Croton leaves turning yellow

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Codiaeum variegatum

Tropical garden croton, Codiaeum variegatum, makes a spectacular houseplant.

A member of the genus Codiaeum in the Euphorbiaceae, or spurge, family, it is not to be confused with the “true croton” species of the genus Croton, also in the spurge family.

If you’ve vacationed where it’s warm and humid, you’ve probably been awed by this brightly-colored shrub.

There are many cultivars with glossy, leather-like leaves in various shapes. Colors range from yellow and green to red and almost black, with patches, speckles, or veins of contrasting colors.

Flowering is infrequent, and consists of pendant-style clusters of tiny yellow blossoms that pale in comparison to a breathtaking backdrop of richly-hued foliage.

Photo by Nan Schiller.

Also known as rushfoil, Joseph’s coat, and variegated laurel, this slow-growing evergreen perennial is native to Australia and Southeast Asia.

Those living in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 to 12 may cultivate it outdoors year-round, and the rest of us can enjoy it as an annual, or indoors as a houseplant.

Photo by Nan Schiller.

Ready to grow your own? We’ll teach you how! Here’s what’s ahead in this article:

Let’s get started.

The Care and Feeding of C. Variegatum

Choose a sunny placement with a south, west, or southwest exposure that is draft-free, and always above 60 degrees.

Photo by Nan Schiller.

If you lack adequate daylight, you may try a grow light, like the Dual Head LED Clamp Grow Light, available from Wayfair. Plants that don’t get enough sunlight are likely to be less colorful.

Newhouse Lighting Dual Head LED Clamp Grow Light

Your new croton is likely to come in a grower’s pot. If you want to upgrade to a sturdier, more decorative container, choose one with a drainage hole and a drip tray.

Place a layer of pea gravel in the bottom of the pot, and fill with a good quality potting soil, such as Miracle-Gro Indoor Potting Mix, available from Amazon.

Miracle-Gro Indoor Potting Mix, 6 Quart (2 Pack)

You may add a slow-release fertilizer like Miracle-Gro Indoor Liquid Plant Food, available from Ace Hardware. This is the houseplant food of choice in my family. Applying it once a month is more than adequate.

Miracle-Gro Indoor Plant Food

When the surface of the soil becomes dry to the touch, it’s time to water at soil level and mist the leaves. You may leave a little water in the drip tray to add to the moisture in the environment.

Garden Croton Houseplant Facts

  • Approximately 3 feet tall at maturity
  • Showy, variegated foliage
  • Sun-loving
  • Moist, well-drained potting soil
  • Slow-release fertilizer
  • Temperate setting

Please note that this ornamental plant is toxic if ingested, and its sap may cause skin irritation.

On Repotting, Pests, and Propagation

Crotons grow slowly. Over time, you may notice that you are watering more frequently, or that your plant isn’t as perky as it used to be. If so, may be time to repot.

To be certain, examine the drainage holes. If you see roots poking through, it’s time. Spring is the best time for repotting, as your plant is feeling especially vigorous.

Photo by Nan Schiller.

This is where some folks err on the side of generosity, myself included. When you repot a houseplant, choose the next size up, or in other words, a pot that is only an inch or two wider in diameter than the current container.

A pot that is too deep will encourage excessive root growth, rather than lush foliage.

Photo by Nan Schiller.

To repot, first take note of how deep your plant sits in its old pot. You’ll want to replicate this depth in the new one. Gently ease your plant out of its old pot, dirt and all. Remove most of the old potting mix and tease the roots apart.

Your new pot should be clean and have a drainage hole. Cover the bottom with pea gravel and pour in new potting medium to a depth of about one-third the total depth of the pot.

Croton flowers are tiny, blooming down the length of a long stalk. Photo by Nan Schiller.

Center your plant in the new pot, at the same depth it was in the old pot. Holding the plant with one hand, use your other to fill in around it with potting medium. Don’t fill to the top, but rather, leave a little space to prevent watering spillover.

Tamp down gently, water, and tamp again. Your freshly repotted plant may droop or drop leaves until it regains its composure. Give it time to acclimate, and resist the urge to fertilize for at least a few weeks.

A small C. variegatum aucubaefolia ‘Gold Dust’ with a spotted pattern, in failing health after repotting. Photo by Allison Sidhu.

To prevent transplant shock, you can also water with tepid rather than cool or cold water.

