- Common name: Croton
- Other names: Joseph’s coat
- Botanical name: Codiaeum variegatum
Technicolor croton plants have been grown outdoors in Florida and southern California for many years, but as houseplants, they proved difficult to satisfy. Then crotons went to Europe, where greenhouse growers gave them a makeover, selecting varieties that are much better adapted to low light. Today crotons are one of the most widely sold foliage plants, and because they are easily propagated in greenhouses, they are quite affordable as well.
Bold leaf colors that include yellow, orange, and yellow-and-green combinations are the hallmarks of crotons. Leaf color is most vivid when plants get plenty of light. Crotons also have a high transpiration rate, so they need frequent watering. Should you purchase a pot that contains more than one plant (which is not uncommon), plan to keep it as a cluster for a year. The second year, in early summer, separate the plants by cutting through the roots with a serrated knife, repot them, and keep them outdoors where they can bask in warm dappled shade for several weeks. Anytime croton becomes tall and lanky, you can cut off the top and root it like a stem tip cutting.
Light and Temperature
Crotons love bright light. Croton plants benefit from spending summer outdoors in dappled shade. Three weeks before bringing plants indoors in the fall, move them to a shadier spot to acclimate them to lower light.
Croton plant prefer warm temperature (60–85°F/16–29°C)
Water, Soil and Fertilizer
Any good potting soil. Repot annually in late spring. Keeping plants slightly root-bound helps to control their size.
Keep the soil lightly moist at all times. Crotons like moderate humidity, and benefit from regular misting in winter, when indoor air is often very dry.
In spring and summer, feed every 2 weeks with a balanced houseplant food. In fall and winter, feed monthly.
Root stem tip cuttings. When kept constantly moist at 70–80°F/21–27°C, croton cuttings root in less than a month.
Wipe leaves often with a damp cloth to keep them glossy. Crotons are lovely when backlit by a sunny window. Many crotons named varieties are available with varying leaf shapes and colors. The croton most commonly sold in stores is ‘Petra’. Croton plants can live up to several years to indefinitely if propagated from tip cuttings every few years.
Common problems with croton and how to fix
My croton plant has new leaves which are small and green; lack color.
Your croton is having too little light; too little fertilizer or both. Try to move the plant to a brighter location and increase the frequency of fertilization.
Why do the leaf tips of my croton Petra turn brown?
Possible cause: Too much water. Try to water lightly yet frequently, and do not allow plants to sit in saucers of standing water.
My croton Petra’s older leaves drop off.
This is normal, but plants also may shed leaves if they are too cool, too wet, or too dry. No action needed if plants otherwise appear healthy and show new growth in spring and summer.
My indoor croton plant is bare at the base; lacks lateral stems.
Possible cause: this growth pattern often develops with indoor crotons. How to fix: Prune off the top in late spring and root the cutting. Meanwhile, the parent croton should produce lateral stems provided it is given plenty of light and warm temperatures.
My croton plant has white cottony masses on stems or leaf veins.
Possible cause: Mealybugs, which are common on crotons. Isolate plant, and follow control measures
Croton’s leaves are pale and limp; faint silky webbing on leaf undersides.
Possible cause: Spider mites, which infest crotons that are stressed by dryness, particularly dry air.
How to fix: Isolate plant, and follow control measures described on page 274. Increase humidity by misting plant often, and by keeping the plant on a tray of damp pebbles.
Dark discs on stems and leaf undersides of the croton plant
Possible cause: Scale. How to fix: Follow control measures. Inspect new plants closely for scale. If the infestation is severe, move plant outdoors for treatment if possible. If the problem arises in winter, consider disposing of the plant.