Croton Care Codiaeum variegatum
This small evergreen shrub, species cultivated for many years from the monsoon tropics of South India, Ceylon and Malaya and Indonesia, has become numerous varieties that can be grown as houseplants. The magnificently colorful leaves can be long and thin or broad and rounded, straight or twisted, entire or lobed. The splashes of color become more pronounced as they age and the combinations of yellow, pink, red, orange, purple and nearly black are very festive within the glossy dark green, leathery leaf. They can be spotted, veined, speckled and striped. The size of the leaf ranges from 3-4” to 6” wide (8-10 cm to 15 cm) and 3” to 18” (8 cm to 45 cm) long and the plant ranges from 12” to 5’ tall (30 cm to 1.5 m) and 3’ (1 m) wide. They will grow quickly with the proper care and will be a beautiful, showy plant in your home.
Light and Temperature
The Croton will do best with at least 6 hours of indirect bright light and the more light the more color you will see in the leaves. As you can see in this picture the new leaves are a beautiful shiny green but the older leaves have a lot of red. There would be the red color in the new leaves also if this plant was given more light. Provide 12 hours of light if using artificial means. Daytime temperatures of 75° – 85°F (24-30°C) and nights of 65°F (18°C) are ideal from spring through fall. They must be kept away from drafts or the leaves will dry and fall. They can be kept slightly cooler through inactive growing months, preferably not less than 60°F (15°C).
Keep the soil just moist from early spring through fall and cut back to watering it only when the medium is dry about 2/3’s down the root ball from late fall through the winter. No water can remain in the saucer so empty it after you see the water run through or the roots may rot. A pebble tray of water will help provide some necessary humidity as will an occasional misting. A bright bathroom would be a great location. It will love the steam from showers and even its own occasional shower. This is a great way to keep the leaves dusted so they can ‘breathe’.
A basic soil based media mix of 1 part loam, 1 part light compost or leaf mold, 1 part sphagnum peat, 1 part coarse sand and 1 T. dolomite limestone (to help lower the acidity) per gallon of medium will be a good mix for this plant. Good drainage is essential.
Begin feeding in the spring with a diluted 10-10-10 fertilizer and use twice a month until fall. When you re-pot your plant do not feed it until the following spring.
You may get 3-4” (8-10 cm) long racemes with insignificant little cream colored flowers on a mature plant in late winter or early spring.
Pests and Problems
Humidity and air circulation – but not drafts – will help keep the scale and red spider mite infestations away.
Humidity and warmth will help keep the leaves from drying and falling. Dry air may cause a mildew-like appearance on the leaves and these leaves will fall.
Each year or two, if your plant is growing rapidly as these normally do, you can re-pot into the next size pot in the spring using a light, well-draining, medium as described above. When it gets to a size you like you can top-dress and prune rather than re-potting. The cuttings you prune off are perfect for propagation.
Stem cuttings can be taken from January through June and, using a rooting hormone, put into a very light medium but may only root properly in a heated, humid greenhouse. Propagation can also be done by air-layering. The milky sap can be irritating to skin.
A good pruning in the early spring just as active growth is beginning will encourage dense growth.
The common name croton is misleading because within the Euphorbiaceae family there is the genus Croton which is a different plant than the genus Codiaeum which is the one cultivated as the popular houseplant. Also commonly called ‘Joseph’s Coat’ due to the many colors.
var. C. ‘Acucbaefolium’ – has small, thin bright glossy green leaves spotted with yellow.
var. C. ‘Duke of Windsor – has wide linear leaves, wider at the base, of deep green with gold to orange centers, red midrib with red-orange margin.
var. C. ‘Imperialis’ – has almost entirely yellow elliptic leaves on a small compact plant and does well indoors.
var. C. ‘Mona Lisa’ – has large, broad ovate leaves lobed with the young growth almost entirely creamy-white edged in green. As they age the center and ribs have reddish tints and the green turns olive or coppery.
var. C. ‘Norwood Beauty’ – has oak leaf shaped leaves and is commonly known as ‘oakleaf croton’. The tough 3 lobed leaves are dark green with bronze to brownish red edges with yellow veins.
var. C. ‘Punctatum aureum’ – has narrow linear, dark glossy green leathery leaves with yellow spots. It is considered a miniature plant, as these are shrubs in the wild, but the leaves still get to 12” (30 cm).