A healthy croton is not prone to disease or insects. However, a plant weakened by too much or too little water, or one that is shocked by a change in environment, may be vulnerable to aphids, mealybugs, scale, or spider mites.

The same plant before it was repotted, in better health. Photo by Allison Sidhu.

Periodically wipe your plant’s leaves down with a soft, damp cloth. You’ll not only keep them glossy, but if there’s trouble brewing, you’ll see it right away. And if you do notice pests, try spraying them away with neem oil, available on Amazon.

Garden Safe Neem Oil Extract Concentrate

Friends are sure to admire your new favorite houseplant, so why not try your hand at propagation so you can give them one of their very own?

It’s easy! Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Wear gloves to prevent contact with stem sap, and select a branch with new growth.
  2. Use shears, like our favorite Felco F-2 pruners, to make a clean cut cross the branch about six inches below the tip.
  3. Remove the lowest leaves, if necessary, to reveal at least an inch of stem.
  4. Place your cutting in water or rooting medium until roots form. This may take several weeks.
  5. When roots have developed, pot as described above, and your new plant (or plants) will be ready to go!

If you’re ready to get started with your first plant and you don’t have a friend or acquaintance with clippable cuttings at the ready, these can be purchased in garden centers or online as well. Let’s take a look…

Where to Buy

There are so many different cultivars to choose from, it’s going to be tough to pick just one!

C. variegatum ‘Petra’ in 4-inch Pot

C. variegatum ‘Petra’ is available from Jet.com in a 4-inch pot. Elliptical green leaves are lavishly veined in yellow and red.

C. variegatum ‘Sunny Star’ in 4-inch Pot

C. variegatum ‘Sunny Star’ is also available from Jet.com in a 4-inch pot. Elongated green foliage has yellow accents.

C. variegatum ‘Mamey’ in 4-inch Pot

C. variegatum ‘Mamey’ is available from Jet.com as well, in a 4-inch pot. Multi-colored, twisting, elongated leaves are accented with red and yellow.

C. variegatum ‘Banana’ in 4-inch Pot

C. variegatum ‘Banana’ is available from Jet.com in a 4-inch pot. Elongated, twisting leaves are speckled and veined with yellow.

Costa Farms Croton in 8.75-Inch Pot

C. variegatum ‘Petra’ is available from Amazon. Ten-inch plants come in two pot sizes, 6 or 8.75 inches, in a grower’s pot for replanting or in a decorative pot suitable for indoor use.

Costa Farms Croton Grower’s Choice Assortment, 4-Pack

And for those who can’t pick just one, 4 assorted C. variegatum are also available from Amazon, in 3.8-inch pots.

A Croton to Love

I know you’re going to love having a garden croton in the house. Let me tell you about the one that lives at ours.

Photo by Nan Schiller.

When my daughter arrived at college, the freshmen were given a tiny plant for their dorm room windowsills. She received a C. variegatum ‘Petra.’ Most of the students’ plants didn’t live to see Christmas, but my daughter’s not only survived, it thrived, and she named it “Jules.”

Jules came home in May and went back to school in August for four years, and never dropped her leaves. This girl was a champ!

After graduation, Jules came to live in my daughter’s empty bedroom, the sunniest room in the house. All was well until the day I went in and found her down to one leaf. Did I forget to water, or was she unhappy with her new surroundings?

The same plant, when it was smaller. Notice that the snake plant pictured in the image above is now growing in this pot! Photo by Allison Sidhu.

Either way, I am happy to report that crotons are quite resilient, and with a little TLC from my dad’s very green thumb, Jules made a full recovery. Now, at the ripe old age of 14, she occupies her own corner of the dining room.

If you’ve never grown a big houseplant, now’s the time to make room for garden croton. It’s sure to become part of the family!

Photo by Nan Schiller.

For more on houseplants, check out our Houseplant Primer, and feel free to share your comments, questions, and advice in the comments section below.

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Photos by Nan Schiller and Allison Sidhu © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Newhouse Lighting, Miracle-Gro, Garden Safe, Costa Farms, and Jet.com.

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

Codiaeum variegatum pictum (Croton / Joseph’s Coat)

Croton Care Guide

Light

Good bright light is a compulsory requirement for a healthy Croton plant. You’ll need to avoid really hot direct sunlight to prevent leaf scorching, but never provide low light conditions for long periods otherwise the leaf markings will fade.

Watering

Another very important Croton care instruction is watering. Too little and the leaves will fall and too much will cause a similar effect. You need the knack to get the balance right.

