The Best Tips for Cultivating Showy Garden Croton Indoors

Codiaeum variegatum

Tropical garden croton, Codiaeum variegatum, makes a spectacular houseplant.

A member of the genus Codiaeum in the Euphorbiaceae, or spurge, family, it is not to be confused with the “true croton” species of the genus Croton, also in the spurge family.

If you’ve vacationed where it’s warm and humid, you’ve probably been awed by this brightly-colored shrub.

There are many cultivars with glossy, leather-like leaves in various shapes. Colors range from yellow and green to red and almost black, with patches, speckles, or veins of contrasting colors.

Closeup of two clusters of green flowers with yellow veins, and leaves in a variety of main and vein colors including red, orange, yellow, and green, growing in bright sunlight against a dark green background, printed with green and white text.

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Flowering is infrequent, and consists of pendant-style clusters of tiny yellow blossoms that pale in comparison to a breathtaking backdrop of richly-hued foliage.

Also known as rushfoil, Joseph’s coat, and variegated laurel, this slow-growing evergreen perennial is native to Australia and Southeast Asia.

Those living in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 to 12 may cultivate it outdoors year-round, and the rest of us can enjoy it as an annual, or indoors as a houseplant.

Closeup top-down vertical image of the variegated and colorful leaves of a garden croton.
Photo by Nan Schiller.

Ready to grow your own? We’ll teach you how! Here’s what’s ahead in this article:

Let’s get started.

The Care and Feeding of C. variegatum

Choose a sunny placement with a south, west, or southwest exposure that is draft-free, and always above 60 degrees.

A large red, green and yellow potted croton plant in a large orange plastic pot, against a dark green wall divided by a white chair rail and off-white above that, with a picture in a black frame and a sunny window.
Photo by Nan Schiller.

If you lack adequate daylight, you may try a grow light, like the Dual Head LED Clamp Grow Light, available from Wayfair. Plants that don’t get enough sunlight are likely to be less colorful.

Double-necked grow light, shining purple and blue light onto plant specimens, with a dark purple background.

Newhouse Lighting Dual Head LED Clamp Grow Light

Your new croton is likely to come in a grower’s pot. If you want to upgrade to a sturdier, more decorative container, choose one with a drainage hole and a drip tray.

Place a layer of pea gravel in the bottom of the pot, and fill with a good quality potting soil, such as Miracle-Gro Indoor Potting Mix, available from Amazon.

Miracle-Gro Indoor Potting Mix, 6 Quart (2 Pack)

You may add a liquid houseplant food like Miracle-Gro Indoor Liquid Plant food, available from Amazon. This is the product of choice in my family. To use, dilute it to half-strength and apply it once a month during the  active spring through summer growth period.

Miracle-Gro Indoor Plant Food

When the surface of the soil becomes dry to the touch, it’s time to water at soil level and mist the leaves. You may leave a little water in the drip tray to add to the moisture in the environment.

Garden Croton Houseplant Facts

  • Approximately 3 feet tall at maturity
  • Showy, variegated foliage
  • Sun-loving
  • Moist, well-drained potting soil
  • Slow-release fertilizer
  • Temperate setting

Green, red, and yellow croton plants growing outdoors in the sunshine.

Please note that this ornamental plant is toxic if ingested, and its sap may cause skin irritation.

On Repotting, Pests, and Propagation

Crotons grow slowly. Over time, you may notice that you are watering more frequently, or that your plant isn’t as perky as it used to be. If so, may be time to repot.

To be certain, examine the drainage holes. If you see roots poking through, it’s time. Spring is the best time for repotting, as your plant is feeling especially vigorous.

Green and yellow croton with tiny new leaves growing at the center, in a terra cotta colored plastic flower pt filled with grown soil, against a dark green wall with bright white baseboard.
Photo by Nan Schiller.

This is where some folks err on the side of generosity, myself included. When you repot a houseplant, choose the next size up, or in other words, a pot that is only an inch or two wider in diameter than the current container.

