Watering your croton can be tricky to master, particularly if it’s your first time. I used to attempt to water my crotons on a strict routine, but that didn’t seem to work out too well.
Luckily, I’ve learned some nifty watering tips that have done wonders for the health and wellbeing of my precious plants – and I’ll share them with you here!
Water your croton regularly so that the soil is moist but not consistently wet. If in doubt, water when the top half-inch of the soil has dried out. The frequency of watering will also depend on plant size, pot size & type, season, humidity, and temperature.
Croton is indigenous to tropical climates, so it prefers warm, humid conditions. It loses a great deal of water through its large, gorgeous foliage, so consistent watering is important.
However, you don’t want to water too much; waterlogged, soggy soil is a recipe for fungal diseases, which can be fatal.
Read on as I break down exactly when and how you should water your croton properly. You’ll also learn the signs of over-or under-watered croton. You should look ahead for the general rules to remember when watering your plant.
Factors That Impact Watering Croton Frequency
Knowing how much water to give your croton is imperative for health and survival. But how often you should water your croton depends on a host of factors.
Size of Your Croton Plant
As a houseplant, your croton can grow up to 3 ft. (90 cm). If you care for it faithfully, its dazzlingly variegated foliage will spread around 2 ft. (60 cm). Yours can sit somewhere in between as far as size goes.
Generally, larger crotons absorb more water from the soil. That’s because they lose more moisture through transpiration and use even more cell water through respiration.
As such, it’s a no-brainer that a larger croton plant will need watering more often than a smaller one.
There’s one thing you should keep in mind, though: younger crotons typically grow vigorously. Thus, they call for more frequent watering than larger plants that aren’t actively growing.
Your croton is happiest when at temperatures between 60-85ºF (15-29 °C). Higher ambient temperature speeds respiration, dramatically increasing your plant’s watering requirements.
Besides, moisture evaporates from the soil faster when your croton sits in an area that gets lots of direct sunlight. The indoor temperature may also drop from summer to winter, greatly impacting how often you should water your croton.
Croton plants are native to scrub areas and open tropical forests of Southeast Asia and Australia. That means your croton is a big fan of warm and humid environments.
Your croton will transpire faster and thus need more water when humidity is low. This is often true when the central heating is running and during winter. You may even have to mist the leaves occasionally to raise humidity.
Type and Size of Container
You probably know that pots made out of porous material (like terracotta) lose soil moisture more quickly than plastic containers. Needless to say, you’ll need to water them more frequently to compensate for faster moisture loss.
The size of the pot in respect to the size of the plant does matter, as well. If your container is too large for your plant, it’ll take forever to dry out. You should ease up on the watering hand to prevent waterlogging.
Location of the Plant
If you’re lucky to live within USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11, you may grow your crotons in an outdoor garden. You’ll be surprised by their striking blooms and how tall they grow (up to 10 ft. tall).
That being said, you’ll need to water your outdoor crotons more frequently because they lose soil and tissue moisture faster. Even when indoors you should level up your watering game if your croton is parked in a spot that receives a lot of sunlight.
Type of Potting Mix
Croton does best when potted in well-drained, fertile soil that remains fairly moist. However, if the soil is poorly drained, tightly packed, and has lots of organic matter, it’ll retain water for long. Hence reduce water frequency.
Ideally, you should add some perlite, vermiculite, and sand to enhance soil drainage. This makes water percolate easily and causes the soil to dry out quicker, greatly influencing watering requirements.
How much water you should give your croton will vary depending on the time of the year. Like most tropical plants, your croton will reduce growth drastically during colder winter months but doesn’t necessarily go dormant. Even so, you should dial down watering to avoid overwatering and disease.
Expectedly, your croton switches to higher-growth gear from early spring through summer. During this high-grow period, increase watering frequency accordingly.
Air Circulation (Ventilation)
Constantly moving air will rev up the evaporation of soil moisture and therefore increase the watering required of your croton. Good air circulation is vital for your houseplant, as it minimizes the risk of pests and disease, but it’ll increase watering frequency, nonetheless.
