How to grow and care for a croton plant

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How to grow and care for a croton plant
Croton leaves are variegated, which means they are multicolored and patterned.Elena Esich / EyeEm/Getty Images
  • Crotons are tropical plants known for their eye-catching multicolored leaves.
  • Crotons prefer high humidity and bright sunlight to maintain their colorful foliage.
  • A well-draining potting mix can help prevent root rot in your croton plant.

A croton is the kind of plant that turns heads with its bright and bold foliage marked with hues of red, orange, yellow, and green. Native to the tropical region of southeast Asia, crotons are part of the Euphorbiaceae family (the same as poinsettias), enjoy a humid environment, and will grow faster and feature more vibrant colors if exposed to bright sunlight.

For your croton plant to burst with radiance, author and plant expert Linda Ly of Garden Betty shares her best tips on how to properly care for this splashy houseplant.

Common croton varieties

Crotons get their name from the Greek word "krótos" meaning tick, which references the round shape of the leaves. But some varieties, like the banana croton, have long, thin leaves.

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While there are dozens of croton varieties, the most common ones are petra, Florida select, and gold dust. Petra and Florida select can be easily identified by the typical tick shape of the leaves and colorful veins and markings on the foliage.

At a glance

  • Botanical name: Codiaeum variegatum

  • Commonly known as: Croton, Garden croton, Variegated laurel

  • Hardiness zone: 9-11

  • Toxic to pets: Yes

  • Watering frequency: Mist 1-2 times per week; water when soil is dry, roughly once a week

  • Soil type: Well-draining soil

  • Light exposure: Bright, direct light

Water

How to grow and care for a croton plant
Only water croton plants when the soil is dry, but maintain a humid environment.Alohapatty/Getty Images

Unlike most houseplants that prefer a consistent watering schedule, a croton's watering routine and frequency are determined by other environmental factors.

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"The type of potting soil you use, amount of sunlight your plant gets each day, and humidity level inside the home will tell you how much water your croton needs," says Ly. "Generally, you want to keep your croton evenly moist but not overly wet, and let it dry out a bit between waterings."

To find out if your croton is thirsty, Ly suggests checking the soil with your finger once a week — if soil sticks to your finger, don't water it yet — or water it when the leaves start to wilt or droop.

Since crotons prefer humidity, mist them once or twice a week or keep a humidifier nearby.

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Potting and fertilizer

Ly recommends a rich, well-draining potting mix for your croton. Your croton can also benefit from added perlite or bark in the soil to help release moisture.

Crotons should only be fertilized every three to four weeks during the spring and summer growing seasons since they will remain dormant in the colder months. Ly recommends any indoor houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength.

Light and temperature

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How to grow and care for a croton plant
Direct light helps a croton plant maintain its vibrant colors.NoDerog/Getty Images

Bright, direct sunlight is not something usually recommended for most houseplants since direct rays can burn leaves. Crotons, however, thrive on direct sunlight to maintain their bright colors and should be rotated every few days to make sure every leaf gets the same amount of light.

If you live in a croton's hardiness zone, they can stay outdoors during the summer.

"Crotons typically need full sun, but some varieties may do better in medium or low light, like the 'magnificent' variety," says Ly.

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Rule of thumb: "In general, the more colorful and variegated it is, the more light it needs," says Ly. If it is a darker color, keep your croton in a shady area of the home.

Common problems

Crotons are well known for being quite resistant to pests and diseases, but like most houseplants, Ly says it can be susceptible to pests such as scale, spider mites, and mealybugs, as well as root rot from being overwatered.

Insecticidal soap can be a great remedy for mealybugs and spider mites. Use neem oil for scale. To prevent overwatering, always check the soil's moisture level and make sure your plant is not sitting in any water.

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Pruning

While crotons aren't usually pruned regularly, pruning can encourage new growth and can give your croton a different shape or keep it dense and bushy. Before pruning, wear gardening gloves to protect your skin from the sticky, white sap that drips from cut spots as this sap can cause irritation.

With pruning shears, cut off any dead or dying leaves from where they meet the branch. To keep your croton short and bushy, pinch off any new growth that appears near the top of the plant. It is always best to prune your croton during the spring to encourage the most growth.

Propagation

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How to grow and care for a croton plant
Stem cuttings can be replanted to propagate your croton.WaffleBoo/Getty Images

Propagating your croton can be a great way to share this potted rainbow. Like with the pruning process, gloves are recommended to avoid irritation from the plant's sap.

"Take a 4- to 6-inch stem cutting that has about four leaves on it and plant it in moist potting soil," says Ly. "Another way is to put the cutting in water first allowing it to grow new roots, then planting it in potting soil once the roots are about an inch long."

Insider's takeaway

The multicolored croton plant may have an intimidating appearance, but this tropical beauty can add a bouquet of colors to your indoor space and can also be easy to care for with the right soil, a humid environment, and plenty of sunlight.

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