Saturday, July 20, 2013

Do Crotons Bloom? Really??

Those of us who live on exposed, windy dunes and other harsh garden sites are always on the lookout for plants that are beautiful and stay healthy in our yards. I mean, let's face it, most dune plants are...scruffy...stunted...kinda grey and fuzzy. Some, like Russian Thistle (Salisola kali), are distinctly hazardous to your health, ouch!

This weekend, a good friend was whinging to me how he yearns for the lush, tropical colors of Miami, instead of the mousy green-greys of our subtropical dunes. He said, "How about some color?"  Lantana can supply that....

Lantana: All About Color!
And of course, you can be a crazy gardening nut and try to grow the bodaciously colorful sunflower. Hey, it can work!
Attempting to avoid the salt spray, blech!
But my favorite color-diva is the Croton (Codiaeum variegatum), a delightful Euphorbia that is actually tropical, and not supposed to grow in any zones except 10 and 11, but does very well here (Zone 9) if you can shelter it from high winds and prolonged frost, and keep it watered.

 Native to Indonesia and Malaysia (Dutch traders brought them to Europe in the 17th/18th centuries, as they found their colors enchanting) Crotons can grow up to 2m high. They were hugely popular in the Southern US in the Roaring 1920s, but then fell out of favor in the 1970s (too flamboyant for the era, I suppose). Now they're back in fashion. And, despite rumors to the contrary, they really do bloom!
A Bloomin' Croton!
I think the "no bloom" rumor started because these plants are so often grown indoors. They simply don't get enough light indoors to really thrive and bloom. Mine get hours of full, hot afternoon sunshine, they face west, and they just soak it up. The key is to make sure that they never dry out, and are sheltered from salt spray. They only need a couple of fertilizer applications each year, and don't like too much food. Alkaline soil has to be acidified slightly (to about 6pH). And that's really about it.

The entire plant is poisonous, but I've never seen any local wildlife try to eat it. I suppose the bright colors are a warning, as with poison frogs?? They stay where they are planted, and won't invade other parts of the garden. Propagation is mostly from cuttings, however most people just buy very small crotons from a nursery, as they grow very quickly, and are inexpensive. But I do think they need a more romantic, showy name than "Croton"....
Croton, Vinca, and Gold Dust Plants in my garden.


  1. I love crotons. We had hedges of crotons and ixora when I was a child on central east coast of Fla. These days I see them presented as indoor plants in the big box gardening stores of the Pacific Northwest. Its too bad they are not able to survive our winters. They would add so much color and pattern to our gardens.

  2. Aren't crotons wonderful? It's too bad they can only be grown south of Zone 9, they really perk up a garden. Even here in Zone 9B, I have to cover them if we get a (rare) cold night in the winter.