Crotons – Colorful Plants for Indoors Use

Question: We had many a croton plant growing outdoors in Florida when I was growing up and I remember them being so colorful.

Can crotons be grown indoors and bring all their vibrant color inside? Matt, New York

Answer: Matt, you are correct, croton plants do produce some intense colors. There are many croton varieties with an array of many leaf shapes and are excellent additions to a patio, deck or terrace as planted or as potted specimens. Just like coffee plant care, indoors crotons need lots of light to keep their color.

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The croton has been used as a house plant and also grown as a hedge. Let me give you some background on the croton plant care along with some history.

Crotons A Codiaeum?

When you talk about crotons – actuality you are talking about the “croton” plants from the genus Codiaeum which is different from the genus Croton in the same family. It may be confusing but they all seem to get lumped into the same group.
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Crotons are native to the Old World Tropics and the most commonly grown variety Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum is native to the Pacific Islands and Malay Peninsula.

Popular in South Florida Landscapes

Crotons have been popular for many years in tropical gardens of areas like south Florida and have only in the last 20-25 years become popular potted indoor plants. Most of the varieties grown during the 1970’s experienced considerable leaf drop when moving the plant indoors.

CrotonPetra

Crotons are a small shrub and can reach a height of 5-6 feet. The leaves are leathery and start out green and gradually change color as it matures.

Before the 1970’s

Crotons were used many years ago, not as a potted plant, but in colorful arrangements. Back before South Beach, Disney World, Legoland, Universal Studios and the Cuban missile crisis, Miami Beach was a vacation spot in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Croton leaves were used to add color and decorate the interiors of hotels.

During those days crotons were used and still are today in the outdoor landscape of South Florida. They come in many shapes and a rainbow of colors, reds, pinks, yellows, rust, orange, even some purples to name a few.

Crotons are unique in that it is possible to root only the leaves. These rooted leaves were then planted into low coffee table arrangements that added color and lasted for 2-3 months.

Today, many interiorscapers use mums, bromeliads and orchids phalaenopsis for color rotation and year round color indoors.

Over the last 20 years new varieties have been developed in Europe and introduced to the US marketplace. These new introductions are able to maintain their color and leaves under lower light levels. A few of these popular varieties produced are Croton Mammy, Croton Norma and Croton Petra.

One place you’ll see crotons used to greatly show off their attractive colorful leaves is at theme parks. Crotons pack lots of color when grown in a large pot and given plenty of light. Here’s a few from Legoland in Winter Haven Florida.

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Large potted Croton used for color at Legoland theme park – Winter Haven, Florida Sept 2016

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Large potted long leaved Croton used outdoors for color – Legoland theme park, Winter Haven, Florida Sept 2016

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Large “corkscrew” Croton planted in ground Legoland theme park – Winter Haven, Florida Sept 2016

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Planted in ground “corkscrew” Croton at Legoland theme park – Winter Haven, Florida Sept 2016

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Colorful “corkscrew” Croton growing in shade. Legoland theme park – Winter Haven, Florida Sept 2016

Check some of the other new varieties From Kraft Gardens

Croton Care Basics

Crotons are grown primarily for their brightly colored foliage. For this reason they need fairly high light to maintain the vibrant colors.

Croton grown as a tree outside Cheddar's Restaurant Tampa, Florida

Croton grown as a tree outside Cheddar’s Restaurant Tampa, Florida

Many new varieties will handle light levels as low as 100-200 foot candles. If the leaves are mostly green after they mature or the color intensity is poor there are a few areas to remember:

  • The plants best color will develop in bright light under cooler temperatures.
  • Plants grown during the summer have difficulty in producing good color. In summer, color improvement can be obtained with higher light, cooler temperatures and sometimes reduced fertilizer levels.
  • Development of good color during the winter is rarely a problem when proper light is provided and fertilizer rate is not excessive.

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The potting media or soil for crotons should have good aeration but not excessive drainage since crotons will wilt rapidly if they are allowed to dry out.

Down Side of Crotons

When a croton leaf is punctured, it will leak a white sap. This sap can stain clothes and irritate some people’s skin. This is not an uncommon characteristic with the croton family Euphorbiacae. One positive note, the wide range of colors far outweigh the small inconveniences caused by the sap.

In springtime keep on the look out for different varieties of croton plants in your local garden center. Remember to keep in mind the following in caring for your croton.

  • Keep the light levels up
  • Cooler temperatures help produce better color
  • Don’t over fertilize

Follow these plant care tips and your crotons can bring lots of colors indoors and out.

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