A pot that is too deep will encourage excessive root growth, rather than lush foliage.

Closeup of variegated green and yellow, orange and green, or red and green alternating leaves of a croton plant, with a white wall and window in the background.
Photo by Nan Schiller.

To repot, first take note of how deep your plant sits in its old pot. You’ll want to replicate this depth in the new one. Gently ease your plant out of its old pot, dirt and all. Remove most of the  old potting mix and tease the roots apart.

Your new pot should be clean and have a drainage hole. Cover the bottom with pea gravel and pour in new potting medium to a depth of about one-third the total depth of the pot.

A blooming croton flower with tiny, fluffy, white blossoms on a long red stalk, with pale yellow and green leaves.
Croton flowers are tiny, blooming down the length of a long stalk. Photo by Nan Schiller.

Center your plant in the new pot, at the same depth it was in the old pot. Holding the plant with one hand, use your other to fill in around it with potting medium. Don’t fill to the top, but rather, leave a little space to prevent watering spillover.

Tamp down gently, water, and tamp again. Your freshly repotted plant may droop or drop leaves until it regains its composure. Give it time to acclimate, and resist the urge to fertilize for at least a few weeks.

A small yellow and green spotted croton plant with drooping leaves, planted in a green decorative ceramic pot filed with dark brown soil, on a glass table with a black stained wood frame, next to a tall blue glass vase, in front of a window.
A small C. variegatum aucubaefolia ‘Gold Dust’ with a spotted pattern, in failing health after repotting. Photo by Allison Sidhu.

To prevent transplant shock, you can also water with tepid rather than cool or cold water.

A healthy croton is not prone to disease or insects. However, a plant weakened by too much or too little water, or one that is shocked by a change in environment, may be vulnerable to aphids, mealybugs, scale, or spider mites.

A small C. variegatum aucubaefolia 'Gold Dust' plant in an orange plastic pot inside a square bamboo pot, growing in bright sunshine in front of a window.
The same plant before it was repotted, in better health. Photo by Allison Sidhu.

Periodically wipe your plant’s leaves down with a soft, damp cloth. You’ll not only keep them glossy, but if there’s trouble brewing, you’ll see it right away.

And if you do notice pests, try spraying them away with neem oil, available on Amazon.

Garden Safe Neem Oil Extract Concentrate

Friends are sure to admire your new favorite houseplant, so why not try your hand at propagation so you can give them one of their very own?

It’s easy! Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Wear gloves to prevent contact with stem sap, and select a branch with new growth.
  2. Use shears, like our favorite Felco F-2 pruners, to make a clean cut cross the branch about six inches below the tip.
  3. Remove the lowest leaves, if necessary, to reveal at least an inch of stem.
  4. Place your cutting in water or rooting medium until roots form. This may take several weeks.
  5. When roots have developed, pot as described above, and your new plant (or plants) will be ready to go!
A green, red, and yellow croton plant growing in a terra cotta colored plastic pot, in a room with a half green and half white wall, with a white chair rail in between.
Photo by Nan Schiller.

If you’re ready to get started with your first plant and you don’t have a friend or acquaintance with clippable cuttings at the ready, these can be purchased in garden centers or online as well. Let’s take a look…

Where to Buy

There are so many different cultivars to choose from, it’s going to be tough to pick just one!

A close up square image of a 'Petra' croton plant in a wicker basket indoors.

C. variegatum ‘Petra’

C. variegatum ‘Petra’ is available from Fast Growing Trees in a six-inch or a three-gallon pot. Elliptical green leaves are lavishly veined in yellow and red.

C. variegatum ‘Mammey’ in 6-inch Pot

C. variegatum ‘Mammey’ is available from Amazon in a 6-inch pot. Multi-colored, twisting, elongated leaves are accented with red and yellow.

C. variegatum ‘Banana’ in 3-inch Pot

C. variegatum ‘Banana’ is available from Amazon in a 3-inch pot. Elongated, twisting leaves are speckled and veined with yellow.

