Plant Profile: Croton

If you’re looking for a houseplant to add color and drama to your home, consider croton (Codiaeum variegatum), a plant that comes in a variety of leaf shapes and colors, is relatively easy to grow and can go outside in the summer.

croton leavesA member of the euphorbia family, croton is native to Indonesia, Australia and Malaysia, where it is a tropical evergreen shrub that can grow up to 10 feet tall. The ones in your home can get large, but not that big. In a happy indoor situation, croton will grow to about 3 feet high with lush appearance. People grow these plants for their fascinating leaves, which can be small or a foot long, variegated or solid, twisty, curvy or flat and straight. The leaves are shiny, too, and the colors practically vibrate they are so bold.

Plant Needs

Croton like to be placed in a bright room, but out of direct sunlight. An east or south-facing room would be fine as long as the plant is not in harsh, direct sun for hours each day. If it gets too much sun, the leaves will burn. Too little sun will result in leaves that are mostly green rather than the bright yellows, reds and oranges that croton often show. There is some variation in light need among croton varieties, so check the plant tag. Croton plants also do poorly if they are next to a cold window. These plants like temperatures in the 65 to 80 degree range—they don’t like drafts.

Crotons should be planted in a well-drained potting mix. While the plant is tropical and likes some humidity, you do not want to let the roots sit in water. You also do not want the plant to go completely dry. Most recommendations call for watering crotons when the top 1/2 inch of the soil is dry. Crotons tend to need more frequent, light waterings, which is different from many other plants.

It’s Not You, It’s the Croton

Croton plants have a bit of a reputation for being finicky, and part of that is because they tend to lose their leaves when new plant owners bring them home. Fear not! It’s not you, it’s just that crotons do not like to be moved. As long as it has good soil, sun and water, leave it alone. Once acclimated to your home, your little croton will be sprouting leaves with abandon.

A Few Things to Note  . . .

  • Cat owners should be aware that crotons are toxic if ingested and the bright leaves tend to attract cats. The leaves taste terrible, so accidental poisonings are rare, but possible. Check out our list of non-toxic houseplants for pet owners, if that is a concern for you.
  • You can move your croton outside—in fact, I’ve seen stunning summer containers with crotons and other tropicals, such as elephant ears or canna.
  • If the croton seems like too much work, check out our list of five super easy houseplants.


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