Botanical Name: Codiaeum variegatum
Alternate Common Name:
Plant Type : Houseplant or perennial shrub
Mature Size: 5-6 feet
Sun Exposure: Full or part sun outside - bright light indoors
Planting Zones: Hardy in zones 10-11 Only
If you want a colorful plant that will stand out indoors or outdoors, crotons can be a good choice. Below you'll find our definitive guide to croton plant care, including where to plant it outdoors, will it survive in your location, and how to care for it so you get a beautiful show of colorful leaves all year. Read on...
The Lowdown On The Croton Plant
The croton plant is a tropical shrub that can grow quite large. Indeed, in the right conditions, it can grow from 5-6 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide. If you live in an area or have visited an area where they are grown outdoors year round, perhaps you've seen them this size. For most of us though, they will remain smaller.
Crotons do not like cold weather. In fact, if you live in an area where the temperature could fall below 50 degrees farenheit at any time during the year, then the plant must be brought inside or else it might not survive. Only areas such as southern Florida or other similar climates could support year round growth outdoors.
Because of this, an overwhelming majority of the U.S. population would consider the croton to be a house plant - and while this is a good choice, we like the hybrid method of growing crotons. What does that mean? It means using it in both locations.
We here in planting zone 6-7 use it as an annual outdoors in the summer by planting it in a few gardens and then letting it die at the end of the season and then purchase new ones every year. This is a great choice if you want that "tropical" feel or theme to your outdoor spaces, as the plant has that "exotic" look.
Another option we've used is to plant them in pots and put them out on the deck in the summer and bring them indoors during the winter.
What we haven't done yet (but will try soon) is to plant them in pots and dig the pots into the ground within a garden space. Then, once the temperatures turn colder, the pots can simply be lifted out of the gardens and brought inside.
Croton Plant Care For Outdoors
First, let's talk about planting crotons outdoors and the care they need to survive in the outdoor environment.
As we mentioned above, because crotons are tropical plants, needing warm temperatures, they can only be gown outdoors all year in environments where the temperature stays above 50 and, even better 60 degrees farenheit.
Unfortunately, in today's changing climate, that could be challenge - even for climates known to be warm, such as south florida. Heck, even Ft. Lauderdale, Florida has seen low temperatures routinely in the 40s and occassionally even lower. When temperatures get that low, even at night, you'll risk loosing your crotons to the cold.
For that reason and for the purposes of this article, we are considering them a houseplant that can be grown outdoors during the summer. The question then becomes how and where to grow?
Crotons like full or part sun, 6-8 hours of sun per day and also like it humid. The ideal temperature for this plant is between 70-80 degrees farenheit. If you're locating outdoors, choosing a location that meets these requirements would be ideal - although like most plants, they will survive in less-than-ideal locations.
If they don't get enough light, they could still survive. However, the leaves will be less vibrant and the plant may grow tall and lanky with fewer numbers of leaves.
We plant ours as an annual in a garden that gets a maximum of 4-6 hours of sun per day. Although it doesn't thrive and put out new growth, it does survive and keeps its color and always looks wonderful.
Planting In Pots:
Croton plant care outdoors is pretty easy. Your first option is to plant them in pots.
Choose a pot that is large enough for the plant to grow into. Because they can produce foliage that grows tall, they can become top heavy, so a ceramic or terracotta pot that is heavy would work to reduce the chance of the pot tipping over.
Pot the plant in nutrient rich soil such as a potting mix or compost mix that drains well. Crotons don't like to sit in water, so make sure the pot and soil both have sufficient drainage.
Although they don't like to SIT in water, they do like the soil to be moist, so keeping it watered sufficiently, without drowning the roots, is important. If you have any doubts, simply stick a finger about 2-3 inches down into the soil. If it feels dry, water it.
Because of these watering requirements, some people consider crotons to be finicke and this statement does hold some truth. However, proper care is not that difficult but might take a little experimentation to get right.
Planting In The Ground:
As we mentioned before, you can plant crotons in the ground if you live in a warm climate or if you plan on treating them as annuals and replanting new ones every year, which is what we do.
Ideally, you'll want to pick a garden that's in full sun and you'll want to check the soil periodically to find out if it's getting dry. This, of course, depends on how hot your weather has been and how much rain you've received.
Your other option is to dig a hole and stick the pot in the ground, making it appear like it's actually planted. This could be the best of both worlds - having the plant look like it's a part of the garden but being able to bring the pot inside every year so you can keep your plant around for many years.
Lastly, a great idea is to find a tropical looking pot, plant the croton in the pot, and sit the pot in the garden, as an ornament or garden decor. We actually like this idea the best, as it will add even more interest to your garden.
