The garden croton (Codiaeum variegatum) is a small shrub with big tropical-looking leaves. Crotons can grow outdoors in gardening zones 9 to 11, and some varieties also make great houseplants, though demanding ones. Their striking red, orange and yellow-striped leaves make the extra work worthwhile. Some varieties even have purple or white stripes and patches on the dark green leaves. But sometimes the bright colors on a croton fade, leaving them with ordinary-looking green leaves. It can be disappointing to notice a croton losing color because those vibrant leaves are this plant’s best feature.
Why is My Croton Losing its Color?
Color loss of croton is common in winter and in low light conditions. Croton plants are native to the tropics, growing wild in Indonesia and Malaysia, and they do best in full sun or bright indoor light. Most often, croton plants with faded leaves are simply not receiving enough light.
Conversely, some colors may fade if crotons are exposed to excessive direct light. Each variety has its own light preferences, so check whether the variety you have does best in full sun or partial sun.
What to Do When Croton Leaves are Fading
If a croton’s colors fade in low light levels, you need to increase the amount of light it is receiving. Bring the croton outdoors during the warm part of the year to give it more light. Be sure to harden off the plant, bringing it outdoors for a few hours at a time and placing it in a shady spot at first, to allow the plant to adjust to the brighter light, wind, and less stable temperatures of the outdoors.
Crotons are not cold hardy and shouldn’t be exposed to temperatures below 30 degrees F. (-1 degree C.). Bring your croton back indoors before the first frost in fall.
If a croton develops fading leaves when it is exposed to excessively bright light, try moving it into the shade or farther away from the window.
To keep your croton healthy during the winter when it has to be indoors, place it near the sunniest window in the house, within 3 to 5 feet (.91 to 1.52 m.) of the glass, or provide a grow light. Legginess is another sign that the plant is not getting enough light.
To ward off other problems that could cause weak coloration in crotons, provide a balanced slow-release fertilizer two to three times a year, but avoid over fertilizing, especially during the winter when growth is slower. Keep soil evenly moist, but avoid waterlogged or poorly drained soil, which may cause leaves to turn yellow. Crotons should be misted to keep them healthy indoors, since they prefer more humidity than most houses provide.