The blazing red, yellow, burgundy, pink, white, orange, and green leaves of the croton plant make for a stunning display and brighten the indoors. Although they are fuss-free plants, crotons tend to become leggy as they mature and take on a skeletal, spindly form that utterly ruins their appearance.
You can make an indoor croton plant bushier by pinching off new growth when it is young and regularly pruning leggy branches and stems. You must keep croton in a bright spot where it ideally receives 6-8 hours of indirect light. Protect the plant from hot and cold drafts that cause leaf loss.
The key to keeping indoor croton bushier is not just hacking away at new growth. You must also create the proper environmental conditions for the plant to grow healthy and address any issue that might trigger leaf drop. Read on as I explain in this article how to prune your indoor croton, water and feed it, and repot it every few years to infuse new vigor in the plant and spur fresh growth.
1. Pinch off New Growth in a Young Plant
If you want your indoor croton to grow bushy, you should start training it when it is young.
Look out for new growth in the young plant. Instead of using shears or garden scissors, hold the new growth between your thumb and forefinger and snip it away.
New growth on young croton is tender and easily breaks when you pinch the growing tip.
You must regularly snip away the growing tips of the stems to maintain the plant’s bushy appearance. As the plant matures, you have to use a pair of clean and sharp garden scissors to prune new growth because these growing tips are not as tender as those on a sapling.
Ensure that you make clean cuts when you prune the growing tips. This minimizes injury to the plant, contains the size of the wound site, and lessens the chances of a fungal infection spreading to other parts of the plant.
2. Keep Your Plant in a Bright Spot
Plants grow leggy when they try to reach toward the light in low-light conditions. Crotons need lots of bright light to grow bushy and retain their jewel tones.
Keep your indoor croton plant at a site where it receives at least four hours and ideally six to eight hours of indirect sunlight daily.
The ideal location would be south- or west-facing window, porch, or balcony. However, croton leaves tend to get scorched when the sun is too harsh. So, move the planter away from the window or cover the window with drapes during the hottest time of the day.
If you live in a hot climate, keep your croton near an east-facing window where it will receive morning sunlight and be protected from the harsh midday and afternoon sun.
Take care that all parts of the plant receive light. You can give the planter a quarter of a turn daily to ensure sunlight reaches all sides of the plant. Otherwise, the branches and stems in the shadows will lean toward light and become leggy over time.
Too little light can also cause leaf drop and make the plants leggy. If there is no sunny spot in your house, you can grow your croton plant under artificial grow lights.
Use one or two regular fluorescent or specialized plant grow bulbs for your indoor croton. Indoor crotons thrive under light levels of at least 2000 lumens. A full-spectrum light supports plant growth during all stages of its development.
Place the bulbs at least 14 inches (35.6 cm) above the plant canopy to prevent the leaves from being burned by the heat from the light bulbs. Keep moving the bulb upward as the plant grows taller.
You can grow many tropical warm-weather plants wholly under artificial lights and without sunlight. Like croton, you can also grow jade under artificial lights. Read how in my article here: Can a Jade Plant Live in a Room Without Sunlight?
3. Remove Dead and Diseased Leaves
Whenever you remove a leaf on croton, the plant responds by growing a new one in its place.
Remove dead and diseased leaves on your indoor croton to encourage new growth. The new leaves will give the plant a compact look.
Besides, letting diseased leaves remain on the stems increases the risk of the disease spreading to other parts of the plant.
4. Prune the Leggiest Branches
Croton tends to lose the lower leaves of its branches as the plant grows old. You may also have on your hands a tall plant with spindly branches and sparse foliage if you have not been pruning often.
Before pruning your croton plant, you need to prepare a few things:
- Working gloves
- Sterile pruning shears
- Ethyl or isopropyl alcohol spray for the shears
- Garbage bag for the cut leaves and branches
- Feed the plant a nitrogen-rich, low-phosphorus liquid fertilizer
The ideal time to prune is in early spring when the weather is starting to warm. Observing proper timing ensures the plant can divert its energies to resting, healing, and recovering instead of protecting itself from the cold.
Pruning in early spring also gives the plant ample time to heal and create a spectacular colorful growth in summer.
