Crotons (Codiaeum varegatum) are native to India, Malaysia and the South Pacific. Tropical in nature and having a low cold tolerance, they grow best in the tropical and subtropical regions of the United States where freezes and frosts are not annual events. Areas of the country that experience annual frosts and freezes should plant crotons inside containers.
There are many cultivars of crotons that have various shaped and colored leaves, but all have the same growing requirements. Leaf blades are either flat or corkscrew-shaped, ranging in mixes of yellow, red, orange, purple and green. Depending on the cultivar, crotons can grow anywhere from 3 to 10 feet in height with an approximate spread of 3 feet. Flowers bloom year-round but are small and insignificant.
Crotons prefer growing in full to partial sun conditions. The amount of light the plant receives will affect the coloration of the leaves. Plants grown in full shade conditions are more likely to have less coloration in their leaves. Plants grown in full sun conditions with no shade will have a tendency for the reds to have a washed-out look and not be vibrant. For best leaf coloration, it is best to grow crotons in an area that receives 75 percent sun and 25 percent shade throughout the day. Place crotons grown indoors in a high light area for best performance.
Crotons will grow quite well if planted directly into native soils that are sandy or peat-based. Due to micronutrient deficiencies, gardeners should avoid planting crotons in rocky soils. Plants require the soil they are growing in to drain well, as crotons planted in saturated sites develop root rot and die. Plant your container-grown crotons in a potting mix that drains well and has organic matter in it.
Water and Fertilization
Watering outdoor grown crotons with 1 inch of water weekly will be sufficient, unless your area is experiencing unusually hot and dry weather. Leaves will have a tendency to become droopy when water is required. Crotons are relatively drought tolerant once established in the landscape. Container-grown plants will require water one to two times per week. Apply a layer of mulch around the plant to hold the soil's moisture, keeping it approximately 6 inches from the trunk.
Fertilize container-grown crotons every 2 weeks with a water-soluble liquid fertilizer such as 10-10-10. Crotons grown in the ground will benefit with an application of an all-purpose 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer applied every 2 to 3 months during the growing season.
Prune the croton back by one third during its growing season in spring throughout summer. This will help the plant branch out and control its shape and size.
Cut a 3- to 6-inch tip cutting that has approximately three to five leaves. Remove the bottom two leaves, place the cutting into an equally portioned mix of perlite and peat moss, and keep the soil moist while the roots develop, which will take approximately 4 weeks.