As far as foliage houseplants go, Crotons are just about as colorful as they get. This widely assorted, highly variegated family of plants sports all kinds of crazy leaf colors and patterns, all of which are very impressive. However, Croton’s leaves can dull or lose color over time. What causes this and what can you do to reverse it?
Croton leaves lose their vibrancy, coloring, and variegation if the plant isn’t getting the right amount of sunlight. Most varieties require bright, indirect sunlight all day (or several hours of direct morning sun) to keep their coloring. Proper care also helps Crotons maintain colorful leaves.
If you notice your Croton has lost some of its leaf color or you’re finding more and more green leaves growing in, you likely need to consider how much light your Croton is receiving. In this article, I’ll get more specific on what kind of light and how much is needed to maintain your plant’s vibrant colors and offer some tips to help get your plant back to its happy, colorful self.
What Should Croton Leaves Look Like?
Before we dive into the reasons your Croton might fade in color, it might be helpful to understand what Croton leaves should actually look like. However, since there are over 100 different varieties of this plant, just know up front that your own plant might not fit any of these descriptions perfectly.
Generally speaking, however, Croton leaves are usually very colorful, and they usually have some sort of variegation throughout. These two traits differ greatly across all the different varieties of the plant, so they can range from almost solid green to brightly speckled with multiple colors and everything in between.
Croton leaves are often longer, but vary in shape. They can be oval, elongated, and even curled or rippled. They can also come in a variety of colors, including green, yellow, orange, red, brown, pink, and ivory.
Healthy leaves grow from the tips of the Croton’s stems and often start a solid green color. As they expand and unfurl, they gain variegation and will sport different colors depending on the unique genetics of your plant. Regardless of color, your Croton’s leaves should be pliable, sturdy, and free of any soft, discolored spots or crispy tips or edges. On highly colorful leaves, it can be hard to spot discoloration due to care issues, so watch for entire leaves or large portions of a leaf turning yellow or brown.
Why Do Croton Leaves Turn Different Colors?
One of the most incredible things about Crotons is how many different varieties there are across the genus. Because of their diverse and, often, unstable genetics, Crotons end up producing a myriad of different combinations of variegation and colors.
Depending on an individual plant’s genetic makeup, different pigments are produced in the leaves and are arranged according to their specific variegation pattern. These pigments are typically present in plants as accessory pigments to chlorophyll, the most common pigment that makes plants green. These accessory pigments absorb other wavelengths of light and transfer that stored energy to chlorophyll to aid in photosynthesis.
Of course, the result of all these different pigments is the different color patterns we see in our Crotons. However, these pigments are only prevalent when there is an abundance of sunlight available for the plant.
If your Croton isn’t getting enough light, the plant starts to abandon the production of these different accessory color pigments to produce more chlorophyll so photosynthesis can continue uninterrupted. This causes the plant to lose some of its unique coloring and it will turn greener. This is why, when you see your Croton looking less vibrant, less variegated, or just generally greener than it was, you should investigate how much sunlight it is getting.
Why Is My Croton Losing Color?
It can be disconcerting whenever your Croton starts looking dull or colorless, but it’s usually not a huge cause for concern. As I mentioned above, your Croton’s color is directly related to sunlight, so it has likely just experienced a change in the amount of light available to the plant.
This is a common issue that most Croton owners struggle with because light availability changes depending on the time of day, but it is also affected by the seasons, weather, and placement within your home. What once was a perfect spot for your Croton in the summer may not be sufficient by the time December rolls around.
Too Little Light: The most common reason your Croton is losing color or turning green is that there isn’t enough sunlight getting to the leaves throughout the day. Without enough sunlight, your Croton will quickly ramp up the production of those chlorophyll pigments to counteract any drop in photosynthesis due to dwindling sunlight exposure. As the presence of the accessory pigments drops within the plant, the leaves will start losing the various colors it was sporting before.
Too Much Light: Believe it or not, there can be such a thing as too much light for Crotons. Some of the pigments Crotons produce, such as red or orange, can fade out when exposed to too much direct sunlight, leaving those patches of color looking dull or bleached out.
