A healthy croton is a lovely addition to any home, but what should you do if yours stops growing? Crotons are generally considered easy-to-grow plants. However, like any houseplant, they will struggle if they aren’t receiving adequate care.
Your croton isn’t growing because of improper watering, inadequate light, lack of nutrients in the soil, or a mix of these three. You can remedy the issue by creating a watering schedule, moving the plant to a better location, and refreshing the soil’s nutrients.
In this article, I will explain some things you can do if you notice that your croton is not growing and why they might work. So if you want to learn more about crotons experiencing stunted growth and how to help, read on.
Diagnosing Growth Issues in Crotons
Before you can help your croton, you must find out the reason for stunted growth. There are several reasons your croton might not grow, and once you know the issue, you can fix it easily.
One of the main reasons crotons struggle is improper watering practices. Crotons require balance in their watering schedules. Too much or too little water is a significant issue for these plants.
Overwatering leads to issues like root rot, which attacks the plant’s root system, eventually destroying the roots and starving the plant. Too much water will also leach nutrients from the soil, starving the plant.
Signs of overwatering include:
- Wilted and yellowing leaves
- Brown edges or spots on leaves.
- Soil that is overly wet to the touch
- Pests in the soil
- Soft or mushy stems and foliage
Overwatering will happen more frequently if your soil and pot don’t provide adequate drainage. Issues with drainage compounded with overwatering are deadly for these plants. If the issue isn’t remedied quickly, the plant will be far more challenging to save and will likely die.
Waterlogged soil suffocates the roots and serves as a breeding ground for pathogens and unwanted diseases. Good drainage allows the excess water to flow out instead of sitting in the soil.
Underwatering is just as damaging as overwatering. When your croton doesn’t receive enough water, the plant quickly halts its growth and does its best to preserve resources. An underwatered plant’s appearance will also dramatically be altered, especially if the underwatering is chronic.
Signs of underwatering include:
- Drooping leaves
- Dry soil that pulls away from the container edges
- Crispy leaves
These are all signs that your croton is struggling with the amount of water it’s receiving. Typically, in-ground crotons in warm regions require about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water per week to thrive. In pots, they should be watered as soon as the top 2 inches (5 cm) of the soil is dry.
If water and drainage problems aren’t to blame, then there is a good chance your plant’s lighting is incorrect. Crotons prefer living in full sun, which can be challenging to facilitate indoors. The brighter your plant receives, the more intense its colorations will be.
Here are some signs that your crotons are not receiving enough sunlight:
- Leggy growth
- Foliage losing color or turning green
- Leaves falling off
Crotons need at least 6 hours of morning sunlight every day. They can manage direct sunlight but may need indirect sunlight in hotter climates.
If you have insufficient lighting indoors, crotons will initially grow leggy as an effort to access more light. Extended periods of low-light conditions will then lead to stunted growth or plant death.
Another likely cause of stunted growth in crotons is fluctuations in temperature. Crotons are tropical plants that require temperatures around 40-80 °F (4-27 °C). These plants don’t enjoy extreme heat or cold. However, they are more tolerant to cold temperatures for a short time than heat, and anything over 100 °F (37 °C) will harm the plant.
Signs of heat stress in crotons are similar to signs of underwatering:
- Leaf drop
- Yellowing and wilting of foliage and stems
- Browning and brown spots on foliage and stems
Cold injury in crotons also presents similar symptoms, so consider the temperatures when identifying the issue.
Your croton might also be struggling due to humidity issues. Since the plants technically hail from tropical regions, they prefer humidity levels around 40-80%.
Insufficient humidity will manifest the same way as underwatering in your croton—you’ll want to keep an eye out for typical signs like leaf drop, yellowing, and browning of leaves.
However, the most important indicator that the ambient humidity needs to be increased is the texture of the leaves. You’re dealing with insufficient humidity if your crotons have dry leaves that crumble easily when touched.
The nutrients in your plant’s soil feed it and help it grow. When these nutrients have been depleted, growth halts, and the plant struggles.
