If you’re looking to add some exotic flair to your home, you needn’t look further than Crotons (Codiaeum variegatum). With their highly variegated, colorful foliage, these houseplants do a great job of bringing the tropics indoors. Sometimes, though, Crotons can be sensitive, and their usually vibrant leaves may turn yellow or brown, which can cause concern.
Any time your Croton’s leaves discolor, it can often be attributed to improper care of the plant. The most common culprits are overwatering, underwatering, poor nutrition, or inadequate light exposure. Usually, this issue can be resolved by making small fixes to your plant’s care and environment.
It can be pretty alarming when you notice your prized houseplant, known for its brilliantly-colored foliage, is turning yellow or brown. Luckily, if you catch this issue early enough, it is usually a matter of altering a few aspects of how you care for the plant to turn it around. As long as you can identify what needs to change, your Croton should recover quickly!
What Are Croton Leaves Supposed to Look Like?
The very first thing to know about Crotons is that there is a lot of variety in what one should look like. There are over 100 different varieties of these plants, which vary in leaf size, leaf shape, and most importantly, color. Generally speaking, however, regardless of the colors on your Croton, the leaves should look healthy and shiny, with a smooth, even texture, free of any dry, burnt, or mushy patches.
Depending on the variety, your Croton may have variegated leaf patterns that include red, yellow, orange, green, brown, pink, and ivory shades. It is pretty incredible that so many different colors can appear on one plant, but it can also make it harder to recognize any problems with leaf discoloration when they arise. The leaves should all follow the same general variegation pattern. If you witness any large patches of yellow or brown, or if entire leaves turn one color, that would be a sign that something strange is going on.
Why Are My Croton’s Leaves Turning Yellow?
Probably the most common leaf discoloration issue you will see on your Croton is when the leaves of your plant start turning yellow. While there are a few different reasons this can happen, I’d say nine times out of ten, it has to do with overwatering.
Overwatering your Croton can be caused by watering your plant too frequently or because the plant has poor drainage, either due to compacted, dense soil or a lack of drainage hole in the container itself. Despite being native to tropical rainforests in Southern Asia, Crotons are susceptible to overwatering. They typically like having the soil they are planted in consistently damp, but when too much moisture is held against their roots, that’s when problems arise.
When your plant gets overwatered, the excess moisture in the soil waterlogs its root system, making essential functions like oxygen exchange and nutrient absorption difficult. Leaves begin to turn yellow, usually starting from the bottom and working their way up the plant. Without the ability to take up additional resources, your plant succumbs to a nutrient deficiency, making it difficult to deliver necessary sustenance to all parts of the plant.
To correct this issue, you need to promptly address your overwatering situation. Let your plant dry out until the top two inches of potting soil are dry to the touch. Actually, stick your finger down into the dirt to see if you can feel any moisture. Only when those top two inches are dry should you water again.
Moving forward, make sure you water deeply and thoroughly, allowing any excess liquid to drain from the bottom of the pot. If you lack a drainage hole, repot the plant into a new container that has one or drill one out. Also, be sure that your Croton’s soil is well-draining and porous. If you find it tired and dense, repot your plant into new potting soil amended with extra pumice or perlite.
In the case of overwatering your Croton, the excess water actually disrupts the plant’s ability to uptake nutrients, even when there is an abundance in the soil. However, if you’ve ruled out watering practices as the cause for yellowing leaves, you may actually have an actual nutrient deficiency on your hands.
Your plant will exhibit yellowing leaves if there aren’t enough resources available for plant growth and maintenance. While not as common an issue as overwatering, this situation can happen if your plant has been potted in the same soil for several seasons and you never do any additional feedings of fertilizer.
Again, you may see your Croton’s leaves turning yellow, starting near the base of the plant and working up. You can easily avoid this scenario by fertilizing your Croton about once a month during its growing season with a well-balanced liquid plant feed. Time these feedings with a normal watering session and dilute them to half-strength to avoid burning your plant. (Read more on fertilizing Crotons here.)
It can also be helpful to repot your Croton every couple of seasons with fresh potting soil. This will ensure that the soil is rich with nutrients (and often charged with a slow-release fertilizer). This will maintain good drainage to help avoid overwatering situations while also helping replenish nutrients for your Croton. (Read more on repotting Crotons here.)
Low Light Levels
One other thing to know about Crotons is that low light exposure can affect leaf discoloration. If your plant isn’t getting enough light, you’ll likely see that its leaves will begin losing their crisp variegation. This is because the plant is trying to produce more chlorophyll, a pigment that aids in photosynthesis, to secure more food for itself. As this happens, the leaves can turn from their bright, variegated colors to a dull green and sometimes even a yellow pallor.
