Our obsession with tropical houseplants is rarely tested as harshly as by Croton plants, one of the most sun-loving, tender shrubs you can grow indoors.
In this guide, we’re going to uncover everything about how to grow Croton, how to keep them happy, and how you can turn a mild indoor climate into a tropical haven for these stunning, leathery leaved plants.
Croton plants are challenging houseplants, and definitely not for the faint hearted. Even common croton species can cost upwards of $100 for mid-sized plants, but if you’re prepared to put the work in, you can find some truly spectacular Crotons on a budget as young plants.
Getting to Know Croton Plants
Croton plant is a vast genus of flowering shrub, native to tropical regions around the Pacific, their name comes from the Greek ‘krótos’ (κρότος) meaning “tick”, thanks to the distinctly plump oval seeds produce by most species of Croton.
The Croton varieties grown most commonly in cultivation are brightly variegated, with leaves ranging from yellows, to red, on a green background, often with black or deep-purple veining.
There is no typical leaf form with Croton plants either, as some species carry crinkled leaves, and others are better known for perfectly formed oval-shaped leaves with a distinct leathery texture.
For most growers in the US, Croton plant needs to be grown indoors, but in tropical regions on the southernmost tips of America, they can cope with outdoor conditions.
Croton plant is notably difficult to grow in cultivation thanks to their susceptibility to root rot, stem infections and infestation, but we’ll focus on how to avoid those common croton care issues in this guide.
Codiaeum Variegatum's Natural Habitat
While most Croton plant is found growing native to Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia, the widest selection of species are found on Madagascar with over 10% of all living Croton species growing all over the island nation.
Croton plant requires hot tropical heat to thrive and are commonly found growing in open forests where they are the top layer of low growing canopies.
As such, we need to provide Croton grown indoors with full sun, high temperatures and relatively low levels of humidity compared to most tropical plants.
Most fascinatingly, Croton plant is not limited to the common shrubby varieties we are used to in garden centers, with some low lying Croton well adapted to shade, while others grow up to 25m/82ft tall.
Rushfoil, Joseph’s Coat
Crepe Myrtle, Crape Myrtle
Deciduous tree, shrub
6 to 25 ft. tall, 6 to 20 ft. wide
Pink, red, white, light purple
July to September
Poisonous for pets:
How to Grow Croton Plant
Croton are tropical plants. They need heat above all else, and while they grow in exposed conditions in their natural habitat, that does mean good humidity and water to help balance the direct sun exposure.
Croton Watering Schedule
Croton don’t like drying out completely, their leathery leaves might look tough, but their tropical homes are famous for heavy rainfall which helps them to cope with high temperatures.
Water croton if the top layer of soil is beginning to dry out, and try to avoid watering when the soil is still moist to avoid overwatering. It’s a tricky balance, but croton leaves respond well to watering so it’s easy to spot when they need a drink.
To help with humidity, stand croton plants in a tray filled with gravel. The gravel stops croton roots from sitting in water but helps keep a regular humid environment which is better than directly misting leaves.
Ideally, Croton plant should receive between 6-8 hours of direct light per day, but some protection from direct midday sun is advisable as it can crisp croton leaves.
Find a reliable south-facing window, ideally where there is shade from the midday sun. If your window is exposed from dawn to dusk make sure to water frequently and keep humidity slightly above average.
Best Soil for Croton Plant
Croton need good drainage and while they benefit from foliage focussed feeds, too much compost can lead to croton roots sitting in damp conditions. Use an even mix of soil, compost and horticultural grit for proper drainage, and replace the top inch of soil with compost in spring.
How to Propagate Croton
The best way to propagate Crotons is through air layering, a process which encourages roots to form halfway up a stem, but for most houseplant keepers, the most common way to propagate Croton plant is through stem cuttings.
Below, we’ll talk through the process of how to propagate Croton using both methods:
Air layering Codiaeum Variegatum
Air layering is the process of rooting from a stem that is still attached to a plant. Layering is common practice with flexible garden shrubs, where it’s possible to pin stems to the soil.
For stiff stemmed plants like croton, the process is essentially the same but requires the compost to be brought up to the stem instead.
You will need:
- A sharp cutting knife
- Sphagnum moss, or banana peel
- Plastic wrap
- Rooting hormone (See our review of the best rooting hormones here.)
- 4-5” plastic pot
- Light potting mix (1:1 perlite, compost)
- Start by finding a healthy stem which is at least 0.5” thick and has healthy leaves at the top.
- Cut a small nick in the stem that exposes the green center (about 1/3 of the thickness of the stem) about four inches from the tip of the stem.
- Dab rooting hormone onto the wound (power and gel are both fine).