Any experienced houseplant owner will know this instinctively, just by looking at their plant they can tell if it needs water. Beginners often don’t and this is why watering mistakes are the top two reasons for plant death in general.

You want the soil to be evenly moist for the majority of the time.

So how do you water a Croton correctly? During growth, which tends to happen when conditions are warm, you want the soil to be evenly moist for the majority of the time. That’s moist, not soggy, wet or saturated, equally as important, not dry.

If you can pour water out of the pot, or there is wetness in the drip tray an hour after watering you’re over doing it. If you let the soil dry out completely before you water again you are making the opposite mistake of under doing it.

Some further problem symptoms of watering issues are covered in our help section below.

Humidity

Some people will say humidity isn’t important or the leaves shouldn’t be misted. We’d agree with the misting comments if conditions being provided are already very humid, i.e. you are growing a Croton in a terrarium or in a steamy bathroom. If you’ve opted for a dry, low humidity room you really need to be doing something to increase the humidity around the plant.

Feeding

Unlike many houseplants, Codiaeum’s can be rather greedy with fertiliser and because they can grow quite quickly they need a reasonable amount. No need to over do it though, once a month or so at normal strength will be perfect.

Temperature

Crotons demand warmth, which is why problems are common when things turn chilly. 15°C / 50°F – is the minimum you will likely get away with assuming there are no draughts. However for growth and to play it safe you are looking for an average all year round temperature of 21°C / 70°F but warmer temperatures won’t be a problem.

Repotting

All we can say about repotting is to be careful! So many people experience problems with leaf drop a few weeks after they repot their Crotons. Our experience has been more positive, but in this case it’s best follow the traditional rule book and do it only in middle to late Spring.

Try to use similar potting soil that is already around the current root ball. Don’t cut or tease out the roots and handle it gently to minimize the risk of shock and causing the latex sap to bleed, wash your hands afterwards.

Propagation

Like the rest of the plant, propagating a Croton can be tricky. You can do it easy enough by creating a stem or “tip” cutting a few inches long, stripping back to just a few leaves, dipping into a rooting hormone and then pushing into everyday recently watered potting compost.

The hard bit in all of this is what happens next, because even the young cuttings need warmth, and lots of it. Bottom heat is needed to trigger new roots to form and you’re looking at a soil temperature of between 25°C – 30°C / 77°F – 86°F for this.

Speed of Growth

Growth tends to be moderately fast, especially if it’s being treated correctly.

Height / Spread

Small plant’s are very much the norm, which may be because its hard to keep a Croton growing to a large size, however assuming you pull it off, yours could reach 5ft / 1.5m in height!

Flowers

You grow Codiaeum’s for the foliage rather than its flowers, which is fortunate because this plant rarely flowers indoors.

Are Croton Plants Poisonous?

No, these plants aren’t toxic to cats, dogs or people.

Anything else?

Crotons are room enhancing plants when looking good. If they’re treated poorly they’re miserable things to have around on display. Whilst the majority of our article has the long term in mind, Crotons are quite cheap to buy, certainly less than a bouquet of flowers, so you can always look to enjoy it for a month or two before discarding if things don’t work out.

Croton Problems

Leaf Drop

The number one problem of a Croton are its leaves falling on mass. They fall so quickly sometimes you may find a small heap! This is basically the result of incorrect care. The most likely causes in order are:

– Too little water

– Too much water

– Temperatures are too low or

– Not enough feed.

It’s hard to know exactly what has caused the problem and in some case it might be a combination. You may gather more clues however by having a look at the fallen leaves. If they’ve brown tips this is a strong indicator you have been underwatering or the humidity is too low. If there are brown edges instead, this is a sign of cold temperatures or draughts being the cause of the leaf drop.

Poor leaf colour

The Croton leaf markings will fade and lose their visual punch if the light is too low. Bright light is essentially to retain the markings so find it a new home if this starts to happen.

Red Spider Mite

Probably the most common pest on a Croton is Red Spider Mite. Both plant and insect like warmth so although you may be treating your plant perfectly with warm temperatures you may have inadvertently encouraged Red Spider Mite’s to set up shop in the process. Prepare for a battle (but we have faith in you!).

About the Author

Tom Knight

Over the last 20 years Tom has successfully owned hundreds of houseplants and is always happy to share knowledge and lend his horticulture skills to those in need. He is the main content writer for the Ourhouseplants Team.

