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Croton Plant - Growing Codiaeum Variegatum In The Garden and Home

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by Max on Mon, 03/11/2019 - 06:34
Croton plant

This dazzling plant can be quite a challenge to grow indoors as it's very particular about how it likes to be treated. It requires a lot of light, warmth, high humidity, and a very specific watering schedule. In less than perfect conditions, the plant will lose leaves quickly, leading to its sudden demise. For these reasons, this plant is not recommended for beginners, as it will take an experienced eye to understand the plant’s needs. That being said, this is a stunning houseplant that will reward you with extraordinary, colorful foliage if you are up to the challenge.

Quick Facts

OriginIndia and Malaysia
Scientific NameCodiaeum Variegatum
FamilyEuphorbiaceae
TypeEvergreen
Common NamesGarden Croton
Ideal Temperature60-80° F
ToxicityToxic to people and pets
LightBright, indirect light
WateringAllow to dry out between watering
HumidityHigh humidity
PestsMealy bugs, scale, red spider mites

Caring for Your Croton Plant

Caring for your Croton plant

Watering

The garden Croton is very specific about its watering needs, and it may take some trial and error before you really get to grips with how it likes to be watered. Too much water and the plant will lose leaves, but similarly, too little water and the plant will lose leaves.

Watering this plant is something of a balancing act, and you'll need to get the watering level just right for it to thrive. Your aim should be to keep the soil continually moist, never letting it be soggy and never letting it become dry. In ideal conditions, this is a quick-growing plant, and so it can get quite thirsty during spring and summer, when it does most of its growing.

Rather than water little and often, this plant benefits from a good soaking probably around once a week during its growth period, though this might need to be adjusted depending on the temperature in your home. Water the plant until water is coming out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot and discard the excess water.

This plant doesn't like to have wet feet, so never allow it to sit in collected water at the bottom of its container. When you notice that the soil in the plant is becoming dry on the top layer, then you may water it again with another good soaking. This pattern should keep your soil at the optimum moisture level and result in a healthy plant.

Temperature

In its natural habitat, this plant enjoys plenty of warmth. Kept as a houseplant, it has much the same requirements, which is why it will die suddenly when the temperature drops or it experiences cold drafts. The Croton plant should ideally be in a year-round temperature of 21° C / 70° F. A few degrees lower than this is acceptable, though anything lower than 15° C / 50° F should be avoided. Higher temperatures will be tolerated just fine.

Humidity

The garden Croton plant needs high humidity to thrive. If your plant is grown in a pot indoors, it would be a good idea to place the pot on a pebble tray with water. As the water evaporates, the humidity around the plant will be increased. Alternatively, you can spray the plant with a light water mist. This should be done frequently to keep the plant in its best condition.

Light

This plant requires bright light. When the sun isn’t too hot, then bright, direct light will be fine, but when the sun is particularly strong, then the light on the plant should be indirect. Strong rays of sunlight on the plant will result in burnt leaves, whereas not enough sun will cause the plant to struggle and the colorful leaves to fade or look bleached (University of Florida- Gardening Solutions).

A good amount of bright filtered or dappled light would be ideal for the plant. If it’s in a spot where it receives plentiful direct light, you may consider filtering the light with blinds or fabric. The plant is very sensitive to being moved and exhibits signs of stress when it is moved around, so experimenting with different areas to put the plant isn't the best idea. Instead, try to adjust the light levels where the plant lives to work for the plant.

Pruning

Croton plant foliage

This plant can be pruned if you wish to keep it to a certain size or encourage a bushier look. Otherwise, it will only need to be pruned to remove dead or unhealthy foliage. Brown leaves or stems should be cut all the way back to a node on the stem, and the same applies when trimming overgrown stems.

Try not to prune the plant too aggressively as it can become stressed by this and lose leaves. Prune only when necessary and avoid removing for than a third of the plants overall foliage. Don’t prune again until new leaves have grown. When pruning, be sure to wear gloves as the sap in this plant is an irritant to the skin.

