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Croton: plant care, flowers & varieties of Codiaeum variegatum

With its bright leaves, the croton appears other-worldly. Despite its extravagant appearance, this evergreen is low-maintenance with the right location and care.

Croton leaves
In our climate, the croton is an indoor plant only [Photo: svf74/ Shutterstock.com]

With their bright ornamental leaves, croton plants are unmistakable. Read our profile below to find out all about this evergreen shrub, its different varieties, and how to best care for it.

Croton: origin, flower, and characteristics

The croton (Codiaeum variegatum) originates in Southeast Asia, most commonly in India and Indonesia. There, the croton’s family, spurge (Euphorbiaceae) thrives in tropical forests. Crotons grow upright and have evergreen sword-shaped leaves that shine in different colours depending on the intensity of light they are exposed to. Yellow, orange, red, and purple are among the most common croton colours. There are clear variations between the different cultivated varieties. In the wild, crotons grow up to two metres high and flower. Indoor-cultivated crotons tend to be smaller and only rarely flower. If they do, the white flowers emerge from the upper leaf axils and are arranged in small flower clusters.

Bright croton leaves
The croton is eye-catching with its colourful leaves [Photo: Mehmet Gokhan Bayhan/ Shutterstock.com]

The most beautiful croton varieties

Croton varieties tend to differ both in leaf shape and in colour palette. Most ornamental croton varieties belong to the Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum variety. Among others, the following beautiful cultivars are available in trade:

  • C. variegatum ‘Petra’: leathery, strongly veined leaves form from the branched main wood
  • C. variegatum ‘Geduldig: broad, yellow-orange leaves
  • C. variegatum ‘Aucubafolia’: glossy leaves with yellow spots
  • C. variegatum ‘Norma’: oak-like leaves with red leaf veins
  • C. variegatum ‘Van Ostensee’: narrow, yellow-green speckled leaves
Van ostensee croton
The ‘Van Ostensee’ is a beautiful yet subtle croton variety [Photo: THIPPTY/ Shutterstock.com]

Planting croton: location, soil, and more

Croton plants need a location with plenty of indirect sunlight, but never direct sunlight, otherwise their leaves will fade. Depending on how bright its location is, the croton differs in colour. The more light, the more colour variation. Always keep in mind that this tropical evergreen likes high humidity. Draughts or room temperatures below 18°C should be avoided altogether. In winter, a place with an ambient temperature of around 16°C is sufficient for croton plants.

Potted croton plant
A bright spot is essential for croton plants [Photo: ErinLewisPhotography/ Shutterstock.com]

A suitable soil should be able to store a lot of water. At the same time, however, it should not collapse after a short time, as otherwise root rot can easily occur. This can be achieved, for example, by using coconut pulp, which has a particularly favourable ratio of air and water retention capacity. A drainage layer at the bottom of the pot ensures good water drainage. This can be achieved with expanded clay balls or pebbles, for example.

Hydroponics is also a great method for cultivating crotons so that you do not have to water too often. In this case, a weekly watering is sufficient.

Croton plant care: the most important care measures

When it comes to care, croton plants have surprisingly few requirements.

Spraying croton plants
The croton enjoys lots of humidity [Photo: TSViPhoto/ Shutterstock.com]

Fertilising, watering, and pruning

In the summer months, fertilise croton plants in a small weekly dose. In the winter, a monthly fertiliser is enough. A potassium-rich liquid fertiliser is great for croton plants, as it ensures a firm and resistant cell structure. Our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food enables such plant nutrition. The microorganisms it contains also support root growth.

Make sure that crotons are always properly watered, especially in the summer. The croton’s soil should also always be kept moist. In addition, the croton likes high humidity. To achieve this, spray the croton frequently with filtered water and wipe the leaves with a damp cloth often.

Pruning is not necessary in principle, but you can cut off individual shoots to influence the shape, if desired. The best time for this is in autumn, at the end of the growing season. When cutting off the shoots, a lot of milky sap comes out, which is irritating to the skin and toxic. Make sure to wear gloves when pruning crotons.

Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food
Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food
Liquid fertiliser with an NK ratio of 3-4, for all houseplants, promotes healthy plant growth, child & pet friendly

If the entire root ball has taken root or the soil has collapsed and is no longer able to absorb water, it is time to repot your croton. A rule of thumb is to repot croton plants every two years. Another indicator that the croton is ready to repot is noticeably inhibited growth and the need for constant watering. The best time of year to repot is spring. This is when the shrub forms new roots to start growing and has the best chance of surviving repotting well. The new pot should be about 20% larger than the old one. It also makes sense to provide the wonder shrub with a slow-release fertiliser when repotting in order to provide trace nutrients and phosphorus. For example, you can use our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food, which does not contain any animal components and does not spread an unpleasant odour in the home.

The best drainage layer for croton plants is broken bricks or gravel to prevent root rot.

Bright and bold croton leaves
The brighter the spot, the more intense the colour of the croton foliage [Photo: Bill Perry/ Shutterstock.com]

Croton losing leaves: what to do?

If your croton plant is shedding leaves, this indicates that it has not been cared for properly. We have listed some possible reasons below:

  • Too cool a location: The croton’s comfortable temperature is 12-20°C.
  • Too dry: Croton thrives best if the soil never dries out completely and the leaves are sprayed frequently.
  • Too dark: An optimal location for the croton is about 2-3 metres from the window, where it receives 5 hours of indirect sunlight.
  • Lack of nutrients: Fertilise regularly and repot every 2 years.
  • Infestation with spider mites or thrips: This happens especially when cultivation is too warm and too dry; keep the croton in a more humid and cooler location after treatment.
Lice infested croton leaf
Lice multiply particularly quickly on houseplants – including croton plants [Photo: tetiana_u/ Shutterstock.com]

Croton propagation

The colourful croton can be propagated at home. This is possible through mossing, leaf cuttings, or shoot or head cuttings. The easiest way to propagate is by head cuttings:

  • In early spring, cut off a fresh, healthy and strong shoot with about two young leaves and place it in a glass of water or directly in moist soil for rooting.
  • The wound can be treated with charcoal powder to stop discharge.
  • Stick the cutting into a loose and nutrient-poor soil. Rooting is often successful in simple garden soil mixed with sand. It is important that the soil is kept both warm and moist. In addition, the glass with the cutting should be put in a warm place.
  • Croton roots form well at temperatures between 22 and 30°C.
  • It is a good idea to make a small greenhouse for the cutting by putting a bag over it. This keeps the humidity high.
Mossed croton
The propagation method of mossing is possible, but more labor-intensive [Photo: Sophon Nawit/ Shutterstock.com]

Are crotons poisonous?

Like other spurge plants, croton contains plant milk that is slightly poisonous and irritating for both skin and mucous membranes. If eaten, it causes gastrointestinal distress.

The following symptoms of croton poisoning occur in dogs, cats, birds, and rodents: Severe irritation of the mucous membranes, salivation, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

Are you enthusiastic about colourful houseplants? Then take a look at our article on the Calathea plant.

Kati

I am a qualified gardener and horticulturalist and love everything that grows! Whether it's a shrub, a tree, a useful plant or a supposed weed: for me, every plant is a little miracle.
In the garden I look after my 13 chickens, grow fruit & vegetables and otherwise observe how nature manages and shapes itself.
Favourite fruit: Blueberry, apple
Favourite vegetables: Braised cucumber, kale, green pepper