Costa Farms Croton Grower’s Choice Assortment, 4-Pack

And for those who can’t pick just one, 4 assorted C. variegatum are also available from Amazon, in 3.8-inch pots.

A Croton to Love

I know you’re going to love having a garden croton in the house. Let me tell you about the one that lives at ours.

A tall croton plant in a terra cotta colored plastic pot on top of a short black wooden stepping stool, next to a yellow and green snake plant in a blue ceramic pot, against a blue and white wall, on a beige tile floor, next to a window with sunshine streaming through.
Photo by Nan Schiller.

When my daughter arrived at college, the freshmen were given a tiny plant for their dorm room windowsills. She received a C. variegatum ‘Petra.’ Most of the students’ plants didn’t live to see Christmas, but my daughter’s not only survived, it thrived, and she named it “Jules.”

Jules came home in May and went back to school in August for four years, and never dropped her leaves. This girl was a champ!

After graduation, Jules came to live in my daughter’s empty bedroom, the sunniest room in the house. All was well until the day I went in and found her down to one leaf. Did I forget to water, or was she unhappy with her new surroundings?

A croton plant in a blue decorative ceramic flower pot, next to a book shelf, a spray bottle of perfume, and an orange wooden box, with a white background.
The same plant, when it was smaller. Notice that the snake plant pictured in the image above is now growing in this pot! Photo by Allison Sidhu.

Either way, I am happy to report that crotons are quite resilient, and with a little TLC from my dad’s very green thumb, Jules made a full recovery. Now, at the ripe old age of 14, she occupies her own corner of the dining room.

If you’ve never grown a big houseplant, now’s the time to make room for garden croton. It’s sure to become part of the family!

Feel free to share your comments, questions, and advice in the comments section below.

And for more houseplant care tips, be sure to check these guides out:

Photos by Nan Schiller and Allison Sidhu © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Fast Growing Trees, Newhouse Lighting, Miracle-Gro, Garden Safe, and Costa Farms.

Photo of author


Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!
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Charleen (@guest_4026)
4 years ago

Beautiful! Been growing mine for 20 years!

Joselyn Boatwright
Joselyn Boatwright (@guest_4974)
Reply to  Charleen
4 years ago

growing my plant for 3 months, how tall does it get?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Joselyn Boatwright
4 years ago

Croton grows slowly, but it can reach a max height of 3-8 feet and a spread of 3-6 feet, particularly when grown outdoors in the ground in warm zones. My houseplant started at just a few inches tall when I got it 15 years ago, and it is now about 3 feet tall with a 2-foot spread.

Joselyn Boatwright
Joselyn Boatwright (@guest_4975)
Reply to  Charleen
4 years ago

How tall is your plant, and does the leaves fall off fast.

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Joselyn Boatwright
4 years ago

Leaves will fall off when the plant is stressed or if it’s receiving too much or too little water. Sometimes this is a response to repotting. In well-draining soil with moderate, regular watering (not overwatering!) and plenty of sunlight, it should perk up again and start putting out new leaves if you give it some time.

Jennifer (@guest_9600)
Reply to  Joselyn Boatwright
3 years ago

My leaves haven’t fallen off but it’s gone so flat and as soon as I water it it perks right back up lol I thought I killed it and must be 3 ft

David (@guest_4980)
4 years ago

Thank you for the tip about misting, I’ve been searching for care information. Our Kaede (a favorite Japanese name, and a pun on the Latin word for a gory scene [caede] since she loves to show off crimson leaves) has been less than happy of late, and every little bit helps.

Marcia Brown
Marcia Brown (@guest_5066)
4 years ago

Thanks for all the good information. I have a Mamey in a pot that’s about 2 1/2 feet tall. Can this be pruned ? If so, how do I go about it? Thanks.

Barb (@guest_5102)
4 years ago

Will croton do well in a self watering pot?

