Croton is an exotic-looking evergreen plant with large, leathery leaves in vivid shades of red, green and gold. Although croton is a tender tropical plant usually enjoyed indoors, gardeners in the warm climates of U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 10 and above can grow the colorful plant outdoors.
For outdoor-grown crotons, proper light is the most important factor. While too little light will limit the plant's ability to produce the most vivid shades, excessively bright sunlight often fades the bright colors of the foliage. Croton does well in a location where the plant is exposed to sunlight for most of the day, but protected in the hottest part of the afternoon.
Croton is tolerant of nearly any well-drained soil, including peat-based soil or sandy soil near the beach. While the plant is adaptable to poor soil, any type of soil must drain well. Avoid planting croton in soggy areas where water tends to puddle after a rain, as the croton's roots are susceptible to rot in excessively wet soil.
Although an inch of water every week is a good rule of thumb for watering crotons, the plant will do best with more personal attention as watering needs vary depending on weather conditions and other factors. Watch your croton carefully, as croton will signal you with a slight wilting of the leaves when the plant needs water. Water deeply, then allow the top of the soil to become slightly dry before watering again.
Croton benefits from regular feedings every month. Use a liquid or granular fertilizer with a 3-1-2 ratio applied at the rate suggested on the label. Alternatively, use a slow-release fertilizer once in spring. Withhold fertilizer during the winter or any time the plant isn't in active growth.
Croton is relatively pest free, but the plants are occasionally bothered by mealybugs, scales, thrips or mites. Insecticidal soap spray is an effective treatment, but if the infestation is severe, commercial systemic treatments or insecticides are necessary. Use insecticides strictly according to the label recommendations. Wear gloves when working with croton, as the sap is often irritating to the skin.