Crotons are a leafy plant with several varieties. The leaves, if exposed to large amounts of sun, turn various colors of brilliant reds, oranges, maroons, browns and yellows. Although a native of the tropics, crotons may be grown in parts of southern United States. They also are wonderful house plants, but need exposure to sun for their full range of colors to develop.
Crotons (codiaeum variegatum) are of the euphorbiaceae family, which includes poinsettia, crown of thorns and the pencil bush. Native to the tropics, the majority of croton species are found in the Indo-Malayan region. To a lesser degree, they can be found in the tropical Americas and Africa. Some crotons will also thrive in the warm climates of the southern United States.
A small shrub, crotons can grow up to 6 feet in height. Their leaves are large and leathery in appearance. Crotons are best known for their leaf’s brilliant color patterns and shapes. When newly grown, the leaves of the croton are green. As the plant matures, the leaves gradually develop fascinating colors.
There are many types of crotons, most often defined by the leaf type. Broad-leaf crotons have extremely large leaves. The oak-leaf croton sports leaves whose structure is identical to that of an oak leaf. Smaller crotons include the narrow-leaf croton and the small-leaf croton. The spiral-leaf croton boasts narrow, curly leaves.
There are three methods to propagate a croton. Greenwood cuttings are taken at the beginning of June, and may be 4 to 12 inches long. Place the cutting into a pot of sand and peat. Leaf bud cuttings must be cut just below the leaf where the leaf bud ends. Place the cutting into a mixture of sand and peat. Softwood cuttings involve removing the outer layer of bark on a croton branch. Using plastic wrap, secure a ball of moist sphagnum moss to the cut. Tape each end of the plastic wrap so no air gets in. When roots can be seen protruding through the sphagnum moss, cut the branch just below them. Place the newly rooted cutting into soil.
Croton’s beautiful leaves get their color through exposure to the sun. Plants placed in shady areas will have more green leaves and less varied color. Plant crotons in rich soil, amended with peat or loam. Fertilize each spring with a fertilizer high in acid. Cover your crotons with a sheet if cold weather is predicted. Should your crotons lose their leaves due to cold, keep the plant well watered and the leaves will return.