Finally, you can use your potted croton on an open (not covered) porch or deck. Planting it a a pot as a thriller (see our article here on what this means) along with other plants is a great use for a croton plant.
Croton Plant Care For Indoors
A majority of garden lovers will plant crotons in pots and keep them indoors year round. Treating it like a permanent house plant is a fine choice as well. Its colorful leaves will brighten any area of your home.
If you choose this route, find a west or southwest facing window with bright light sun place you pot there. A perfect place would be in front of floor to ceiling windows or on a plant stand in front of other windows.
Check the plant once per week and water if necessary, using the criterea we mentioned above.
There are over 100 varieties of crotons, each with different sized and shaped leaves of different combinations of colors. Most colors are the "fall" colors of yellows, oranges, purples, reds and other hues in those families.
This is why you'll often see crotons front and center in fall displays in garden centers.. At other times of the year you'll have to look in the house plant section of garden centers to find them.
Here are some of the more popular varities:
The mammy croton is one of the smaller varieties of croton.
It's leaves are rounded and curled as they grow, taking the look of ribbons. This makes the plan quite unique.
The leaves come in shades of green, yellow and red.
Eleanor Roosevelt Croton:
The Eleanor Roosevelt croton sports leaves that are bright green and purple with spots of yellow throughout - reminding us of dalmation dogs - only in green and yellow.
This makes for a unique display of color which is very striking.
This variety is not named magnificent for nothing.
Like other varieties, the leaves are a combination of green and yellow, but unlike a lot of the other varieties, the leave on the magnificent variety are much larger - creating the "wow" moment for anyone that sees them.
This croton variety is probably one of the most popular and the one most commonly sold in garden centers.
It's leaves a green with the yellow and purple colors appearing as "veins" though the leaves.
For other varieties of the plant, visit this site:
(images source: Costa Farms)
Crotons should do OK without fertilizer but if you want to boost their output, then fertilizing once per month should be fine.
Use a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen and potassium would benefit the plant. This means finding a fertilizer with 18-6-12 ratios would be ideal. (read this article if you don't know what that means).
Croton Plant Propagation
To propagate crotons, cut a stem that's at least 3 inches long and contains a few leaves. Dip the stem in rooting hormone (found at garden centers) and plant in a pot with a potting mix. Finally, keep watered regularly, but not waterlogged.
Keep the plant in a sunny window in an environment between 70-80 degrees farenheit. Most homes are kept at this temperature so your normal home environment will work.
Your plant should root in 1 month or less.
Croton Plant Care Leaves Dropping Off
One of the most common problems many people experience is croton leaves dropping off. The big question is then... WHY?
Here are a few of the culprits:
Crotons like to be moist. This means not too dry and not too wet. The best option then is what we mentioned above - test the soil with your finger and water when the top 2-3 inches feels dry. If it is, water until all the soil in the pot becomes moist, but not waterlogged. The question then, that most beginners have is... "how do I know when I can't see the soil in the pot?"
The way to judge it is to watering until you just start to see a trickle of water drain out of the bottom of the pot. If you use this as a guide, over time you will get a feel as to the correct amount of water and it will become second nature.
The next question we see a lot is... "what happens if I forget to water, and the plant dries out?" Well, it may start to drop leaves.
At that point, your best course of action is to place the pot in a sink or container and water thoroughly until the soil becomes saturated and water starts to drain out the bottom of the pot. The problem is this is not ideal either. Doing this means your plant will go from too dry to too wet. What's a person to do?
In general, if this happens, yes, your plant will go through stress and yes, it may still drop leaves, but it will probably adjust and come back.
Hey, life is not perfect. We all forget tasks. If this happens and you loose the plant, so be it. Learn from your mistake and move on.
Indeed, this watering problem is one of the more difficult things for inexperienced gardeners to get right. However, this plant will add so much to your home or gardens, it's worth experimenting until you get it right.
Lack Of Humidy:
Crotons also like humid environments.
Although less of an issue than watering, you can help them keep their leaves by misting them regularly. This is especially true in a home environment during the winter months when the air can be very dry.
Not Enough Light:
We said it previously in this article, but it's worth repeating. Not enough light will cause the plant to shed leaves.
Moving The Plant:
In general, house plants don't like to be moved. Changing locations means it's environment will change - often times resulting in leaves dropping.
This includes moving pots from outdoors to indoors.
However, as long as other conditions are right, the plant should come back. Be patient.
Croton Plant Care Conclusions
It may seem that croton plant care is more trouble than it's worth, but we would disagree.
This plant offers so much color and is so unique when compared to other plants, we believe it's worth trying them and getting it right.
We encourage you to try them. The exotic feel they will give to your outdoor or indoor spaces will be worth it.