This is also a sign that your particular variety of Croton is receiving sunlight at an intensity it can’t handle and may be particularly susceptible to sunburn, which can be devastating to the entire plant, regardless of leaf color.
How to Keep Your Croton Colorful
Because the colors on these plants can fade when exposed to too little or too much sunlight, you almost have to think of Crotons as the plant version of Goldilocks and find a level of sun exposure and light intensity that is “just right” for that particular variety. This can be difficult to achieve because of the sheer amount of variation among different Crotons, but there are some guidelines that make a great starting point.
In general, try to provide your Croton with as much bright, indirect sunlight as you can each day. This means that your plants should be placed in a spot with lots of ambient, reflective light. Rooms with east- or south-facing windows are great but pull your Croton away from the windows to minimize exposure to hot, direct sunlight.
Many varieties of Croton can actually handle quite a bit of direct sunlight too, so if you find that your plant is still losing color or looks too green, move it to a spot that gets three to four hours of direct morning or midday sunlight. Afternoon sun can sometimes be too hot, so consider protecting your plant with a sheer curtain during the hottest portion of the day.
If you plan to transition to some direct light, do so gradually to avoid shocking your Croton. At any time, if you see your plant’s red or orange hues paling or bleaching away, reduce the amount of direct sunlight the plant is getting.
Remember that light levels change throughout the seasons, so what worked in the spring may be too intense in the summer and too weak in the winter. Keep a close eye on your Croton for color fading and make changes to its placement as needed.
If you are having a hard time finding the perfect lighting situation for your plant, supplementing with a grow light can do wonders for your Croton and will take some of the trial and error out of the equation. There are plenty of options for full spectrum grow lights. This one is our favorite by far.
Colorful Crotons and Proper Plant Care
We’ve already established that light levels are the main factor in whether or not your Croton is producing vibrant, highly variegated leaves. However, it’s worth mentioning that healthy plants do a better job of maintaining these colorful leaves when properly cared for. Do not discount the importance of proper plant care!
Proper watering, nutrient availability, temperature, and humidity can all have a huge impact on how your Croton functions and its ability to create food, pigment, and most importantly, maintain healthy leaf structures that display all their beautiful colors.
Make sure you water your Croton when the top inch of soil has dried out, giving the plant a thorough drink and allowing the excess liquid to drain from the soil. Proper moisture levels within the plant aid with nutrient uptake and transport systems.
Supplemental feedings with a well-balanced liquid fertilizer also ensure the plant isn’t lacking any macro or micronutrients it needs to carry out important functions like photosynthesis. Feed your Croton once a month with a half-strength dose during the growing season to avoid any deficiencies that can slow down essential processes.
A word of warning, though: overfertilizing can result in poorly colored leaves, so be conservative at first. Dilute liquid fertilizers to half strength to start and apply once a month. If you still see signs of nutrient deficiency, gradually reduce the time between feedings or decrease the dilution rate a little at a time.
Proper temperature and humidity contribute quite a lot to good leaf health on Crotons and should be considered as part of your plant care routine. Try to keep your Croton in temperatures between 70-85° F. Exposure to temperatures below 60° F can shock your plant enough that it drops several of its healthy leaves.
Low humidity can also disrupt essential leaf functions like respiration and cause issues with improper unfurling of new leaf growth. Physically damaged or under-functioning leaves require more energy to upkeep and may eventually be discarded by the plant if the burden becomes too great.
Although these plant care tips don’t have an impact on leaf color directly, strong, healthy plant specimens are usually more inclined to adapt to changing environmental conditions and less likely to experience shock or leaf drop, as a result, which means your Croton can focus its energy on pushing lots of new, colorful growth.
Because Crotons are so recognizable for their unique coloring and the sheer variety of different looks, it can be concerning when you notice your plant is losing color or turning green. But there’s no need to panic!
Loss of color or variegation is a warning sign that your plant likely needs more sunlight exposure. As long as you react promptly and provide the right light intensity for your specific Croton, it should recover quickly, with variegation returning to existing leaves.
Also, remember healthy Crotons can recover faster than sick or damaged ones, so be sure that you are taking proper care of your plants. That way, any color issues can be resolved quickly, and you can get back to enjoying your beautiful Crotons in no time at all.