Few houseplants are as striking or vivid as the croton (Codiaeum variegatum). When it comes to bright, beautiful, multicolored houseplants, its glossy, broad green leaves striped or spattered with cream, yellow, orange, red, pink, or black turn heads like no other.
Native to Southeast Asia and Australia, these vigorous houseplants can also grow quickly in good conditions—from a foot to three or four feet tall in just a few years without pruning.
There are a wide variety of crotons available, with different color combinations, patterns, and leaf shapes. Some are lobed like an oak leaf, while are slender and still others crinkled or curly. Color patterns range from bright outlines of the stems and leaf veins to speckles, streaks, or polka dots. Many crotons feature multiple color combinations on a single plant.
Florida Select, with multiple color combinations outlining the veins of pointed, oval-shaped leaves, is a common variety. Eleanor Roosevelt croton has slender, narrow leaves in green or purple and speckled with bright yellow.
Another variety, Lauren’s Rainbow croton, has long, wavy leaves that stretch upward, with red, orange, and yellow stems shining on its deep green leaves. Zanzibar croton has the long, thin leaves of a spider plant or ornamental grass, with splatters of color ranging from green to red to purple.
Best Growing Conditions for Your Croton Plant
Heat-loving crotons are sensitive to extreme heat and cold, and they can’t handle temperatures below 60 degrees. Drafts and fluctuations in temperature can cause your plant to drop leaves, so choose a spot that’s consistently warm as possible and away from hot or cold air vents. Leaf drop can also be caused by insufficient light or simply a change in environment.
To keep their vivid colors looking their best, crotons need conditions as close to full sun as you can give them, as they are typically outdoor plants. A bright, south-facing window is great for this, as is a west-facing window that gets good afternoon light.
If your croton isn’t getting enough light, its bright colors will fade and the leaves will be dark green. If this happens, move your plant to a brighter spot. Keep in mind that new leaf growth is green, shading to yellow, red, or orange (depending on the type) as it matures.
How to Care for Your Croton Plant
Once you get your croton home, check the soil moisture weekly with your finger. Water the plant deeply (so that water flows out of the bottom of the pot) as soon as the top of the soil is dry.
This tropical plant also loves a humid environment. To create this, you can group your croton with other plants, which release moisture into the air. Another option is to display your croton in a bright, sunny window in a warm, steamy bathroom.
You can also put your plant on top of a humidifying tray: fill a tray or plant saucer with a layer of pebbles, then add water to just below the top of the pebbles. Place your plant on top, making sure that the bottom of the pot isn’t touching the water. The water will evaporate, humidifying the air around your plant. Check the water level every week or so and add more as needed.
If your brand new croton starts losing leaves, don't panic! These plants are very sensitive to changes in environment. With proper care, it should stabilize in your space and begin to put out new growth after three to four weeks.
Feed your croton with a standard houseplant fertilizer every two months during the spring and summer growing season. Pause feeding in the summer, and take care not to fertilize for at least six months after repotting or bringing home new plants.
Since crotons don’t like to be disturbed, it’s a good idea to repot them only when necessary. Signs that your plant is in need of repotting include roots growing out of the bottom of the pot or water flowing straight out of the drainage hole and not being absorbed by the soil, which is a sign that the plant is root bound.
Repot in early spring when new growth is starting. Use fresh commercial potting soil and only go up one pot size (one to two inches larger than the current pot). Handle the roots very carefully during repotting to avoid shocking the plant.
Keep an eye out for mealybugs, which look like a fluffy white substance along the stems and veins of your croton’s leaves. Check the plant regularly, and if you spot these pests, remove them straight away by gently wiping the affected leaves with a cotton ball or swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. If the insects are severe, spray the plant’s stems and foliage well with insecticidal soap and keep an eye on the plant for further signs of infestation.
How to Propagate Your Croton Plant
As a healthy, happy croton with good light will grow vigorously, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to prune back excess growth, which encourages a fuller, bushier shape. Use those pruned cuttings to grow new plants.
To propagate your croton via stem cuttings, you’ll need a small plant pot for each cutting you’d like to root, standard commercial potting soil, clean pruners or shears, and optional rooting hormone. Crotons can also be rooted in water.
Step 1: Fill the containers with potting soil. Water the soil well to moisten it.
Step 2: Select a few healthy stems from the mother plant to remove for propagation. Cut stems around four inches long and with three to five leaves.
Step 3: Use your finger or a pencil to poke a hole a few inches deep into the moist soil of each pot. Dip the cut end of each cutting in powdered rooting hormone, if using. Plant each cutting in the hole in each pot. Press the soil gently around the base of the cutting.
Step 4: Put the cuttings in a sunny, warm spot away from cold drafts. Keep the soil most but not soggy.
Step 5: When the cuttings have put out new leaf growth and developed a strong root system, they’re ready to replant. This can take as little as four weeks in warm temperatures (between 70 and 80 degrees).