Sunday, October 30, 2011

Crotons....ohhh Crotons...I've got Crotons on my mind....

On this rainy and really wet Saturday I decided to talk a little bit about Crotons, Codiaeum variegatum,an ornamental evergreen tropical shrub.  Crotons are known to have a devout cult following due to their fanciful colors, various leaf shapes, unique free form growing habit & super easy to grow.  From the 1950's through to the 1970's, crotons were widely used throughout Florida as a major landscape plant.  Then the housing styles started to change from classic brick & mortar simple style ranch homes to a new hipper look with stucco & wood in the 80's & 90's.

Our Miami house 1971
With that, the landscapes also changed from the old stand-by's like croton's, gardenia's, dracena, natal plum, ixora's, etc. to new tropical plants imported from other countries.  The landscapes became more colorful & textural by layering different tropical specimens like gingers, alocasia, crinum lilies, palms, etc.  So the poor little croton lost is luster and faded to the background.  In the older neighborhoods you can still see some crotons over 50 years old which were planted at the time the houses were built.  Growing up here in South Florida I remember our neighborhoods filled with all different types of huge old school varieties of crotons.  Unfortunately Hurricane Andrew destroyed quite a few of them.  Now the croton is back and badder than ever with over four hundred different cultivar's.  So if you are not familiar with them you are bound to fall in love.  I'm sure you have seen them everywhere just never realized it.  Grab a cup o'joe or glass of wine, relax and let's get started cause this may be a long one, lol.

Croton Dhyana hybrid from Siam Croton
A tiny bit of history about this gem of a plant....a native to India, Malaysia & South Pacific Islands, so they like heat & humidity.  Crotons were first introduced into North America by the Henry A Dreer Nursery around 1870 in Philadelphia, PA. as a new hothouse plant for the collections of Victorian gardeners.  Quickly became popularized and made its way to South Florida as a new unique & colorful landscape plant of the 50's & 60's.  Now with that bit of trivia out of the way, on to the good stuff, lol.

Hmmmm where to start...well let's start with the basics.  Crotons love hot & humid weather but also like to be well watered in good draining soil (no mucky ground as they will get root rot very easily).  Though I do have to say I have heard this plant be called drought tolerant. To quote my Dad, "let me say this about that"...once crotons are established they can be resistant to periods of dry spells.  If the soil is extremely dry and hot like in areas of sugar sand (where I live) the plant will stress out, drop their leaves as a survival measure & if the plant has multiple trunks a few may die back to save the whole plant (like mine did).  Crotons are much better at being drought tolerant in partial sun rather than in full sun (plants in full sun have to be extraordinarily tough here in South Florida to survive this kind of ecosystem).  Now conversely, crotons are cold tolerant for short spells but cannot survive long hard freezes.  They either need to be brought inside or put in a greenhouse during the colder months.  Though don't worry too much about crotons because they are extremely resilient & hardy plants that survive most types of dramatic weather conditions.
Croton Dignity hybrid from Siam Croton
Croton Harmonious hybrid from Siam Croton
To plant in full sun or not to plant in full sun...that is the question, lol.  What makes crotons attributes very unique is their coloring, spots, dapples, swirls, curls, twists & leaf shapes.  How much & how little sunlight they get each day will affect all of the above.  Some varieties do very well in full sun like Batik, Bravo, Mammy, Petra & Red Tortilla while others prefer part sun/part shade like Fishbone, Mrs. Iceton, Nirvana, Polychrome & Zulu.  The older more established plants will do very well in full sun.  Though when in doubt plant them, especially when they are young, in part sun/part shade since that is their ideal growing conditions & produce the best colors.
Croton Nirvana from Siam Croton
Croton CRT007 hybrid from Siam Croton

This plant is not picky about soil requirements and can adapt quickly to a variety of soil types & ph's.  Though ideally you always want to have good organic rich soil to plant your plants in.  Also, it's a good idea to fertilize crotons at least twice a year (for crotons early & late Spring) along with the rest of your plants to help your crotons live up to their potential, lol.  Having a healthy plant will help keep them pest free.
Crotons in a Davie, FL. landscape 

