Croton Guide: How to Care For a Croton Plant - Backyard Boss
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Croton Guide: How to Care For a Croton Plant

Few plants have the foliage color and shape variety of the croton. The different cultivars sometimes appear to be completely different plants! So how do you take care of this wide-ranging family of pretty-leaved houseplants? We’ve got you covered. Whether you’re a new plant parent or an old green thumb, our detailed care guide will help you keep your Petra or Gold Dust happy. Read on for everything from light and water needs to propagation and pest control tips.

Croton Details

Codiaeum variegatum

AKA Croton, Gold Dust, Petra, and other named cultivars
Ease of Care: moderate
Light: bright indirect sunlight
Water: frequently
Temperature: > 55 degrees Fahrenheit
Height: up to 10 feet
Growth Rate: 12 inches per growing season
Pests: spider mites
Diseases: Oedema, Anthracnose
Toxicity: Toxic to people and animals

Benefits of Croton Plants

Croton plants are absolutely amazing when it comes to bringing drops of color into an otherwise dull landscape. With hundreds of varieties available, croton plants can look really different from one another, and their color depends a lot on the amount of light they benefit from. In the past, the oil obtained from Croton tiglium was used as a purgative, but the plant isn’t used for medicinal purposes anymore.

Depending on the exact variety of croton in question, the plant can have a few uses. For example, the Cascarilla bark is used as a flavor in famous liquor brands, such as Campari. Some croton nuts can also be used to make biofuel.

croton variety narrow leaf petraCaring for Your Croton

Caring for the croton plant isn’t that different compared to every other average house plant (if you disregard the fact that the leaves are regular dust magnets, that is). Follow these basic rules to make sure that your croton plant survives for as long as possible:

Light

Choose a location that’s sunny and avoid north-facing windows. The plant likes to enjoy as much light as possible, otherwise, the leaves will not be as colorful as they could. They should never be placed in direct sunlight but they will thrive in dappled one. Keep in mind that light impacts the intensity of the colors.

Water

Water your croton weekly, or biweekly if your light and temperature are relatively low. A thirsty croton will begin to droop—they’re real drama queens, as far as houseplants go—so don’t be alarmed if your plant starts to point its foliage downward. Just give it some water and it will perk right back up.

Overwatering can cause a croton to drop its leaves entirely, but before this happens you will see significant yellowing in the foliage and, if it’s very soggy, black or brown coloration at the stem base. This is root rot, and it can be hard to save a plant once it’s set in. Be sure your pot drains well, that you only water when the soil feels dry, and that you err on the side of underwatering when you can’t decide if your plant needs a drink.

Soil

The soil of the croton plants needs to be evenly moist at all times during the summer. When the plant is in its growth period, you want to mist it often. During the winter, you can reduce the watering frequency to biweekly.

Dust

Because of their shiny surface, the leaves of the croton plants will often attract dust which is going to become visible really fast. You want to use a moist cloth to wipe them clean about twice per month in order to keep them healthy and avoid the uncomfortable aspect.

Temperature

The croton plant does not tolerate cold drafts, so make sure that the plant is kept warm at all times and especially during the winter. It also seems particularly unhappy being moved around, and will sometimes drop leaves following a change in location. If you do need to move your croton away from a draft or high traffic area, be sure the new location is a good one, and be prepared to lose a leaf or two in the week following its move.

gold leaf broad croton variety

Fertilizer

Slow-release pellets are the best types of fertilizers to use for such a plant. Liquid fertilizers will work as well, especially during the plant’s growing season.

Diseases

The croton plant is rather resistant, but there is a possibility that it might catch a few diseases if not cared for properly. Anthracnose, for instance, causes tan-colored dead spots to appear on the leaves. In this case, cutting the diseased leaves on time is required so that it doesn’t spread to healthy leaves.

Varieties

If you thought that things couldn’t get any more interesting, know that there are hundreds of croton varieties to be explored. In fact, the croton plant is genetically unstable, which basically means that there are many interesting varieties to explore, with most of them being subject of interest for collectors.

Some of the most common croton plant varieties include:

  • Petra – This can be recognized thanks to its green leaves that have yellow, orange, or red veins.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt – Characterized by skinny leaves with colors that range from lime green to burgundy.
  • Oakleaf – Typically recognized due to its oak-shaped leaves in bronze or dark green color with veins that are red, yellow, or orange.

potted croton outdoors with huge foliage and tall trunks

Propagation

The easiest way to propagate croton plants is with stem cutting. Rooting hormones can go a long way and drastically increase your chances of success. One of the things that make the croton plant unique and interesting is the fact that it can sometimes develop shoots that are very different from the parent plant.

