The croton (Codiaeum variegatum) appears to have it all: colorful foliage, nearly limitless leaf forms, and even a cultish following. But these plants have a drawback: They're difficult to please indoors. In their native habitats, crotons like humid, warm conditions with dappled light and plentiful water. The primary challenge when growing them indoors is maintaining the ideal temperature—when it is too cold, they start losing leaves. However, crotons are well worth the effort because well-grown croton is an explosion of color.
Crotons are evergreen shrubs that are hardy only to USDA plant hardiness zones 11 and 12, where they are often grown outdoors as ornamental shrubs. Outdoor plants can reach 10 feet in height, but pot-grown specimens tend to be much smaller, making them suitable for permanent houseplants or indoor/outdoor container plants. Many crotons can be brought outdoors when temperatures stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, provided they are properly acclimated to the light and temperature conditions.
|Botanical Name||Codiaeum variegatum|
|Plant Type||Evergreen shrub|
|Mature Size||Varies by variety|
|Sun Exposure||Bright, indirect light|
|Soil Type||Well-drained potting soil|
|Bloom Time||Indoor plants rarely flower|
|Hardiness Zones||11, 12|
|Native Area||Tropical Asia and Pacific regions|
How to Grow Crotons
A well-grown croton keeps its leaves all the way to the soil level—and the trick to this is to provide steady warmth. Even in outdoor settings, crotons drop leaves after a cold night. These plants respond well to trimming, so if a croton becomes leggy, prune it back hard at the beginning of the growing season, and move it outside. The plant will regrow from the cut portion. Vibrant leaf colors depend on the quality of light. Don't shy away from providing lots of bright, shifting sunlight.
Low humidity inside the house makes crotons particularly susceptible to spider mites. Mist the plants daily to avoid an infestation.
Crotons need bright, indirect light. They do not like unfiltered, direct sunlight, but thrive in dappled sunlight. Vibrant colors depend on bright light.
Keep them evenly moist in the summer and reduce watering in the winter to biweekly. Mist frequently during the growth period.
A well-drained potting soil is perfect.
Temperature and Humidity
Keep the room above 60 degrees Fahrenheit and do not expose the plant to cold drafts. Humidity, along with the lack of bright light, also affects the color of the leaves. Keep the humidity level at 40 to 80 percent. If the humidity isn't high enough, the plant may drop some of its leaves. If you have trouble maintaining the humidity in your home at this level, run a humidifier in the room or set a humidity tray beneath the plant and group it with other plants.
Apply slow-release pellets or liquid fertilizer during the growing season.
Potting and Repotting
Repot a croton in spring when needed. Use a container only one size larger than the plant's current container. Put 1 to 2 inches of damp peat-based potting soil into the new container. Turn the croton on its side and gently slide it out of its container. Set it in the new pot and fill in around the roots with potting soil. Water the plant and add additional soil if needed to bring the soil level to about 1 inch below the rim of the new container.
Crotons are easily propagated with stem cuttings. Use a rooting hormone to increase the odds of success. Crotons sometimes produce "sports," or shoots, that are completely different from the parent plant. These can be potted up independently. Crotons do not grow well from seed, as the plant is unstable and the offspring won't resemble the parent. Only cuttings produce a plant that is identical to the parent.
Varieties of Croton
There are hundreds of croton varieties, including names like Dreadlocks, Ann Rutherford, Mona Lisa, and Irene Kingsley. For a plant with this incredible diversity, it's amazing that there is only one species (C. variegatum). However, crotons are genetically unstable, so each plant is unique, and interesting varieties are highly prized by enthusiastic collectors. Crotons are often subdivided by their leaf type: curling, twisted, oak leaf, narrow, broad and oval. A few notable varieties include:
C. variegatum var. pictum: Large, brightly colored leaves of orange, red, bronze, green, purple, and yellow; grows 3 to 6 feet tall as a houseplant
C. variegatum 'Gold Star': Narrow, linear leaves of green with bright yellow spotting; has a tree-like habit and grows to only about 20 inches in height
C. variegatum 'Petra': A very popular variety with oval, green leaves with pronounced veining in pink, red, orange, and yellow hues; can reach 3 to 6 feet in height
Toxicity of Crotons
All parts of the croton are toxic to humans and pets. The sap is a skin irritant, so it's best to wear gloves when removing leaves or taking cuttings—anything that might release sap. Minimal ingestion of the plant is considered mildly to moderately toxic and will likely cause a burning sensation in the mouths of humans or excessive drooling in pets. Ingesting larger quantities may result in gastrointestinal symptoms such as upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Pets that are poisoned may seem tired or irritable.