Although sometimes considered a houseplant variety better suited for more experienced plant collectors, a well-cared-for Croton (Codiaeum variegatum) will reward you with moderate, bushy growth with plenty of eye-catching, highly variegated foliage. Sometimes, even the experts may find their Croton hasn’t put out new growth for a while. What causes this, and what can you do to fix it?
If your Croton has stunted or halted growth, it’s probably because of improper care. These plants can be somewhat particular regarding their care and environmental requirements, so improper watering, insufficient light, or big swings in temperature can easily disrupt a Croton’s growth rate.
In general, Crotons aren’t super-fast growers, but they’ll still put out anywhere between three and 12 inches of growth in a season when conditions are ideal. If you find that your Croton is falling well below this benchmark or perhaps showing no signs of growth, it’s time to reevaluate how you are caring for your plant and where you have it placed in your home.
Common Reasons Your Croton Isn’t Growing
While Crotons have a reputation for being difficult plants to care for, in reality, they have the same basic needs as any other houseplant. They just tend to be a bit more sensitive and, as a result, have quicker reactions to those times when we accidentally veer away from proper plant care habits.
Often, slow or no growth is just a sign that your Croton isn’t getting the proper care and that adjustments need to be made. Once remedied, these plants usually carry on as usual, and growth resumes. Below are the most common care issues that can cause your Croton to stop producing new growth.
#1 Improper Watering and Poor Drainage
One of the most common causes of slowed growth, and many other issues with Crotons, is due to improper watering. Crotons thrive when supplied with a specific amount of moisture, so when the plant receives too much or too little water, it can very easily be pushed into a stressed state, which impacts how it prioritizes new growth.
Overwatering seems to be the more prevalent cause of stunted growth. If your Croton receives too much water regularly, the soil often becomes waterlogged, and the root system is saturated with moisture. This prevents the roots from efficiently absorbing the nutrients required to promote new growth in the plant.
Underwatering can also disrupt a Croton’s growth rate. Too little water within the plant’s transport system makes it very difficult to absorb and deliver nutrients to the structures where growth occurs.
At the same time, your plant reacts to the dry conditions by kicking into survival mode and slowing or stopping certain functions to retain as much moisture as possible. At this point, new growth is abandoned to maintain existing plant tissues. Poor drainage within the pot and the soil your Croton is planted in can also impact both of these conditions.
If the potting soil retains too much moisture or your pot lacks a drainage hole, it can be difficult to avoid overwatered conditions even if you are properly watering your plant. Alternatively, if you have old, compacted soil, it may have a hard time properly absorbing water and making moisture available to the root system. In this case, most of the water runs around the root ball and out the bottom of the pot.
#2 Inadequate Light Levels
Another common care factor that can have a huge impact on a Croton’s growth rate is sunlight exposure. Photosynthesis, the process that allows a plant to turn the energy from sunlight into usable sustenance within the plant is, obviously, driven by the amount of light the plant is exposed to.
In cases where your Croton isn’t getting enough exposure to sunlight, the plant’s ability to photosynthesize is reduced, causing a lack of available energy it can use to produce new growth.
In Crotons, specifically, this issue is exacerbated because the plant’s leaves are typically heavily variegated. Variegated leaves have lower levels of chlorophyll, the pigment responsible for capturing sunlight for photosynthesis.
If you notice that your Croton’s leaves are losing their vibrant variegation and turning dull green, this is the plant working to produce more chlorophyll to keep photosynthesis running efficiently. This may be one of your earliest warning signs that your Croton isn’t getting enough light, and its growth rate may have slowed significantly.
#3 Temperature and Humidity Fluctuations
Crotons hail from warm, humid climates in and around Indonesia and Malaysia. They prefer consistently warm temperatures and higher humidity levels to thrive. Unfortunately, most of our homes do not mimic the conditions of a tropical rainforest, so we have to be more careful about how we care for these plants indoors.
Large fluctuations in temperature, drafts created by A/C vents, or severely dry air can all negatively impact a Croton’s growth rate. If you notice your plant isn’t pushing new growth and have ruled out watering and light issues, you should consider the climate in your home. Because these plants are somewhat resistant to change, any large swings in either temperature or humidity can elicit a stress response in your Croton, causing it to prioritize survival instead of active growth.
