Croton needs pruning, but its lost all its lower leaves
I have a Curly Leaf Croton that desperately needs pruning. Its lower leaves fell off this past winter, and all that's left is its uppermost growth. It needs to be cut back bellow all the new growth in order to be shaped properly, but I'm not sure if it will harm the plant to cut it back that far, because it will leave a bare stub.
My goal is to persuade some back budding on the lower part of its branches where all the leaves dropped. Can anyone give me some advice?