How to Know When to Water Your Croton
Over the years, I have learned that it pays to know the signs when my croton is thirsty. To do so, I not only inspect my plant for physical indicators but also run a raft of soil moisture tests for precise watering.
Test Moisture Level Using a Finger or Stick
You’ve probably heard of the famous finger test or stick test. It’s exactly what it sounds like: testing soil dryness using your finger or a stick.
If the top 1/2-inch of the soil is dry, reach out for your watering can. If it’s still moist, wait a couple of days then test again. It’s that simple and hassle-free.
Potting Soil Color
The soil color can inform you of the moisture level in the potting mix at a glance. Dry soil usually looks grayer and lighter than wet soil, so it can be a swift way to know if the soil is starting to dry out.
In practice, I use soil color as a preliminary evaluation to see if I need to do more investigation. If the soil looks dark, that means it’s still moist, and no action is needed. However, if the soil looks gray, I’ll proceed to do a finger or stick test to establish if it’s time to water again.
Leaves Drying Out and Falling Off
Trust me, you don’t want your croton to lose its amazingly beautiful foliage. However, if the bottom leaves are starting to dry out and fall off, you need to water your plant pronto.
You must first rule out low humidity, inadequate light, and inconsistent moisture.
Unlike most houseplants that wilt when thirsty, croton is a whole different kettle of fish. In fact, wilting leaves in croton is a telltale sign of overwatering, rather than underwatering. So, keep an eye on any sign of leaf drop.
Limp and Drooping Leaves
You may be alarmed to see unexpected drooping of leaves on your croton. But don’t panic because this is something you can fix easily and quickly.
This usually happens due to extremely low humidity. Or, when the top 2-3 inches of the soil is bone-dry. In both cases, you’ll have to water your croton immediately and thoroughly.
If your croton leaves are suddenly wrinkling or shriveling up, you may not be giving enough water. However, this can be caused by pests, root rot, and overheated roots. Once you have ruled them out, go for the watering can.
Brown Leaf Tips
If you notice that leaf tips are turning brown, underwatering is the most likely culprit. Note that low humidity can have the same effect, but watering and correcting humidity can solve both issues.
Leaves Turning Brown/Yellow
You need to water your croton if the leaves are turning brown and feel crispy on the outer edges. However, if you notice tiny brown spots with a yellow halo around them, you may have a leaf spot disease on your hand. Check for humidity and heat drafts.
Measure the Weight of The Pot
This old-school approach will work like a charm if you’re already familiar with the “watered” weight of your croton. If it’s lighter than usual, then the soil is probably dry and needs additional moisture.
Use Moisture Meter
If you’d rather skip all the hullabaloo, invest in a good moisture meter. This scaled apparatus will “tell” with great precision whether the soil is dry, moist, or wet.
When gauging soil moisture of your croton, press the probe of the meter half-inch down the mix. From here, you can push it 2-3 inches further down into the soil.
Well, if you want to get more value for your money, get a meter that can measure soil moisture plus other parameters like soil pH, temperature, etc.
Signs of Overwatered Croton
- Wilting and yellowing leaves: If you notice wilted yellow leaves, overwatering is the most likely problem. You should let the soil dry out before you water again.
- Leaf drop: If both new and old leaves are dropping indiscriminately, check the soil. The chances are good you have been giving it too much water. If lower leaves are dropping, that might be due to underwatering.
- Brown leaves: You’ll likely see brown or yellow leaves if you have watered your croton too much. The brown spots are usually water-soaked and surrounded by yellow halos.
- Soggy, moldy soil: Waterlogged soil is wet and soggy to the touch. You may notice mildew, mold, and other fungal growths on the surface of the soil.
- Root rot: Overwatering may kill roots and cause rotting. Rotten roots are black or brown, soft, and mushy, often giving off an awful smell.
How to Water Croton
Watering from Above
You can water your croton from above because it doesn’t mind when its foliage is splashed or doused. In fact, a spray or mist of water around the leaves can help maintain humidity.
- Ensure the soil is soaked by water until it drains out of the bottom holes. If you don’t do this, the moisture won’t reach the root system.
