The croton (Codiaeum variegatum) appears to have it all: colorful foliage, nearly limitless leaf forms and 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 problem indoors is typically temperature; when it is too cold, they start losing leaves. However, crotons are well worth the effort because a well-grown croton is an explosion of color.
Best Growing Conditions for Crotons
- Light. Crotons need bright, indirect light. They do not like unfiltered, direct sunlight, but thrive in dappled sunlight. Vibrant colors depend on bright light.
- Water. Keep them evenly moist in the summer and reduce watering in the winter to biweekly. Mist frequently during the growth period.
- Temperature. Keep the room above 60 F and do not expose to cold drafts.
- Soil. A well-drained potting soil is perfect.
- Fertilizer. Apply slow-release pellets or liquid fertilizer during the growing season.
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.
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 an inch below the rim of the new container.
There are hundreds of croton varieties with names like Dreadlocks, Ann Rutherford, Mona Lisa and Irene Kingsley. For a plant with this incredible diversity, it's amazing 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 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.
Problems Growing Crotons Indoors
Low humidity inside the house makes crotons particularly susceptible to spider mites. Mist the plants daily to avoid an infestation. 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.