Ultimate Croton Plant Guide

3 Oct 2021

The croton is a magnificent indoor plant that adds a burst of color with its beautiful foliage. They may be tricky to care for and has a reputation of being rather fussy, similar to an elephant’s ear.

This care guide will make the plant easier to look after with all the tips, environment requirements, steps to follow, and advice in one place. Your croton plant will flourish and add an explosion of color to any room it’s in.

Main Characteristics

Before we get into the care requirements, let’s talk a little bit about the croton. It belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family, and its botanical name is codiaeum variegatum. It is also known as the garden croton.

This plant is native to tropical Southeast Asia and Australia. It thrives in moist, humid, and warm regions. It gets its reputation for being fussy due to the challenge of maintaining its ideal temperature, however, it is otherwise not too difficult to care for.

If you are a beginner houseplant collector, don’t be discouraged to grow a croton. This article will guide you through the entire process and tell you everything you’ll need to know about caring for it.


Codiaeum variegatum has an insane number of varieties, up to 100 different types. This is because these plants are genetically unstable, therefore, each plant is unique. Some of the more interesting varieties are highly sought after by collectors.

Crotons can be subdivided by their leaf type, whether they’re curling, twisting, oak-shaped, narrow, broad, and oval.

Let’s take a look at the most popular and notable types:

  • Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum; they have large and brightly colored leaves including orange, red, bronze, green, purple, and yellow. It can also grow up to 3 to 6 feet (91.4 – 182.8cm) tall as a houseplant.
  • Codiaeum variegatum ‘Gold Star’; has narrow, linear leaves that are green with some bright yellow spotting. This variety only grows up to 20 inches (50.8cm) tall.
  • Codiaeum variegatum ‘Petra’; this variety is relatively popular with oval, green leaves and has veins in an array of colors. This type also grows up to a height of 3 to 6 feet (91.4 – 182.8cm).

We’ve described some of the more popular varieties but below we’ll list a few others that you may have heard of:

  • Codiaeum variegatum ‘Magnificent’
  • Codiaeum variegatum ‘Gold Dust’
  • Codiaeum variegatum ‘Mammy’
  • Codiaeum variegatum ‘Mother and Daughter’
  • Codiaeum variegatum ‘Red Iceton’
  • Codiaeum variegatum ‘Zanzibar’

How Big Does It Get?

It typically grows up to 3 to 8 feet (0.9 – 2.5m) tall and around 3 to 6 feet (0.9 – 1.8m) wide.

How Fast Does It Grow?

In optimal conditions, it’ll grow a moderate 12 inches (30.5cm) during a growing season.

How Long Does It Live?

The plant doesn’t live for a long time with an average lifespan of 2 years.

Is It Poisonous to Cats, Dogs, and Humans?

Codiaeum variegatum is toxic to pets and humans. If you have young curious children or pets, then this plant probably isn’t a good fit for your home.

We’ll discuss the symptoms to look out for.

Cats and Dogs

All parts of the plant are poisonous and will cause your cat and dog to have negative reactions when they ingest any part of it or come into contact with its sap.

Cats are particularly drawn to these houseplants because of their colorful foliage.

Here’s a list of symptoms if the plant is ingested:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue

Call your veterinarian as soon as possible if your pet has ingested the plant.


Humans, such as young children will experience abdominal discomfort, vomiting, or diarrhea if they ingest any part of the plant.

When pruning your plant, make sure to wear gloves as the milky sap will cause skin irritation.

Contact your doctor if a young child has eaten the plant to get the most accurate medical advice.

Fun Fact: The oil in the seeds is used to make a medicine for detoxing the stomach and intestines, treating blocked intestines, treating gallbladder problems, and malaria.

Croton - size, lifespan, toxicity, growth speed (infographics)

Croton Plant Care

Codiaeum variegatum has a few requirements that need to be followed for it to flourish, keep its vibrant leaf color, and survive.

Let’s take a look at everything you’ll need to know.

How Often to Water

The croton is native to tropical regions so it needs moisture. The soil should be kept evenly moist but it mustn’t be completely saturated, or your plant will wither away due to root rot. There’s a fine balance that you need to achieve when it comes to watering.

Ideally, you should deeply water the plant until it drains out, and if you notice that it’s getting dry quickly then mist the plant frequently during the warmer months.

The amount of times you water it will depend on the temperature and amount of light it gets because the warmer it is the more water it’ll require and the cooler it is the less water is needed.

A general rule of thumb is that during the spring and summertime it can be watered every day, however, during the winter it should be watered once or twice a week.

Never let the soil dry for an extended period of time. You should water as soon as the first inch (2.5cm) of the soil is dry.


Croton’s prosper in moist environments but soggy conditions will lead to its demise. This means that it needs a well-draining and aerated potting mixture, to allow for water to drain and prevent root rot.

The container the plant is grown in should have a drainage hole to allow for the water to drip out. Additionally, you should remember to empty the bottom saucer out, so that the plant isn’t sitting in a puddle of water.