Also on Ourhouseplants.com

(Article / Gallery) Photo credit of the yellow / red leaf Croton – Obsidian Soul
(Article / Gallery) Photo credit of the yellow / orange leaf Croton – Caduser2003
(Article / Gallery) Photo credit of the multi coloured leaf Croton – Forest & Kim Starr
(Article / Gallery) Photo credit of the fallen Croton leaves – Madison Inouye

Community Comments

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Crotons offer a splash of color to any environment. With thick, leathery leaves that have a shiny surface and that grow in a wide variety of colors, they’re admired as an ornamental. They even flower, with both male and female flowers on a given plant — but their inflorescence pales in comparison to the red, orange, yellow, black, even green or bluish-purple hues that the leaves produce.

While there is an entire genus called croton, today we’re focusing on Codiaeum variegatum. The garden croton or variegated croton is a stunning houseplant which is widely popular, and which has tons of varieties available. Let’s go over everything there is to know about this particular croton species and get you started!

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Croton Overview

Croton quick care guide, custom-illustrated by Seb Westcott.

Common Name(s) Croton
Scientific Name Codiaeum variegatum
Family Euphorbiaceae
Origin Europe
Height Up to 10 feet
Light Direct sunlight, filter harsh light
Water Average
Temperature 60-80°F
Humidity High
Soil Rich soil, fast draining
Fertilizer Regular feedings of acidic fertilizers
Propagation Root or stem cutting
Pests Mealy bugs, caterpillars, spider mites or scale insects.

Types of Crotons

There are hundreds of varieties of crotons, so today we’ll highlight a few of my favorites. If none of these appeal to you, don’t stop looking. There’s a croton variety out there for every color and leaf-shape preference!

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Gold Dust’

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Gold Dust’. Source: wlcutler

This particular croton has vibrantly green leaves that look as though someone splashed golden-yellow paint all over them. In frost-free areas, it’s common as a landscaping shrub, but it can easily be grown indoors as well. Its leaves are rounded ovals with almost a waxed surface shine.

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Mammy’

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Mammy’. Source: Javierahr

The Mammy varietal is stunning to look at, as its twisted, multi-hued leaves look like long streamers erupting out of its container. Grown indoors, its leaves are more subtle in coloration, tending towards greens and purples with bits of red, but if grown in bright light environments it rapidly transforms into an explosion of brilliant color.

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Petra’

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Petra’. Source

One of the most common croton varieties available, Petra’s leaves are green with bold yellow, red, or orange veining and edging. It gives the pointed-oval leaves a lacy appearance when viewed from a slight distance.

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Mother and Daughter’

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Mother and Daughter’.Source

This unique croton plant has interesting dual leaves. Long and slender, they come to a rounded tip from which the central leaf vein extends, with a secondary leaf attached to it. They grow in variegated shades of green to purple, and are really interesting plants to keep!

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Red Iceton’

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Mrs. Iceton’. Source

Red Iceton is one of the more striking croton varieties. Its pointed-tipped oval leaves go through a color change – when new, they are a bright, warm yellow. As the leaves age, they shade into red and pink hues.

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Magnificent’

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Magnificent’. Source

The Magnificent croton is similar to the Gold Dust croton in both leaf shape and dappled patterning, but that’s where the similarities end. This variety has brilliant shades of red, orange, pink and yellow spattered across the leaves. Occasionally there will be bits of bronze or a purplish hue as well. It’s truly magnificent, just as its name implies.

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Oakleaf’

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Oakleaf’. Source: Javierahr

This interesting croton variety gets its name from the shape of its leaves, which resemble the multi-fingered oak leaf shape. Its coloration tends to run from greens to bronzes with red, orange, or yellow veining.

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Eleanor Roosevelt’

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Eleanor Roosevelt’. Source

A stunning change from other croton varieties, the Eleanor Roosevelt has long, slender leaves. The base hue of the leaves is a nice medium green, but they shift to a deep purple, and all of the leaves are dotted with a golden-yellow spotted pattern. This unique variation provides a shift from the broader leaves of other varieties.

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Zanzibar’

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Zanzibar’. Source: Gelo–2014

For those who like grassy-looking plants, there’s a croton for you, too! The Zanzibar croton has such slender leaves that they resemble blades of grass, and they are dolloped in shades of purple, orange, gold and even red. These make a beautiful contrast to their broad-leaved sibling plants and still share the bright colorways of their species.

