Crotons (Codiaeum variegatum) were used years ago to decorate East Coast Florida hotel lobbies, as flower arrangements and planted extensively in Florida landscapes for their beautiful tropical color. They come in a kaleidoscope of colors: yellows, pinks, reds, greens, rusts and an occasionally purple and black. They also come in a multitude of leaf sizes and shapes. Flowers of the Crotons are small in size and are secondary to the more ornate colorful leaves. Crotons make wonderful year round colorful container or landscape plants without a lot work. Popular in the 1940s and 1950s, the Croton is making a well-deserved comeback. Like everything else, plants also go in and out of fashion. “THEIR BACK!”
The Croton is classified as an old world evergreen shrub with origins in Asia. It is a true Tropical shrub that can only tolerate mild winters with no freezes. When injured by the occasional frost — which we can get here in Southwest Florida — Crotons respond to this stress by dropping leaves, leaving them unsightly until regeneration starts. They rebound, though, when the temperatures begin to rise. This was very evident last winter, when we had the coldest winter in the 20 or so years that I have lived here.
I have found that when plants damaged or defoliated by frost — not only Crotons but most plants — come back, they usually are in better condition than before the frost. They begin to flower at all different times because the freeze tells the plant they are about to expire. As a result, they begin to set flowers to produce seed so they can live on with many more generations in the future. A freeze also helps with pests, which in Florida are numerous. The freeze either kills them, or their cycle is broken by the cold.
I personally think that plants welcome the freeze. It gives them an opportunity to rest, which they normally don’t get, and reward us with unusually healthy, pest-free, flowering plants. Only for a while until Mother Nature catches up.
Crotons are very slow growing, and do not require much fertilizer. If you want to fertilize, low nitrogen is the key. All you have to do is live in Southwest Florida one summer, and you might think twice whether anything needs fertilizer because sitting on your lanai having your evening cocktail you can hear the grass growing.
Mulching you garden helps keep up the humidity, which Crotons love, and also helps to keep the weeds down. Pine Straw is my choice for mulch. Crotons do not require a lot of water but need to be watched in a drought. Their leaves will wilt, telling you they needs water. Do not over water (ANYTHING); fungus and root rot can develop.
Crotons attain full color in partial shade to full sun. This makes it a must for condo complexes in Naples where they have a mostly green landscapes adding color without a lot of work. Grown as a container plant or in the landscape, this plant will attract attention with very little care making it must for all those gardeners whose thumbs are not so green.
Crotons also take to hard wood stem cuttings with ease. Take off bottom leaves, and soak them in water for about two days. Then use sand as a potting mixture. Always keep cuttings of any kinds in shade to semi shade and at a temperature of at least 60 degrees at night. For the more advanced, air layering also works. So put a little color in your life in containers or in the landscape with Crotons.