How to Prune

Codiaeum variegatum only requires pruning if any unhealthy growth appears or to maintain its shape. The dead leaves or branches should be cut back to their origin with a clean pair of pruners.

Any overgrown leaves or branches must just be trimmed to above the node or leaf set. Additionally, you don’t want to cut back too much, so only remove about one-third of the stem’s height at a time.

Top Tip: Have you ever noticed that your croton is basically a dust magnet? Take a damp cloth and gently wipe the leaves twice a month. This will keep them clean and dust-free.


The garden croton only needs to be repotted during the spring every 1 to 2 years or when it has become pot bound.

Ideally, it should be repotted in a new container that is one size larger than its current one.

Follow the steps below:

  1. Find a new pot and fill it with 2 inches (5cm) of damp peat-based potting soil.
  2. Take your croton plant and gently slide it out of its pot. You can remove it by placing the plant on its side and pulling it out.
  3. Put the plant in the new pot and use extra potting soil to fill in around the rootball, so that the soil level is 1 inch (2.5cm) below the container’s rim.
  4. Use your fingers to pat down and firm the soil, and care for the plant as you normally would.


Light Requirements

When kept indoors the garden croton needs around 6 to 8 hours of bright, full sunlight every day, much like the snake plant. If its home is outdoors during the summertime, then it should receive filtered sunlight.

The bright color on its leaves is dependent on the amount of sunlight it gets, so make sure that it soaks in all the sunshine it needs to keep flourishing.

You also need to be cautious that it doesn’t receive too much harsh sunlight. This will cause its leaves to become burnt and scorched.


Codiaeum variegatum prefers a neutral pH, loamy, and moist potting mixture.

The garden croton needs well-draining soil to prevent any fungal diseases such as root rot. You can add in some peat moss, coarse sand, perlite, and vermiculite to improve the soil’s drainage.

The houseplant is watered frequently so it needs soil that can drain well in order for its roots to receive enough air.


The garden croton only requires to be fed once a month in the spring and summertime. There is no need to fertilize it during winter or autumn.

Ideally, the fertilizer should be either slow-releasing pellets or liquid fertilizer with a low level of nitrogen.

Pot Size and Type

The pot can be made of any material, however, it’s imperative that it has a drainage hole to allow for any water to flow out. A drainage hole is vital to prevent root rot and soggy conditions.

When you repot your garden croton, the container must be at least one-third larger than the rootball.

You should also keep in mind that the pot must be heavy enough so that the plant won’t tip over.


It is native to tropical conditions so the croton loves a warm environment. It will grow best in temperatures between 60 to 70°F (15.5 – 21.1°C).

If you want a healthy and colorful plant, maintaining its environment’s temperature is crucial.


Keep in mind that the croton thrives in tropical areas so it needs to be grown in a room with a high humidity level, just like the spider plant. The low level of humidity will impact the foliage’s color. The optimal level of humidity for this plant is between 40 to 80 percent.

You can increase humidity levels around your plant by placing a humidifier nearby, grouping it amongst other houseplants, or using a humidity tray. You can create a humidity tray by taking a shallow container and filling it with rocks and tepid water. You should then place the pot on top of the pebbles.

If you notice that your home’s air is very dry, then mist the plant once a week and make sure that there are no cold drafts coming through near the plant.

Top Tip: A warm, steamy bathroom is the ideal room for your croton plant.

Outdoors vs. Indoors

Just like with the Christmas cactus, the croton grows in USDA hardiness zones 10 to 12. It can be grown outdoors during the summer but it must be kept inside once the winter chill sets in. If temperatures drop below 50°F (10°C) then it must immediately be relocated indoors.

If you decide to grow the plant outside then it must be placed in filtered sunlight and kept moist.

Croton - care, water, light, soil, pot, temperature, fertilizer (infographics)


It is very rare for the croton plant to bloom when grown indoors. It is an infrequent bloomer with relatively insignificant flowers.

They’ll appear as small bulbs with extensions that may shoot out. The flowers are tiny, yellow, star-shaped ones that hang down in these long clusters amongst larger leaves.

To increase the likelihood that the plant will bloom, you can place them outside during the spring and summer months, mist them frequently, and make sure that they receive indirect sunlight.

How to Grow

You can grow the plant through various propagation methods, and from planting seeds. We’ll provide you with a step-by-step guide for the different ways to grow a croton plant.


You can propagate the houseplant in soil and water. Keep in mind that it should only be propagated during the spring or summer months when it’s actively growing.

In Soil

We’re going to describe exactly how to propagate stem cuttings and divisions in the soil as well as provide you with a guide on air layering.