Caring For Crotons

Crotons have a reputation for being fussy plants, but that’s partially related to the fact that they don’t like being moved much — they like to stay in one place. Once your plant has gotten over its initial shock (and possibly leaf loss) from being moved around, following these guidelines will give you the best-looking croton foliage.

Crotons love bright light and thrive in it, and in fact require it to produce those stunning multicolored leaves. But they also don’t like to be burned by the sun. If you are in a very hot or dry environment where the sun is oppressive, it is a good idea to put some shade cloth up so that they can absorb less of the direct UV rays during the heat of the day. If grown indoors, they do prefer brighter spots near windows or under grow lights.

Water

Like most tropical plants, crotons like humidity. It’s often beneficial to set your croton plant on top of a rock tray with a little water in it to help keep the moisture up around the plant. If you’re raising yours as a hanging plant, occasional misting will also help increase the ambient humidity. However, they also don’t like to have wet feet, so it’s best to only water them when the top half-inch to an inch of soil is dry to the touch. When you do water them, water until it starts to come out of the bottom of the container, then wait until the soil dries out again before rewatering.

Crotons can be susceptible to over-watering. If you find that your croton’s leaves are wilting, that may be a sign of too much water. If the lower leaves are drying out or falling off, that’s a sign of under-watering and your plant’s thirsty.

Soil

Crotons prefer a well-draining soil with lots of organic material. Most good potting soils are fine, and an ideal range for the soil pH level is between 4.5-6.5 pH. High pH rock soils are not advisable, as are soils that are very calcium-rich.

Fertilizer

A popular fertilizer type for crotons is an 8-2-10 mix, as they tend to like a lot of potassium. Most often, they’re fed once in the early spring (Feb-March), and then again in the late spring (May), giving them a good slow-release acidic fertilizer that will feed them throughout the summer months. Younger plants may require a third feeding somewhere mid-July. Don’t fertilize in the fall, as the leaves need to mature and harden off before winter.

There are a few choices in how you can propagate your crotons.

The most common is via cuttings. Trim a segment from your croton that has at least three sets of leaves using a sharp, clean pair of shears. Strip off all but 3-5 leaves from the top of the stem. You can place this directly into a glass of water, or can dip it into a rooting hormone and then place it into a mix of vermiculite, river sand, and peat moss. It helps if you can place a cover over the plant to help keep it humid as it develops roots, but if you don’t have a glass cloche or other humidity-trapping cover, you can use a plastic bag to simulate one. Once roots have formed, transplant it gently into a good, well-draining potting mix.

Some people have found it possible to separate crotons at the root, especially if the plant has outgrown its prior container. However, this can be occasionally problematic, as the plant really doesn’t like being moved around much, and both your original plant and the new cutting may suffer wilting and leaf-loss this way.

Finally, there’s a process called air layering. In this process, you make a diagonal cut through one third to half of the diameter of a stem while it’s still attached to the main plant. Treat the resulting wound with some rooting hormone, and keep it open with a wooden matchstick or toothpick.

Then, carefully pack damp sphagnum moss around the area, and wrap it in plastic wrap. Make sure it’s kept moist – if the moss begins to turn tan in color, it needs to be remoistened. The wound will begin to form roots in time. Once those roots have developed, unwrap the plastic wrap, trim the rest of the way through the stem, and repot your new plant in a well-draining potting mix.

As your croton grows, it will eventually get to the point where it needs a larger pot. Select a pot that’s only 1-2 inches larger in diameter than its current one, and take some of your potting mix and place some in the bottom of the new pot. Then, carefully and gently remove your croton from its old pot.

If it appears to be a bit root-bound, separate the roots slightly with your fingers. If they’re too interlocked, use a potting knife to score the roots lightly. Then place the croton into the pot, making sure there’s enough potting soil below to put it within an inch of the pot’s top. Carefully fill around the sides of the plant with additional potting soil as needed, and then water it thoroughly to moisten all of the soil and help it settle, stopping when water comes out the bottom of the pot.

Pruning

Generally, crotons only need to be pruned to remove dead or unhealthy foliage or to maintain a compact size. If you need to prune your croton, I highly recommend wearing gloves, as the croton’s milky sap can occasionally cause skin irritation (read the FAQ below for more information on this!). Use a sharp, clean pair of bypass loppers or shears to make your cuts.

Dead leaves and branches should be pruned all the way to the main body of the plant. Diseased branches should be cut off at least six inches outside of the diseased area, ideally just above a leaf or node on the stem. Long or overgrown branches should also be cut back just above a leaf or node on the stem to maintain the plant’s shape.

Unless the branches are dead or diseased, avoid cutting more than a third of a branch’s length off at any given time so you don’t stress the plant. Allow it to form new leaf growth before pruning it again.

Problems

Are the leaves on your crotons starting to pick up whitish-yellow speckling that’s not normal to the plant? Is something eating it? Is your plant not as colorful as it should be? Here’s some answers to what might be causing your issues and how to fix them.

Growing Problems

Probably the most common growing problem that people may experience is their croton staying… well, green, honestly. If you have something like a Mammy or a Magnificent, or any other that’s supposed to be vibrantly colored, and yet it’s all green, this is usually a sign of incorrect lighting. While crotons don’t mind partial shade (and a few varieties prefer it), a lack of color generally means it’s just not getting enough light to produce those bright tones. Crotons prefer bright light and cool temperatures in the 60-80 degree range, and if you can provide that environment, you should have stunning colors regularly.

If your leaves face directly into the summer sun, you may notice greyish patches on your leaves. This generally means that the leaves are fading due to too much heat with their light. Adding some shade cloth or repositioning your plants to a location which is naturally shadier during the hottest parts of the day will help.

While some varieties such as Mammy naturally twist, if your croton is not one of those, finding twisted leaves on it is a sign of over-fertilization. This is most common during the summer months when your plant shouldn’t be fertilized as much. Stick with a couple feedings in the spring (one early, one late), and refrain from feeding throughout the rest of the year.

I mentioned earlier that crotons don’t like to be moved around, and this is very true — they can experience leaf loss just from being brought home from the store. As long as you are not regularly carrying your plant in and out of the house, or moving it too regularly if it’s planted outdoors, this should not be an issue.

Pests

Croton houseplants are typically most susceptible to spider mites. They cause the leaves of your plant to become speckled with yellow (which can be hard to see in some croton varieties!), and eventually will cause the leaves to die. These little pests can be removed by gently cleaning off the leaves of your plant with a moistened towel, and keeping the humidity up can help prevent them.

Outdoors, there are a few more pests that are common. One of these is the croton scale, which is a strange little insect that is hard to identify as it makes itself look like it’s just part of the plant. This video shows you some examples of croton scales when they’re infesting a croton plant. Treatment with neem oil or another horticultural oil every 5-7 days for 3-4 treatments is effective at removing these, but if your plant is in dire straits, using a soft toothbrush to brush off the scales can help too.

Mealybugs on your plants can occasionally become an issue as well. You can remove smaller colonies by dabbing them with a cotton swab that’s been dipped in rubbing alcohol. Larger colonies can be sprayed off using a heavy spray of water, or killed off with neem oil insecticide or insecticidal soap.

Petra crotons are particularly susceptible to leaf-burrowing thrips. To control thrips, hose them down thoroughly in the morning with cold water while the insects are still in their resting phase. This treatment can take multiple days to take full effect, so be prepared to set a little of your early morning time aside to wash your petras for up to a week. If they persist, insecticidal soap or neem oil applications are recommended.

Finally, there is the croton caterpillar, Achaea janata. These caterpillars eat the leaves of crotons, leaving behind only the stems and veins of the leaf. Regular applications of neem oil have been effective at reducing leaf consumption, but if the caterpillars persist, BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) can be sprayed onto the plants as well. This bacillus will infect the caterpillars and kill them off, but is harmless to humans and animals as well as to the plant.

Diseases

There are a few diseases which can strike your crotons. Crown gall, leaf spot, oedema, and white powdery mildew are by and large the most prevalent.

Oedema is caused when your croton is taking in more water through its roots than it can actually handle, and looks like blistering on the leaves. Reduce the regularity of your watering until the blistering subsides, and avoid over-watering.

Crown gall is caused by a bacteria (Agrobacterium tumefaciens) that stimulates swollen growths on the stems and leaf-veins of your plant. It impacts many types of plants, including roses, apple trees, blackberries and raspberries, and even crotons. Unfortunately, it’s also notoriously hard to combat. You can carefully cut galls off of the stem with a sharp knife, then treat the wound with a pruning sealer. However, the bacteria comes from the soil, and can live in the soil for up to two years after an infected plant has been removed, so the galls may come back. There are some chemical treatments for crown gall available, but they show limited effectiveness on crotons, so the best course of action is preventative.