In terms of temperature, anything approaching or below 60°F will cause your Croton stress, as it is usually acclimated to warmer daytime temperatures around or above 70°F. Repeated exposure to temperature fluctuations can continually disrupt the plant’s well-being and take an enormous toll on its growth rate.
Humidity can have a similar effect. Drier climates tend to impact the health of the plant’s leaves, reduce efficient respiration, and disrupt new growth structures as they emerge from the plant. Crotons do best in humidity levels between 40-80%, so if your home tends to be much drier, that low humidity can be causing issues that directly impact growth. (Read more about humidifiers for houseplants here.)
#4 Inadequate Nutrient Levels
Although Crotons aren’t considered heavy feeders, there is a point where a lack of nutrients in the soil can have a negative effect on a plant’s growth rate. This is pretty obvious. A dwindling supply of nutrients available to the plant will eventually be conserved and used to keep the plant alive and functioning rather than building blocks for new growth.
This situation happens over time, as the soil your Croton is planted in slowly gets depleted of existing nutrients, and no supplemental fertilizer feedings are carried out. The plant’s growth rate will definitely slow or stop, but you’ll likely see other signs of nutrient deficiency, like yellowing leaves or leaf drop.
#5 Rootbound In Pot
One final reason your Croton may have stopped growing is that it has outgrown its current home. As plants grow tall and bushy, their root systems are also bulking up and spreading out beneath the soil. When the roots run out of room to grow, the plant is considered root bound in the pot, and growth slows down to sustain the plant in its confined state.
In addition, a plant that has a root system that is tightly bound within a container can have a harder time absorbing the necessary water and nutrients it needs to put out any new growth. If you find that your Croton has suddenly stopped growing, and you’ve ruled out other care issues, it may be time to repot your plant into a bigger pot.
Proper Croton Care to Promote Growth
Now that you are aware of the common care issues that can negatively impact growth let’s briefly discuss what proper Croton care looks like and how you can ensure your plant isn’t being limited by any of these issues.
Water: First and foremost, Crotons need to be watered properly. Because they thrive when the soil they are planted in is consistently moist, you should aim to water your plant deeply only when the top one to two inches of soil have dried out completely. There will still be moisture lower in the pot, but this is an excellent method that helps you avoid the extremes of over-or underwatering.
Good Drainage: In the form of fast-draining, porous potting soil, good drainage can also help avoid water-related issues. Also, a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot is a must!
Fertilizer: About once a month during the growing season, apply a well-balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength during one of your watering sessions. Crotons aren’t heavy feeders, but occasional fertilizer applications will help avoid any nutrient deficiencies that can lead to slowed growth.
Bright Light: As far as light requirements go, find a spot in your home where your Croton gets at least four hours of bright, indirect, or dappled sunlight. A few additional hours of direct sunlight are usually fine, but avoid too much exposure by pulling your plant away from a window by a foot or two or protecting it with a sheer curtain.
Temperature: Crotons love temperatures between 70-80°F and will do best if it doesn’t drop below 65°F at night, so find a spot where temperatures don’t fluctuate as much. Also, be aware that A/C vents and open windows and doors can create microclimates where the temperatures can be very different from what your thermostat reports.
Humidity: Your plant may be perfectly happy with the humidity level in your home, but if you live in a drier climate, consider adding a humidifier to the room where your plant is. Crotons generally do best in humidity levels higher than 50%, which can sometimes be challenging, but a humidifier can be a relatively cheap option to help regulate air moisture indoors.
Pot Up As Needed: Check the roots of your plant occasionally. If it’s been a while since you’ve repotted your Croton and you see roots sticking out of the drainage hole or growing above the soil line, you likely need to give your plant some more space. Pick a container that is just slightly larger than the root ball, allowing for one to two inches of space on all sides, and repot it with fresh potting soil.
Crotons are moderately fast growers that, when well-cared for, can put out several inches of new growth in a season. Don’t worry too much if you notice that your plant isn’t really producing much growth. It just means that you probably need to adjust some elements of its care. By following the tips above, most growth issues resolve quickly, and your Croton should begin pushing more of that beautiful variegated foliage we all love!