Croton plant, Codiaeum variegatum, also known as Joseph’s coat after the fabled coat of many colors, is a popular houseplant – though beautiful however – be warned, it is known for being quite a fussy plant to grow.
What is Croton Plant?
This tropical, evergreen plant belongs to the Euphorbiaceae plant family, and like other members of its family, it is toxic. It is important to wear gloves when handling it, to keep it away from children and pets, and to take care that the sap does not get into your eyes.
Croton plant is native to Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, and the western Pacific Ocean islands, where it naturally grows in open forests and scrubland areas. It is also sometimes referred to as garden croton, to distinguish it from the genus Croton, also within the Euphorbiaceae plant family.
Depending on the specific variety of garden croton, these plants can have leaves in different shapes and colors, ranging from green through yellow, orange, and red, to purplish and bronzish hues. The leaves can also be richly patterned.
This is of course why these plants are in demand as foliage plants to grow indoors.
Where to Grow Croton Plant
Many of the things you need to know about the environmental conditions these plants require can be ascertained by thinking about the conditions in their native range. We need to mimic natural conditions as closely as we can when growing these plants indoors.
These are plants that require plenty of bright light to thrive. A spot located close to an east or west-facing window will generally be ideal, since this will allow the plant to receive plenty of sun, but also provide a little shade from the most intense sun during the middle of the day.
In an east-facing window, the plant will get morning sun. In a west-facing window, it will have plenty of sun later in the afternoon. In a south-facing window, sun scorch may occur, so this will not be ideal. And a north-facing window in the northern hemisphere will not give enough light.
When these plants do not get enough light, their leaves will tend not to be as colorful.
Temperature & Humidity Requirements
These plants need temperatures to remain above 15 degrees Celsius at all times. Avoid placing them in a location where temperatures plunge precipitously at night, where there are cold draughts, or where a heat source like a radiator, oven, or stove is too close by. They will do best where the temperatures remain warm but not too hot, and as stable as possible.
Humid conditions are also important for growing croton plants indoors. Make sure that humidity remains high by grouping houseplants together, misting, and/or placing pebble trays below the pot in which a Croton plant is grown.
Soil/ Growing Medium
It is important to choose a suitable growing medium for these plants – one that will remain consistently moist throughout spring and summer but which will not become waterlogged and from which excess water can drain away freely.
A soil-based potting mix is best, whether you purchase a commercial one or make your own. Use this to fill a pot that is just a little larger than the pot in which your plant came.
Planting Croton Plant
Remember when potting up a Croton plant that it is toxic and that you should take care and wear gloves when handling this plant. Make sure that when you are planting it, you place it at the same depth in its new container that it was in its previous one.
Caring for Croton Plant
Since these plants can be pretty fussy, the first and most important thing, if you want to grow them indoors, is to make sure their environmental needs are met. Once light, and growing medium are sorted, watering correctly will be the main concern. That too is something that you need to get right to grow Croton well.
Croton plant is a bit of a Goldilocks and you have to make sure that you keep the growing medium ‘just right’ – neither too dry nor too wet. Keep the growing medium moist but make sure it does not become waterlogged and always make sure excess water can drain away freely.
You should also use tepid water, not frigid water, so as not to shock these plants. And should water far less in winter than you do during the main growing season. In winter, let the top few centimeters of the growing medium dry out before you water once more.
Croton plants grown indoors should be fed every couple of weeks with a balanced, organic houseplant fertilizer during spring and summer. But as with watering, reduce this significantly or stop feeding altogether through the winter months.
Pruning should generally be kept to a minimum. But leggy plants can be cut back hard to around 10cm and their wounds dusted with powdered charcoal to reduce bleeding of the sap.
Most of the problems encountered when growing croton occur due to an issue with the growing conditions or care. These plants can also have issues with red spider mites, scale insects, and other common houseplant pests on occasion.
Repot only when the plants become root bound, which will typically be every 2-3 years or so. Remember to wear protection and take care when handling these plants. And choose a new pot just slightly larger than the last one.
If you have a croton plant you love, you might consider propagating it by carefully taking softwood cuttings. Though this can be challenging and so is not necessarily best for beginners, it is a good way to obtain new Croton plants for your home.