Crotons have bold, bright foliage for fall

Published 7:32 am Monday, September 6, 2021

By Gary R. Bachman
MSU Extension Service

My favorite plants for the fall season are crotons. These beauties have some of the boldest and brightest foliage found in garden centers.

Their warm foliage colors of bright yellow, red and orange shades are perfect for autumnal decorations and displays. Some of the foliage rainbow color patterns look like abstract works of art. When grown outside in high light locations, the colors become even more intense.

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Crotons are not just great for the fall landscape and garden. They are attractive and add an exotic touch all through the year.

I get a few questions from time to time about planting crotons into landscape beds. I usually advise against it because they are tropical plants that thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 10 to 12. In Mississippi, I suggest leaving them in their original pots or transplanting them into decorative containers.

As long as temperatures are above 50 degrees, enjoy crotons outdoors where they thrive in the heat and humidity of our summers.

There are more than 100 varieties of croton, but we rarely find more than a few in garden centers. I don’t think it matters which variety you choose, as they all have magnificent warm, fall colors. Crotons also have a variety of leaf shapes, from long and short to thin and twisted.

Growing requirements are pretty easy. Place them in the full sun, although some afternoon shade is beneficial. Feed with 20-20-20 water-soluble fertilizer once a month to keep your crotons happy. Maintain consistent soil moisture, as croton don’t like to dry out.

Being tropical, crotons don’t like temperatures below 50 degrees, which is no problem in our summer season. Growing them in containers makes it much easier to bring inside for cold weather protection. It also allows you to enjoy the great color indoors if you place them in a bright window with indirect light.

Once you take the plants indoors, be sure to mist the foliage every day or try this tip. Place the container in a dish with a layer of pebbles and water. This acts as a humidifier, as the water evaporates from the pebbles’ surface.

An indoor problem to look out for are a few insect pests like mealybugs and spider mites that will show up if the containers start to dry out and stress the plant. Control these pests by washing the foliage with gentle dish soap and then rinsing.

If you want a great plant for autumn impact, then I highly recommend getting a couple of crotons. The current selection of plants, in my opinion, has never been better at your local independent garden center.

As you shop this weekend, be sure to pick up a couple of crotons to complete your autumnal decorations.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Gary Bachman is an Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. He is also the host of the popular Southern Gardening television and radio programs. Contact him at