Fertilizing Croton Plants: When and How To Fertilize Crotons

I know the feeling. You are standing in front of bags of fertilizer at the big box store and wondering which Croton fertilizer to pick. 

Do you pick the granular fertilizer, slow-release fertilizer, or a water-soluble liquid fertilizer? Does one croton variety like the Croton petra plant want a different plant food than Croton Mammy? So many choices!

Croton fertilizerPin

Well known for its colorful foliage, and vibrant leaves the croton (Codiaeum variegatum) is a visual treat. Learn tips on Croton Plant care.

From the golden yellow-splotched ‘Gold Dust’ to ‘Oakleaf’ and its foliage that resembles oak leaves in autumn, there’s plenty to love about these non-flowering beauties.

Even more appealing is the relatively low maintenance requirements of the many croton varieties.

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One of the biggest concerns raised by people just starting out is what fertilizers work best.

This is one area where your choice can mean the difference between a nice plant and a real showstopper, so let’s take a moment and talk diet.

What Type Of Fertilizer Should I Use On My Croton Plants?

Crotons can use a wide range of plant foods.

However, they fare best with something high in both nitrogen and potassium.

Good NPK Goals

As mentioned, crotons have certain dietary needs, and a mix that focuses on this works really well.

Try to aim for a fertilizer that doesn’t have a balanced NPK.

NPK stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, so you’ll want a lower-middle number.

More on NPK fertilizer

Two good target ratios for croton fertilizer are 3-1-2 and 8-2-10.

The first has more nitrogen, while the second has more potassium.

As a result, you may find yourself switching between two different fertilizers depending on your croton’s soil quality.

NOTE: When growing the croton plant as an indoor plant a liquid fertilizer would probably best the best choice.

When To Feed Crotons

Following the dosage of fertilizer instructions on the package, give your croton a feeding in around late February or early March when using a slow-release fertilizer. This is just when the growing season is getting started.

Be sure the fertilizer is evenly spread along the surface to a 1′ foot radius for a shrub in the landscape or the width of your croton’s container.

Gently add water so the fertilizer will soak into the soil.

Repeat again in late May.

A third feeding in mid-July can be of benefit to younger croton plants.

Avoid feeding the plant in autumn, as this may interrupt the plant’s ability to prepare for overwintering.

When using a regular fertilizer, it’s better to do light monthly feedings throughout the growing season.

Reduce this to once every other month during winter.

Remember, crotons tend to be mostly dormant in the wintertime, so it’s easy to overfeed them.

Dangers of Overfeeding

Speaking of overfeeding, it’s always better to give your croton too little fertilizer than too much.

The first sign you’re likely to see is a dulling of the leaf colors.

When you spot dull leaves, ask yourself how recently the planet was fed.

This symptom can have several causes, but spotting it soon after a feeding means you may have found the problem.

Root damage is another possible consequence that isn’t directly visible but can lead to a number of symptoms such as:

  • Stunted plant growth
  • Leaf loss or leaf drop

Phosphorus and other substances in the fertilizer have the potential to cause chemical burns when too much comes into contact with the roots.

The resulting damage can become irreversible if left untreated.

If you suspect the plant’s roots have been affected by overfertilization, an emergency soil transplant may be necessary.

This can shock the plant, so perform the transplant with care and avoid adding fertilizer to fresh potting soil for a month or more to ensure your croton’s roots have time to recover.

Why Autumn Fertilizing Can Be Bad

When using any form of timed-release fertilizer, it’s best to avoid feeding in the fall and winter months.

Croton leaves harden as the plant prepares to go dormant for the winter.

Unlike powder and liquid plant fertilizers, a timed-release option releases the nutrients over time, and the dosage can’t be controlled.

As a result, the timed-release fertilizer can stimulate the plant and cause it to continue growing.

When winter hits, the plant may be too tender to withstand the colder weather and be damaged or even killed.

This is why many croton enthusiasts avoid the timed-release options.

Instead, measuring small amounts of liquid or granular fertilizer allows you to continue feeding in the fall with minimal risk.

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