When and How to Prune a Croton Plant (Essential Guide)

Unlike some orchids and other flowering plants, Croton plants don’t technically require pruning. Yet there can be a few benefits to giving a Croton a prune now and then. This is especially true for both small plants just starting out and mature plants losing their former luster. Find out how to prune a Croton plant the right way without shocking it or damaging its future growth potential.

When and How to Prune a Croton Plant (Essential Guide)

Pruning Croton Plants – The Essentials

Croton plants are mostly pruned to remove dead plant material and shape the plant. Try trimming off a few inches of the center-most stem to control height and force more branching. Individual branches can also be trimmed as needed for a neater shape. Remove flowers and dead leaves as needed.

The Role of Pruning in Overall Plant Health and Care

The Role of Pruning in Overall Plant Health and Care

Pruning’s primary role is to remove dead, damaged, or diseased plant tissue. Wind and rain help do this to weakened plant material in the wild, but for indoor plants, you should take matters into your own hands. 

Pruning is also a helpful tool for shaping a plant and encouraging it to grow a certain way. Many plants grow shorter or put out more side growth when pruned at the top. For the Croton, that can be helpful, particularly for varieties that grow up to 5 feet tall indoors. 

Finally, pruning is sometimes used as a step in propagating new croton plants. If you are careful, you can plan to prune your Croton plant to maximize all of these benefits. Dead material that is removed won’t grow into new plants, but trimmings left from shaping the plant are likely to sprout when given the proper care.

How Fast, Tall, and Expansive Croton Plants Grow Indoors?

Outside, the biggest Croton plants can stretch over 10 feet tall. Thankfully, your indoor houseplants won’t reach that kind of height even after a decade of care. 

Croton plants are relatively average growers for houseplants, adding about 6 inches to 1 foot of height per year until they top out at a maximum size between 3 and 5 feet tall. The maximum height depends on variety as well as how you prune them. 

Most Crotons only reach about 2 feet wide, but you can increase that with pruning for a bushier look. Croton plants grow slowly enough that they won’t need pruning more than once a year. 

If you need more pruning, it will likely be for dead plant material rather than shaping since the growth rate is not that high.

What’s the Best Time of Year to Prune a Croton Plant?

What’s the Best Time of Year to Prune a Croton Plant?

It’s always acceptable to trim dead or dying leaves off a Croton plant, even if it’s dormant for the winter. The same is true for stems or any other plant material showing signs of damage. 

For pruning that is intended to help shape the plant or trigger certain types of growth, it’s better to do during active growth periods. Croton plants tend to grow from spring through fall, giving you most of the year to do any needed shaping and training of the plant’s growth. 

If the plant flowers, trim the flowers off after they dry up. It’s easy to overlook the flowers because they are small and not very showy. They hang in a cluster below the leaves, especially after drying up, or can rise up as leaf-free stalks from the base. 

Trim away all of this extra material after it turns brown and dries up since it’s not likely to produce any viable seeds.

What Are the Essential Tools for Pruning Croton Plants?

What Are the Essential Tools for Pruning Croton Plants?

Unlike smaller and softer plants like succulents or violets, Croton plants can get quite woody in the stems as they mature. This means that you may need some basic gardening tools rather than just scissors from the kitchen drawer. 

A sharp pair of bypass pruning shears are the best tool for the job. You’ll also need some bleach solution or isopropyl alcohol to sterilize the shears each time you use them and before moving between two different plants. This prevents the spread of disease and cleans away sap if you use the alcohol.

Wearing gardening gloves or even just a pair of dish gloves while pruning will also protect your hands from the irritating sap released by the leaves and stems. Washing the sap off won’t stop the irritation, so keep it off your skin from the start any time you’re working on Croton plants. 

A set of long-handled hemostats can also help you grasp individual leaves or stems to hold firm while pruning so you get precise cuts.

How, When, and Where Should You Prune Croton Plants?

How, When, and Where Should You Prune Croton Plants?

Give your Croton plant a quick prune any time you notice dry or dead leaves. This occurs naturally over time as the plant ages and gets taller. It can also happen if the Croton plant is exposed to a hot or cold draft, gets too much light, or doesn’t get enough fertilizer. There’s no need to wait for yellowing leaves to drop off naturally either once they’ve lost all their green color.

When and How to Prune and Shape Younger Croton Plants

Smaller Croton plants can be shaped from the start with tip pruning. Many Croton varieties tend to feature a strong central leader, not unlike the trunk of a tree. By clipping the top three to six inches of stem off, along with any leaves growing there, you can force the plant to sprout multiple stems from just below the cut. This creates a bushier, rounded shape rather than the tall column some Croton varieties want to follow naturally. 

Most Croton plants can handle that kind of tip cutting at least once a year in spring or summer (also a good time to consider repotting your croton plant if needed for growth or a fresh soil mix), but no more than that, or they will lose vigor and stop producing new stems and leaves.

When and How to Prune Mature Croton Plants

A more aggressive pruning may be needed for mature Croton plants that have already achieved a tall and “leggy” look due to continuous top growth and bottom leaf loss. 

Cut up to 1/3rd of the plant’s total height down at any time to force it to start growing from the base again. Leave at least 8 to 10 healthy leaves when doing this to ensure the plant can still produce food for itself until new leaves sprout and mature. 

You may need to start with just a few inches of pruning to start the growth further down and then gradually take off more over the next few months until you reach the desired height. 

For dramatically changing the shape or size of a plant it’s best done in stages so the plant can recover each time before more material is removed. Individual branches can also be trimmed by up to 1/3rd of their length if you want to keep them or cut away entirely if not.

In general, remove any tightly packed material that rubs against itself and won’t let leaves fully unfurl. Overgrown stems and leaves will encourage common croton fungal diseases and make it harder to spot pest infestations. 

Croton plants do best with a little pruning to open up the inside of their foliage, especially in varieties that form multiple stems in a cluster. Don’t be afraid to take a few stems out of the center so the rest can thrive and grow more leaves than they would if overcrowded.

How Do You Shape Croton Plants?

How Do You Shape Croton Plants?

Croton plants generally tend to grow tall and spindly, with little growth along the bottom. This gives them a “palm tree” type look after a few years. 

Most plant owners tend to want to shorten their Croton plants and give them a bushier look. Just trimming off the topmost growth each year will help encourage this, especially if you start while the plant is still small. 

If you’re achieving the maximum growth rate of 1 foot per year, you can prune twice a year during the growing season. Don’t forget to trim up individual limbs that grow longer than you like for a more rounded, compact look as well.

Caring for Your Post Pruned Croton Plant

Avoid fertilizing croton plants after pruning since the plant won’t be able to take up the nutrients until it recovers. Watering is only recommended if the Croton plant needs it anyway. 

Protect the croton plant from drafts or cold temperatures and other sources of stress until new growth begins to emerge. Once the plant has fresh leaves forming, try giving it a half-strength fertilizer application unless you already did so a month or less before pruning. 

Don’t change the light exposure of the Croton plant right after pruning. If it needs more or less light, change this a few weeks before doing any pruning to avoid extra stress.

For more, see our in-depth guide to the best locations for Croton plants to thrive in your home or office.

Wrap Up

A Croton plant should only need occasional pruning to look its best. Don’t be afraid to prune the plant, but do always wear gloves to keep the sap off of your hands. Keep your pruning shears sterilized and consider sharpening them after a few years to ensure you’re making clean cuts. For more, see our in-depth guide to growing croton plants at home.

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