You’d be hard pressed to find a houseplant that matches the vivid and striking looks of the croton plant. When you look for beautiful, bright, multicolored houseplants, this ones’ broad, glossy green leaves are splattered or striped with yellow, orange, red, cream, black, or pink coloring.
The croton plant is native to Australia and Southeast Asia, and it’s a very vigorous houseplant that will grow quickly under the best conditions. If you skip pruning it, this plant can easily reach three to four feet high in a few years. Since they’re easy to care for indoors and come in several striking varieties, the most difficult aspect about the croton plant might be picking your new favorite. However, you’ll want to keep in mind that they’re toxic to pets and people. With this in mind, let’s find out how to grow this plant and see if it’s something you want to add to your collection below.
The croton plant is a tropical pick that can do well indoors and outdoors in certain planting zones, and it’s prized for the foliage instead of the flowers.
General Croton Plant Information
|Bloom Time:||Year-round but indoor plants rarely sport blooms|
|Botanical Name:||Codiaeum variegatum|
|Common Name:||Croton, garden croton, or rishfoil|
|Hardiness Zones:||11a to 12b|
|Mature Size:||Three to eight feet tall and three to six feet wide|
|Native To:||Pacific regions and tropical Asia|
|Plant Type:||Evergreen shrub|
|Soil pH:||Acidic at 4.5 to 6.5|
|Soil Type:||Moist but well-draining|
|Sun Exposure:||Full to partial|
|Toxicity:||Toxic to animals and humans|
Croton Plant Characteristics
Officially, the croton plant is widely known as Codiaeum variegatum var. Pictum. Pictum is an apt name as it means painted. The leathery leaves on this plant do look like they’ve been painted with a large range of colors with yellow, orange, and red being the most common ones. They typically appear as brighter veins that contrast sharply with purplish-black and dark green foliage. The leaves will range from 2 to 12 inches long, and they can vary from strappy, lobed, oblong, or twisted looks.
The croton plant is native to the tropical forests of the Pacific Island and southeast Asia. It can grow outdoors in planting zones 11 or 12, and the garden cultivars can reach up to 10 feet outside. Additionally, these plants can produce racemes of white male flowers and yellow-tinted female flowers during the spring months. However, when you grow them in pots indoors, they will rarely flower and it’s rare for them to get over four feet tall.
Popular Types of Croton Plants
Did you know that there are actually hundreds of croton plant varieties, and they feature names like Ann Rutherford, Dreadlocks, Irene Kingsley, and Mona Lisa. What’s even more impressive with this plant’s versatility is the fact that it only has a single species. Each plant is unique due to the variability and genetic instability. Collectors will pay top dollar for unusual varieties, and it’s common for the croton plant to get classified by leaf type, including narrow, oak, twisted, curling, oval, and broad. A few popular croton plant varieties include:
- C. variegatum var. pictum: Brightly colored and large leaves in shades of bronze, red, orange, purple, yellow, and green grace this plant. It will get between three and six feet tall indoors.
- C. variegatum ‘Gold Star’: Linear, narrow leaves in green coloring with bright yellow spots are found on this cultivar. It grows in a tree-like habit up to 20-inches tall.
- C. variegatum ‘Petra’: This is a very common croton plant that produces green, oval leaves with distinct venining in red, pink, yellow, or orange hues. It can get between three and six feet high at full maturity.
Croton Plant Care – An Overview
Taking care of this plant can seem like a tall order when you first start as it can be finicky, but it’ll thrive under the best growing conditions.
A happy croton plant will have leaves down to the level of the soil, and the biggest trick to keeping your plant happy is to give it steady warmth. Even outdoors, this plant will drop leaves during colder nights. The vibrancy of the leaf colors will depend on the light quality you provide, and they need lots of shifting, bright sunlight.
Inside the house, humidity levels that are too low make this plant prone to issues with spider mites. You should mist your plants each day to avoid an infestation. You can bring your plant outdoors when the temperatures reach and stay above 50-degrees Fahrenheit. You will have to acclimate them to the temperature and light conditions first to help avoid shock.