Some signs that your crotons need feeding include:
- Dullness of leaf color
- Reduction in leaf size
- New leaves wilt or die quickly
- Unusual blue or red tones on dull leaves
While under-fertilization is detrimental, over-fertilization is just as bad and more likely.
Too much fertilizer leads to a build-up of salts, which draws out the moisture from the croton’s roots, leading to a dry plant. In such a condition, your croton will be unable to uptake nutrients and won’t grow.
Signs of overfertilization look a lot like signs of underwatering, but you’ll probably see more leaf drops and brown spots or ‘leaf burning’ in your overfed crotons.
Sometimes houseplants like croton experience issues like becoming rootbound. This issue occurs when a plant hasn’t been repotted for an extended period. As a result, the roots from the plant expand and end up pressed against the sides, giving the roots no space to grow. As the roots struggle to grow, they will also hold back shoot growth.
A significant sign of a rootbound plant is the roots poking out from drainage holes or through any cracks in the container. Some roots will even try to grow out of the soil surface above. All these signs indicate the plant needs more space to grow.
Although crotons occasionally need to be repotted, the process is still stressful for the plant. Even when being careful, roots experience minor damage and need time to recover in their new home.
Signs of repotting stress or transplant shock include:
- Yellowing or browning leaves
- Wilted or drooping leaves
- Leaf scorch
After being repotted, the plant will need a week or so to adjust. The less you disturb the roots, the quicker croton will recover from the shock.
Pests or Diseases
Unfortunately, crotons are susceptible to a few types of pests and illnesses which can stunt the plant’s growth. Pests typically attach to the plant’s leaves or roots, destroying its ability to uptake nutrients and grow. Certain diseases will do the same, especially if left to their own devices.
The most common pests for crotons include:
You will likely find these pests on your plant’s leaves or soil.
Common illnesses for crotons include leaf spot, which manifests as watery brown spots on the leaves, and galls, which are protrusions that grow near or on the roots.
Lack of Pruning
Lastly, your croton plant might not grow because it needs pruning. Too many out-of-control leaves can stunt plants’ growth since they require so many nutrients to keep everything healthy. Damaged or dying leaves need to be removed so the plant can focus on healthier portions.
Solutions for Stunted Growth
Now that you know why crotons struggle to grow, it’s time to address how you can fix them. These plants are considered relatively easy to grow and somewhat hardy indoors.
So what can you do to meet your crotons growth needs better?
Establish a Watering Schedule and Water Correctly
Provide regular water access to your croton by creating a watering schedule. In-ground crotons require 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water each week. That means you should add enough water to hydrate the root zone up to 8 inches (20 cm) deep into the ground.
For potted plants, always water your crotons deeply by pouring watering gently around the roots and watering till the excess drains out of the drainage holes. Watering deeply ensures that the soil is well-saturated and your plant can uptake water easily.
If you are nervous about overwatering, you can try the bottom watering method. For this method, you fill a large dish with water and set the croton pot into the dish to soak. The soil will absorb the water from the drainage holes in the bottom, only taking the moisture it can hold.
This watering method is perfect for deep watering without the risk of overwatering. Just ensure you don’t leave the pot in the water longer than 10-30 minutes.
To learn more about the duration of bottom watering, you can read my article: How Long Should Plants Sit While Bottom Watering?
It’s also crucial to always check the soil before watering, even on a schedule. You can check the soil by pressing a finger two knuckles deep into the topsoil. If you feel moisture, wait a few more days, as there is still too much water.
All houseplants require adequate drainage to prevent awful illnesses like root rot.
You can improve drainage for your crotons by:
- Moving the plant to a pot with better drainage holes
- Incorporating organic matter into the potting mix
- Replacing the old soil with fresh, well-draining soil
If you want to learn more about what to look for in well-draining soil, check out the video below:
Move the Plant to a Location With Better Light
Another step that will help your croton to start growing again is to ensure it has adequate light.
It’s best to move your plant near a south-facing window as it will get more light exposure throughout the day. You can also facilitate the plant’s need for the sun by placing it outdoors for short periods, keeping in mind that pests may hitch a ride back in on your plant.
