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The Croton (Codiaeum variegatum) houseplant in commonly called "Bush on Fire" due to its bright, variegated foliage. There are many varieties with red, orange, yellow, purple and/or white variegation. "Picasso's Paintbrush" is a variety with thin leaves that resemble a paintbrush dipped in various colors of paint. Finding croton to match indoor décor may take a little searching, but the payoff is worth it.
The croton plant is tropical and native to southern India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, and western Pacific Ocean islands. The tropical nature of croton may make it a little more difficult to grow compared to the average, low-maintenance houseplant.
Watering, humidity, soil, sunlight, and temperature must mimic that of tropical regions. Fertilizing will also need to take place a few times a year to keep croton flourishing. Diseases and pests may become a problem but are easily corrected and controlled.
Light Requirements for Croton
The Croton plant requires moderate to bright light, so keep the plant within 3–5 feet of a window receiving sunlight. East and west windows are usually suitable locations to place croton. The leaves of croton should be erect and reaching towards the light. The more sunlight it receives, the more vivid the foliage becomes. Those who live in tropical and semitropical regions have the fortune of planting these colorful plants outside without the fear of frost and cold winters.
- Lack of Sunlight: A lack of proper sunlight will cause the leaves to elongate and become limp. Elongated, limp leaves are generally unattractive and not a health problem. More the croton closer to the light source to reduce elongated leaves and build stronger stems.
- Sunburn: Too much direct sunlight and heat may cause the edges of the leaves to burn and discolor. Simply move the plant a little bit away from the light source and monitor the burns and leaves over time to see if burning continues. Excessive sunburn will kill foliage and even the entire plant if left unchecked.
Temperatures for Croton
Croton prefer temperatures around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures cannot fall below 60 degrees Fahrenheit; otherwise, leaves will begin to drop. Croton cannot tolerate drastic temperature shifts and will become stressed upon encountering temperature shifts. Once placed, croton should not be moved away from its location.
- Watering: Croton require somewhat heavy watering due to their tropical nature. The soil should remain slightly moist at all times and not be allowed to completely dry out. Croton will wilt when dry, and repeated wilting is detrimental to the health of croton.
- There are two main rules when watering most houseplants, croton included: water thoroughly & promote drainage. Thorough watering involves the entire root mass being watered. This builds a strong root system and moisture uptake. Drainage is very important, and water must never be left standing and become stagnant in the bottom of the growing container. Wilted leaves are an indicator of excessive watering. Pour excess water from the container to discourage diseases and root rot. Root rot is a common problem with many houseplants that are left standing in water, which can kill the plant if left uncorrected.
- When to Water: The best method to estimate when to water is by feeling the weight of the container before and after a thorough watering. Poking a finger into the soil to test for moisture will only test the upper few inches of the container.
- Misting: Tropical environments are humid, and croton require misting for the foliage to remain healthy. Mist a few times a week, or possibly once a day depending on how dry the area is. Misting helps keep moisture at an optimum level and promotes healthy foliage.
Placing a pot with drainage holes into a tray will create a little humidity. Adding gravel to the tray will slow down the rate of evaporation and increase the time between waterings.
Soil for Croton
Common potting soil works just fine for croton. Soil from the garden may also be used, as long as it is loamy and fertile. Potting soil retains moisture while allowing adequate drainage. Remember to prevent the soil from being saturated and waterlogged. Drain away excess water after watering. Waterlogged soil promotes disease, especially root rot. Root rot occurs when the roots do not receive enough air and begin to rot.
Croton should be lightly fertilized once a month during the growing season with balanced, water-soluble houseplant fertilizer or granular fertilizer (5-5-5 NPK). Croton does not require fertilizer during the winter months. Dilute by half the recommended amount listed on the fertilizer package when using a water-soluble fertilizer. Apply fertilizer solution in tandem with watering. This will prevent excess fertilizer which can cause the foliage to burn and possibly kill croton.
Granular fertilizer releases nutrients slowly over time. It can be applied on top of the soil or mixed into the soil. Granular fertilizer should still be used in small amounts to prevent damage to the plant as well.
Root Rot & Pests
- Root Rot: Root rot is by far the most common disease amongst houseplants. Root rot occurs from overwatering and letting the plant sit in stagnant water. Root rot happens when the roots do not receive enough air and begin to rot. Rooting roots will cause foliage to discolor and eventually drop. The roots will also emit a pungent smell of decaying vegetation. Curing root rot is as simple as watering less, draining excess water, and amending the soil with sand and/or perlite to promote better drainage.
- Pests: Spider mites are a common pest amongst houseplants, including croton. The mites can cause very noticeable damage. Spider mites can usually be controlled by regular misting and good air circulation. A miticide spray application may be necessary if an infestation is high. Spider mites create spider web-like structures along the stem and leaves.
Mealybugs, thrips, and scales may also become a problem. Eradication can easily be done with chemical insecticide or insecticidal soap.
Caution About Crotons
The sap may cause skin irritation. Wearing gloves or avoiding the sap is recommended. The leaves are slightly toxic when consumed. Prevent children and pets from eating live or dropped leaves. Although, the leaves have been used in herbal medicines and remedies. Never attempt to use croton, or any plant with toxic properties, as an herbal medicine unless experienced in such a field.
© 2012 Sean Hemmer
Kim on September 11, 2019:
Hello ya’ll I am a new Gardner. I bought a croton , false Aurelia and another from that tropical line. I repotted in a clay pot and used potting soil. I have a east facing kitchen window. I feel this will provide enough light. Is there anything in need to know to keep my plants alive other than water and light.? Thanks , kim
Anderson Patricia on August 01, 2018:
I have a tall, 3 ft croton. But it’s bare up to the top. How can I get it to Bush out
keli on November 06, 2017:
just bought mine now all the leaves are falling off
Sean Hemmer (author) from Wisconsin, USA on September 17, 2012:
I have yet to run into anything similar to croton in garden centers. There are a ton of varieties with varying colors and leaves. This site features a lot of varieties...
And yes, it is very possible it will grow into a large plant. My small croton has grown about 6 inches this year so far.
chrissieklinger from Pennsylvania on September 17, 2012:
I have a small plant that looks similar to this and I wonder if it is a Croton and will get that big one day???? Are there other houseplants that look similar to this?