Some houseplants benefit greatly from the occasional trim, while others prefer to be left well enough alone. Depending on the type of plant you have, pruning can have an enormous impact on the health and overall look of your houseplant. So, what about Crotons? Should you ever prune these vibrant plants back?
Pruning should be a regular part of your plant care routine to ensure lush, bushy, healthy growth on your Croton. Pruning your Croton frequently helps control the shape and size of your plant, and promotes new, strong leaf growth to give the plant a fuller look.
When left to their own devices, Crotons tend to grow long branches that end up losing many of their leaves, giving you a lanky, sparse specimen that leaves a lot to be desired. To ensure your plant is flush with the vibrantly variegated foliage it is known for, regularly pruning of branches or pinching growth tips will promote new leaf growth while controlling for size.
Pruning Your Croton is a Necessity
We’ll dive into the various reasons you should be pruning your Croton below, but for now, know that if you want your plant to be all it can be, you need to start trimming it regularly. If you’re nervous about cutting back your plant, please don’t be! Crotons are actually quite tough and can handle even a hard pruning. Most Crotons tend to bounce back from a pruning session within weeks, sporting more leaves to give the plant a fuller, bushier look.
Reasons to Prune Your Croton
Below you’ll find a list of the most common reasons to prune your Croton houseplant. However, just because I’m breaking them out separately doesn’t mean they aren’t all related. In general, each time you cut back your Croton, you improve your plant by addressing all of these reasons at once.
Control for Size
One of the main reasons you should prune regularly is to control your Croton’s height. While outdoor specimens can grow upwards of ten feet tall, indoor plants generally stay between two and four feet tall. While that may seem like a manageable height range, plants are living things and, to a certain extent, will grow the way they want to grow. So it is not uncommon to find one or two stalks pushing out more growth than the rest of the plant.
In order to keep your Croton more uniform, you might need to prune these towering stalks back in line with others. This also redistributes the plant’s energy to push these taller stalks to other parts of the plant.
Give Your Croton a Bushier Appearance
Another common reason you’ll want to prune your Croton is to promote new leaf growth to give the plant a fuller, bushier look. Over time, as stems grow at different rates and the plant starts losing some of its older leaves, your Croton may start looking sparse and spindly. Also, if your plant experienced a stressful event, it may have dropped some leaves higher up and left long portions of bare stem.
To correct this issue, a strategic cut here and there will take those bare stems down to a manageable size, and within a few weeks, new leaf growth with push out just below the cut line. These leaves will make your Croton appear much bushier as they fill in.
It’s important to note that, unlike some other houseplant varieties, pruning your Croton won’t often produce new branches below the cut line. A bud will often form at a node, from which a single stem will emerge to replace the one you cut back. Because this new stem will have abundant leaves growing from it, your plant will look much fuller.
This is also why notching your Croton’s stems is not a recommended way to promote growth. Likely, your plant will continue pushing growth from the existing stem, but with the added burden of healing the notch wound made to it. It’s much easier to cut the stem back to the desired height and let it push leaf growth from the stem.
Manage Unhealthy Growth
Although we always strive to provide our plants with the perfect care regimen, there will be times when our Crotons get a little too dry, too wet, too much sun, or too cold. Life happens, and sometimes we drop the ball. As a result, you may find that your Croton has dead or dying leaves, discoloration due to overwatering, leggy growth, crispy brown edges, rot, a pest infestation, or a myriad of other issues that result in sad-looking stems and leaves.
Once you’ve corrected the underlying cause of the problem, the good news is that a thorough pruning on your Croton will do wonders for its recovery. Any dead or dying parts of the plant should be removed as soon as possible. Your Croton will expend a lot of energy into shoring up weak parts of its structure, so by removing the unhealthy portions, that energy can be better utilized elsewhere, like producing new and healthy growth.
This is also a good practice for managing the growth on older parts of a Croton. Older stems that have lost a lot of leaves can be pruned back to promote new growth, reinvigorating a tired-looking specimen.
Also, any time you see an unhealthy leaf, whether it be from old age or a minor lapse in proper care, feel free to trim it away from the plant. Remember that Crotons thrive with pruning, so there is no reason to keep a subpar leaf that detracts from your plant’s beauty.
When Is the Best Time to Prune a Croton?
