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Codiaeum variegatum pictum (Croton / Joseph's Coat)

About the Croton Houseplant

The Croton plant indoors can be a difficult diva of a houseplant to try and grow in the home. There we've said it. Grown outside in its native country of Sri Lanka it's much easier, but indoors it's temperamental and will not accept poor treatment for very long.

But if you work with it, the Croton is a work of art and can be an extraordinary showpiece adding character to your home or office. This article will give you top tips and extensive care instructions to help keep yours looking great.

Yellow and green Croton houseplant growing in a plant pot in front of a window

Croton with vivid yellow and contrasting green leaves

The Croton you'll find growing in most homes is usually Codiaeum variegatum pictum also known commonly as Joseph's Coat because of the vivid and multicolored leaf colors. The leaves themselves come in many shapes, sizes and colors and if grown properly, make for an incredibly eye-catching houseplant.

Croton Plant Benefits

  • Attractive
    This is one of the most attractive foliage houseplants around and should last far longer than a bunch of flowers. With time it will become a medium-sized plant and bring life to an empty corner.
  • They're fairly cheap and easy to find
    Croton's are frequently sold and grown which means they're a common sight in stores and most are cheap to buy.
  • Can make for easy houseplants
    If the conditions in your home are right, this plant will thrive in your care.
  • Unusual, interesting and currently fashionable (again)
    Their foliage is very different from that of other houseplants, which is perfect if you want to grow or gift something extra special.

Although they have lots going for them, we don't recommend the Croton, or any Codiaeum plants, for the beginner, because grown as a houseplant they can be a challenge. Even for experienced plant owners, the Croton can sometimes be hard to look after.

A final note of caution is the family connection with Euphorbia. Possibly the most famous plant family for being mildly poisonous and irritant to humans and animals. That said, keep the plant out of reach of pets and children and avoid contact with the latex sap it produces when the leaves are cut or damaged and mishaps will be avoided.

Stunning, unique and brilliant. That's how you could describe the leaves of this plant. There are several different Croton varieties and cultivars you can find with a good four or five different leaf shapes available. They vary in color and shape - wide, narrow, lobed or whole are all attainable.

This Codiaeum Croton has stunning yellow and orange leaves

This photo taken by Caduser2003 perfectly captures this Codiaeum's stunning yellow and orange leaves

You can get them with multicolored hues or with a much more limited palette. Mixtures and shades of yellows, reds, greens, oranges, and even purples are common. As well as various shapes the leaf patterns themselves are often also mixed in some way, spotted, veined, striped or speckled. The colorful leaves tend to feel like leather and have a waxy shine that emphases their colors.

TIP - When picking out a plant to buy, if you're presented with a wide selection of choice, let your eyes guide you and go for your favorite colors or leaf shape.

What's most interesting of all perhaps is that everything on the plant (except the actual leaf shape), can be a random mix up. This means it's possible to find Crotons that have one color at the top and one that is completely different at the bottom. The variation on offer is massive.

This huge range makes it really difficult to know exactly what varieties or cultivar you have. Even if the pots are labeled, they may be incorrect, so when you choose your plant it's probably best to look for a healthy one and use your eyes to guide you.

Croton Plants make excellent houseplants but they can be fussy. Read our care guide to learn what you should be doing

With their fiery looking leaves, Croton plants can brighten up any space.

As mentioned earlier they can be fussy plants, but thankfully more modern varieties tend to be a bit more forgiving.

Ultimately, as two plants can look very different you should always pick the plant you like visually rather than searching for specially named varieties. Otherwise if you don't, by the time you get home, you could end up with a plant you don't really like! All of the following are fairly common Crotons - Codiaeum reidii, C 'Eugene Drapps', C. holufiana, C. 'Geduldig', C. 'Goldfinger', C. 'Norma', and C. 'Petra'.

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Croton Plant Care Guide

Light

Good bright light is a compulsory requirement for a healthy Croton plant and this cannot be ignored. They will cope with some fairly low light conditions, but after a few months of this, you will notice that the leaf colors and markings have massively diminished or gone completely dull.

Some direct sun falling on the leaves is ideal, especially that from early mornings and late afternoons. But avoid prolonged intense midday sunlight to prevent leaf scorching.