Here are the steps of pruning indoor croton to make it bushy:
- Spread a mat or newspaper underneath the planter. A milky liquid oozes from the croton when a branch or leaf is cut. Placing the planter on a newspaper prevents the sap from soiling the floor.
- Don your gloves. You should always wear sturdy gloves when working with sharp gardening tools. Besides, the milky sap that oozes from croton stems and branches can irritate sensitive skin.
- Sterilize the pruning tool. Disinfect the cutting tool using an alcohol spray to ensure the pruning site does not get infected. Repeat this step before moving on to the next plant.
- Identify the stems and branches to cut. Identify tall branches and stems with sparse foliage or leaves only at the tips. Check if there are dead, damaged, diseased branches or stems. You should also prune them.
- Start snipping away from the tips inward. Cut back till the swollen nodes or buds at the base of each branch or stem while leaving a third of the branch intact. Do not cut the nodes because new foliage will emerge from these points.
- Make the final cut at an angle of 45°. Make the last cut just above a leaf bud or node at an angle of 45° to ensure no water droplets can accumulate over the wound. Such an angle will also make it easier for the plant to recover and reduce the area where microbes can proliferate.
- Apply fungicide or cinnamon to the wound. Cinnamon is a potent anti-microbial agent. It prevents the wound site from getting infected. You can skip this step if you don’t have such substances. Proper cutting techniques often suffice.
- Apply fertilizer. Apply a half-strength liquid fertilizer after pruning. Feeding the plant right after pruning gives it the energy to put out new growth.
You must prune your indoor croton regularly to maintain its bushy shape.
Prune to give your plant the desired shape. However, ensure that the foliage is not too dense at the center. The light should reach all corners of the plant, and air should flow unimpeded through and around the leaves.
5. Keep the Soil Moist
Plants tend to shed leaves when they are stressed out. This is their way of conserving energy and preventing moisture loss through the leaves.
You can prevent your indoor croton from shedding leaves by not allowing the plant to go thirsty. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Crotons dislike sitting in water and develop root rot if waterlogging conditions exist.
Here are some pointers to help keep your indoor croton well-watered:
- Water when the top two inches (5 cm) of soil are dry. Insert your finger or poke a stick into the soil to gauge the moisture content before watering.
- Water thoroughly. Shallow watering soaks only the top few inches of the soil and does not let the water reach the plant’s root zone. You must water deeply and saturate the soil till water runs out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the planter.
- Avoid splashing water on the leaves. Water at the base of the plant just above the soil level. Do not splash water on the leaves. Wet leaves attract fungus and mold and cause premature leaf loss.
- Ensure there are drainage holes in the planter. If there aren’t adequate drainage holes at the bottom of the planter, water will collect in the pot, and the plant roots will drown. You should check for drainage holes when planting. Before transplanting, fill the pot with a few inches of potting soil, water deeply, and check to ensure water flows out of the drainage holes.
There are other ways to keep indoor soil moist, like mulching and using a drip irrigation system. Read about these methods in my article here: How to Keep Indoor Soil Moist (12 Ways)
6. Keep the Plant Warm
Crotons are tropical plants that thrive when temperatures are between 65 °F and 80 °F (18.3 – 26.7°C). Although indoor crotons can tolerate temperatures as low as 40 °F (4.4 °C), they can go into a shock and lose their leaves if exposed to such cold temperatures for long.
Prevent leaf drop, and keep your croton bushy by placing it in a warm location. Keep the following pointers in mind:
- Keep the plant near a south- or west-facing window if you live in a cold climate with freezing winters.
- Ensure there are no leaks and cracks in your doors or windows through which cold drafts can enter.
- Avoid keeping your croton in hallways and corridors that tend to be drafty.
- Avoid keeping the plant near AC vents that emit cold blasts of air.
You can revive a croton plant that has gone into cold shock. Read how here: Can Indoor Plants Recover From Cold Shock?
Although crotons are warm-weather plants, they cannot tolerate temperatures more than 100 °F (37.8°C). Protect your plant from such intense heat. If you live in a region with brutal summers, keep your croton near a north-facing window and away from radiators.