Anthracnose, also referred to as leaf-spot or blight, is a fungal issue that develops on many plants including crotons. It causes dark or black water-soaked fungal patches on the leaves of the plant. Treatment with neem oil or a copper spray is recommended. You can also combat this problem by releasing a specific bacillus, Bacillus subtilis, via a special spray formula – the bacillus will consume most fungal developments.

Finally, powdery mildew can develop on plants that regularly end up with moistened leaves. To prevent this, water your plants from the bottom. A regular application of neem oil will also prevent and remove the buildup of this whitish mildew on the leaves.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are croton plants poisonous?

A: Crotons have built up a natural defense mechanism that is poisonous, but they can still be grown as houseplants or outdoor ornamentals. Do not try to eat the leaves or the occasional seeds that form, and prevent children and pets from eating them as well. I also highly advise wearing gloves when doing work on your crotons, as the milky sap can be a skin irritant. If your skin does get irritated by croton sap, putting on a 2.5% hydrocortisone cream after thoroughly washing the surface of the skin can help alleviate any problems. And as with any accidental ingestion, if someone does eat the flowers, seeds, or leaves of your croton plant, get them to the doctor or the vet for assistance as soon as possible.

Q: Are poinsettias a type of croton?

A: While poinsettias are related to crotons, they aren’t crotons themselves. However, just like crotons, they have a milky sap that can cause skin irritation, and they shouldn’t be eaten!

These brilliant tropical plants can really liven up your home or yard, so I definitely recommend trying to grow some in your landscape. The stunning colors are worth it! Do you grow crotons? What’s your favorite variety?

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Kevin Espiritu
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What is this plant with red, green and yellow colored leaves and little white flowers?

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Growing Croton Plants Indoors

Botanical Name: Codiaeum variegatum pictum

Croton plants stiff, leathery leaves in bold colors of yellow, pink, red, orange and green make it a beautiful and popular house plant. Its varied colors give it another common name, Joseph’s Coat.

The croton plant (shown at left) is one of the most dramatic we’ve seen. Warm tropical colors and exotic patterned leaves make ‘Petra’ a knockout in any brightly lit room.

I don’t know of any houseplant that will give you more bang for your buck than this one. Those vibrant colors will rival just about any flower you could name.

Crotons are not easy to please. The keys to success are plenty of sunshine, a warm, draft-free environment, moist soil, and humid air. Dry air and soil will cause croton leaves to fall off. Give croton what it wants and you’ll enjoy this tropical beauty a long time.

Croton Problems, Solutions and Special Care

Clean ’em up. Keep leaves dust-free and shiny by gently wiping them with a damp cloth. Don’t use leaf-shine products, mayo, or any other shine solution you may have heard about. Croton leaves are naturally slick and shiny.

Give them space. If you bought a container that has 2 or 3 plants in it (which is fairly common), keep them together for the first year or so. When the plants seem crowded, give them the space they need by separating them. Divide croton plants by carefully cutting through their roots with a serrated knife, then pot each plant in its own container.

Too tall? Top them. Croton plants are naturally bushy, so they shouldn’t need pruning. If they get too big, you can cut them back in spring and propagate the stem cuttings.

To repot…or not? Repot in spring, moving to a pot only 1 size larger. You can control croton plant’s size by keeping it in the same container, so that its roots are confined. When the plant reaches the size you want, top-dress annually instead.

How to Top Dress: Remove the top 2-3 inches of soil and replace with fresh soil every couple years. Take care not to harm any roots that may be near the surface.

Why are croton leaves falling off? Croton may drop a couple leaves when you bring it home — it’s adjusting to its new environment. If your plant continues to drop leaves, it’s likely caused by a lack of sunlight or dry soil. See “Light” and “Water” tips below. Keep the plant out of drafts and away from heat/AC vents. Raising the humidity can help. For best results, use a cool-mist humidifier near the plant.

Something bugging your plant? Mealybugs are white and fuzzy, looking like specks of cotton along the leaf axils or stems. Red spider mites are so tiny, all you’ll see is the fine webbing between leaves and stems. These sap-sucking pests may cause yellow, dry spots on leaves. Treat any infestation right away to prevent these pests from moving to your other indoor plants.

Are croton plants poisonous? Oh, yes. A member of the Euphorbia family, this plant has poisonous sap. Don’t be afraid of crotons, but take some precautions. Keep croton away from children and pets and wear gloves while handling it.