Repotting

As this plant grows quickly in the right conditions, you will find that the roots become pot-bound, and you will need to repot the plant to keep it healthy and allow it to continue growing. To repot your Croton, select a new pot just one or two inches bigger than the plant’s current pot. Fill the bottom of the pot with enough fresh soil that the base of the Croton will be near the top of the pot when it's placed on top.

Take care to remove the Croton from its current pot, gently loosening the roots away from each other if they have become very heavily compacted together. Put the Croton into its new pot and fill around the sides with fresh potting soil, then water it. Repotting the plant should be done during mid to late spring to minimize the chance of the Croton having a bad reaction to it. Following repotting, you should reduce or entirely halt your fertilizer schedule, as the fresh soil in the new pot will have enough nutrients in it to support the plant's growth for several months.

Propagation

Crotons can be propagated in several ways, though the most popular is by using stem cuttings. To do this, you will need to trim a stem from the mother plant with at least three sets of leaves on it. Dipping the cut end in powdered charcoal will help to reduce bleeding (Royal Horticultural Society).

It's a good idea to perform propagation when the plant needs to be pruned so that you can make use of the pruned stems instead of throwing them away. Trim a few leaves that are closest to the base of your stem cutting, leaving a set of leaves at the top end of the stem. At this point, you can choose whether to propagate in water or soil.

To propagate in water, simply stand the stem cutting up in a glass of water, ensure it has enough warmth, and watch the roots grow from the base of the stem. To propagate in soil, dip the bottom of the stem cutting in rooting hormone and then, plant it in a pot of potting soil mixed with sand. To increase the chances of your stem successfully rooting, you should try to raise the humidity around the plant. The best way to do this is with a cover to trap in the humidity. The cutting will also need warmth to root, with heat from the bottom being preferable. If you have no way to provide heat from the bottom, then ensure you propagate in late spring or summer so that the cutting can benefit from naturally warmer weather. Once roots have developed from your stem cutting, you can transfer it to a pot with well-draining soil and care for it as usual.

Another way to propagate is by separating the root ball when you are repotting the plant. As long as the roots are not too heavily pot bound, then you should be able to split the plant in two without too much damage. Repot both smaller plants in appropriate sized containers and continue care as usual. This is a good way to reduce the size of your Croton if it is getting too big, resulting in two smaller plants instead of one large one. The only issue with this method of propagation is that you risk stressing out the plant. Crotons are notoriously sensitive and can respond badly to change. After separating the plant into two, you may find that both plants suffer dramatic leaf loss.

Crotons don't do well when grown from seed as they are unstable and you never know which variety you are going to get. The only way to guarantee a duplicate of the parent plant is to propagate from a stem cutting. Sometimes, a Croton will grow a shoot on it that looks unlike the rest of the plant. This can be removed and potted for propagation and will grow into a different variety of Croton from the mother plant.

Toxicity

The milky sap in both a Crotons leaves and stems is toxic to humans and pets. Cats and dogs that have ingested any part of the plant may exhibit gastrointestinal issues, such as drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea. The sap is also a skin irritant and can cause mild discomfort if it comes into contact with a pet’s skin (Pet Poison Helpline).

The Croton plant will have similar effects on humans who ingest the plant, causing stomach pain or discomfort, along with vomiting and diarrhea. As the sap is a skin irritant, anyone who has nibbled on the plant may also suffer from discomfort on the lips or inside the mouth, where the poison has come into contact with the skin. Be sure to wear protective gloves when pruning the plant to prevent any itching or burning of the skin. Be especially careful not to get the sap on your fingers and then, touch your face or eyes. If your child or pet is experiencing the consequences of ingesting parts of the plant, do not panic, as the effects are usually mild and don't cause any lasting issues, though you may wish to contact a professional for reassurance.

Varieties

Numerous varieties of the Croton plant exist, with most of them being very unusual and stunning to look at, and all of them being very specific about their care needs. In bright shades of red, purple, yellow, orange, green, and pink, this ornamental plant is perfect for bringing a splash of color into your home, though you may spend some time searching for the variety that complements the color scheme of your decor.

Though they are a challenge to take care of and successfully grow, the Croton is an incredibly rewarding plant to have in your home, with different varieties offering some of the most visually interesting houseplants available. With so many variations, there's definitely something to suit everyone's taste.

