How to Care for Croton Plants
One of the charms of the croton plant is that is available in a variety of colors, sizes and leaf shapes. Common colors include shades of greens, yellows, reds, oranges, creams, blacks and purples. Leaf shapes vary from long and narrow, curvy or curled, and even wide and flat. They make excellent potted plants and can grow between 3 to 10 feet tall if properly cared for outside.
Although all croton plants have similar growing characteristics, the exact methods will vary slightly based on the exact type of croton you grow and whether you choose to keep it in the house or grow it outside. Croton plants grow well in USDA hardiness zones 10 through 12.
General Care Instructions
Consult the plant’s identifying tag to determine how much light your particular variety will require. Generally speaking, plants with brighter colors or those that are highly variegated tend to require more light exposure. If keeping your croton indoors, make sure to place it near a sunny window, or the plant may turn to a traditional green color.
Crotons are naturally found in tropical environments and require high humidity levels. They don’t need overly wet soil though. Monitor water levels, watering only when the top of the soil is dry to the touch.
Keep crotons away from cold drafts. If the plant is exposed to temperatures lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit it may result in leaf loss, or death of the plant.
How to Plant in a Pot
- Select a good pot for crotons. Although crotons prefer high humidity levels, they can’t stand overly wet soil. So, select a container with drainage holes. Choose a container that is about 1/3 larger than the current plant’s root ball.
- Fill the container about 1/3 full of potting soil, then set the plant inside the container. Add more soil until the rootball is about 1 inch below the edge of the rim. Add more soil to fill in the pot.
- Water the plant thoroughly and let it drain.
- Set the croton in a sunny location.
- Monitor water levels, only adding water when the top 1 inch of soil is dry. Don’t over water the plant, as is susceptible to root rot.
How to Plant Outside
- Select a location that will receive adequate light and have proper drainage.
- Dig a hole just a few inches deeper than the croton’s rootball.
- Space crotons 2 to 3 feet apart; allow more room for larger varieties. Ensure there is adequate room, at least 2 feet, between crotons and houses or other structures. Group crotons of similar variety for a larger splash of color, or group multiple varieties for a statement area in your yard.
- Remove the croton from the container and gently separate the roots. Separating the roots allows them to take root in the new soil better.
- Back fill the hole, and cover the rootball with about 1 inch of soil.
- Water the newly planted croton thoroughly, but do not overly wet the area.
How to Propagate
- Cut a segment from a healthy croton plant. The segment should have between three to five leaves.
- Set the cutting in a glass of water.
- Place the glass in a warm, bright location.
- Replace water every three days or so. Expect roots in a few weeks.
- Repot the rooted cutting in a container with drainage holes and potting soil.
Crotons tend to be “shocked” easily when moved from one location to another. The shock in temperature or light may result in a loss of leaves. Don’t worry though, as this is a normal behavior of crotons. Maintain regular care of the plant, monitoring water, humidity, and light levels.
Keep humidity levels high by misting the plant with a water bottle or by placing the pot on a pebble tray with water.
Trim crotons as necessary to keep their size manageable, using sterilized clippers. Trim stems only, not cutting into the actual leaf.
Pruning often encourages new growth in crotons. Prune areas where you want to see more growth. Encourage a bushier look by pruning (or snipping off) the growing portion of each stem.
Cut just above nodes or leaves to help maintain the shape of your plant.
Remove diseased or rotten stems completely, cutting all the way back to the central stem.
Resist cutting back too much of the plant at one time, never more than 1/3 of the total plant, or you could shock the plant. Avoid pruning the plant again until new growth has formed.
Consider wearing gloves when pruning crotons, as they emit a white sap where cut or damaged. The sap is considered a toxin and may cause a rash. Avoid touching your eyes or mouth if you have made contact with the sap, or it may cause a serious reaction such as nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting. Wash hands thoroughly after exposure to sap.
Crotons are typically deer resistant. So go ahead and plant them in your garden without fear of deer.
Most pests of crotons can be avoided or removed by regularly cleaning plant leaves with neem oil and water.
Spider mites may be difficult to detect, as they leave yellow spots on leaves. Remove mites with a damp paper towel and discourage recurring infestations by keeping leaves clean.
Discourage plant scale by cleaning leaves weekly with neem oil and water weekly.
Remove mealybugs with a burst of water from the hose or by placing a cottonball dipped in rubbing alcohol on the bugs.
Consider planting a variety of croton species in a grouping to highlight the variety of the plant. Not only will you have a bright colorful showing, but also the distinctive leaf shape of the different varieties will be unusual.
Fertilize outdoor crotons three times a year with a granular fertilizer.
Burned leaves, or leaves with gray patches, may indicate a sunburn. Move the plant to a shadier location during the hottest part of the day.
Twisted leaves (on varieties that don’t normally have a curly shape) may indicate too much fertilization. Scale back fertilization from three to two fertilizations per year.
Revitalize leaf color by wiping down the leaves with a mixture of water and neem oil.