How to Care for Your Croton Plant

My Garden Life
May 23, 2022
Table of Contents
Crotons’ colorful foliage, ease of care, and decorative form have made it a favorite for plant lovers. Crotons can be grown as a houseplant year-round if placed in a location that receives bright, indirect sunlight. In regions with frost-free winters crotons thrive outdoors and can be grown in a container or in the ground. In either case, a happy croton can eventually grow large and leggy; so much so, that pruning will be needed to restore the plant to a more compact size with fuller foliage.

Steps for Cutting Back a Croton Plant

hands using pruning shears to prune a branch off of a potted croton plant
Pruning a croton is quick and easy. The only tool you’ll need is a sharp pair of hand pruners. The stems of a mature plant can become thick and woody so using pruners will allow you to make nice, clean cuts. Here are the steps for cutting back your croton plant:

1. How Big do You Want Your Croton Plant

a potted croton plant shown in a before image and another image of the croton plant after pruning
Decide how large you want your plant to be. While you could prune back all the stems and leave a group of stumps to leaf back out, you might want to focus on a couple of the longest branches first. Once those stumps start to sprout back out, then you can proceed to remove a couple of the next-longest branches. Approaching your pruning in stages has three benefits:
  • Allows time for the fresh cuts to heal and new foliage to emerge.
  • There’s enough of the plant remaining that it can still be enjoyed.
  • Some foliage remains for photosynthesis to help keep the plant healthy.

2. Where to Prune Your Croton

close-up of hands with pruning shears cutting a branch off of a croton plant
When deciding where to cut, take into consideration that wherever you cut, the new growth is going to extend from that point. Given that many croton leaves are around six inches long, that’s an added six inches to the size of the plant right from the start. Once new leaves start emerging the overall size will expand quickly. If you don’t plan for this, you could end up with a plant that is still larger than what you had intended.

close-up of croton plant new growth sprouting following pruning

Before you cut, look closely at the stem and try to find a place where there used to be a leaf attached. These are called leaf nodes. A leaf node is the place where new sprouts are most likely to emerge. Cut slightly above the node, and eventually new growth will emerge from the node.

Propagating Croton Plants

potted croton plant with a stem cutting lying next to it
It’s possible to propagate new croton plants from your cuttings. You can place your cuttings directly in soil in a pot, or you can place them in water to get some roots started first, and then later transfer the rooted cuttings to a pot.
potted croton plant with a vase next to it containing stem cuttings
If the stems are very long, trim them down to a size that will leave you with four to five inches of stem to stick in the soil. Likewise, if there is too much foliage on your cutting, you can snip off some of the lowest leaves to give you more stem.
hands with pruning shears removing extra leaves from a croton stem cutting
Be sure to use a pot with drainage holes. Fill your container with any commercial potting mix for houseplants and stick the cuttings into the soil. Water thoroughly.
Don’t apply fertilizer until your plant has started to leaf back out. Once it’s actively growing again then you can resume your regular feeding schedule.

Inspect Croton Plants for Insect Pests

close-up of spider mites and webbing on the growing tip of a croton plant

While you’re working on refreshing your croton plant with some pruning, this is a good time to inspect the plant more closely for any other problems. Spider mites are especially attracted to croton plants. They like to live on the undersides of the leaves and in the nooks where leaves attach to the stems.
Spider mites are very tiny so it’s helpful to use a magnifying glass to get a close-up view. Look for webbing similar to spider silk and for signs that the plant looks dirty. Mites, their eggs, and their waste are so small they are easily mistaken for dirt. The leaves may have a gritty or sandy appearance, especially the underside of the leaves.
woman using a soft cloth and water to clean the leaves of a potted croton
To keep spider mites and other insect pests at bay, it’s a good idea to periodically inspect the foliage. Clean the leaves with a damp cloth or soft sponge, rinsing it frequently to remove any mites and eggs to avoid spreading them around. You could add a teaspoon of dish soap to a quart of water to use for cleaning and rinsing. Soapy water can kill most insects. If you discover spider mites on your plant, you will want to clean your plant more frequently to keep the population under control.
You can also take your potted croton outdoors occasionally and give it a shower. Use a nozzle that allows you to rinse the plant with a gentle shower of water; don’t blast the foliage or you could knock leaves off the plant. Spray the entire plant, paying special attention to the underside of the leaves where spider mites like to live.

Make Sure Your Croton Plant Has a Good Location

glowing orange and yellow croton shrub in a landscape border

If your plant has been thriving in its current location, then there is no need to relocate it following pruning. Return it to its “happy place”. If you happen to live in a sunny, temperate part of the country, where crotons can be grown as landscape shrubs in the ground, the process for pruning is just the same. Doesn’t matter whether your croton is in a pot or in the ground.
Plants with colorful leaves are a perfect way to brighten up a space in much the same way a flowering plant would. The difference is flowering plants lose their blooms, but foliage plants remain colorful all the time. Here are seven suggestions for Houseplants with Colorful Patterned Foliage that you’ll want to try.
Close-up of emerald ripple peperomia plant, Peperomia caperata


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