Do you love plants and greenery? For some of us, caring for plants is second nature, and they seem to flourish under our care no matter what we do. For others of us, however, plant care is something we have to work at and study. Whether there’s any truth to the myth of a green thumb or not, it’s impossible to deny that plants come much easier to some gardeners than others.
Whether you’ve been gardening since you were a child or you and plants have never exactly gotten along, we think you can master the art of caring for crotons. These lovely plants make a beautiful addition to a yard or greenhouse, and with just a little bit of time and dedication, we think anyone can develop the skills it takes to keep them alive.
Today, we want to walk you through the basics of croton plant care. Follow these tips, and before you know it, you’ll have a blossoming croton garden of your very own.
The croton plant is a perennial evergreen shrub that’s native to tropical regions of India and Malaysia. These striking plants are multicolored with thick, leathery leaves and a distinct variegated pattern. A croton’s bright colors are its most recognizable feature, and these shades will vary from one croton variety to another, ranging from green and gold to blue-green and pink. While all mature crotons possess these vibrant colors, the leaves will darken as the plants age, eventually turning almost black.
The name “croton” itself is derived from the Greek word for tick, since the heavy veins that criss-cross the leaves bear a striking resemblance to these insects. This name is pronounced phonetically, and sounds like “crow-tun.” Crotons are commonly confused with a plant called Rushfoil but don’t be fooled. Rushfoil is a subspecies of crotons — one of the many different varieties that fall into this larger plant family.
Croton height will vary slightly depending on the variety. Most will be around 3 feet tall although some can grow as tall as 10 feet. Dwarf varieties exist as well, and these will be much shorter. Crotons are also exceptionally full plants, with the large leaves growing in clusters to give the plant greater volume.
A mature croton plant will also begin to produce small flowers, not unlike the berries found on a holly bush. These flowers will be shaped like small bulbs and may produce tiny off-shoots that look like fireworks stemming from the bulbs. Neither these flowers nor the leaves themselves are particularly poisonous, but they can still cause harm if consumed in large amounts and should be avoided.
From their wide leaves to their bright colors, crotons are gorgeous plants that light up any space they inhabit. They do need a bit of loving care to remain beautiful, however, and if they’re neglected, they will not take long to droop, fade and die.
If you’re taking a croton plant under your care, here’s what you need to know about keeping it healthy and strong.
Because crotons are native to the tropical climates of South Asia, they will do best in warm climates. Ideally, they love it when the temperatures hover around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s too much hotter than this, the croton may begin to wither. On the other hand, if the temperature drops much lower than 55 degrees, the plant will not survive long.
If you live in a part of the world where the outdoor temperatures never drop below 55 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, then you should have no problem planting your crotons outside. If you live in a region with a robust four-season cycle, however, this will likely not be possible. Instead, try keeping your crotons indoors in a pot. Whether you decide to keep your crotons inside or out, make sure to place them in a spot where they’ll get plenty of sunlight throughout the day. Without this, those gorgeous colors will quickly begin to fade.
To plant crotons outside, start by selecting a location with plenty of sunshine and good drainage. Dig a hole that’s several inches deeper than the crotons root ball, remove the croton from its container and gently separate the roots before placing the plant in the hole. Backfill the hole, covering the root ball so that there’s about an inch of soil over it. If you’re planting multiple crotons, space them at least 2 or 3 feet apart to allow room for growth. Once you’re finished, give the crotons a generous drink, but don’t drown them.
To plant crotons in a pot, begin by choosing a planter with several drainage holes that is roughly one third larger than the croton’s root ball. Fill the container about a third of the way full of potting soil before carefully nesting the ball on top of this soil bed. Continue adding soil around and over the roots until the pot is full and the roots are buried about an inch below the surface. Water the plant, let it drain and then set it in its new home in a sunny location.
As with so much of plant care, knowing how often to water crotons is more of an art than a science. Every plant experiences a different combination of soil, air, shade and sun, and thus will have slightly different needs. The trick is in getting to know your plant and recognizing when it needs water and when it doesn’t.
It’s crucial to remember that crotons favor a warm, humid environment. If you’re planting them in a very different climate, your goal is to mimic these conditions as much as possible. To achieve this, the soil in which crotons are planted should remain moist but not soaking, particularly during the spring and summer when crotons will be doing most of their growing. To judge if the plant needs water, feel the soil. If it’s starting to feel dry and crumbly, give it a little water. If it still feels moist to the touch, it probably has all the water it needs.