Watering

The second most important Croton care requirement is watering. Too little and the leaves will fall and too much will cause a similar effect. You need the knack (and some practice) to get the balance right.

Any experienced houseplant owner will know this instinctively, just by looking at their plant they can tell if it needs water. Beginners often don't and this is why watering mistakes are the top two reasons for plant death in general.

You want the soil to be evenly moist for the majority of the time.

So how do you water a Croton correctly? During growth, which tends to happen when conditions are warm, you want the soil to be evenly moist for the majority of the time. That's moist, not soggy, wet or saturated, and equally as important, not dry.

If you can pour water out of the pot, or there is wetness in the drip tray an hour after watering you're overdoing it. If you're letting the soil dry out completely before you water again, you 're making the opposite mistake of not giving enough.

TIP - Some further problem symptoms of watering issues are covered in our help section below.

In Winter you still need to water your plant, but much less often. It's best practice at this time of the year to let the top inch or so to dry out fully between waterings. Doing this will prevent accidental overwatering.

Humidity

Some people will say humidity isn't important or the leaves shouldn't be misted. We'd agree with the misting comments if the growing conditions being provided are already very humid, i.e. you're growing a Croton in a terrarium or a steamy bathroom. If you've opted for a dry, low humidity room you need to think about doing something to increase the humidity around the plant.

Never try to grow your plant near working radiators or heaters. These spots are extremely drying and only a handful of houseplants will be okay in places like this at the best of times. Croton's hate it more than most so avoid these areas.

Feeding

Unlike many houseplants, Codiaeum's can be rather greedy with fertiliser and because they can grow quite quickly they need a reasonable amount. No need to overdo it though, once a month or so at normal strength will be perfect. None in Winter.

Temperature

Crotons demand warmth, which is why problems are much more common when things turn chilly outside. 15°C (59°F) is the minimum temperature you will want to try and grow your plant in. However for growth and to play it safe you are looking for an average temperature of 20°C (68°F). Warmer temperatures shouldn't be a problem either.

Cold draughts can be a problem for these plants so keep them away from open windows on cool Spring and Autumn days.

Repotting

All we can say about repotting is to be extra careful! So many people tell us about problems with leaf drop a few weeks after they repot their Crotons. Our experience has been more positive, but in this case, it's best to follow the traditional rule book and do it only in the middle to late Spring.

Don't cut or tease out the roots and handle it gently to minimize the risk of shock. Try to use similar potting soil that is already around the current root ball. This should be free draining and fresh.

When handling If you damage the leaves or stems it may "bleed" its latex sap, so make sure you wash your hands straight afterward.

Propagation

Like the rest of the plant, propagating a Croton can be tricky. You can do it easy enough by creating a stem or "tip" cutting a few inches long, stripping back to just a few leaves, dipping into a rooting hormone and then pushing into all purpose recently watered potting compost.

TIP - Propagation can be difficult. It might cause you less disappointment, in the long run, to just buy another plant.

The hard bit in all of this is what happens next. Because even the young cuttings need warmth and lots of it. Bottom heat is usually needed to trigger new roots to form and you're looking at a soil temperature of between 25°C (77°F) - 30°C (86°F) for this.

Speed of Growth

Growth tends to be moderately fast, especially if it's being treated correctly.

Height / Spread

Small and compact plants are very much the norm for most people, which might be because it's hard to keep a Croton growing to a large size. However assuming you pull it off, these plants could eventually reach 5ft / 1.5m in height after many years.

Flowers

You grow Codiaeum's for the foliage rather than its flowers, which is fortunate because this plant rarely flowers indoors. A well cared for and mature plant will sometimes send out a flower stem with small clusters of flowers on the ends.

Enjoy them and when it dies back, remove the stem and flowers as close to the heart of the plant as you can get with a pair of scissors.

Photo showing the Josephs Coat plant in flower

Photo by mauro halpern showing the Joseph's Coat plant flowers

Are Croton Plants Poisonous?

Yes, these plants are mildly toxic to cats, dogs or people. It's primarily an irritant, causing itching, and rashes if the sap from the leaves and stems come into contact with skin. However, if ingested in large enough quantities then it can be poisonous.

Anything else?

