Crotons are known for their bright foliage and can put out lots of colorful leaves in a single season. Because this requires a lot of energy, proper fertilization is essential for your plant to have an ample supply of nutrients for new growth. But which fertilizers are best for Crotons? And when and how should you apply them?
Fertilize your Croton monthly during the growing season with a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength, or roughly three times a year with a slow-release formula. For strong leaf and stem growth, use a fertilizer high in nitrogen and potassium. Compost and vermicompost can also be used to help enrich the potting soil.
The topic of fertilizers can be confusing and complicated, mainly because of the sheer variety of choices you have at your disposal. However, in this article, I will focus on exactly what nutrients your Croton needs and some ways to achieve proper fertilization. Let’s dive in!
Should Crotons Be Fertilized?
Absolutely! Crotons aren’t the most vigorous growers by any means, but they do require more supplemental feed than a lot of other houseplants do. This is mainly because Crotons have such vibrant foliage.
Although they can flower, Crotons rarely do when kept indoors and are usually only grown for their bright green, orange, yellow and red leaves. New leaf production requires a lot of energy from the plant. So, when the main goal is to produce as many leaves as possible, your Croton will likely need a refresh of available nutrients to promote food production and growth.
Aside from new growth, your Croton may need additional nutrients just to stay healthy. If you notice that your plant’s growth has slowed down, new growth is significantly smaller than older growth, or the leaves are thin, tattered, or turning a pale green color, these are all signs of a potential nutrient deficiency, and your Croton would likely benefit from an application of fertilizer.
By keeping your plant steadily supplied with the right mix of nutrients, you can ensure that your Croton stays strong and healthy and puts out a steady supply of beautiful foliage throughout its growing season.
What Fertilizer is Best for Crotons?
Picking the right fertilizer for your Croton comes down to considering exactly what your plant needs to thrive. Because they are grown for their variegated leaves, Crotons need nutrients that are essential to promoting healthy foliage. They also need sturdy branches to support all those new leaves, so something that encourages strong stems is great, too.
To meet both requirements, you should look for fertilizers with higher proportions of nitrogen and potassium. Nitrogen is responsible for new, leafy growth, while potassium encourages overall plant wellness and structure, helping those stems grow sturdy. Some good formulas for Crotons have NPK ratios at 3-1-2 or 8-2-10, both of which have higher nitrogen and potassium levels. We always recommend this one for general houseplant care, and it would do well for your Croton.
I try to simplify the number of products I need to buy to care for my houseplants, so I find that a well-balanced fertilizer also works just fine for Crotons. Just be aware that not all macronutrients will be utilized at the same rate, so be mindful of these elements building up in the soil.
Whatever product you use, it is best to always dilute the mixture to half-strength. Remember, it’s easier to add more fertilizer than to try to remove it from the soil if you’ve added too much and it starts to burn the leaves and roots.
You can dilute stronger feeds to quarter strength and occasionally flush the soil and root ball with excess water to remove any possible buildup. Regardless of what formula you decide on, be sure to read the label and follow the instructions to ensure proper application.
When and How to Apply Fertilizer to Your Croton
Once you’ve decided what you will feed your Croton, the next step is to understand how and how often you should apply the supplemental fertilizer.
If you’ve recently repotted your Croton, you can skip the feedings for the first six months or so. Most potting soil has slow-release fertilizer mixed in and will feed your plant for several months after replanting. Eventually though, those nutrients become depleted, and it’s important to mix some more in for healthy growth.
The other important aspect of timing your feedings has to do with your Croton’s growing season. Although they rarely go fully dormant when grown indoors, Crotons still have a peak growing season from early spring to fall, which is when they will utilize additional nutrients to fuel their higher growth rates.
During the winter months, growth slows and your plant likely won’t need any additional feed. In fact, applying feed too late in the season can cause a buildup of nutrients in the soil and end up burning the plant.
If you have decided to use a slow-release fertilizer, apply the amount directed on the label and sprinkle it over the plant’s dirt. This type of fertilizer often lasts about 3 months, so shoot for applications in early March, May, and July. By spacing your applications, your Croton will have plenty of nutrients through September, when they typically start slowing down ahead of winter.
When using a liquid fertilizer, it’s easier to dose out more specific amounts, but the effects are shorter-lived. The plant will absorb what it can and the rest of the feed will flow out from the soil with subsequent waterings, so you’ll need to apply it once each month during the growing season.
I like to start by diluting whatever liquid formula I’m using to half-strength to ensure the plant doesn’t get burned. Apply every six weeks, starting in March and continuing through September. If your plant shows signs of nutrient deficiency, you can easily mix the formula a little stronger or apply it more frequently, although try not to fertilize your Croton more than once a month.
Beware of Fertilizer Burn!
As I mentioned above, applying fertilizers to your Croton at the wrong strength or the wrong time of year can actually cause damage to your plant, known as fertilizer or nutrient burn. This can present as burned or curling leaf tips, bleached or spotty tissue, or large portions of the plant looking leathery or crispy. If you notice these symptoms, you must act fast to mitigate the damage!
If you think you’ve overdone it, flush the soil with lots of fresh water. Let the water run through the soil for about five minutes, and allow the excess to drain from the bottom of the pot. This helps dilute and remove any buildup of fertilizer or salts in the soil and can effectively stop further damage from occurring, though it won’t undo what has already been done.
If the damage to the leaves is extensive, I often find it better to just remove the affected portions of the plant so it can conserve energy and focus on new, healthy growth. Since Crotons handle pruning well, this is usually a pretty low-risk option. Moving forward, space supplemental feedings further apart or dilute the fertilizer more to avoid a buildup in the soil.
Compost and Crotons
Many people would rather not bother with fertilizers and feed applications and instead want to know if compost is a reliable source of nutrients for their Croton. While it is true that compost contains many of the same macro-and micronutrients your plant needs, using it to replace fertilizer altogether takes some extra time.
Compost is essentially a mixture of plant material that has been decomposed with the help of beneficial bacteria so that raw nutrients are easily accessible to plants. Vermicompost is similar, except the decomposition is done by small earthworms breaking down the plant matter.
Compost is often known as a “soil amendment” because, when mixed with potting soil, it not only adds nutrients to the soil but can improve the structure, aeration, and drainage. Unlike liquid fertilizer, the nutrients in compost are not immediately available to your Croton for uptake, but rather they first condition the soil, and then the healthy soil passes along the nutrients in time.
The easiest way to use compost is to mix it into the soil any time you transplant or repot your Croton. You can also try “side dressing” your plant with additional compost, as needed. Side dressing is just scratching up the top soil and digging alongside the root ball, so you can apply more compost near the plant.
If you don’t have your own compost pile or bin, there are several good store-bought options that can be purchased from your local garden center or online. This is our favorite and the one we always recommend for houseplants.
Incorporating some sort of fertilizing routine as part of your regular plant care for Crotons is a good idea. Because they are leafy plants, lots of energy and resources are expended when pushing new growth, so ensuring that the necessary nutrients are available is a critical factor in how big, bushy, and healthy your Croton becomes.
Compost can be a helpful amendment to incorporate, but be sure you know the nutritional content and keep an eye out for any signs of nutrient deficiency on the plant. After a few fertilizer applications, you’ll likely see a huge increase in Croton’s performance and be rewarded with lots of brilliant, variegated leaves.