From Stem Cuttings
  1. Fill the required number of containers with some well-draining potting mix and water it lightly, so that it’s moist.
  2. Pick out a few healthy stems and use a clean pair of scissors to cut a 4 to 6 inch (10 – 15.2cm) long stem. Additionally, there should be between 3 to 5 leaves attached to the cutting.
  3. Use your finger or even a pencil to poke a small hole 2 to 3 inches (5 – 7.6cm) deep in the soil.
  4. Dip the cut end of the stem into some rooting hormone, and plant it in the soil.
  5. Firmly press around the base of the cutting, and position it in a warm, sunny area. The soil should be kept moist but remember that it shouldn’t be soggy.
  6. You’ll notice some new leaf growth in about 4 weeks. You can then repot the cutting into a larger container.
By Division
  1. Slide the houseplant out of its container by placing it on its side and gently pulling it out.
  2. Brush off any excess soil attached to the rootball, and look for some natural areas of division.
  3. Get out a sterilized pair of pruners or shears to slice down the rootball, and pull the divisions apart.
  4. Find a new container and fill it halfway with some potting soil, and plant the division in it.
  5. Cover the rootball with some soil and water it deeply.
  6. Lightly pat around the division and find a warm home for the plant.
Air Layering

Air layering is a propagation technique in which the stem is actually rooted while still attached to the mother plant. Check out how to use this technique below.

  1. Use a clean knife to make a diagonal cut through one-third of the stem’s diameter.
  2. Put some rooting hormone in the wound and keep the cut open with a toothpick.
  3. Pack some peat moss around the cut area and wrap it with clear plastic into a ball.
  4. Once the stem has rooted in the moss, then you can plant it in a new container with moist potting soil.

In Water

You can multiply the croton by propagating its stem cuttings in clean water. Take a look at the steps below.

From Stem Cuttings
  1. Take out a transparent glass and fill it with clean water.
  2. Choose a healthy stem to cut. Make sure it’s about 4 to 6 inches (10 – 15.2cm) long with 3 to 5 leaves attached.
  3. Place the cut end of the stem into the water but the leaves shouldn’t be fully submerged. Simply, remove the leaves that will be covered in water.
  4. Position the glass in an area where the stem can bask in the bright and warm sunshine.
  5. You’ll see some roots develop in 4 weeks, and then you should wait until they’re about 3 inches (7.6cm) long until you repot the stem in soil.

Seed Planting

Growing the plant from a seed is an unreliable method as it rarely flowers and the plant is unstable, so the new garden croton won’t resemble the parent plant.

You’ll also need to be a little patient as the seeds take a long time to germinate.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on growing it from a seed:

  1. Use a few freshly harvested seeds and soak them in water overnight.
  2. Prepare a shallow container with moist potting soil, and evenly place the seeds on it.
  3. Lightly sprinkle a thin layer of soil on top of the seeds and water them.
  4. When you see that 3 leaves have grown then you can replant the seedlings into a 3 inch (7.6cm) wide pot.

Fun Fact: The croton plant name is derived from the Greek word for tick, as the croton seed resembles the shape of a tick.


Finally, let’s discuss the potential issues and diseases that you may run into while caring for your croton.

Leaves Falling Off

Your plant is losing its leaves for a few reasons; stress, exposure to extreme temperatures, insufficient sunlight, and improper watering.

The garden croton is sensitive to the change in environment, so its leaves may fall off because it was moved either inside or outside. After a few weeks, it’ll adjust to its new environment.

The croton needs to be kept in temperature range mentioned before, and anything below or above it will cause the plant to begin to lose its leaves and die. You’ll need to maintain a consistent temperature for the plant.

When grown indoors, the croton needs a significant amount of direct sunlight. Insufficient sunlight is detrimental to the plant’s growth and health.

If your plant is being watered improperly then you’ll need to adjust its watering schedule. Make sure that you don’t leave the soil soggy or dry. The soil needs to dry out slightly in between waterings.

Leaves Drooping

When the leaves become droopy and limp, it’s due to improper watering. This means that you’ll need to change your watering schedule so that once the top layer of soil is dry then you can water it.


You’ll need to cease watering and only begin to water it again once the soil has dried out slightly.


If the soil is dry to touch then immediately deeply water it, and wait until the top of the soil is dry to touch.


You may at first assume that when your plant’s leaves wilt, it’s due to underwatering, however, it is actually caused by overwatering. Codiaeum variegatum prefers soil that is moist but anything beyond that will cause root rot.

You’ll need to tweak your watering schedule and let the plant’s soil dry out slightly until you water it next. After that then you can water it frequently once the soil is dry. Keep in mind that good drainage is also important and can prevent wilting.

Brown Leaves

You may notice that your poor plant’s leaves are turning brown, curling up, and drying out. This means that it’s not receiving enough water. Underwatering is an easy thing to fix.

All you need to do is deeply water it and adjust your watering schedule. Keep in mind that the soil shouldn’t be left to dry out over a long period of time. Water it once the top soil is dry.

You should also consider upping the humidity levels by misting the plant’s leaves.


We have mentioned a few times that the garden croton is finicky, however, once the basic environmental requirements have been fulfilled then it’ll survive and thrive.

The effort and energy you put into this plant are totally worthwhile. Its stunning foliage makes it a popular houseplant for many collectors.

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