However, propagation through cutting will ensure that you have a croton plant and have a result that’s visually similar to the original. Since the seeds of the plant are unstable, propagating through seeds isn’t recommended and the end result will most likely be completely different compared to the parent plant (which, for some people, could be a good thing).

Pruning

Most people are intimidated when they hear about the broad varieties of croton plants and associate this high number with the difficulty of care. The truth of the matter is that pruning a croton plant is really easy and even a novice gardener should be up for the task.

The first question that comes to mind is if croton pruning really is necessary. It is, for rejuvenation purposes. A croton plant is likely to have dead leaves that need to be removed. Trimming croton is mostly a matter of getting rid of plant parts that could lead to diseases.

A croton plant can reach heights of up to 10 feet, so those of you that want shorter plants will have to consider trimming the plant to the desired height. What’s important to remember is that you should avoid pruning the plant during cold snaps and active growth periods. Also, make sure that you use sterilized cutting tools to avoid spreading diseases to the plant.

Purchasing

Some of the best places to buy croton plants are nurseries. Of course, you can find certain varieties on websites such as Amazon but the product offer isn’t that rich. Of course, your shopping source will depend on the croton variety you wish to buy. Garden Good is a great resource for the Petra variety, while Plant Vine has a beautiful Eleanor Roosevelt croton plant for sale.

We find that House Plant Shop has the most consistently stocked crotons; they also carry varieties in multiple pot sizes.

    Croton Petra 'Joseph's Coat' in 6-Inch Pot

Buy at HousePlantShop.com
    The Croton Petra is a robust plant with large colorful leaves. These plants can mature to large indoor house plants if properly cared for.

    Croton Mammy in 6-Inch Pot

Buy at HousePlantShop.com
    Bring a tropical feel into your home with the Croton Mammy, a ribbon-leaved variety with strong coloration and an upright growth habit.

Common Questions

How do you plant croton?

Croton plants tend to grow upwards quite a lot, in which case the top part of the plant becomes quite dense and heavy. To avoid tip-overs, you want to choose a sturdy container that can hold a large plant. As for the soil, always choose a well-drained potting mix. If you live in an area with warm and humid summers, you can also move the plant outdoors (or plant it directly outdoors)

When do I need to repot a croton plant?

The best time to repot croton plants is during spring, but only when you notice that it’s needed. When doing so, you will need a container merely one size bigger than the current one. You will have to remove the croton plant from its container by turning it on its side to slide it out with ease. You can use damp peat-based potting soil in the process. Add one or two inches of soil in the new container and put the plant inside, gently tapping the soil around the roots. Proceed to water the plant and add soil up to one inch below the edge of the container.

croton variety red gold orange and pink petra variety with spear shaped leaves

Why are leaves falling off my croton plant?

When croton plants to not get their desired level of humidity, leaves will start to drop. If you want to prevent or solve this problem, you can do so in one of two ways. You can opt for a humidifier that should be placed in the same room as the plant. If you don’t want to invest in such a product, you can place a humidity tray underneath the pot, making sure that the container doesn’t come in contact with the water underneath it. They might also drop leaves if they’ve recently experienced a change in location, or are receiving too much water. For these, see the appropriate care instructions above.

Is croton an indoor plant?

Yes and no. You can grow crotons indoors, but a lot of people choose to plant them outside because their foliage has vibrant colors that can really spruce up and otherwise green scenery. If you want to grow a croton plant inside, you will have to make sure that you find a spot with plenty of bright light. They could be placed next to a sunny window but avoid having the plant bask in direct sunlight for too long.

Are croton leaves poisonous?

Even if the croton plant isn’t the most poisonous house plant of all, it has a toxicity level that can’t be ignored. These plants are poisonous for pets and humans alike. The leaves and stems of the plant contain a sap that causes skin irritation. Ingesting parts of the plant can lead to a series of stomach-related problems. All parts of a croton plant are poisonous, from the roots to the flowers.

Conclusion

Although crotons look like daunting plants to keep, they’re really quite simple and straightforward to care for, as long as you resist overwatering and try not to move them around too much. With time and good care, your croton can grow to be as tall as many trees!

We hope you found this croton care guide useful. Share it with all your green-thumbed friends and, as usual, let us know if there’s another plant you’d like us to write a guide for!

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