How to Grow Croton Plants

A variety of colorful plants in pots

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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 can grow to three or four feet high in just a few years. Since they come in so many striking varieties and are fairly easy to care for indoors, the most difficult thing about adopting a croton plant might just be picking your favorite. They're also toxic to people and pets, though, so you'll want to keep that in mind.

  • Botanical Name: Codiaeum variegatum
  • Common Name: Croton, garden croton, rushfoil
  • Plant Type: Evergreen shrub
  • Mature Size: 3 to 5 feet high indoors, 10 feet high outdoors, depending on variety
  • Sun Exposure: Bright, direct light
  • Soil Type: Damp, well-draining
  • Soil pH: 4.5–6.5
  • Toxicity: Toxic to people, toxic to pets

Plant Care

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—they collectively release more moisture into the air. Another option is to display your croton near 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 to 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 season. 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.

Large croton plant

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Best Growing Conditions for Croton Plants

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. 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 always green, shading to yellow, red, or orange (depending on the type) as it matures. 

Types of Croton Plants

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. Another, 'Zanzibar,' has the long, thin leaves of a spider plant or ornamental grass and features splatters of color ranging from green to red to purple. 

croton overhead shot

Mikhail Novozilov / EyeEm / Getty Images

How to Propagate Your Croton Plant

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 propagate new plants in either soil or water. Here's how:

How to Propagate Croton Plants in Soil

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.

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). 

How to Propagate Croton Plants in Water

Crotons can also be rooted in water. You'll need a glass or jar and clean pruners or shears.

Step 1: Prepare your glass or jar by filling most of the way with clean water.

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: Place your cuttings in the water, ensuring the cut side is submerged but the leaves are not. Sit the jar with your cuttings in a warm, sunny spot away from drafts. You should start to see roots within a few weeks.

Step 5: When the roots are a few inches long, plant in a pot with fresh soil and care for your new croton as usual.

Common Problems With Croton Plants

When it comes to croton care, the important things to avoid are overwatering, underwatering, and sudden environmental changes. Only slightly less important is plenty of bright, direct sunlight, without which, your plant will lose its gorgeous colors and may not grow properly

Leaf Drop

Similar to many ficus varieties, croton plants are susceptible to leaf drop when experiencing any kind of stress or shock—something like a location change or pot transplant, for example. Give your plant a few weeks to stabilize and, given plenty of bright light, you should see new growth start to appear.

Wilting Leaves

Contrary to what you might think, wilting croton leaves often mean you're overwatering—these jungle plants prefer moist soil, and anything wetter will cause root rot. Also, be sure your plant lives in a pot with good drainage.

Browning Leaves

On the other hand, if your croton leaves appear to be turning brown and drying out or curling up, you're probably underwatering. You only want to allow the top inch or so of soil to dry out before giving your plant another big drink of water. You may also consider upping the humidity around your plant to keep those leaves nice and moist.

Insect Damage

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. 

Potting and Repotting Your Croton Plant

Since crotons don't like to be disturbed, you should only repot them when absolutely 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 rootbound.

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). Always ensure there's a hole in the bottom of the new pot so water can drain. Handle the roots very carefully during repotting to avoid shocking your plant.

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Are croton plants easy to care for?

Croton have a reputation for being a bit high maintenance when grown as houseplants. They require plenty of direct sunlight, so you won't have much success if your home is low-light. We'd recommend croton to plant parents with some experience under their belt.

How fast do croton plants grow?

Croton are regarded as slow to moderate growers. Given plenty of bright light and consistently moist soil, your croton may grow as much as 12 inches over the course of one growing season.

How long can croton live?

With a little luck and a whole lot of love, your croton can live many, many years. However, it's somewhat rare to keep these plants alive longer than a handful of years indoors, given their fickle nature.

Article Sources
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  1. Croton. The University of Kansas Health System Poison Control Center

  2. Croton. Pet Poison Helpline