Apply fertilizer pellets that are slow-release three times during the active growing season. For the best results, apply the pellets in the early spring, mid-summer, and in the early fall. You can also use a liquid fertilizer every other month during the active growing season starting in early March and going until the end of September.
With fertilizer applications, in most cases, you want to reduce however much the package recommends you use by half strength if you plant to fertilize on a tighter schedule. Once you do, monitor your croton plant’s growth rate over the following month. You can add, reduce, or adjust the fertilizer amount depending on how quickly you want your plant to grow. Stop applying fertilizer during the winter months.
Since this plant does best in slightly acidic soil, you want to use acidifying fertilizers that have ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, or a sulfur-coated urea. The best NPK ratios you want to look for are 3-1-2 and 8-2-10 for the nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium ratios.
One big problem with trying to grow the croton plant is that no one really agrees on the perfect light requirements to make it thrive. Some recommend you give the plant as much sun as you can while others say to go mostly shade. This is heavily due to the fact that some cultivars like more sun than other ones. This is why you should double-check your specific cultivar and the light requirements. You can also choose to go the middle course and give your croton plant four hours of sun each day in west or east-facing windows.
If you notice that your plant’s leaves turn all great and start to droop, you’re not giving it enough light to be happy. If this is the case, you might benefit from moving it to a south-facing window. If the foliage turns a bleached-grayish color or the yellow sections turn black, the croton plant is getting too much sunlight. If this is the case, put a sheer curtain between the plant and the glass.
The croton plant thrives in a standard potting soil that has a pH level between 4.5 and 6.5. You can also plant it in a mix that is made up of three parts ground pine bark, six parts peat moss, and one part builder’s sand. If you can’t find pine bark, you can switch the mixture to one part sand and three parts peat moss.
If you find yourself having to repot this plant, you should wait until spring and move it into a pot that is one size larger than the current pot. Keep in mind that this plant doesn’t tolerate change well, so you want to put it back into the same place it was before you repotted it if it was doing well before.
Any soil you pick out for your plant should drain very well as soil that retains too much water can easily lead to root rot and a dead plant.
Temperature and Humidity
Ideally, you’ll kee whichever room this plant is in above 60-degrees Fahrenheit at all times, and work to not expose it to cold drafts. A lack of bright light and humidity also impacts the plant’s leaves. The humidity should be between 40% and 80% at all times. If the humidity is too low, the plant can drop leaves.
If you’re having trouble keeping the moisture levels in your home at the recommended levels, you can run a humidifier in the room or get a humidity tray and put it under the plant or group it with other plants. If you place your croton plant by other plants, they will release more moisture into the air. Another option is to put your plant by a sunny, bright window in a steamy, warm bathroom.
If you want to create a humidity tray instead, you can fill up a plant saucer or tray with a layer or pebbles. Then, you’ll add water to just below the top of the pebble layer. Put the plant on top, ensuring the bottom of your container does not touch the water. The water will eventually evaporate and increase the humidity right around the plant. Check the water level each week and top it up as needed.
Make sure you keep the croton plant’s soil lightly moist constantly during the spring and summer months when the days are bright and long. This plant supposedly sweats water off as a vapor or transpires a lot. As autumn comes around and the days shorten, reduce the amount of moisture you give this plant, and water it only when the top one or two inches of soil dry out. This can help prevent root rot, and this is a huge problem with houseplants during the winter months if they’re too soggy.
If you can, use bottled spring water or rainwater at room temperature instead of hard tap water. Also, it’s a good idea to remember that if the new foliage that is the most tender at the plant’s tips starts to wilt, the plant is too dry. If it gets to this point and you don’t work to fix it right away, the plant may drop a huge amount of leaves.
Propagating the Croton Plant
Unlike many plants that you can propagate from seed, the croton plant won’t work well as it won’t be an identical copy of the parent plant.
It’s possible to propagate this plant at any point during the year, bearing in mind that the temperature will be critical. In tropical locations where the temperature stays between 70 and 80-degrees Fahrenheit at all times, you can propagate the croton plant safely all year round. You can also propagate it indoors or in a greenhouse if you can stay within this temperature range.
