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Few houseplants are as striking or vivid as the croton (Codiaeum variegatum). When it comes to bright, beautiful, multicolored houseplants, crotons' 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 grow quickly in good conditions (i.e., lots of light and damp soil). Without pruning, crotons, part of the smallish Codiaeum family, can grow to three or four feet high in just a few years. Since they come in so many striking varieties and they're fairly easy to care for indoors, the most difficult thing about the croton plant might just be picking your favorite.
- Botanical Name: Codiaeum variegatum
- Common Name: Croton, garden croton, rushfoil
- Plant Type: Evergreen shrub
- Mature Size: 10 feet high (when grown outdoors, though much smaller as a houseplant), depending on variety
- Sun Exposure: Bright, direct light
- Soil Type: Damp, well-draining
- Soil pH: 4.5–6.5
- Toxicity: Toxic to people and pets
Once you get your croton home, water it deeply as soon as the top of the soil is dry, ensuring the water flows from the bottom of the pot. Afterward, use your finger to check the soil moisture weekly.
If your new croton starts losing leaves, don't panic. These plants are very sensitive to changes in their environment. With proper care, it should stabilize in your space and begin to put out new growth after three to four weeks.
This tropical plant also loves a humid environment. Create this by placing your croton with other plants because they collectively 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, and then add water just below the top of the pebbles. Place your plant on top, making sure the bottom of the pot doesn't touch the water. The water will evaporate and humidify the air around your plant. Check the water level every week or so, and add more as needed.
Feed your croton with a standard houseplant fertilizer every two months during the spring and summer growing seasons. Pause or reduce feeding in the fall and winter, and take care not to fertilize for at least six months after repotting or bringing home new plants so that the roots can establish themselves.
Best Growing Conditions for Croton Plant
Crotons are sensitive to extreme heat and cold, and they can't handle temperatures below 50 degrees. Drafts and fluctuations in temperature can cause your plant to shed its leaves, so choose a spot that's consistently warm and away from hot or cold air vents. Leaf drop can also be caused by insufficient light or simply a change in environment, yet that doesn't necessarily mean you're doing anything wrong.
Keep your croton's colors looking their best with conditions as close to full sun as you can supply, 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 look 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.
Croton Plant Varieties
There's a wide variety of crotons available, with different color combinations, patterns, and leaf shapes. Some are lobed like an oak leaf, others are slender, and still, others are 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.
Some popular cultivars include 'Florida Select,' with multiple color combinations outlining the veins of pointed, oval-shaped leaves. The 'Eleanor Roosevelt' croton has slender, narrow leaves in green or purple, speckled with bright yellow, while 'Lauren's Rainbow' features long wavy leaves that stretch upward with red, orange, and yellow veins shining on its deep green leaves. Meanwhile, 'Zanzibar,' which has the long, thin leaves of a spider plant or ornamental grass, features splatters of color ranging from green to red to purple.
How to Propagate Croton Plants
Because healthy, happy croton 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 about four inches long and with three to five leaves on each.
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 warm, sunny spot away from cold drafts. Keep the soil moist 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 degrees and 80 degrees).
Common Growing Problems
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 infestation is severe, spray the plant's stems and foliage well with insecticidal soap, and keep an eye on the plant for further signs of infestation.
And, since crotons prefer moist soil, anything wetter will cause root rot. So, be sure your plant lives in a pot with good drainage, and be mindful not to overwater it.
Potting and Repotting Your Croton Plant
Since crotons don't like to be disturbed, it's a good idea to repot them only when necessary. Signs that your plant needs 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. When potting or repotting your croton, ensure there's a hole in the bottom of the pot so water can drain.