As a tropical plant, crotons typically don’t go dormant in winter but can become less active during the cold season. Still, they will need sufficient light, which you can supplement using grow lights. On dark days with short daylight hours, you can switch on the grow lights above your crotons for 10-16 hours.
Stabilize Ambient Temperature
Crotons don’t enjoy temperatures over 80 °F (26 °C) or below 40 °F (4 °C). You can ensure the temperature around your plants remains stable by moving the plants away from drafty or hot windows and from air vents.
Another great way to ensure croton stays at the correct temperature is using a thermometer to check the temperatures before deciding on the right location for your croton. That way, you never have to guess and always have an exact reading.
Maintain Ideal Humidity
Since 40-80% humidity is ideal for crotons but homes tend to lack humidity, it can be tricky to meet this need.
Luckily there are some quick tricks to increase the humidity levels around your crotons:
- Place a humidifier nearby.
- Place a pebble tray filled with water under the croton plant pot.
- Place the plant in a bright and frequently used bathroom or kitchen.
Refresh the Soil Nutrients
Typically, crotons can benefit from regular fertilization using half-strength liquid fertilizer every 3-4 weeks during spring and summer when they’re actively growing. Gradually ease out on fertilizer applications by increasing the interval between applications until the start of fall when you’d have to stop fertilizing because the plant will start becoming less active.
A slow-release fertilizer applied in early spring and early summer will also work well since it provides a more steady stream of nutrients for longer. This type of fertilizer is far less likely to cause issues like nitrogen burn.
That said, it’s always a good idea to test the nutrients in the soil before adding more. A rapid nutrient test strip is the best way to determine what nutrients your plants need.
When picking a fertilizer, look for one with a 3-1-2 NPK ratio. Always follow packaging instructions to dilute the fertilizer, and start by applying less than the recommended amount. You can always add more fertilizer but can’t reverse fertilizer burn on the foliage.
Instead of a soil refresh, consider completely repotting your croton, especially if you see signs that the plant is rootbound. It’s important to remember to be gentle during repotting to prevent transplant shock.
When repotting, you want the new container you select to be a size larger so the plant has time to grow before needing to be repotted again. Remember to use a pot with good drainage.
If you’ve never transplanted a croton before, I recommend checking out this YouTube video to walk you through the process.
Take Steps Against Pests of Illness
Preventing pests and illnesses in the first place is the best way to keep your plant thriving, and you can do so by keeping your plants healthy and watering them the right amount.
However, if it’s too late and your plants become infested, try some neem oil spray. This oil is great because it’s a natural pesticide and kills critters that might be dormant in the soil without harming the plant.
As for illnesses like leaf spot, you’ll want to remove infected leaves and treat the plant with neem oil. Avoid getting the leaves wet at this time, and avoid misting your plants.
For gall, you’ll want to cut the swelling away with a sharp, sterilized knife and isolate the infected plant. If your croton has too many swellings, you might have to give up on the plant because it’s very difficult to kill the bacteria responsible.
Dispose of the infected plant properly to prevent spreading the disease to other plants.
If you notice stunted growth from your croton, it might be time to give the plant a pruning. You can prune these plants almost year-round, except in frigid weather.
It’s recommended to cut back the croton’s branches by ⅓ for a better shape and to promote better growth. It’s best to remove any leaves that are leggy or damaged. When pruning, you want to cut just below the leaf node.
When pruning, do so carefully using pruning shears and avoid cutting the plant if it’s cold. You don’t want it to be more susceptible to the harsh elements. Once pruned, the plant will grow much better.
Regular pruning will also allow better air circulation around the plant, preventing pests and diseases from thriving and causing damage.
The most likely reasons your croton is experiencing stunted growth are improper watering, inadequate lighting, under or overfertilization, pests or illnesses, or being rootbound.
Overwatered or poorly drained soil will be soggy to the touch, underwatered plants will have crispy leaves, and poor sunlight will lead to a loss of color in the foliage. You can fix these by watering deeply and infrequently, repotting when necessary, and fertilizing once every three weeks with a diluted NPK fertilizer. Check for pests and prune away dying leaves to help your crotons grow better.