Growing a Croton Plant Outdoors

Written by Em Casalena
Updated: March 17, 2023
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Indonesian-born croton plants can withstand the winter in USDA hardiness zones nine through 11. These vibrant, durable plants may provide fascinating pops of color to your yard if you reside in this tropical or subtropical environment. Crotons are beautiful shrubs that reach heights of five to six feet. This plant’s color is quite gorgeous, and it gives your house or yard an exotic feel.

Are you curious about growing your own croton plants outdoors? Surprisingly, growing a croton plant outdoors (in the appropriate hardiness zone, of course) can be even easier than growing one indoors. In this guide, we will take a look at everything you need to know about growing croton plants outside, from sunlight to water to temperature to the soil. If you want to grow a croton plant outdoors, we’re here to help!

The Basics of Growing Crotons Outdoors

Crotons are believed to be endemic to certain South Pacific Islands, Malaysia, and India. The plants come in various species and cultivars, but they are most recognized for their low care requirements and vibrant foliage, which frequently has fascinating variegation or speckling.

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Depending on your zone’s location and the typical low temperatures experienced there each year, you may be able to produce crotons outside. The croton is extremely frost-sensitive and cannot withstand below-freezing temperatures. Growing croton plants outside shouldn’t be an issue for southern gardeners in frost-free regions. 

Anyone who lives somewhere with temperatures that are dangerously low, such as below 32 degrees F, below freezing, or even in the mid-to-high-40s, cannot plant crotons outside directly into ground soil. For this reason, some gardeners decide to cultivate croton in mobile pots. In this manner, the plant may be transferred to a protected area at the first sign of even a little threat from cold temperatures.

Covering the plant, if it is in the ground, is another step in caring for outdoor crotons. The important thing to keep in mind is that because they are tropical plants, cold temperatures can destroy the leaves and even the roots. Croton plants are only hardy to freezing, and even a little above, so northern gardeners shouldn’t try to grow them outside unless it’s the hottest day of the summer. 

Growing Croton Plant Outdoors Tips

To maintain the vibrancy of the leaf colors, place the plant so that it receives enough bright yet indirect light. Place the plant in a location free from chilly northern winds. Use potting soil that drains properly and a container big enough to accommodate the root ball and provide some room for growth. Crotons should only be transplanted every three to five years, or as necessary because they dislike the procedure.

Plants grown outside in the proper zones will require a little bit more water than indoor plants. This is due to the fact that sunshine causes moisture to evaporate, and wind tends to dry up soil fast. Be vigilant for pests and illness, and take fast action.

Cover bigger ground-based plants with a burlap sack or an old blanket if a cold spell is imminent. Place several pegs around the plant to support the weight of the covering in order to prevent breaking limbs. Plants should have a minimum of two inches of organic material, such as mulch. This will help shield roots from the cold, keep out weeds that would compete with the plant, and gradually nourish the plant as the material decomposes.

Bright yellow crotons or Codiaeum variegatum croton plant growing under sunlight
Crotons (pictured) need bright light when planted outdoors to encourage their bright foliage colors.


Soil Requirements for Outdoor Crotons

Rich soil is necessary for croton plants. Most gardeners use a mixture of peat moss and organic compost. These plants need soil that drains properly, but they also need a container that can drain since they don’t like to sit in puddles of water. If you are planting them directly into the soil, make sure there is good ground drainage.

Croton plants need only be fertilized once per month, although fertilizing them will promote faster development in these plants. High levels of nitrogen and potassium should be included in the fertilizer, but overfeeding a plant like this will weaken its roots and dull its leaves. Reduce the quantity of fertilizer you give the plant and feed it less regularly over the winter when it is dormant. There should be enough food for one feeding every other month.

Sunlight Requirements for Outdoor Crotons

In order for these plants to produce their stunning yellow, red, and purple leaves, they need six to eight hours of direct sunshine each day. To guarantee that a croton plant receives adequate sunshine, it is advisable to place it in an open area of your garden with the option for shade. The leaves will become green if the plant is not receiving enough light, so be mindful of your croton’s appearance when first planting it.

Temperature Requirements for Outdoor Crotons

Crotons prefer warm climates and often thrive in conditions that are approximately 70 degrees F. The plant may lose its leaves and maybe even perish at temperatures below 60 degrees F, and all varieties will die in temperatures below 50 degrees F.

Water Requirements for Outdoor Crotons

During the growth season, you’ll need to water your croton plants quite regularly. This is especially true if your specific area does not rain often. This plant must be watered again when the top starts to feel dry since the soil needs to be consistently moist. 

These plants also like a humid atmosphere. You need to sprinkle the leaves to intentionally generate this environment if you can’t discover a place outside that offers it. The need for watering will reduce over the winter, so take care not to overwater your plants.