- Tilt off excess water after your croton has sat on it for 10 or so minutes
- Wait until the top half-inch of the soil is dry before your water next. In winter, ensure the top 2-3 inches of the soil has dried out before you water again.
Watering from Below
Tropical plants such as crotons love their roots to remain consistently moist. Even so, you must avoid wet, soggy, or waterlogged soil around the stem to prevent root rot. That’s exactly where watering from below comes in handy.
- Make sure your croton is potted in a container with drainage holes
- Once the top ½-inch of soil is dry, place the pot in a tray or saucer of room-temperature water about ¾-inch (2 cm) deep.
- Keep the saucer topped up until the soil is uniformly moist again.
- Let sit for 20 minutes then remove and drain thoroughly
Self-watering pots take the guesswork out of caring for your croton. I love that it’s incredibly helpful and saves time. Say goodbye to underwatering or overwatering.
- You should get a reliable self-watering pot. Preferably one with a water meter or see-through side.
- Fill the reservoir with fresh water and the pot will do the rest
- Refill the water reservoir every other month or so
8 Golden Rules of Watering Croton Plants
Keep the Soil Evenly Moist
If the soil is not uniformly moist, you may end up either overwatering or underwatering your croton. If you water too much thinking it’s dry, you’ll create localized waterlogged spots around the roots, causing fungal diseases.
If you don’t water assuming the soil is moist, you risk leaf drop, brown leaf tips, sunburns, and general weakness.
To keep soil evenly moist, water thoroughly until the water drains out of the bottom holes. Let it soak for about 10 mins then drain excess water to prevent waterlogging.
Let the Soil Dry Out Between Watering
If I were to give you one end-all, be-all rule, this would be it. Yes, you must wait until the top ½-inch of the potting mix is dry before you water next. That’s for high-growth periods like spring, summer, and flowering.
However, in the low-growth period, especially in wintertime, you must stick your finger or stick up to 3 inches deep into the soil. Only water again when the top one or two inches has dried out.
Drain Excess Water
It’s true that your croton does love water. Be that as it may, you can kill it if you water too much and the soil becomes waterlogged.
As a general rule of thumb, tip out excess water from pot saucer, trays, or sleeves once the soil is reasonably moist. This will help prevent overly soggy soil that drowns roots and invites diseases like fungal root rot.
Ensure Water Reaches the Roots
Whether you water from below or above, make sure water reaches the roots. You don’t want a scenario whereby the leaves are wet and the soil isn’t.
This is easy. Simply soak or water the soil until the potting mix is consistently moist. You’d also want to water until the water comes out of the bottom holes.
Use Well Drainage Capacity Soil
If the soil isn’t draining water appropriately, consider adding chunks of wood, sand, vermiculite, or perlite. This will prevent water from filling air pockets and drowning the roots.
Don’t Count Days
Sure, you want to water your croton every 3-7 days in summer and spring to keep the soil moist but not soggy. However, you don’t want to actually count days before watering. Instead, check the soil moisture and water when ½ inch of topsoil is dry.
Avoid Tap Water
You should check to see if your croton prefers distilled or filtered water. In either case, avoid water straight from the tap because it contains mineral deposits, chlorine, and fluorides that’ll burn the root and leaves.
Use a Pot with Drainage Holes
You must set your croton in a container with drainage holes in the bottom. This will help prevent waterlogging and root rot.
Watering Crotons After Repotting
You must re-pot your croton plants with fresh potting mix after every 2-3 years. This will help replenish nutrients and protect your plant from fertilizer salts, minerals, and chemicals that build up over time.
- Repot your croton in a pot with drainage holes: A terracotta or ceramic pot will do just fine.
- Set up a water tray, sleeve, or saucer: Add some pebbles or small stones to the water. This will help ensure uniform moisture and increase humidity.
- Water thoroughly: After repotting your croton, water it deeply and fully, making sure water drains out of the bottom. The idea is that water should reach the roots to encourage the growth and development of new roots.
You should always water from the top. Do so at least until your croton has re-established itself, then you can switch to self-watering or from below.
(Source: University of Wisconsin)