7. Fertilize To Aid Vigorous Growth
Indoor plants are restricted to the nutrients in the soil in the planter, which are depleted quickly as the plant grows. You must feed your indoor croton regularly to help it thrive.
Liquid fertilizer is ideal for feeding indoor plants. For croton plants, choose a fertilizer containing more nitrogen and potassium than phosphorus. Look for NPK plant food where the middle number (P) is less than the first and third numbers, N and K, respectively. You can use fertilizers with ratios like 3-1-2 or 8-2-10.
Here are some tips on how to feed your indoor croton plant:
- Dilute a water-soluble fertilizer according to the instructions on the package.
- Avoid using a balanced fertilizer with a high concentration of phosphorus, a substance that can burn the roots of the plant if supplied in large quantities.
- Feed lightly every month during the active growing season.
- Reduce feeding to once every two months during winter when the plant is dormant.
- Feed after pruning.
- Avoid fertilizing for a month after transplanting.
- Add a slow-release fertilizer to the potting mix during planting.
- Alternate between a high-nitrogen and a high-potassium fertilizer to provide the plant with the macronutrients it needs.
- Look for signs of over-fertilizing, such as dull leaves, leaf drop, and stunted growth, manifesting in the days after fertilization.
- Err on the side of under-fertilization.
8. Move the Plant to a Larger Pot
Transplanting your croton plant when it has outgrown its current planter provides room for the roots to grow. As the roots expand, the plant grows taller and bushier.
Move your indoor croton plant to a larger planter if you have not repotted it in years. Repotting also allows you to replace the potting mix with new soil that infuses the plant with renewed vigor.
Here are the steps of moving indoor croton to a larger pot:
- Gather the supplies. You need a new and bigger pot, trowel, a pair of sharp garden scissors or shears, potting mix, and porous material like a coffee filter or a shard of terra cotta. Ensure that the new pot is wider and deeper than the old one.
- Water the croton in its old pot. Water the croton deeply while it is still in its old pot. This ensures you can remove it easily while keeping the rootball intact.
- Cover the drainage holes with a porous substance. Place a coffee filter or pieces of terra cotta over the drainage holes of the new pot. Covering the drainage holes prevents the potting mix from leaching when you water the plant.
- Add new soil or potting mix. Add a few inches of potting mix or soil to the new pot. This gives room for the roots to grow deeper.
- Remove the croton from the old planter. Turn the pot upside down. Hold the plant in one hand and gently tap the bottom of the pot with your other hand. If the pot is too heavy to lift with your hand, use a trowel to separate the plant from the sides of the pot.
- Prune the rootball. Snip away the old roots that are past their prime. Remove all roots emerging from the core rootball. You now have new and healthy roots. Untangle them so they spread outward and deeper instead of growing inward and getting tangled again.
- Transplant the croton to the new pot. Place the croton plant in the center of the new container and hold it upright. Fill the pot with more potting soil. Gently tap down the potting mix to help the plant make contact with the soil.
- Water thoroughly. Water deeply and thoroughly till water runs out of the bottom of the pot. This helps the plant settle in its new home.
- Keep the plant away from direct sunlight. Keep the plant in a sheltered location where it receives filtered light. Keep the soil moist and wait for new growth before moving the pot to a brighter place. Fertilize after a month to let the plant adjust and recover from the shock of transplanting.
9. Give the Canopy Room To Grow
An indoor croton not only needs a large pot to spread its roots but also room around it to spread its canopy. As your plant gets bushier, ensure that you provide ample space between your croton and the plants around it.
Crowding plants prevents air from flowing freely through the canopy and light from reaching all parts of the plant. The leaves that don’t receive adequate light or air can drop off prematurely and give the plant a spindly look. So remember to turn the pot 180° at least once a day.
Ensuring adequate light and airflow around the plant prevents moldy conditions and keeps the leaves fungus-free.
A leggy croton plant with spindly stems and branches not only looks ugly in your living room but is also prone to breakages. Leggy stems and branches are top-heavy. They cannot bear the weight of the foliage concentrated at the top and often bend over and snap in the middle.
Work with your indoor croton plant to make it vibrant and bushy. And with this knowledge, you can fix a leggy jade or a spindly Chinese money plant.