Types of Croton Varieties

Many cultivars are available, and their colors and shapes vary enormously. ‘Golden Bell’ is a newer hybrid, featuring long, narrow leaves that are mostly green and yellow. ‘Bravo’ has lobed leaves with yellow veins. The most common variety is ‘Petra’ splashed with vibrant colors.

New varieties are being introduced, including some with curved, twisted and even corkscrew leaves. Some are spotted, speckled or streaked. ‘Gold Dust’ has small leaves, heavily spotted with yellow. Banana croton sports twisted, yellow-and-green leaves.

Arrowhead croton (shown above) has unusual leaves that add contrast to a group of plants.

Croton Plants for Sale

Caring for Croton Plants

Origin: Pacific Islands, Malaysia, Northern Australia

Height: Up to 3 ft (90 cm), depending on variety. When allowed to grow tall, crotons have a tree-like form with thick trunks.

Light: Bright light and at least 3 hours of direct sun each day. Leaf color is most vibrant when the plant is getting lots of light. If new leaves are mostly green, move the plant to a brighter location. A lack of sunlight can cause croton to drop its leaves. Don’t test it on this — I had one that dropped all of its leaves when I left it in a less-than-sunny location.

Water: Keep soil mix evenly moist with tepid water. It’s a good idea to use a pot with drainage holes. Water thoroughly, then empty the drainage saucer. Water less in winter, when growth is slower, but don’t allow the potting mix to dry out.

Humidity: Aim to maintain relative humidity around 60% or higher around plant. Stand pot on a tray of wet pebbles or use a cool-mist room humidifier.

Temperature: Average to warm room temperature (65-85°F/18-29°C) year-round. Don’t expose this tropical native to temperatures below 60°F/16°C.

Soil: Peat moss-based mix, such as African violet potting mix.

Fertilizer: Feed every 2 weeks from early spring through summer with a balanced liquid or water-soluble fertilizer, diluted by half.

Propagation: Take stem cuttings in spring and dip in rooting hormone before inserting in a half-half mix of sand and peat moss-based potting mix. Croton cuttings root in about a month.

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Croton Leaves Are Fading – Why Is My Croton Losing Its Color

The garden croton (Codiaeum variegatum) is a small shrub with big tropical-looking leaves. Crotons can grow outdoors in gardening zones 9 to 11, and some varieties also make great houseplants, though demanding ones. Their striking red, orange and yellow-striped leaves make the extra work worthwhile. Some varieties even have purple or white stripes and patches on the dark green leaves. But sometimes the bright colors on a croton fade, leaving them with ordinary-looking green leaves. It can be disappointing to notice a croton losing color because those vibrant leaves are this plant’s best feature.

Why is My Croton Losing its Color?

Color loss of croton is common in winter and in low light conditions. Croton plants are native to the tropics, growing wild in Indonesia and Malaysia, and they do best in full sun or bright indoor light. Most often, croton plants with faded leaves are simply not receiving enough light.

Conversely, some colors may fade if crotons are exposed to excessive direct light. Each variety has its own light preferences, so check whether the variety you have does best in full sun or partial sun.

What to Do When Croton Leaves are Fading

If a croton’s colors fade in low light levels, you need to increase the amount of light it is receiving. Bring the croton outdoors during the warm part of the year to give it more light. Be sure to harden off the plant, bringing it outdoors for a few hours at a time and placing it in a shady spot at first, to allow the plant to adjust to the brighter light, wind, and less stable temperatures of the outdoors.

Crotons are not cold hardy and shouldn’t be exposed to temperatures below 30 degrees F. (-1 degree C.). Bring your croton back indoors before the first frost in fall.

If a croton develops fading leaves when it is exposed to excessively bright light, try moving it into the shade or farther away from the window.

To keep your croton healthy during the winter when it has to be indoors, place it near the sunniest window in the house, within 3 to 5 feet (.91 to 1.52 m.) of the glass, or provide a grow light. Legginess is another sign that the plant is not getting enough light.

To ward off other problems that could cause weak coloration in crotons, provide a balanced slow-release fertilizer two to three times a year, but avoid over fertilizing, especially during the winter when growth is slower. Keep soil evenly moist, but avoid waterlogged or poorly drained soil, which may cause leaves to turn yellow. Crotons should be misted to keep them healthy indoors, since they prefer more humidity than most houses provide.

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