The easy fix for this issue is to move your Croton to a brighter spot in your home that gets lots of filtered sunlight all day. With the proper amount of sunlight, you should see the vibrant colors and variegation return to your plant over time. (Read more about the proper lighting setup for Crotons here.)
Why Are My Croton’s Leaves Turning Brown?
Although less common than yellowing leaves, brown leaves or spots often indicate a serious health problem that requires your immediate attention.
We’ve already discussed how overwatering and poor drainage can cause leaves to turn yellow, but when left untreated, you may also start seeing brown spots appearing across sections of your Croton’s leaves. These spots look scary, but your Croton can be saved if properly addressed. But brown leaves or spots do need immediate attention.
Brown spots are most commonly due to root rot, a condition caused by chronic overwatering. As the root system gets inundated with excess moisture, it begins to suffocate and die, causing a rot issue that can spread throughout the plant. Brown spots can start appearing anywhere on a leaf but often show as irregular splotches in the middle of the lower leaves.
At this point, more drastic measures need to be taken to nurse your Croton back to good health. Although you definitely need to stop watering your plant immediately, you may also need to repot your plant. When removing the plant from the soil, cut out any rotted, mushy roots with sterilized sheers and replant your Croton in fresh potting soil.
Rot can spread quickly, so it is important to do a thorough job of cutting away any parts of the plant that are infected before repotting, including the leaves and the roots. Once this is done, be extra careful about watering your Croton properly to ensure your plant can recover fully and never succumb to the same issue again.
Although overwatering is a very common cause of brown spots on leaves, you may also see them appear due to underwatering. If your Croton is suffering from a lack of water, it will typically try to preserve enough moisture within the plant to keep essential functions running. It needs to sacrifice some parts of itself to do this, and the leaves are usually the first to go.
As the plant dries out, you might notice that the leaf tips and edges start to yellow. This is the plant drawing moisture away from the leaves, causing the tissue to dry out and die. As the problem progresses, these leaf tips will turn brown and start to curl and crumble.
Obviously, if you see this on your plant, you need to water it. Do so immediately, watering it deeply, so all the soil is well-saturated and excess can drain from the bottom of the pot. Then, moving forward, use the finger test to determine when the top two inches of soil have dried out, so you know when to water again.
Unfortunately, dried-out leaf tissue won’t recover, but as long as the leaves are not too damaged, they will still function well while new, healthy growth is produced by the plant. If you feel the need, you can remove the more damaged leaves so that the plant’s energy can go into making more healthy leaves rather than keeping the damaged ones alive.
Why Are My Croton’s Leaves Turning White?
Although much less common than yellow or brown leaves, you may find that your Croton is sporting a few white leaves, devoid of any color at all.
There aren’t many reasons why houseplant leaves turn white, but one cause is sunburn. Crotons like a lot of light to thrive, but too much direct sunlight can often be detrimental to the plant and will actually burn the delicate leaf tissue to the point where damage is caused. Any damaged leaves should be removed from the plant since they won’t ever recover, so your Croton can put its energy into producing new, healthy growth instead.
The resulting burn often shows up as heavily mottled, yellow, brown, or red splotches across affected leaves. In some cases, the burn can be so bad that all the pigment is destroyed, leaving a delicate layer of tissue that is bleached white. If you notice this happening to your plant, it is getting way too much sun and needs to be pulled away from a window or protected from the direct sunlight with a sheer curtain or something similar. (Read more about lighting your Crotons here.)
I want to mention one other “cause” of white leaves that isn’t actually an actual leaf discoloration, but rather a condition caused by a disease. Powdery mildew is a very common fungal disease that infects many different varieties of plants and trees, indoors and out, and causes a plant to look like its leaves are covered by a fine, white powder. Although the surfaces of the leaves look white, if you rub your finger over one, the tissue below it still has its normal color.
Crotons are susceptible to this condition and, if left untreated, can die from it. The good news is there are many commercial and home treatments that you can utilize to help treat your plant. These usually involve a couple to several spray treatments applied to all sides of the plant to control the fungal infection. When treated properly, you’ll see the powdery residue subside, and the true colors of your Croton shine through once again.
We all love Crotons because of their bright, multi-colored leaves. So, when we see yellow, brown, or white spots on our plants, it can be scary, but it’s best not to panic! Usually, by making minor adjustments to how we water, how much we fertilize, and how much sunlight our plants have access to, most leaf discoloration issues can easily be resolved, and our Crotons can continue to push healthy, vibrant, colorful growth for us to enjoy!