Cordylines, Crotons & variegated Pittosporum
in a South Florida landscape
Crotons have a reputation to live up to with their endless variety of colors, shapes & sizes.  By nature these genetic features are extremely unpredictable & can vary from plant to plant but it's also what makes crotons so special.  These mutations allow for hybridizer's to create some really awesome varieties.  With that said crotons are first grouped by their leaf types: broad, hastate, linear & orbicular are the main types.  From that, are variations like croton dhyana (see pic above), a "linear leaf that spirals with spots & colors of red, yellow, green and black".  See how that works?  Ok, lets do this again...start with a basic leaf shape, lets say broad base, add a leaf shape variation like a ruffled edge then throw in yellow, pink & orange spots on a green, red & black leaf, hence croton pie crust.  See, easy right?!?  LOL ;)  Good thing the technical stuff is left to the professionals.  Though the good thing is once you find a croton you like, it can be propagated easily through cuttings.  Which means you can take either cut a leaf or a branch off the mother plant, put in water and/or moist organic rich soil until it grows roots, then it can be re-potted and/or transplanted into the ground.  A great way to share your croton collection with friends, family & neighbors.
Croton Pie Crust
Croton Pie Crust
Another wonderful thing about crotons is they are widely available, if I may be so bold to say, at all South Florida nurseries.  Most gardening centers and some nurseries will just carry the standard old school American varieties like Mammey, Petra, Curly Boy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Batik, Gold Dust, Picasso's Paintbrush,  Mrs. Iceton, Congo & Turkeyfoot/Oak Leaf.  Though if you are looking for something a bit more exotic (something totally different from your neighbor, lol) then check out some of the new hybrids coming out of Thailand.  WOWZER!!! Here are a few South Florida nurseries & growers you can purchase some healthy beautiful crotons.  Leserra's Nursery in Deerfield Beach, Fl.  NuTurf Garden Center in Pompano Beach, Fl.  Living Color Nursery in Davie, Fl.  Gardino Nursery in Delray Beach, Fl.  Peter's Croton Nursery in Vero Beach, Fl.  Siam Croton from Thailand is always on the cutting edge in creating some outstanding hybrids.  A few great resources to peruse during your down time are: Croton Mania with his incredible registry of the different cultivars; the Croton Society located in Tampa, Fl;  Peters Croton Nursery has an very informative website along with an impressive list of available plants to purchase; and of course our beloved University of Florida IFAS extension is a great website resource for all Florida gardners.
Croton Prajna
Croton CRT #43
Growing up in South Florida I saw crotons every where so I never really gave them a second thought.  Once I became a homeowner with actual land I could plant cool stuff on, crotons became a new passion for me.  Currently I have dwarf Curly Boy, Batik, Picasso's Paintbrush, dwarf Pictum Spot, Red Spot and Mammey.  After writing this blog episode, I now have another wish list of some crazy wild new crotons to add to my landscape (and our client's landscapes also), hee hee.  Here are a few pictures of my current crotons in the yard.
Croton Pictum Spot dwarf version
with necklace pod on left, biscayne prickly
ash on right & acalypha (copperleaf) in back
Close up of the croton pictum spot dwarf
Isn't it gorgeous!?!  Such a beautiful accent with the
yellow dappled green leaves which punctuates the
landscape saying "hey, look at me!" This croton is about 5-6 feet high & that's about as high as it will get.

Croton Red Spot is super gorgeous as a
stand alone accent in the landscape.  Long
linear leaves with spots all over them. To
the right is my Bay Rum tree.
Croton Red Spot close up
The newer leaves are the green & yellow ones,
which will then turn into the red, pink & a little
dark blood red or black.  Looks like fireworks in
the sky on 4th of July  Spectacular! ;)

Croton Mammey
Just ignore the weeds, lol, I have our
front yard under another renovation. 
Croton Mammey close up
Linear elongated leaves with slight twists
towards the ends. Lots of dark reds, greens,
& black with bright yellows & greens
popping out to brighten the plant.

Croton Curly Boy
This little one is just now showing its true
colors, coming back from a stressful
transplant during a month that ended up being
a summer of drought.  Look at it go! :)
Not sure what this little croton is but it's the plant I
was referring to earlier. This section of yard is a type of silicone sugar sand.  It gets super hot & dry especially in a drought summer.  So this croton did survive but not without loosing a few stalks & lots of leaves.  Give it another couple of seasons & will maybe figure out what it is...unless some croton aficionado knows, lol.

Croton Moth
Croton Exotica

Croton Thomas Edison
Croton Fishbone

Croton Cranberry
Croton Golded Glow
So there you have it ladies & gentlemen, crotons 101 a la Sheri B stylie!  Hope I am able to spread some color, texture & fun into your heart and of course your landscape.  Get out there & get dirty! :)

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