Barb (@guest_5156)
Reply to  Nan Schiller
4 years ago

Thank you

Steven Nichols
Steven Nichols (@guest_5482)
4 years ago

Hi..just bought one and it seems stressed..I also noticed small bugs and a type of webbing on the this normal?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Steven Nichols
4 years ago

These plants will often experience stress after a transplant or change of environment, and this will make them more susceptible to pests and disease. With time and given the proper conditions, it should recover.

What do the small bugs look like?

Make sure yours is planted in a well-draining pot, and don’t overwater. Provide plenty of sunlight. If you think you have mealybugs, clean off the leaves and stems gently with cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol. Yellow sticky fly traps that you stick into your pots with a stake can help if you have flying insects. Good luck!

Kenny Hartman
Kenny Hartman (@guest_5563)
4 years ago

My sister sent a very nice croton when I was in the hospital. We took it home after I was released. A few days later, maybe a week, I noticed it was dropping leaves like crazy. With all of the things going on after I left the hospital Kerry was ignored. I did some quick research and watered it and sprayed the leaves. I have kept it alive but it’s not growing any new leaves. Southern exposure, indirect light. 10″ pot with seven stalks four of which have leaves. It’s very important I keep this plant alive. My sister bought… Read more »

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Kenny Hartman
4 years ago

Thanks for your question, Kenny. This sounds like a wonderful memorial to your friend. Leaf drop in crotons is actually a common problem in response to stress, which can result after a plant is moved or transplanted. Though it may take a few months, given plenty of light in a well-draining pot, as long as you avoid overwatering, it should come back. My own croton, which is about 15 years old now, has experienced leaf drop several times, particularly after moves.

Leanna Brunk
Leanna Brunk (@guest_5622)
4 years ago

I was just in Belize and picked a couple stems off of a bush that looked alot like a Croton and I’m wondering how to keep it alive? How do I grow roots? Do I just put the stem in dirt? Or am I crazy for even trying? ????

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Leanna Brunk
4 years ago

If it is in fact a croton, these can be grown from cuttings. Try dipping the cut ends in a little powdered rooting hormone and plant in well-draining potting soil in a sunny location. Don’t be surprised if the leaves fall off- these plants don’t respond well to stress, but they may still survive and produce new leaves with a little TLC. Good luck!

Mic (@guest_5823)
4 years ago

Just got a croton and it handled its move quite well. Although it does seem to be in very rough soil (with mulch-like material on top, not just regular potting soil) and the water instantly runs thru the pot and out the bottom, although it felt completely dry.
Is my plant getting adequate water? Should I add some regular potting soil?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Mic
4 years ago

Thanks for your message, Mic. I’ve been having the same problem lately with my potted Dracaena- the coarse potting soil that I used allows the majority of the water to run right through, and the tips of plant leaves dry out quickly. I would suggest mixing in some regular potting soil and removing some of the coarse/mulch-like mix. However, keep in mind that crotons do not respond well to the stress of repotting- if you can water in a bathtub or sink instead where you won’t need to worry about excess water running out onto your furniture or the floor,… Read more »

Jennifer (@guest_7687)
3 years ago

I’ve never had a croton but finally bought one and it is growing beautifully and it’s in the middle of my room not even close to a window so that’s where she will stay so nice

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Jennifer
3 years ago

Wishing you and your new houseplant all the best! Keep in mind that croton appreciates sunny conditions.

Frances (@guest_7751)
3 years ago

I have had my plant for many years and it has lost all leaves at the bottom about 16 inches. Is there anything I can do to get some leaves growing where it is bare.

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Frances
3 years ago

Crotons can be very sensitive to changes in their environment, and will often drop leaves when they’re stressed. Larger plants also tend to form more of a tree shape, with less lush branches at the bottom. There’s nothing that I know of that you can do to guarantee new growth on the bare portions, but with regular watering and adequate sunlight, your plant may put out new growth in these areas. Applying a bit of balanced fertilizer can help to encourage new growth as well. Over the decade-plus that I had mine, it lost many of its leaves on more… Read more »