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wide shot of croton plants planted up against a path
Croton is a tropical plant grown for its brightly coloured foliage. Mass-planted as a border or hedge, croton creates a kaleidoscope of colour: green, red, gold and bronze. Croton plant care is easy if you know what you’re doing, and this plant can brighten up your garden significantly

What you need to know about croton

Name: croton (Codiaeum variegatum).

Height: up to 3m in tropical areas; smaller in pots.

Foliage: thick, leathery, multi-coloured, multi-shaped.

Climate: sub-tropical and tropical; does not tolerate cold temperatures or frosts.

Soil: well-drained, sandy loam with added compost.

Position: sunny open spot; light shade from hot midday/afternoon sun will reduce leaf scorch.

Flowering: long, arching stems of small white flowers, although these are not the major attraction.

Feeding: use a long-term controlled-release fertiliser.

Watering: water regularly—don’t allow soil to dry out.

Appearance and characteristics of croton

This popular plant comes from Indonesia. It is grown for its foliage, although plants may flower from time to time. The plant itself produces a single stem topped with leaves, although branching can be encouraged by nipping out the growth tip. The stem tends to be leaf-free close to the soil.

There are many hundreds of named varieties available. They cover the full range of leaf forms, colours and patterns typical of crotons.

Leaves are infinitely variable—they may be long, narrow, broad or contorted (so-called “oak” leaf). Some are even “interrupted”—that is, the leaf may be made up of more than one section, with just the central vein or spine connecting them.

Leaf colours range from pale green and cream through to almost black, in distinct combinations and patterns that tend to follow the veins in the leaves, although some may be more random. Leaf colours can change as leaves age—the new leaves are often much lighter than older leaves. Croton thrives in warm, humid regions, but can be grown as an indoor plant in cooler climates, so long as it is kept warm and the air is humidified.

birds eye close up view of the yellow and orange tons of the Croton's leaves

How to grow croton

Growing croton in the garden

Croton does best outside in tropical and sub-tropical areas. You might be able to get away with growing it in a sheltered spot outdoors in a warm temperate to temperate climate (so long as winter temperatures don’t fall below 10°C). In colder regions, you will have to grow your croton in a pot indoors.

  1. A sandy loam that retains some moisture but still drains freely is best for croton. It resents “wet feet”, and will drop leaves if conditions don’t suit.
  2. Before planting, add compost or well-weathered animal manure and work it through the soil.
  3. Include a long-term controlled-release fertiliser, too. In heavier soils, create planting mounds raised above the natural soil level to ensure good drainage.
  4. Mulch well after planting to keep roots cool and the soil moist.

The intensity of the colours of croton leaves will depend on the amount of light plants have. Most prefer an open sunny spot to develop their rich hues, but there are a few varieties that colour up best in light shade. Check the label for specific information.

Growing croton in a pot

Croton makes a great indoor or house plant in cooler climates. It is long-lived and will grow well in any well-lit room provided it is kept warm over winter and is kept away from heating vents, which dry the air out. Light misting of the leaves every few days to increase humidity is recommended in centrally heated rooms.

Choose a quality premium all-purpose potting mix and make sure the pot has plenty of holes in the base so excess water can drain away freely.

Because croton is so flamboyant in its own right, it usually looks best in neutral-coloured pots. The plant should be the main feature, rather than the container!

Caring for croton

While good drainage is essential for croton, it does not like to dry out either. Test the soil or potting mix regularly, and if the top 5cm or so feels dry, then water the plant. Mulch will help retain moisture, but make sure you leave a clear area around the main stem of the plant—contact with mulch can result in stem rot.

Croton is not a massive feeder. An annual application of a 12-month controlled-release fertiliser is usually sufficient to keep the plant healthy and growing well.

A potted croton may be given an occasional supplementary feed with a water-soluble or liquid fertiliser over summer.

How to prune croton

In the garden in tropical areas, croton can grow as high as 3m tall, so light pruning may be needed to restrict its height. This will also encourage the plant to become bushy, rather than tall and spindly.

In cooler areas, nipping out the growing tips will encourage side shoots and a more compact, bushy habit.

How to propagate croton

Croton is fairly easy to grow from stem tip cuttings about 15cm long. Cut the stem cleanly from the plant at a 45-degree angle and set it into a pot of moistened propagating mix. Mist the leaves to maintain humidity and check the mix regularly to ensure it is moist but never wet—the stem may rot if the mix is too wet.

In cooler climates, make sure the pot is in a warm spot indoors.

Croton produces a milky sap, which can irritate the skin, so be careful not to get it on your hands when taking cuttings. Wash your secateurs afterwards too, to remove traces of sap.

Diseases and pests affecting croton

Croton is not greatly troubled by pests or diseases, although occasionally scale insects may appear. An application of a horticultural or pest oil will usually solve the problem.

Leaf drop may be a sign of root rot—check your watering regime and drainage.

If you like this then try

Poinciana: a flame tree highly regarded in warm climates for its fern-like foliage and brilliant flowers.

Hibiscus: a tropical shrub with large and prolific blooms in colours from cream to deep red, many with coloured eyes.

Mandevilla: a fast-growing, free-flowering climbing vine often associated with tropical and sub-tropical gardens.

Start growing today

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