This plant won’t grow well from seed since it’s an unstable plant, and the new plant won’t resemble the parent one. Instead, you can propagate them using stem cuttings. Stem cuttings will encourage new growth and will help control the plant’s size. You should use a rooting hormone on the stem-cut ends to increase your chances of a healthy plant.
Croton plants will produce shoots or sports that are 100% different from the parent plant. You can pot these offshoots up independently, and only cuttings will produce a second plant that is identical to the parent one. To propagate your croton plant using division, you would:
- First, you’ll have to get sterile pruners, a growing pot, well-draining commercial potting soil, and a rooting hormone. You won’t need to get a pot if you’re in a tropical environment and you want to plant it directly into the ground.
- Use clean, sharp shears, cut a four to six-inch stem that is as wide as a pencil at a 45-degree angle right above the leaf node. The cutting you take should have a minimum of three leaves on it.
- Even though this is optional, you want to dip the cutting in rooting hormone to increase the chances of it rooting successfully.
- Plant your cutting in the soil after you moisten it at a depth of 1 to 1.5-inches. Put your newly planted cutting in a sunny, warm location away from any cold drafts. Keep the soil moist but not saturated. You can put the pot in a clear plastic bag to create a mini greenhouse to help it grow. After a week, remove the bag.
Roots will start to develop within a month. If you notice new growth, you’ve successfully rooted the plant. You can test for rooting by giving your plant a light tug. If the plant feels taut, it has roots. Once it’s rooted, it’s ready to be transplanted in the ground or in a new pot.
How to Propagate Croton Plants in Water
You can also root your croton plant in water. You’ll need clean pruners and a jar or glass to start this project.
- The first thing you should do is prepare your jar or glass by filling it with clean water.
- Next, pick out a few healthy stems on the mother plant and remove them to propagate. Cut the stems roughly four inches long while leaving three to five inches on each one.
- Put your cuttings into the water, and make sure that the cut side is submerged but the leaves are out of the water. Sit the jar with your cuttings in a sunny, warm spot away from any cold drafts. It should start rooting in a few weeks.
- Once it roots and they are a few inches long, you can plant it in a pot with fresh soil and care for it like you would a normal croton plant.
Potting or Repotting Your Croton Plant
This plant hates to be swapped out of pots, and it can lose leaves. So, you should only do this if you’re 100% sure it’s outgrowing the current pot.
Repot your young croton plant each year in the early summer or late spring months for the first three growing seasons. After this period, only repot this plant when you notice the roots growing out of the drainage holes or if you see the roots growing at the soil level. Get a container that has plenty of drainage holes, and it should only be a single size larger than the plant’s current one. Place an inch or two of damp peat-based potting soil into the bottom of the container.
Remove your croton plant from the old container by turning the container on the side and sliding the plant out. Set the plant in the center of the new pot and fill in around the roots with your potting soil. Water your plant and add additional soil if needed to bring the level to an inch below the pot’s rim.
Overwintering Croton Plants
The croton plant is very sensitive to cold weather. If you live in a climate where the temperature drops below freezing during the winter or you have frequent cold snaps, you should consider putting your plant in pots and bringing them inside when the temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
To protect in-ground croton plants during colder weather, you should add roughly two inches of mulch around the base of the plant to help insulate the root system. You can use gardener’s blankets to ward off the frost. Use takes to prevent the blankets from weighing down the leaves and branches. The coverings will help to seal in the warmth and protect the plant against harsh winds and ice. The coverings should be weighted down or staked well so they don’t blow away.
Pruning Croton Plants
Croton plants generally respond very well to trimming, so if you notice your plant getting leggy, you want to prune it back hard during the spring. Remove unhealthy branches or leaves, and it’s a good time to shape it if you want. Trim it to just above a leaf set or node. Try not to prune away more than ⅓ of a stem at one time, and watch for regrowth on the trimmed areas. If you’re pruning an indoor plant, move it outside once it hardens off.
Getting the Croton Plant to Bloom
The flowers on this plant aren’t very impressive, but most people choose to grow it for the foliage instead of the flowers.
All croton plants can create very small flowers with star shapes on thin, long stems when you grow them outside. However, it’s rare that your plant will flower in the house. The flower sem will look like a very feathers vine, and the smaller flowers don’t emit a scent. These plants can flower at any point during the year, but it will usually only happen in ideal conditions, including acidic and enriched soil, bright sunlight, temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and moist soil. Also, taking an indoor plant outdoors when it’s warm can encourage flower production.
