When I started my garden 12 years ago I had no idea that such a colorful and tropical plant as a croton (Codiaeum variegatum) would grow, let alone excel, in Southern California. Through the years I have been fortunate enough to test close to 25 different cultivars to the garden. Some cultivars did in fact prove difficult to grow, some hated the cool winter soils and others just grew too slowly. After weeding those out, I am left with 15 different ones succeeding in my garden right now. When people tour the landscape, one of the more common requests is asking where I got certain crotons that a visitor fell in love with. Because almost all mine came from Florida, propagating them would be of great value in order to share with others in Southern California. However, crotons are one of those plants—like the hibiscus—you can not propagate by seed because they won’t come true. So you must propagate by other means. I wish the plants did come true from seed, as I have quite a few self-seeding in my garden right now; like this cultivar called “Purity” shown below.
Up until recently, I believed the best way to propagate a croton was by air-layering. Last year, while attending a Ti Society meeting, a delightful lady in her 80s brought some crotons to the sale. At that time she also explained how she propagated her crotons from stem cuttings. Air-layering plants is a pain, stem cuttings are much easier. So of course once back home, I tested out her technique to see how well croton stem cuttings take and grow. As this post will show, the answer is “very well.”
There is no shortage of crotons in my yard that I want to propagate and spread throughout the garden. Most likely my favorite is the cultivar “Stop Light.” Great color, nice up-right bush, handles the cool winter soils, and does well in sun. This plant below would be my first subject.
From the photo below you can clearly see how it got the name “Stop Light.”
Since I’m on the subject of showing crotons from my garden that I recently propagated, let me present you with a few more. All these plants were propagated before documenting on this blog how to get the best results doing stem cuttings. First up is a newer addition to the garden thanks to a friend in Florida that has an amazing collection. I have really fallen for this yellow and green variety shown below. Looking at a leaf detail, you can see why it is called “Fishbone.”
Another yellow and green variety that I like a lot is “Eleanor Fisher.” I needed to propagate this one because I only bought a single stem originally and it doesn’t like to branch. The goal is to propagate and add a few more plantings under it to fill out the bush.
“Trinidad Interrupted Leaf” is also a newer addition from the same person I received “Fishbone” from. I like the odd leaves on this cultivar.
Propagating crotons from stem cuttings
The first step is to find the right piece of wood to start your cutting from. You don’t want to take your cutting from too far down the branch, as it might not make new growth on really old wood. Also, you do not want too fat a piece, where it could dry out quickly. The best choice is to find an actively growing branch that has the thickness of a pencil, and cut it. Plan on your final cutting size to be between 5–8 inches long. Once you cut off the branch, you will then need to cut the growing tip off. I like to cut just below the green wood were recent growth has taken place.
While I have chosen to cut off the tip where the new leaves are, many that propagate this way will keep a few leaves on. Once the stem cutting roots, the growth will start back up from there. However, in Southern California, with our much lower humidity, I found that the leaf tips wilt away and die anyway. In some cases the entire stem dies off from too much water loss.
When propagating crotons from stem cuttings, be sure that the bottom of the stem cutting is cut at a 45-degree angle and just above a node. You will see later that this is where the new roots will come from.
The next step is to prepare your 5- to 8-inch long cutting for the rooting hormone. I do so by wetting down the bottom half of the wood to allow the rooting hormone to stick to it.
You can certainly be more precise then shown here, but I just dip the stem right into the rooting hormone and shack it around.
You don’t need anywhere near the amount of rooting hormone applied like shown below, and it doesn’t need to be put this far up the stem either. I usually make 20 of these at a time, so I like to just get through this quickly.
Next, I prep my mix and put it into small bands. The mix should be airy and moist.
Next, poke a hole in the soil with your finger to put the stem cutting in. I will put the stem in about halfway and push the mix down to compact it around the cutting.
The next step in propagating crotons from stem cuttings is by far the most important for those of us here in drier climates. In order to get a stem cutting to root, you must keep the humidity very high. Water loss from the two cuts you just made is your main enemy now. This is where Ziploc bags come in. Once sealed, the bags will keep almost all the moisture locked inside, making sure your stem cuttings do not dry out. I can fit up to three of those black bands into one large Ziploc bag like shown below.
While not necessary if done in the summer, I place my new cuttings in the greenhouse. I have found the extra heat and protection from the elements speeds up the rooting process.
Depending on the cultivar, you will see new buds forming at around 15–30 days.
New buds can appear anywhere on the stem.
Once the buds turn into new, active growing points with leaves, I will take the bands out of the Ziploc bags. The plants will go into a bit of shock and growth will slow or even stop, but don’t worry. Within a week or so, your new stem cutting will begin actively growing again. It must be noted that you have to wait until new leaves have formed before you remove the cuttings from the Ziploc bags. Even if your cutting hasn’t made roots, it can form new buds and even begin showing signs of life. But you must be patient and wait for new leaves. After a few months you should have a nice looking plant, with a few growing points, that is ready to be potted up. Below is a great example of one of my successful “Stop Light” cultivar cuttings.
A successful stem cutting will have a bunch of nice, healthy new roots.
These new plants are then put into different container sizes depending on what my final intent is. If I plan to share with other people or use them as trade bait, I will put a single plant into a one-gallon pot to grow up.
If they are to be grown for my yard, I will put three new plants into a single 3-gallon pot. I like my crotons to be bushy, full plants in the landscape. So more stems are a must for me.
Propagating crotons from stem cuttings using the technique described in this blog post will yield great results. Below you see three pots with five total plants. For the propagation of my “Stop Light” cultivar, I started with six cuttings. Five took. In many cases I end up with a 100% success rate. Far less labor then air-layers, but similar results.
While not new to the seasoned croton grower, hopefully this post will at least help others like me that had no idea just how easy it is to propagate crotons from stem cuttings. As long as you keep the humidity up, you should have just as easy of a time as when making cuttings for new Plumeria or Ti Plants. Good luck!