Many plants go dormant during the winter months when the days are shorter, and production slows. While Crotons can be influenced by the seasons, indoor specimens are usually considered non-seasonal, meaning they don’t ever go fully dormant during the winter. Sure, their growth will likely slow during this time, but they are still active.
This means that you can prune a Croton just about any time during the year. If you want to be cautious, I suggest you make any hard prunes where you’re taking a significant portion of a stem away during the spring or summer months. This gives your plant plenty of time to recover and produce new growth. Otherwise, feel free to take off any single leaves or lightly pinch growth tips back any time you see fit.
The Right Tools to Prune Your Croton
Pruning your Croton is a pretty straightforward operation, but you need to have the right tools on hand to minimize your plant’s exposure to damage and disease. Dull, dirty blades aren’t going to cut it (pun definitely intended).
Croton stems are not particularly woody or thick, so a sharp knife or pruning shears are really all you need to make clean cuts. The sharper the implement, the less damage is done to the plant tissue. This helps the wound heal faster and prevents any disease or bacteria from infecting the plant.
Clean implements are also essential. Dirty, rusty blades are just an invitation for an infection to settle into your Croton’s stem. Be sure to clean your knife or shears in between uses and sterilize them with a diluted bleach solution or isopropyl alcohol.
One other thing to consider when pruning your Croton is the plant’s sap. Like many other species in the Euphorbia family, Crotons produce a latex-like sap that can be an irritant to the skin and eyes. Anytime you make a cut on these plants, the white sap will run freely for a bit and can easily get on your hand and fingers. To protect yourself, you may want to wear gardening gloves and some old clothes or an apron to avoid coming into contact with the sap. If you get it on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible under warm water using a mild soap.
How To Prune Back a Croton Plant
Like I mentioned above, Crotons are hardy plants that can handle anything from a light pinch to a hard prune, which means that, as long as you’ve got the right tools, you can’t really mess this procedure up too much. That being said, take a minute to look over your plant and visualize your end goal. Knowing what size, height, and shape you are trying to achieve will help guide where you should make your cuts.
Remember, you can remove any dead or unhealthy-looking leaves at any time. They just suck energy away from the plant and won’t ever look great again. Clip these leaves all the way back, as close to the stem as possible.
Pinch Back Growth Tips
If you like your Croton’s general size and shape, you may only need to pinch back the growth tips at the end of the stems every once in a while. By removing the growth tips of the plant, you can slow down the leaf and stem production to maintain the plant’s current shape and height. Even though pinching can be done with your fingertips, it’s better if you make the cut with your clean knife or shears to prevent damage and disease.
Make Significant Cuts
If your Croton is too tall or has many uneven stems, you can make more significant cuts to even out the height or bring the entire plant down to a more manageable size. Using your shears, make clean cuts along the stems to a spot about one foot below where you’d like a burst of new leaves to appear.
As long as your plant is in good health, you can usually take as much off as you need to, but if you want to be more cautious, start with about ⅓ the length of the stem. Let the plant recover and produce new growth for about a month, and if you still need to remove more height, you can take it down another ⅓.
If you’d like your Croton to have a bushier appearance, the trick to achieving this is to prune back many of the stems close to the same height and allow bunches of leaves to grow in simultaneously. Remember, you won’t often see a Croton branch from pruning, but by cutting the plant back to reinvigorate leaf production, your Croton will look much fuller in a matter of weeks.
Give It a Hard Prune
In cases where your plant looks really bare, perhaps as a result of being shocked or stressed, the best course of action might be a hard prune close to the soil line. It’s a drastic move but is sometimes the only option to restore your plant to a healthy state. If you find yourself in this situation, remember that new growth is only produced from an existing node along the stem. Keep this in mind when deciding how far down to cut your plant. If you don’t preserve a least one node, no new growth can occur, and your plant will die.
Regardless of how far back you prune your Croton, you should see new growth being produced within about four to six weeks. During this time of recovery and growth, be sure you’re paying attention to what the plant needs, especially with the amount of water and light your plant receives.
Crotons are beautiful plants that can become quite the showstoppers in our homes when taken care of properly. Regular pruning is one of the best ways to ensure your Croton produces loads of thick, lush, and (most importantly) healthy foliage. By incorporating this practice into your normal plant care routine, you can be sure your Croton will always be looking its very best, and there’ll be no shortage of vibrant, variegated leaves on display for you to enjoy!