Crotons are room enhancing plants when looking good. If they're treated poorly they're miserable things to have around on display. Whilst the majority of our article has the long term in mind, Crotons are quite cheap to buy, certainly less than a flower bouquet, so you can always look to enjoy it for a month or two before discarding if things don't work out.

How to Care for a Croton Plant Recap

  1. Medium to Bright Light Good light is preferred. Some filtered sun for an hour or two a day is helpful but not essential.

  2. Moderate Watering Keep moist during the growing seasons. Reduce and allow the soil to dry out a bit during Winter.

  3. Temperature Warm rooms are needed as they don't like the cold. No lower than 15°C (59°F) at any time.

  4. Feeding Once a month or every other month. Nothing when your plant's not growing.

  • These plants will suffer in cold temperatures including chilly draughts.
  • Dusty leaves can slow the growth of your plant. Wash them with a damp cloth a few times a year.

Croton Problems

Leaf Drop

The number one problem for a Croton houseplant owner are its leaves falling on mass. They fall so quickly sometimes you may find a small heap! This is basically the result of incorrect care.

Croton leaves falling off is a very common problem for indoor plants

Croton leaves falling off is a very common problem

There are five main reasons for this happening. In order of most likely:

  • Too much water
  • Too little water
  • Cold temperatures
  • Very low humidity
  • Not enough feed

It's hard to know exactly what has caused the problem and in some cases, it might be a combination. You may gather more clues however by having a look at the fallen leaves. If they've brown tips this is a strong indicator you have been underwatering or the humidity is too low. If there are brown edges instead, this is a sign of cold temperatures or draughts being the cause of the leaf drop.

Poor leaf color

The Croton leaf markings will fade and lose their visual punch if the light is too low. Bright light is essential to retain the markings so find it a new home if this starts to happen.

A Croton plant with poor leaf color and no markings

A Croton plant with poor leaf color and limited markings - a strong indication of not getting enough light

Red Spider Mite

Probably the most common pest on a Croton is Red Spider Mite. Both plant and insect like warmth, so although you may be treating your plant perfectly with warm temperatures you may have inadvertently encouraged Red Spider Mites to set up shop in the process. Prepare for a battle (but we have faith in you!).

Mealy Bugs

The second most common pests are Mealy Bugs - They create small mounds that look like cotton wool. Fortunately, they're much easier to get rid of compared to Red Spider Mite (above). So we know you'll be able to get rid of these in no time.

Our story with the Croton Plant

As houseplants Crotons were common indoor plants around 20 or 30 years ago. They declined in popularity and were quite difficult to find, possibly due to their fickle nature and difficulty in keeping them in homes.

Modern homes and offices are much warmer than they were 20 years ago which means the growing environments are different and Croton's do much better than they used to. Also some of the newer cultivars are much less fussy and as a result, they've started to creep back into our homes.

They're not super easy houseplants by any means, but in my experience they live a lot longer (although maybe I'm just better at looking after houseplants this time around!). They look good and bring splashes of outrageous color to dull areas. So few houseplants have this level of interest all year round which means Crotons are always a feature in my house. My latest one is pictured below.

A Croton with yellow, green, red and yellow leaf markings

A Croton with yellow, orange, red and yellow leaf markings

I'd love to have a taller plant, that can sit on the floor and add some character to the room. I've pruned out the central stem to try and encourage side shoots to grow and create a small shrub look. Watch this space as they say and hopefully I'll be able to update this post with good news in the future.

If you've got any older Croton plants and want to give me some inspiration, please do show off your photos in the comments below. I'd love to see them and hear any tips you have.


About the Author

Tom Knight

Tom Knight

Over the last 20 years Tom has successfully owned hundreds of houseplants and is always happy to share knowledge and lend his horticulture skills to those in need. He is the main content writer for the Team.

Also on Ourhouseplants.com

(Article / Gallery) Photo credit of the yellow / orange leaf Croton - Caduser2003
(Article / Gallery) Photo credit of the fallen Croton leaves - Madison Inouye
(Article) Photo credit of the Josephs Coat in flower by - Mauro Halpern
(Gallery) Photo credit of the yellow / red leaf Croton - Obsidian Soul
(Gallery) Photo credit of the multi coloured leaf Croton - Forest & Kim Starr


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