LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Fall conjures thoughts of gorgeous landscapes dressed with the colors of the season: yellow, orange and red. During the fall holidays, there are a couple of traditional plants you may see used to create festive décor for our homes. One is mums, and the other is a tropical plant called crotons.
Crotons are brightly colored, broadleaf evergreen shrubs that are typically grown as houseplants because they are hardy to USDA plant hardiness zones 11 to 12. With brightly multicolored foliage of orange, red, yellow and green, they make a perfect selection for fall decorating.
Crotons (Codiaeum variegatum) are a member of the Euphorbiaceae family along with another holiday favorite, the poinsettia. The species is native to Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and the western Pacific Ocean islands, where it grows wildly in the forest.
Only in tropical or coastal areas of the United States can one find crotons surviving outdoors. They’re often used in Florida landscapes. Those grown outdoors grow best in full sun, but will do well in partial shade. For the rest of the United States and most of Louisiana, crotons are grown as indoor houseplants or protected from frosts and freezes on patios in container plantings.
Frosts and freezes will damage crotons, but they quickly recover. Grown indoors, they bring bright color and texture. Petra crotons are most commonly grown indoors. They will need maximum light and a warm area to keep their bright coloring. Color fades with low-light conditions.
If kept indoors, be careful to keep both children and pets from eating any of the leaves. Crotons’ sap can be irritating and poisonous if consumed. The sap from this plant is also known to stain.
Most plants grow to 2 to 6 feet in both height and width, and they have a white flower bloom that is inconspicuous. Plants are prized for their glossy, coarse and colorful foliage.
Indoors, water as needed or when the top inch of the potting mix starts to dry. Plants prefer a high-humidity environment. Excess water can encourage fungal disease on the roots, and plants will drop older leaves if they stay too wet. In the landscape, water in times of drought.
As an indoor houseplant, place in a well-drained soil with humus. Ensure adequate lighting, as the plant may lose lower leaves in too much shade. Reduce watering from fall to late winter.
Crotons do not experience any serious insect or disease problems. Watch for scale, spider mites and mealybugs. Treat heavily infested plants with horticultural or neem oil as needed, carefully following the product label.
Plants can be fertilized in both spring and summer to keep the plants healthy and growing vigorously. You can fertilize more frequently with a liquid fertilizer to encourage faster growth every month. Be sure to follow the directions on the label.
There are more than 100 varieties of crotons with varying colors and leaf shapes from large, coarse leaves to slender, twisted leaves. Below are some of the more popular varieties of this colorful plant.
Petra is perhaps the most popular cultivar. It has green leaves with red, orange and yellow variegation. Gold Star has green leaves that are speckled with bright gold “stars.” Eleanor Roosevelt has skinny leaves with a wide range of colors that are mottled with bright yellow spots. Mother and Daughter has exotic-looking leaves that are long and narrow with a pointed end leaflet. Foliage has deep green speckles with small yellow or ivory splashes.
Oakleaf has oak leaf-shaped dark green or bronze leaves with veins in yellow, orange and red. Zanzibar has very narrow leaves with foliage colors ranging from green to purple to red to yellow and orange. Zanzibar is an excellent contrast to the larger, coarse leaves of the Petra croton; they pair well in a container planting.
Crotons make fall decorating easy and bring bright colors to any gathering. Pair them with gorgeous mums, and you have a festive display that is sure to please. Plants can be found in most any retail garden center or florist shop this time of year.
Keep plants going for next year by protecting them from heavy frosts or freezes, and they will add a tropical feel and bright foliage to your home in any season of the year.
Crotons sport gorgeous colors of fall such as yellow, red, orange and green. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter
Crotons grow best in full sun to encourage bright coloring. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter