When and How to Fertilize Croton Plants at Home

Croton plants are loved for their easy-care nature, but they can benefit from a well-followed fertilizing schedule each year. Fertilizer also plays an essential role in keeping their colors bright and bold. Even less colorful varieties of Croton will need fertilizer at the right times to encourage robust and healthy growth. This guide will take you through everything you need to know about when and how to fertilize croton plants at home. 

When and How to Fertilize Croton Plants at Home

Fertilizing Croton Plants – The Essentials

Croton plants need more fertilizing than other houseplants. Apply a fertilizer high in nitrogen and potassium with a lower phosphorous level. Recommended ratios include 18-6-12 or any fertilizer with a similar profile of the three nutrients. Fast-release products are best.

Why Fertilizer is So Important for Croton Plants

Why Fertilizer is So Important for Croton Plants

Fertilizer isn’t actually food for the plant, although it is often informally referred to that way. The plant’s energy supply comes from the chlorophyll in the leaves, so technically, it’s derived from sun exposure instead. Instead, fertilizer supplies the plant’s macro and micronutrients to build strong cell walls and keep cells functioning as designed. 

While this may not be an energy source, the under-fertilized plant becomes inefficient at producing chlorophyll and therefore weakened. Depending on the type of plant you’re growing, and whether it’s indoors or outdoors, you can choose from varieties of fertilizer like:

  • Pelleted slow-release products
  • Quick-acting pre-mixed liquids
  • Powders designed to be mixed on the spot and applied as a liquid
  • Powdered products designed for direct application
  • Foliar spray products applied to the leaves and stems instead of the root zone.

Fertilizers come from several sources, even if they’re all designed to supply different amounts of the same basic components of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. 

Many organic fertilizers are derived from animal manure, sewage by-products, ground-up bone, or meat or fish by-products. 

Chemical fertilizers can come from mined minerals, such as sulfur or gypsum, or from industrial processes that rely on chemical inputs. Chemical fertilizers tend to be more precise and fast-acting than organic materials, making them valuable for crops and houseplants alike.

Signs Your Croton Plant is Lacking Nutrients and Needs Feeding

Signs Your Croton Plant is Lacking Nutrients and Needs Feeding

When a Croton plant has gone too long without fertilizing, the first thing you’ll notice is a general slow-down in growth. 

New leaves won’t appear as quickly, and when they do, they’ll stay small and won’t reach the same size as the rest of the foliage. 

Next, you may see the colors fading and leaves becoming a pale green to yellow. If there have been no changes recently to the soil base, repotting, watering, or light levels, it’s likely a sign of a lack of nutrients. 

Leaves can even start coming apart at the edges due to fragility. Croton plant leaves and generally thick, almost stiff, and somewhat leathery. New growth that isn’t shiny or firm but relatively soft and tattered indicates it’s time to fertilize.

When and How Often Should You Fertilize a Croton Plant?

When and How Often Should You Fertilize a Croton Plant?

Most houseplants have much lower fertilizer requirements than Croton plants, so you may be used to only fertilizing indoor plants once a year or so. 

Croton varieties break the mold by needing monthly fertilizing instead, especially during the spring and summer when they’re growing the fastest (you may also want to consider pruning your croton plant during this time of year). 

Very small and young Crotons (or those recently propagated) will need diluted applications, but they still need nutrients every month to keep up with the demands of their expanding foliage. 

Don’t add fertilizer more than once a month, even if you’re using a diluted application. Applying nutrients too often allows salts and compounds to build up in the soil. 

Apply at the recommended strength instead and give the plant time to actually absorb the fertilizer by waiting a few weeks at a time between applications.

The Best Fertilizer for Croton Plants

The Best Fertilizer for Croton Plants

Croton plants have specific needs since they’re primarily foliage plants and rarely flower. This means that a nitrogen-heavy ratio is good for them, while it’s not recommended for many other flowering houseplants. 

They also have a high demand for potassium, necessary for building both bright colors in the leaves and strong stems to hold them up. Outdoor plants are often maintained with an 18-6-12 ratio fertilizer. For a container plant, especially a smaller one, try a fertilizer with the same basic ratio of NPK at 3-1-2 to avoid build-up in the soil.

Since Croton plants have such high and specific demands for nitrogen, in particular, they’re difficult to feed with homemade products alone. Coffee grounds or eggshells won’t do much for them, although they can be helpful to add for slow-release micronutrients. 

Store-bought chemical fertilizers are generally the best option to ensure these plants get the nutrients they need. All-purpose fertilizer products like Miracle-Gro are perfectly useful for Crotons, especially applied around half-strength

A targeted houseplant fertilizer that is high in nitrogen will work at the recommended strength. Avoid slow-release products like Osmocote that are designed for lawns and crops. It’s too hard to avoid build-up in a container plant with these formulas.

How to Apply Fertilizer

Fertilize your Croton plants before they show signs of needing a supplemental boost. Only apply the fertilizer during the spring and summer months, tapering off as temperatures drop so the plant can go dormant (see more about croton plant temperature and humidity tolerances here).

I’ve always found using a liquid product when possible is the best option for precise and even dosing. You’ll simply need to dilute to the recommended strength and apply directly to the soil of your potted croton plant. Powders can be tricky to apply to a container plant, especially with abundant foliage like the Croton. 

Fertilizer sticks and tabs aren’t recommended since they’re a slow-release form. Croton plants need more availability of nutrients than those types of products offer.

Fertilizing Croton Plants FAQs:

What happens if you over-fertilize a Croton plant? 

Too much fertilizer, especially one high in nitrogen like the plant needs, will turn new foliage bright green. Simply give the plant a few months before applying any more nutrients.

What are the signs a Croton plant has been over-fertilized? 

Loss of color, explosive new growth, thin and spindly stems, and susceptibility to pests can all indicate too much fertilizer.

What is the impact of using the wrong types of fertilizer? 

Growth will slow and colors will fade if the plant receives more phosphorous than it wants. Too much nitrogen and potassium will cause bursts of pale growth that eventually return to normal as the plant uses up the nutrients.

Do Croton Plants need fertilizer? 

All Croton plants need a relatively high amount of fertilizer, even when in containers.

When should I fertilize my Croton Plant? 

Aim for the beginning of each warm month of the year to ensure there’s a steady supply of nutrients throughout the active growing season.

What is the best fertilizer for Croton Plants? 

Any product that follows the basic 3-1-2 formula for NPK and doesn’t release too slowly will work well. Most organic products are either too low in nitrogen or too slow releasing for these plants.

Is Miracle Grow good for Croton Plants? 

Miracle-Gro is close to the ideal ratio for Croton plants and is widely available. It also has a fast release period to ensure the plant can quickly take up the nutrients it needs. Dilution is also easy, as is a liquid application.

Are used coffee grounds good for Croton Plants? 

Used coffee grounds can provide a little nitrogen and potassium to the plant on a long-term basis. However, it is not a replacement for using other types of fast-acting fertilizer.

Wrapping Up

Croton plants are most impressive in color and form when fertilized at least once a month. You can take a break when temperatures drop along with lower natural light levels. Just remember to pick back up on the monthly routine in the spring to see the colors return in the leaves. For more, see our in-depth guide to the best locations for Croton plants to thrive in your home or office.

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