If you live in USDA hardiness zones nine through 11 and get plenty of rain, still be mindful to check the top of the soil to ensure your crotons are getting enough water.

A person watering a young croton plant with a metal watering can
Crotons (pictured) need consistent watering, whether planted outdoors or in pots.

© Burganova

Tips for Growing a Healthy Outdoor Croton

Crotons require a variety of things; therefore, you’ll need to create an outside area that offers those things to grow them in your landscape effectively.

Make sure you have adequate room to begin with. Give your young crotons two to three feet of space to develop and spread when you plant them. As a result, there will be adequate air circulation to ward against fungus. There should be a lot of organic matter in the soil. When you plant your fresh crotons, give them a little supper of slow-release fertilizer.

After placing your plants, cover the area with a few inches of mulch to conserve water, prevent weed growth, and insulate the roots of your plants from the cold. It’s fortunate that high winds will force the plants to dry up and get dehydrated, which will cause the leaves to fall. Winds below zero will kill them. Ensure that you have shelter from these powerful gusts. For this reason, many people will plant their crotons close to a strong fence.

Croton Plant Outdoors Tips

To keep your croton in good health and shape, you should trim away any dead, broken, or ugly branches and leaves, just like you would with any other plant. Wear gloves and eye protection whenever you handle this plant. On touch, the milky, white, sticky sap can harm your eyes and lead to dermatitis. When you are finished trimming, remember to wash your hands!

Another thing to keep in mind is that you will need to be gentle when planting your croton plants outside. Avoid planting young crotons in your garden too deeply or too shallowly. The depth should be the same as the container the plant was originally sent in.

Check the roots before unpotting croton so you may move it to the ground or a new outdoor pot. If the plant is pot-bound, give the root ball a gentle massage to help it become more accessible to nutrients and water. Water your plants well after planting. Until your plants are well-established, you will need to water them a few times each week.

If your area experiences extreme heat or dryness, water your plants more often. Established crotons can withstand drought, although they like dampness. Do not forget to water them appropriately because they are tropical plants, not deserts. Give your plant some water if it’s dry and wilting.

Can I Plant a Croton Outside in a Cold Climate?

You might be able to plant croton in a cold climate if willing to do the work. The ideal temperature range for these plants is between 65 and 95 degrees F. Crotons cannot take any degree of frost, so be prepared to cover your plants if the forecast calls for lows of 45 degrees F, which can indeed occur in USDA hardiness zone nine.

To guard against frost, use a blanket or other similar material. If rain is expected, cover this with a tarp or some plastic. Don’t only use plastic. The absence of protection from the plastic causes the leaves and stems to freeze and shatter.

Set pegs around your plant to support the covering and guard it against harm from sustained pressure. You could also want to place some string lights below the cover to give a little warmth. Water your plants carefully before covering them. The additional wetness will protect the plants’ roots from freezing by insulating them.

If your winters are simply too cold for your croton to survive, you still have some options. Crotons should be grown in sizable, mobile pots in colder areas and brought indoors during the winter. You must pay special attention to the forecasted weather in this circumstance. Plants must be brought indoors if the temperature falls below 35 degrees F. As we mentioned earlier, they may survive temperatures slightly above this if properly covered.

Can Croton Plants Poison Humans or Pets?

When you have kids or dogs living with you, having crotons in your garden might be dangerous. The plant’s stem has a milky fluid that is poisonous. The sap will likely not be lethal for dogs, cats, or young toddlers, but it will cause stomach pain. Keep inquisitive children and animals away from croton bushes since eating the sap-filled seed pod can be harmful.

Crotons make absolutely stunning outdoor plants. If you live in the pretty specific hardiness zones that they thrive in, then you’ll be able to grow crotons for a very long time with little in the way of maintenance.

Want to learn more about the incredible croton plant? Take a look at our complete guide to everything croton-related!

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The Featured Image

A closeup of a croton plant or Codiaeum variegatum plant's leaves growing outside
A closeup of a croton plant or Codiaeum variegatum plant's leaves growing outside

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About the Author

I'm a lover of all things sustainability, from urban farming to not killing houseplants. I love carnivorous plants, indigenous crops, and air-cleansing indoor plants. My area of expertise lies in urban farming and conscious living. A proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What hardiness zones do crotons thrive in?

In general, crotons can only survive well in USDA hardiness zones nine through 11.

What humidity level does the croton enjoy?

Croton plants that live outdoors appreciate humidity levels between 40% and 80%, as they are tropical plants.

What type of soil do crotons need outdoors?

Crotons thrive in well-draining, moist soil.

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