- Wrap a banana peel or sphagnum moss around the wound.
- Mist generously.
- Cover with plastic wrap.
- Check every three to four days and re-mist the site if it seems dry.
- After 2-3 weeks the wound site should have rooted into the moss.
- Once rooted, cut just below the new roots and place your new cutting into a fresh potting mix.
- Water well, and then continue to care as you would with any young croton plant.
Note: Banana peel is free, but can attract fruit flies. If you choose this cost-saving option, check for insects regularly.
Propagating Croton from Stem Cuttings
The most common way to propagate croton is through stem cuttings. Stem cuttings are less risky for the parent plant than air layering as you don’t have the added humidity around growing stems, but rooting is less reliable.
An important tip for rooting croton cuttings is to take cuttings in early summer. Most cuttings are best taken in spring but croton plant cuttings fare well in the hotter temperatures, so June or even July are ideal times for fresh cuttings.
You will need:
- A sharp cutting knife
- 4-5” plastic pot
- Rooting hormone
- Light potting mix (1:1 compost, perlite)
- Plastic cover / propagator
- Cut a section of stem, with leaves at the tip.
- Cut off all but two leaves with clean scissors.
- Dip the cut end of the stem in rooting hormone (gel is best).
- Push directly into a light potting mix.
- Water well
- Cover in a propagator, or with a plastic lid, and leave on a sunny windowsill for 3-4 weeks.
- Keep soil moist.
- When new leaves appear, you have a successful cutting.
Propagating Croton Plant from Leaf Cuttings
While the above methods are more reliable, one exceptionally easy way to get Croton to root is by taking leaf cuttings. Croton leaves have short petioles, which link directly from nodes to the leaf, so by cutting away leaves with a small piece of stem you can pretty much guarantee roots.
The only disadvantage of taking leaf cuttings is that they require water to root, meaning their roots are more susceptible to soil-borne bacteria when they are potted on.
- Cut any healthy Croton leaf from the stem, keeping the petiole, and a small section of the node (the bit that connects the leaf to the main stem).
- Half-fill a glass with rainwater, or boiled tap water that has been cooled to room temperature.
- Place the cut end of the leaf into the water so only the node is submerged.
- Change the water once every 3-4 days.
- Roots should appear after 1-2 weeks.
- When roots are 1-2cm long remove the cutting, and place in compost.
See our in-depth guide different ways on how to take plant cuttings here.
Croton Plant Care Guide
As crotons grow, they need repotting at least once every three years. Particularly tree or shrub varieties can grow up to 6” per year, and that is matched by rapid root growth. Below, we’ll talk about ongoing Croton care:
Once a year, in spring, when new shoots start to appear, remove the top inch of soil and replace it with fresh compost. Even if you’re not repotting croton, it’s important to add some new compost to freshen up nutrients and help with moisture retention.
While this isn’t strictly mulching, your Croton will appreciate it, and it avoids building up layer after layer of compost every year. Learn more about composting and the benefits of making your own here.
Fertilizer for Croton Plant
Croton do not need feeding as often as most houseplants despite their vivid foliage. Like most trees and woody shrubs they are efficient at storing nutrients, so feeding once a month with nitrogen and potassium-rich fertilizer is ideal.
In early spring it’s best to focus on nitrogen, replacing the spent nutrients in the compost. In summer, use a potassium-rich fertilizer once a month to help give an overall boost to new growth and help retain leaves into the winter months.
Pruning and Repotting Croton
There is no need to routinely prune croton plants unless it is to remove damaged growth. Remove damaged or diseased parts of the plant with clean secateurs (check out the best secateurs we reviewed here), cutting at 45 degrees to the ground so water can run off without sitting on cut tips.
Croton do not respond well to pruning but can re-grow from lower down the stem if you have to remove all diseased top growth.
Codiaeum Variegatum Winter Care
Do not water croton at all during the winter months. Our colder climates mean that they simply sit in water, so stop watering in late autumn and allow the soil to dry out slightly.
It is common for some leaves to fall in winter, though Croton are evergreen shrubs. If your Croton regularly loses leaves in winter, switch to a potassium-rich fertilizer next year.
Potassium supports leaf retention and this helps Croton’s jump-start faster in spring.
Best Croton Varieties to Grow
There are over 1149 accepted species of Croton, with many growing either too small, or in conditions that can’t be replicated indoors, so finding the best Croton varieties to grow indoors is more about looking at common varieties, and looking for traits that match your home.
Below we’ve selected some of our favorite varieties, and added a few growing tips for different croton cultivars.