Petra

Codiaeum variegatum 'Petra '
Codiaeum variegatum 'Petra '

This is one of the most common varieties of Croton available, and the one you are most likely to see in garden nurseries or garden centers. It has long, glossy, oval-shaped leaves, which have a base color of mid to dark green. The leaves are then veined with bright yellow or red, sometimes with coloration around the edge of the leaves.

Zanzibar

Codiaeum variegatum 'Zanzibar'
Codiaeum variegatum 'Zanzibar' - Credit to Rogelio Quinatoa

This grassy-looking plant is unlike most other Crotons because of its long and thin leaves, though it does still bear the same vivid autumnal colors you would associate with Crotons. The Zanzibar variety has lots of leaves that resemble blades of grass, sprouting in an array of yellow, orange, red, and green colors.

Sunny Star

This Croton variety is aptly named for its bright, striking yellow leaves. The shape of the leaves is a thin, elongated oval, with a shiny finish and leathery texture. This plant will produce a selection of different-looking leaves, with some being green dappled with yellow, while others are a solid yellow.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Unlike the majority of Croton varieties, this plant does not have broad leaves. Instead, it has slender, graceful-looking leaves, with a base color ranging from green to deep purple. The leaves then feature haphazard yellow spotting, looking almost as if someone splattered paint all over them.

Magnificent

This Croton variant has large broad leaves with a waxy finish. The base color is green, and each leaf has a unique splattering of bright yellow, pink, red, orange, or purple. This plant truly lives up to its magnificent name, bringing bold splashes of color to any living space.

Gold Dust

Codiaeum variegatum 'Gold Dust'
Codiaeum variegatum 'Gold Dust'

This Croton is similar to the Magnificent variant, though the patterns on the leaves are only in yellow. The base color is a vivid green, and the leaves are large and oval in shape with pointed ends and a glossy finish. This is a popular outdoor plant, though it will only survive in areas free from frost.

Banana

The Banana Croton has unusually shaped leaves of around eight inches long. Each leaf is a long and stretched oval shape with rounded ends, similar to that of a banana. The leaves are a mid-green, with some remaining solid in color, and others having a yellow veining and yellow edges.

Red Iceton

This is a very interesting variety of Croton, as the leaves change color as they grow. New leaves will be a yellow-green color that then fades to a purple-red color as the plant ages.

Mammy

Croton 'Mammy' (codiaeum variegatum)
Codiaeum variegatum 'Mammy' - Credit to javierahr

This incredibly unusual plant is a feast for the eyes. The long and slender leaves twist into a corkscrew shape, looking similar to party streamers. The leaf shape alone would be an interesting ornamental feature, but this plant also has the capability to produce startling, brightly colored leaves when grown in bright light. However, if grown in low or medium light, the leaves usually remain green or dull tones of red and purple

Mother and Daughter

Codiaeum variegatum 'Mother and Daughter'
Codiaeum variegatum 'Mother and Daughter' - Credit to Mokkie

This unusual plant is named Mother and Daughter because of each leaf having two parts. The first part, the mother, is long and slender, and where it comes to a point at which the leaf would usually end, the center vein extends out of the main leaf and then, holds a second, smaller leaf called the daughter. The leaves also have interesting variegation in shades of green and red.

Picasso’s Paintbrush

Codiaeum variegatum 'Picassos Paintbrush'
Codiaeum variegatum 'Picassos Paintbrush' - Credit to David Stang

With long, narrow leaves, this grassy-looking plant in shades of green, yellow, red, and purple, is very striking to look at. The thin strands of leaves could be a solid color, while others have different-colored edging or dappling.

Oak Leaf

Codiaeum variegatum 'Oakleaf'
Codiaeum variegatum 'Oakleaf' - Credit to javierahr

This Croton, unsurprisingly, has oak leaf-shaped foliage, though the leaves are usually much larger than that of an oak tree. They have a waxy finish, with a base color of green, veined with shades of red, purple, and yellow.


How’s your Croton doing? Which variety do you like best? Let us know in the comments below. We’ll also be happy to answer any questions you might have. And remember to share this page with your “green thumb” friends!

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