdoors in the garden as a decorative accent plant. 

C. variegatum ‘Bush on Fire

This variety of croton is flexible and adaptable in that it can be grown either indoors or outdoors. As it matures, the Bush on Fire Croton changes colors. It boasts wonderful arrays of red, yellow, orange and pink. The colors of this tropical plant are so vibrant that with the right light, it sometimes looks like it is on fire. If grown outdoors in optimal conditions, this variety can grow as tall as 5 feet. 

C. variegatum ‘Picasso’s Paintbrush’

This variety of croton plant is one of our favorites. It boasts extremely unique, thin leaves that display a wonderful array of pastel colors, hence the name. Due to its unique paintbrush-like foliage, the Picasso Paintbrush variety functions great as an outdoor ornamental grass. Or as an accent plant to add more texture and color to your garden display. 

C. variegatum ‘Dreadlock’

As you might assume from its name, the Dreadlock plant somewhat resembles braided dreadlocks. As the croton leaves grow, they tend to twist and curl, providing it with a unique appearance. The Dreadlock variety usually starts out green, but with time, can transform into more vibrant colors such as red, yellow, and orange. 

Conclusion

The aesthetic and visual appeal of C. variegatum is out of this world! They are by far some of the most beautiful houseplants we have seen. 

Plus, what’s not to love about their low maintenance requirements and reliable propagation process? 

So if it’s time to spruce up your indoor spaces, or plan a gift for another plant-loving friend or family member, look no further. A new Croton plant will surely put a smile on anyone’s face, and bring a burst of much-needed tropical flair to their new home. 

See more plant with colorful leaves you can grow.

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