1. Croton Zanzibar
Croton Zanzibar is surprisingly tolerant of cooler temperatures in summer so works well outdoors, but does need to be brought inside in early autumn when the day lengths begin to shorten.
Its striking narrow leaves are predominantly red, but with yellow and green spotted variegations. Zanzibar is a shrub Croton, growing to an ultimate height of 6ft, so for its first 5-10 years will need regular repotting.
2. Croton Victoria Gold Bell
While Croton ‘Victoria Gold Bell’ has mostly green foliage, its blade-like leaves have a stunning dark red variegation, making this multi-stemmed tree ideal for warm windows where its denser foliage is helped by slightly lower humidity than other Crotons.
To grow outdoors you will need a greenhouse, as Victoria Gold Bell isn’t particularly tolerant of anything below 65F.
3. Superstar Croton
Croton Superstar’s predominant feature is its acid yellow spot. On healthy plants, the spots on Croton Superstar will join up to create leaves that look like they’re dripping with liquid gold.
Grow Croton superstar in a warm spot, indoors, all year round. Its likeness to Aucuba makes many gardeners think it can tolerate the cold, but this is a particularly tender variety.
4. Red Iceton Croton
Many Crotons have incredibly beautifully shaped leaves that grow in a highly disorganized fashion. Red Iceton isn’t quite there, but its oval pointed leaves are a lovely introduction to some of the more unusual Crotons you can grow indoors.
It’s worth noting that the leathery red leaves of Croton Red Iceton are a reward for good care, rather than their default color. New leaves emerge as fresh green tips and require balanced nutrients in the soil to create the carotene that forms the iconic red tint to their leaves.
5. Croton Sunny Star
Croton Sunny Star is quite compact, usually staying to around 4-5ft tall, but it does have the ability to reach 6-7ft after ten or more years with the right care. Gardeners are often misled by these houseplants as they are almost exclusively sold as rooted cuttings.
Their ability to produce bushy growth from low down on the stem makes young Croton ’Sunny Star’ appear as a low growing, bushy variety, but as the plant matures its stems extend, creating a really well-aerated structure underneath a mass of yellow and green foliage.
6. Croton Oakleaf
Croton ‘Oakleaf’ is one of the most sought after Croton varieties. As the name suggests its leaves mimic the iconic oak leaf, with smooth serrations along the edge.
The typically green leaf often turns to a dark reddish-brown as the plant matures, while fresh tips are a vivid bright yellow. Place Croton Oakleaf in full sun, and mist every 2-3 weeks in the summer to help maintain leaf shine.
7. Croton Mother and Daughter
If you collect unusual houseplants, then Croton Mother and Daughter is for you. The bizarre formation of leaflets extending beyond the main leaves gives these plants an ethereal charm.
Often thought to be only part-formed leaves, the unusual leaves of Croton Mother and Daughter are actually large, bladed leaves, with midribs that extend beyond the mature leaf to create a leaflet at their tip.
This is likely an adaptation to help them cope with wind, and allow light through to lower branches.
8. Croton Florida Select
Despite its name, Florida Select really wouldn’t be happy outdoors in winter, even in Florida. These gorgeous grassy leaves plants have leaves that mirror the Oakleaf Croton, but with a color more typical to Sunny Star.
Keep Florida Select in full sun all year round, and try not to leave windows open nearby as they don’t like direct breezes.
9. Croton Eleanor Roosevelt
It’s important to get watering right with Croton Eleanor Roosevelt, as they are particularly thirsty plants, but overwatering will quickly cause problems, so keep an eye on the soil moisture and try to avoid direct midday sun if possible.
The long, elegant leaves of Croton Eleanor Roosevelt are green with yellow speckles. As the leaves mature through to late summer they can develop a purple tinge but this is a bonus, not a guarantee!
10. Croton Magnificent
Croton Magnificent is a dense, shrubby croton that when fully mature is usually around 4ft, so is definitely a good choice for smaller rooms where compact plants are a must.
If you’re undecided about what Croton to go for, there is something for everyone in Croton Magnificent, whose leaves run from reds to oranges, to purples, to greens, all while holding onto bright yellow veining. With good watering, they develop beautiful crinkling across their leaves too.
11. Croton Petra
Croton Petra has pointed, glossy leaves, with a turtle shell pattern formed from the red and yellow veining, which grades from yellow to red through the season.
For passionate Croton growers, Petra is a beautiful species typifier, holding all the best qualities of other varieties, but despite its bushy form rarely suffers from poor aeration, and is very resilient to pest damage.
12. Croton Mammy
Croton Mammy (also Mammi, or Mami) will usually only reach 3-4 ft. tall, with bushy growth, and a narrow spread. Their crinkly leaves hide most of their stem even when mature, but should be thinned out every so often so moisture leaves and humidity don’t get too high inside the mass of foliage.