Even though the ASPCA rarely includes the croton plant on their list of poisonous plants to pets, mature leaves can cause a burning sensation in any person’s mouth that eats it, so it can do the same to animals. The white sap this plant produces can also irritate the skin if you have sensitive skin, but not everyone will experience this.
Even if it doesn’t cause skin irritation, the latex could easily stain any material it contacts, so it’s a good idea to wear plastic gloves when you’re pruning this plant and put it on a surface that is easy to clean while doing so.
Common Problems With Croton Plant
The croton plant can be finicky, and things like poor soil, low humidity levels, and not enough nutrients can affect this plant’s health and open the door for problems, including diseases, pests, and a lackluster look. To keep the plant thriving, control the environment as best you can.
If the leaves on your plant start to turn brown or dry out and curl up, you’re most likely not watering this plant enough. You only want to allow the top inch or two of soil to dry out before you water it again. You should also consider increasing the humidity level around the plant to keep the leaves moist.
Curling or Rolling Leaves
Leaves can twist or roll when the leaves get big and the color is full or flat. To fix this, you want to reduce how much fertilizer you give your plant. The plant is usually growing too fast and it might need more light to grow correctly. Move your croton plant to an area that gets more light.
Dull Leaf Coloration
The plant produces the most vibrant colors under the bright light, but the temperatures can’t be extremely hot. In tropic zones during the summer, it can be too much for some croton plant cultivars. Hold off or reduce the fertilizer during higher temperatures or a heatwave. Extremely hot days will stress out this plant and cause flat colors or graying. Air ventilation and fans can cool down the plant’s leaves and help keep the plant healthy. Check your water levels and don’t allow the plant to dry out during high heat periods.
Monitor your croton plant for mealybugs. These bugs look like fluffy white substances that are along the plant’s stems and veins on the leaves. If you spot these pests during one of your searches, remove them right away by wiping the affected leaves with a cotton swab or ball dipped into rubbing alcohol. For more severe infestations, spray the plant’s foliage and stems with insecticidal soap.
If this plant has any exposure to cool drafts or temperatures, it will drop the leaves. If the forecast calls for temperatures that drop below 50 degrees, bring your plant inside. Insect activity can also be a cause of leaf drop during the fall months, so check for mealybugs or mites. Look at the underside of the leaves for insects or eggs. You’ll have to clean the plant leaves with your insecticidal soap or treat the areas with an oil to remove the bugs.
Croton Plant Frequently Asked Questions
Although answers to your croton plant questions are typically simple, we’ve rounded up a few common ones below. If you don’t find the answer to your question here, it’s a good idea to search for your specific cultivar to get more in-depth information.
1. How long can croton plants live?
With a lot of love and a little luck, your croton plant can survive for many years. However, it’s rare to keep these plants alive and in good shape for more than a few years inside due to their fickle nature.
2. Are croton plants easy to take care of?
Croton plants have a reputation for being more high-maintenance when you grow them as houseplants. They need a lot of direct sunlight, so you won’t have success in low-light conditions.
3. Are croton plants perennials?
Yes, all croton plant varieties are perennials. So, a perennial plant like this will survive season in and season out without any issues as long as you have the growing conditions correct. Even if part of the plant dies, and this is common over the winter months, the same root system regrows in the springtime.
3. Why are croton plants popular?
The stunning colors on this plant make it so popular. A lot of people assume that in order for them to add color to the garden, they have to add flowers. However, this isn’t necessarily true. Croton plants give you a very colorful plant that rarely flowers indoors, but that does well both indoors and out.
4. Is the croton plant poisonous?
Even though the croton plant isn’t the most poisonous out there, you don’t want to take a chance and ingest it. If you eat it in large quantities, this plant can cause vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other symptoms. Also, this plant produces a sap that can cause skin irritation and stain.
We’ve outlined everything you need to know about caring for the croton plant and how to grow it indoors and keep it happy for years to come. You can pick out several varieties and add pretty splashes of colors to your room.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.