If you’ve felt the croton’s soil and still can’t determine whether or not it needs water, let the plant’s foliage be your guide. If the leaves are drooping or curling up, that’s their way of asking you for more water. If they’re perked upright, however, they’re probably doing just fine. If the air inside your home is especially dry, or if you have the croton planted outside and live in an arid environment, you may need to water it a little more often. You may even want to mist the leaves with a spray bottle to keep the leaves healthy and growing.
Remember that just as crotons should not be allowed to dry out, neither should they be kept too wet. Too much water can rot the roots and kill the plant just as easily as if it had been left too dry.
Most crotons are full-sun plants, meaning they should be planted or placed in a space that enjoys direct sunlight all day long. This means that it’s best to avoid planting them by the side of your house where they’ll only receive a few hours of morning sun before falling into shadow. There are many different types of crotons, however, so always be sure to research your particular variety. You may just have stumbled across one that can tolerate partial shade.
Cut all dead leaves and branches back to their origin, making sure to remove the entire unhealthy portion. If the section you’re pruning isn’t dead, but you’re just looking to remove excessive growth, you only need to trim it back to just above the leaf set or node in question. As you cut, try not to get carried away. You never want to trim off more than a third of a stem’s length in one fell swoop.
The secret to knowing how to trim a croton is to understand that they don’t often need pruning in the first place. The only reason you might need to prune them is if there are unhealthy portions you want to remove, or if there’s a particular shape you’re trying to achieve. If you do decide to prune your croton, be sure to allow a significant amount of growth between pruning sessions so the plant stays healthy.
Propagating crotons isn’t hard as long as you have a basic understanding of the procedure. Begin by taking a 3- or 4-inch stem cutting, ideally with three to five healthy leaves on it. Find a small pot and carefully place this cutting in rich potting soil. To ensure the plant flourishes, keep it in warm temperatures — 70 to 80 degrees — and keep the soil moist. Under these carefully controlled conditions, it should take about a month for this cutting to grow a root system, at which point you can transplant it to other locations.
You don’t necessarily need to fertilize your croton but supplementing their diet of water and sunlight with plant food will often help them grow faster and stronger. If you do decide to fertilize your crotons, limit this treatment to no more than once a month and choose a fertilizer with high levels of potassium and nitrogen for the best results. It’s also a good idea to decrease the amount of fertilizer you feed your plant during the winter months, as this is when it is mostly dormant anyway. By letting them sleep all winter, you help maximize their growth in the spring.
Crotons love warm summer temperatures but don’t do well in the winter. If you live in a climate that experiences mild winters, you may be able to get away with simply covering the crotons to protect them from the frost. If your climate brings heavy snows and intense cold every winter, however, you’ll have no choice but to bring the crotons inside or give up on them altogether. If you do bring outdoor crotons inside, be sure to mist the leaves every so often, or perhaps consider buying a humidifier to raise the humidity levels in your home.
Crotons aren’t susceptible to very many diseases. It’s more common for crotons to experience problems with pests such as spider mites, mealybugs and caterpillars. These tiny bugs can damage the crotons, causing them to lose leaves. If you notice these pests taking refuge in your crotons, remove them by washing the plants with a gentle soap-and-water solution, rinsing the plant afterward to get rid of any soap suds. Another remedy is to rub the plant gently with a cotton ball soaked in alcohol.
It doesn’t happen often, but crotons may also fall prey to fungal or bacterial diseases which hurt a plant’s growth. These are typically caused by root rot due to overwatering and can be treated by removing the croton from its pot, trimming away any dead or diseased roots and repotting it with new soil in a clean planter.
Both of these problems are easy to avoid. By being careful to never overwater your croton, you ensure that root rot won’t become a problem. You can also steer clear of insects and pests by cleaning the leaves of your plant regularly and inspecting them frequently to catch any signs of an infestation before it begins in earnest.
With almost any type of plant, dozens of different varieties exist across the world. Crotons are no different, and these colorful plants have many different faces, all of which look and behave differently while still maintaining the distinctive appearance of a croton. Just a few examples of some of the other interesting and unique varieties you may stumble across include:
Some crotons are tall and some are short, some are green and some are more blue-ish, and some need full sun while others can tolerate a little shade. Each one brings with it a beautiful rainbow of colors and an arresting look that immediately catches the eye whether you’re planting them in a garden or keeping them in your sunroom.
Do you have a question about caring for your crotons that we didn’t answer here? If you live in the central Florida area, the Bee Green Pest Control wants to help. We’ve got years of experience helping plant-lovers just like you to care for their plants. Whether you’re dealing with an infestation or wondering how you can better prevent one in your crotons, we encourage you to contact us or schedule your estimate today.