Easy Care Crotons Steal the Garden Show in Mexico
Tara A. Spears
Two plants always make me feel like I’m on vacation: palm trees and croton shrubs. The whisper of the palm fronds in the ocean breeze is so relaxing but it’s the croton’s dazzling, flamboyant ornamental foliage that has seduced my heart and been a part of my warm weather garden for years.
Crotons are true tropical plants and perform best at 50-90 (10-32C) degrees. At 40 (4 C) degrees the plants will enter dormancy and stop most growth besides drop their leaves, especially in a windy unprotected location. Another characteristic of croton plants is that they are remarkably salt tolerant. This makes them perfect for coastal area planting.
Many Crotons can be grown in full sun (once mature) but most do well with partial shade and some cultivars need mostly shade to look their best. Excessive light on young plants will burn and scorch leaves, stunt new growth and cause eventual decline. Therefore, it is best to grow young plants in the shade and later move to a sunnier spot once a plant reaches 2-3 feet (60-70 cm) in height with a good root system and a strong trunk. Crotons can tolerate harsher conditions at this height. Young plants require more water and shade while they reach that tougher size and state.
Crotons require ample amounts of water while young plants but can become very drought tolerant at maturity. They are less tolerant of wet and boggy conditions and will develop root rot if they are subject to extended flooding conditions. An irrigation system that gives plants up to 1” per week in the winter is ideal. Plants rarely need additional irrigation in the summer rainy season. Note that croton plants in containers need water 2-3 times weekly in the winter but daily in the summer (whether natural or artificial).
Crotons do best in well-drained soil with lots of organic matter, an acid PH of 4.5 to 6.5 and a layer of mulch to conserve moisture and reduce weed competition. Crotons are heavy feeders and look best when given regular applications of fertilizer.
If you want to bring a pop of color to your interior environment, crotons are a good choice. Crotons have been used as indoor decorative plants since the Victorian era in Europe. Their colorful foliage, hardiness and ease of care have always made them very popular worldwide.
The most widely grown varieties for indoor use include the species Petra, Norma, Excellente, Mrs. Iceton, Gold Dust and Mammie. Most people start with a one gallon plant for a table top or small space and a two gallon plant for floor decoration. Simply take the new plant and drop it inside of a decorative container or repot into a clay pot or decorative pot with saucer and drainage. When potting a croton, be sure to use a good sterile potting medium, add a little slow release fertilizer to the soil, and water when the surface soil is dry to the touch..
The biggest problem with Crotons indoors is spider mites. They thrive in low humidity and dry conditions. Atomize the leaves once in a while and remember that the mites mostly occur under the leaves. Simply wiping the bottoms with a soft sponge and soapy water will keep the mites suppressed and under control.
The colorful perennial croton will grow for years in Jaltemba Bay with minimal effort. It’s a big return for a little effort. Add some to your home garden and enjoy the show!