Give Croton Mammy more fertilizer than most too, as it requires lots of nutrients to encourage the vivid variegations across their corrugated leaves.
13. Croton Dreadlocks
Croton Dreadlocks can be grown outdoors in Florida and can withstand the summer weather outdoors across most of southern America. As their name suggests they have drooping, crinkled leaves with a bright color pallet.
In spring, their new leaves will emerge as bright yellow strands, later turning to reds, purples, and almost black foliage. Where possible, provide young plants with support as their foliage often outweighs their base which puts strain on stems.
14. Croton Bush on Fire
Bush on fire is a slow-growing Croton, with rippling variegations of reds, yellows and oranges that speckle across their leaves in a non-uniform pattern. Their markings are reminiscent of embers floating through the sky, hence their poetic name.
Provide Croton Bush on Fire with good drainage, but keep them well-watered in a bright position. Just make sure to stay patient though, as they rarely grow more than 2” per year.
15. Croton Andrew
If reds and golds aren’t your thing, Croton Andrew is a much subtler Croton, with creamy variegation similar to variegated hollies. Thanks to their pale leaves they are actually quite resilient as hedging plants in southern states, as they last happily through warm winters.
For most of us though, Croton ‘Andrew’ is very much a house plant, providing calming foliage all year round.
16. Croton Chocolate Caricature
Also called the Jamaican Croton, this chocolate leafed plant has a pinky-purple hue with a bright, reddish, midrib fading to almost black at the edges of each leaf.
Like many Jamaican plants, they are happy outdoors in warmer climates but thrive on a sunny windowsill for most growers.
17. Croton Banana
I doubt I need to describe Croton Banana beyond just its name. The bright yellow leaves grow in the shape of (you guessed it) bananas, and not only that, they bunch, producing at least half a dozen leaves from fresh tips, creating a mass of yellow-green foliage.
Like a lot of yellow leafed Crotons, they do tend to lose some leaves in winter, so don’t worry if that happens. Just try to keep them warm, and don’t water them unless the soil completely dries to a crisp in winter.
18. Croton Lauren’s Rainbow
Lauren’s Rainbow has long narrow leaves that are darker on their underside than their top. Their usual habit is to shoot leaves upwards through, so you get the most benefit from the underside of their unusual, slightly crinkled blade-like leaves.
They are not quite as leathery as other Croton leaves though, so don’t let them become too humid.
19. Croton Mrs Iceton
Mrs Iceton is probably better described as a small tree with bare stems and bushy top growth at maturity. While they only reach around 6ft, they don’t tend to spread sideways at all, so are excellent to add height to small spaces.
20. Croton Gold Star
Croton Gold Star is a truly evergreen tropical plant, with long, smooth, leathery leaves which very rarely drop in winter, even in cooler climates. Make sure to keep gold stars indoors though as they really don’t like being hit by the wind.
21. Croton Twist and Point
Croton Twist and Point has spiralling leaves, which outshines any crinkled, or corrugated Croton leaf. Their leaves twist and turn in such a wild fashion that it’s often hard to work out the form that the plant is trying to take.
One important tip for growing Croton Twist and Point is to check regularly for pests and diseases, as their twisted leaves make it very difficult to spot problems at a glance. Check their stems too as the dense foliage often covers stems completely.
22. Croton Coppinger’s Coral Shower
Coppinger’s Coral Shower, often sold simply as Croton Coral Shower, is an exceptionally vivid cultivar with deep purple foliage that often turns near-black in late summer.
Their deeply coloured leaves need conditions that are as close to tropical as possible to do their best, but even in mild indoor conditions, they will provide bright reds and oranges more similar to Croton Dreadlock.
23. Croton King of Siam
Croton King of Siam is a tall shrub Croton, reaching well over 7ft when mature, with a spread of at least 5ft, so does need tropical outdoor conditions where possible or a generous conservatory.
What’s particularly lovely about King of Siam, is that this Croton doesn’t have any particularly vivid coloring. Its leaves sometimes produce pale pastel reds, but generally hold on to spent foliage meaning the fresh green leaves pop against old russet leaves.
24. Croton Tamara
Tamara can cope outdoors, but much prefers controlled indoor spaces where possible. The shrubby form of this Croton means it does grow faster than most and should be given space to develop. Young Croton Tamara should ideally be potted on at least once a year until they reach 3-4ft tall.
25. Croton Picasso’s Paintbrush
The fine, filigree leaves of Croton Picasso’s Paintbrush wash across windows and patios, and are happy outdoors or in greenhouses provided temperatures don’t drop below 50F.
