The croton (Codiaeum variegatum) appears to have it all: colorful foliage, nearly limitless leaf forms, and a cultish following. But these plants do have a drawback—they're difficult to please indoors. In their native habitats, crotons like humid, warm conditions, with dappled light and plentiful water. The problem indoors is typically temperature; too cold, and they start losing leaves. However, crotons are well worth the effort because a well-grown croton is an explosion of color.
Light: Bright, indirect light. They do not like unfiltered, direct sunlight, but thrive in dappled sunlight. Vibrant colors depend on bright light.
Water: Keep evenly moist in the summer, and reduce watering in the winter to biweekly. Mist frequently during the growth period.
Temperature: Keep above 60ºF and do not expose to cold drafts.
Soil: A well-drained potting soil is perfect.
Fertilizer: Slow-release pellets or liquid fertilizer during the growing season.
Crotons are easily propagated through stem cuttings. Use a rooting hormone
to increase the odds of success. Crotons sometimes produce "sports," or shoots that are completely different from the parent plant. These can be potted up independently. Crotons do not grow well from seed as the plant is unstable and the offspring will not resemble the parent. Only cuttings will produce a plant that is identical to the parent.
Repot in spring if necessary.
There are hundreds and hundreds of croton varieties, with names like Dreadlocks, Ann Rutherford, Mona Lisa, and Irene Kingsley. For a plant with this incredible diversity, it's amazing there is only species (C. variegatum). However, crotons are genetically unstable, so each plant is unique, and interesting varieties are highly prized by enthusiastic collectors. Crotons are often subdivided by their leaf type: curling, twisted, oak leaf, narrow, broad, oval, etc.
A well-grown croton will keep its leaves all the way to the soil level—and the trick to this is to provide steady warmth. Even in outdoor settings, crotons will drop leaves after a cold night. However, these plants respond well to trimming. If a croton becomes leggy, prune it back hard at the beginning of the growing season, move it outside, and the plant will regrow from the cut portion. As a last note: vibrant leaf colors depend on the quality of light. Don't shy away from providing lots of bright, shifting sunlight.