In my experience, light is the single most challenging factor to get right for houseplants. It’s not all that easy to mimic the sun, but thankfully, most types of Croton plants are a little less picky when it comes to light levels. Croton plants prefer high light levels of at least 2000 lumens or 1000-foot candles. They need light for at least 5 to 6 hours daily but prefer to stay out of direct sunlight that can scorch their leaves. Artificial lighting is fine if it is full-spectrum and offers enough lumens. Follow this guide for everything you need to know about the ideal light conditions for croton plants to thrive.
The Role Light Plays in Croton Plant Health
Without light, most plants can’t produce any energy. While plants can take up minerals and water from their roots, chlorophyll in the cells of the leaves and stems is the only source of sugar.
Croton plants fall into this category of photosynthesizing plants. Without correct light levels, plants grow weak, lose their color, and flop over like they’re wilting.
However, too much can also be a problem. Plants that grow in sheltered and shady environments need limited light levels, or they will become scalded. This leads to dry, crispy leaves that fall off.
The Basic Light Levels
You’ll see the desired light level of a plant like a Croton listed in general terms on its care tag. Understanding what the various levels actually mean is the key to providing the right amount of light.
When a plant calls for bright light, it needs about as much light as you can provide. Specifically, these plants need about 2000 to 3000 lumens per square foot to thrive. This includes most outdoor plants started indoors for transplanting into the garden and many houseplants like succulents. Measured in foot-candles instead, that’s the equivalent of 1000 FTC and up. Croton plants generally fall into this lighting category, but they don’t require direct lighting as long as it’s bright enough.
Indirect vs. Direct Light
Direct, bright light offers more than 2000 lumens or 1000-foot candles of intensity and direct exposure between the source and the plant’s leaves. This can apply to light coming directly through a window from the sun or from an artificial source like a dedicated plant bulb.
Many plants can handle indirect light or even prefer it to direct sunlight despite needing bright light levels. This is true for Crotons, which can be sunburned or sunscalded by too much direct exposure.
Mixed or Filtered Light
When light levels drop below 2000 lumens but remain above 500 to 750 lumens, the light is considered mixed or filtered. This also necessitates an indirect light supply in most cases, although weaker plant lights won’t need any particular filtration. Some dark-leaved Croton varieties that don’t have colorful sections may thrive in the higher end of mixed light.
It’s considered low light when light is under 100-foot candles or 500 lumens. Again, this kind of light is always regarded as indirect. This light is simply too low for Croton plants, even the least colorful varieties. Houseplants that prefer these low-light conditions include Peace Lilies, Pothos, and Bamboo Palm.
Typical Light Conditions Croton Plants Receive in Their Native Habitats
Croton plants are highly variable between related species, but they’re all native to tropical areas of India and Malaysia. While many tropical plants live in the understory of the jungle, where they receive little direct light, this isn’t true for Croton.
Wild Croton plants mostly grow tall enough to reach direct bright light even in the mixed jungle areas they thrive in. This can make it a little challenging to ensure they’re getting enough light in the home.
However, a dedicated plant light can easily fill in for the needed lumens since Croton Plants don’t mind indirect illumination.
Signs Your Plant is Receiving Too Much Light
In general, Croton plants prefer more light rather than less light. Yet they can still get too much light, especially if exposed to direct sunlight through a south or east-facing window. Colorful or dark green Croton leaves may begin to fade and lose their brilliance while remaining healthy and firm if too much light is given.
Move the Croton just out of the light to reduce direct exposure and see if that restores the original color. Similar problems can be caused by cold temperatures, excess croton plant watering, or an inappropriate soil mix, so address all care issues before assuming it’s too much light.
You may also need to consider fertilizing your Croton plant or repotting and pruning if the plant is showing signs of being root-bound. You’ll want to be particularly cautious with recently propagated Croton plants as they’re particularly susceptible to excess light exposure.
Signs Your Plant isn’t Receiving Enough Light
It is much more likely that a Croton receives too little light rather than too much.
Croton plants that aren’t given enough light will first lose color, becoming a pale green rather than dark green or brightly colored. In particular, red and yellow colors will fade from the leaves, turning a dull brown without sufficient lighting, and you may even notice some leaf drop.
Lighter and bolder colored Croton varieties need more direct light than dark-colored varieties. A lack of new growth or pale coloration of just the newest growth also means more light is needed for a healthier Croton.
The Best Light Exposure for Croton Plants Indoors
Since Croton plants need the equivalent of full sun exposure, placing them near a southern or eastern-facing window is best in my experience. This kind of exposure ensures they get as much sun as possible.
However, it’s prudent to place them back from the glass so they don’t get much direct light through the window. Indirect but bright light is best for these plants. Rotate the Croton once a week or so to ensure all the leaves get equal exposure to the light they need.
Croton plants need bright light in the winter as well, but check how the angle of the sun changes with the seasons. You may need to adjust the placement of the croton plant in relation to the winter to minimize direct sun exposure to avoid sunscalding.
Croton Plant Light Requirements FAQs:
Can Croton plants live in low light?
No, Croton plants will lose their color and stop producing new leaves if placed in low light conditions. They need more light rather than less to thrive. Some dark-leaved varieties can handle indirect or mixed light conditions.
Can Croton plants take full sun?
Croton plants don’t mind full sun, especially when grown outdoors in a hot climate. When grown as an indoor houseplant, they prefer indirect but bright light.
What kind of light do Croton plants need?
Croton plants prefer bright light that isn’t too intense or direct. The colorful varieties with yellow and red foliage need a broad spectrum plant bulb or sun exposure through an Eastern or Southern-facing window to thrive.
Will Croton plants live happily indoors?
Many think Croton plants are outdoor plants suited only to hot climates. But with adequate warmth and bright light, a Croton plant can also thrive as a houseplant. Depending on the environment, you can also move the plant outdoors in the summer and inside over the winter.
How do you know if your Croton Plant is getting enough light?
An adequately lit Croton plant will have strong growth, good color, and no particular pest or disease issues. A handheld light meter will help you dial in just the right amount of light for these plants.
Croton plants look colorful and dramatic at the nursery, but they often fade in the home because of improper lighting. Give these houseplants the bright but not direct light they prefer to keep them healthy all year round. Don’t let them fade even in winter by considering supplemental lighting in a balanced spectrum.
For more, see our ultimate guide to growing and caring for Croton plants at home.
Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.