The croton is a beautiful, variegated shrub that is part of the spurge family. It originates from the tropical Pacific islands and as such requires exacting conditions to be grown outdoors but over the last few decades has been popularised as a houseplant. There are now over 100 varieties with leaves ranging from golden yellow to deep purple!
The great news is they are relatively easy to cultivate from cuttings at home and there are various ways to do this so let’s explore how to propagate croton to give you a colourful display of this unusual plant.
Propagating Croton Plants
The most popular and simple way to propagate a croton plant is from a stem cutting in either water or soil. Air layering can also work well but is a more complex process so has more margin for error. I generally suggest it is a technique best left to commercial growers or for use on a large outdoor specimen!
It is technically possible to use the division method, but the houseplant varieties of croton do not tend to produce additional stems from the base of the plant which makes it tricky.
Unlike other popular houseplants, you cannot propagate croton from a single leaf.
One final word of warning before you start your propagation process, croton plants are part of the euphorbia family and most varieties produce a white sap that can cause irritation to the skin. It is therefore wise to use gloves to protect your hands and avoid touching your eyes immediately after handling your croton cuttings.
Methods of Propagating Crotons
There are four methods of propagating crotons, and each of them works well in the right situation. However, I guess most of you will be in a similar situation as me…someone looking to work on my kitchen counter and get the job done in as practical a way as I can. So stem cuttings in soil or water are the best way to go.
1. Propagating in Soil From Stem Cuttings
This is by far the most reliable method to use if you wish to propagate your croton. The soil, along with the rooting hormone powder, will offer all the nutrients the cutting needs to thrive and take root. It will also offer a solid anchor to the stem cutting. It is a relatively easy process to follow that yields consistent results.
2. Propagating Croton Stem Cuttings in Water
Propagating in water would be my second choice. It is a nice visual way to watch the roots grow so I enjoy setting up the process with my children to allow them to watch a live-action botany experiment!
It is also a speedy option if you just want to salvage what you can from a damaged plant, say if you accidentally snapped a limb off. However, it is not entirely foolproof though and the resulting plant may not be very hardy as it will have started life without the nutrients compost provides.
3. Propagating By Division
The average croton plant generally does not produce new stems from the roots, all the new growth tends to come from the leaves and the ends of the stems.
If you have a very large specimen, you may be lucky enough to have a ‘sport’ plant which is a separate sapling that has rooted itself. This could be divided from the parent plant and potted up.
Or if you bought a large well-established specimen from a garden centre, it may be the grower packed 3 or 4 separate plants close together to make the plant seem bushier. If this is the case and you can see various separate stems you can split each individual plant down and pot them up separately.
But if you have a medium-sized croton house plant that appears to have a single stem in the middle it will be nigh on impossible to propagate using division without potentially damaging the root network.
4. Air Layering
Air layering is a method of propagating a shrub while the stem is still attached to the plant. You make a small slice into a stem on the branch and insert sphagnum moss and rooting hormone. It’s advisable to wrap the slit and moss with a small plastic bag or specialist wrapping sleeve to keep the moisture in.
It can be tricky to set up and the starting plant needs to be at least 2 years old. If you have large outdoor croton and live in a warm and humid area it can be a great option but if you are relying on a smaller houseplant it is very hard to get started so I would advise against this technique.
How To Propagate Croton Plants – Step by Step
I will just focus on the soil and water propagation methods, as far as this step-by-step guide goes.
Equipment Required For Propagating
- A sharp and sterile knife or pruner to cut your stem from the plant or slit into the stem
- Rooting hormone powder (optional)
- Gloves, just to ensure the sap does not irritate your hands
For soil propagation
- A small to medium size pot with good drainage holes in the base
- A free-draining potting compost mix
For water propagation:
- A clean, tall jar or vase with a narrow neck
1. Selecting The Best Cutting
Select a stem that looks healthy and flourishing with new growth. For the best results, the stem needs to be about ¼ inch thick and have a number of leaves growing along the length of it.
Aim for a stem with a cluster of leaves on the end and enough length that you can strip off the lower leaves leaving the nodes exposed. The nodes are where the new roots will form.
2. Taking A Croton Cutting
The cutting needs to be between 3 and 6 inches long. Once you have selected your stem, make a clean cut into it with a sharp blade at a 45-degree angle. You can use sharp scissors or a knife.
3. Strip The Stem
Strip the lower leaves from the stem and dispose of them. Leaving the root nodes exposed.
4. Rooting Your Cutting in Soil
- Dip the cut end of your stem into rooting hormone powder.
- For the soil method choose a pot with good drainage holes and fill it with a free-draining compost mix.
- Make a hole in the soil with a pencil, this is where the stem cutting will be positioned.
- Dip the cut end of your stem into rooting hormone powder. This is optional, but I recommend it.
- Push the stem into the compost and add a further layer of compost to fill the pot and push it tight around the stem to anchor the cutting in place.
If you’re going to root the cutting in water, take the narrow neck vase or jar and fill it with water. Place the stem into the vase tilted at an angle to give breathing space to the end of the stem. Be sure to remove any leaves that may fall below the water line to try and prevent algae from forming. If the water does turn murky or looks slimy you might want to tip the water away and refill the vase.
Best Time To Propagate Crotons
Crotons, unlike other popular houseplants, are not dormant over winter. The warmer Spring and Summer months will still heed the most growth in your plant but if the heat and humidity levels in your house are high enough you can expect your plant to flourish all year round.
That said, in order to achieve ideal conditions for successful propagation it is wise to start any cuttings in the Spring to give a maximum period of good weather ahead.
How Long Does Root Development Take
It will take approximately 4 weeks for your cutting to take root. The roots will be very visual in the water but if you have used the soil method you can gently tug the cutting and if it gives some resistance, you can assume it has started to take. You may also start to note additional growth of the stem and leaves.
Potting On Your Crotons
Once your cutting has fully propagated it is time to pot it onward. Be sure to handle your plant gently taking extra care with the root network as you extract it from its container.
Select a medium size pot with good drainage holes that have adequate room for the croton to grow into and spread its roots. Fill it with quality potting compost and insert the rooted stem in the centre. Crotons tend to prefer a slightly acidic soil pH.
Give your plant a good drink and ensure the water runs through the bottom to know it has reached the roots.
Caring for Crotons After Propagation
A well-established croton only needs around 1 inch of water once per week. They do not like to sit in soggy soil and an overly damp environment can encourage problems like fungus growth. If the weather is very warm or your plant appears to need a boost you can mist the leaves with water more regularly.
Crotons are famed for their brightly coloured leaves so to encourage this colour vibrancy they like a sunny and light spot. They can tolerate somewhere more shaded but if you do not the leaves starting to darken then consider moving back to a sunnier windowsill.
Your croton should extract most of the nutrients it needs from the compost but it can be offered a boost with a standard houseplant liquid feed.
Your croton plant should have a lifespan of up to 5 years. If you are approaching that stage and it is looking beyond its prime that is the ideal time to select the healthiest-looking stem and undertake the propagation process to replicate your plant and give it a second life.
FAQ How To Propagate A Croton
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.