The twisting, turning habit of the foliage is best supported with regular watering to ensure these fine leaves don’t dry out too quickly.
Common Croton Pests and Diseases
Croton suffers from almost all common houseplant pests, including thrips, spider mites, mealybug and scale insects, but are usually unaffected if you have other plants in your home as Croton don’t provide any particularly attractive saps for these damaging bugs.
If you notice the beginnings of a spider mite or mealybug infestation, the good news is that Croton are very resilient and can cope with some pretty tough chemical treatments, including directly dabbing alcohol onto their stems, and direct neem oil applications.
All croton pests can be killed using neem oil or rubbing alcohol in their pure forms. Simply dab a cotton bud with your chosen treatment and dab it directly onto the insects. This kills them instantly and by removing the top layer of soil in spring you remove most of their eggs too.
Diseases are a more likely cause of most common Croton problems as the need for watering and humidity makes them very susceptible to some very specific diseases and infections. Below, we look at the signs of each, and how to treat these Croton diseases:
- Anthracnose (leaf spot, blight)
- Crown gall
- Nectriella pironii
Anthracnose (leaf spot, blight)
Yellow or tan coloured spots on Croton leaves are caused by anthracnose, a form of blight which causes these yellow leaf spots on Croton plants.
Once a leaf is affected it won’t recover but the fungal disease can be stopped in its tracks by removing affected leaves and treating the entire plant with an organic fungicidal spray.
Crown gall is a bacterial infection so can’t be treated with sprays like a fungal disease. Crown gall on Croton is a swollen section of stem, usually on fresh growing tips, caused by damaged plant tissue.
While Crown gall is most common on new growth, it can affect any part of Croton plants. The only way to get rid of crown gall from croton plants is to remove the diseased growth and bin it, or burn it.
Do not add plant tissue with crown gall to compost. To prevent crown gall, use clean tools when pruning Croton, and treat any pest infections quickly before they cause damage to the stem.
Nectriella pironii is a parasitic pathogen which causes brown sunken spots on Croton leaves. At the center of the brown patches will be a cluster of pink spores. As the fungus spreads leaves will drop, and the spores will continue to live in the soil until they find a new host.
The fungal pathogen, Nectriella pironii affects just 62 living plant genera and should be burned immediately. Treat any non-symptomatic parts of the plant with neem oil to prevent spread.
Edema, or oedema is a defense mechanism bred into all species of Croton, causing them to retain excess water in order to avoid sitting in damp compost. The result is blistered leaves and slow growth.
Thankfully Edema causes no lasting damage to Crotons if caught before leaves start to drop. Simply move your plant to a brighter location and stop watering until the soil has dried out and there are signs of new growth.
Crotons are toxic
Crotons are part of the Euphorbiaceae family and like all members of that family, their sap is highly toxic. While it is unlikely to cause death if ingested, it can cause severe eye irritation and temporary loss of sight, or rapid contact dermatitis. Always wear gloves when handling Croton, and keep it away from pets.
When ingested, Croton causes gastrointestinal problems, and usually results in diarrhea. For that reason, its oil was traditionally used to cure poisoning but has been banned for pharmaceutical use since the middle of the last century.
Croton Plant FAQs
Why is my Croton dropping leaves?
Crotons need consistency, so regular humidity and even soil moisture throughout the growing season is the best way to keep Croton leaves from dropping.
In indoor environments, it is common for Croton to lose some leaves in winter but this can be avoided with added potassium during summer feeding.
Why are my Croton leaves drooping?
If Croton leaves are drooping and beginning to turn pale, or just lose their vigor it is likely down to dry soil or inadequate humidity. To cure drooping leaves when Croton soil is dry, simply fill a sink with water and place your plant in the water for half an hour. This will be enough to soak the compost and revive the shriveled soil structure.
Do Crotons need full sun?
Crotons need full sun to produce bright, bushy leaves covered in their iconic mosaic leaves. While they can tolerate medium or indirect light levels, they are best placed in a position with 6-9 hours of full sun per day.
Why are Crotons red?
Crotons have plenty of chlorophyll, which usually makes plant leaves green but due to high percentages of carotenoids and anthocyanins they hide their green pigmentation with bright patterns, allowing photosynthesis but helping them to cope with bright light.
Grow Beautiful Foliage with Croton Plants
Croton are notoriously difficult plants to grow, but with a little patience and practice, produce more interesting foliage than any other houseplant you can grow.
Knowing how to grow Croton is all about finding balance, and keeping things regular, so stick to our growing guide above, and you will have happy Croton plants for years to come.