With fall, more or less being here, the calendar says one thing, the weather says something else, it is still really warm. Don’t get me wrong, I am by NO MEANS complaining! But, it is time to start decorating for the season. While mums are the usually chosen plant of choice, I have a second, even more brightly colored autumnesque plant, the Mammey Croton.
Just as a side note, it can also be spelled mammy and mamey, personally, I like two M’s and an E.
This plant just screams fall. Considered one of the smaller crotons, easily kept at 3 feet or shorter, it is known as a red variety with bright red, yellow and green leaves, also with the occasional black variegation. They are easy to grow and easily obtainable.
Botanically, it is Codiaeum variegatum and is a member of the Euphorbia family. Native to Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Pacific Islands, it is a standard plant in many Florida and California landscapes.
Crotons, in general, can be planted in almost any light - full sun to partial shade - with some types of this plant, like the classic Petra, preferring a bit more shade. Mammeys attain their brightest coloring in full sun; though keep in mind that crotons should be shaded during the hottest part of the day since too much sun can bleach the color of their leaves. Mammy is an awesome looking plant with its twisted, multi-colored leaves that look like long party streamers flying out of its container.
Grown indoors, its leaves are subtler in their coloration, tending more towards the greens and purples with bits of red, but if grown in bright light environments it rapidly transforms into an explosion of brilliant color.
The general consensus states that Mammey crotons will not survive below 50 degrees and should be grown as potted plants to be brought inside when the temperatures get that low. Here in my zone 8, I have seen them freeze back at temperatures below 30 but come back the next year. A heavy mulch will help tremendously. They like at least 40% relative humidity but will tolerate lower, possibly with some defoliation. Mammey will grow in most any soil type, just make sure the area is well-drained...none of the crotons will put up with "wet feet."
This plant is moderately salt-tolerant and drought-tolerant, once established, though it does best with regular irrigation. Give it time to dry out slightly between waterings. Pruning is only needed occasionally to keep the plant's size in check. As with all foliage shrubs, you should always trim stems - don't cut across the leaves.
Fertilize 3 times a year if planted outside, early spring (March), summer (June) and autumn (September) with your favorite acidic fertilizer, such as Espoma Holly-Tone. If you bring it indoors, a little shot of liquid fertilizer would be useful in January.
Spider Mites, Scale and the occasional Mealy Bug are the only pests; use a miticide for the mites, insecticidal soap for the mealies and neem oil for the scale.
Propagation is relatively easy and is a great way to use the clippings when you are pruning. Cut a 5-6 inch long stem with at least 3 sets of leaves at the top. Cutting the stem just below a leaf joint. Remove all the leaves except the very top, and dip the end of the cutting into a rooting hormone such as Dyna-Gro Water Soluble Root Gel. Place it in moist soil (or your favorite rooting medium) and cover the container with a plastic bag to provide greenhouse type conditions. Open the bag occasionally to check whether the plant needs to be watered. You can propagate crotons by cuttings at any time of year and you should get a rooted plant within 4 weeks. When the cutting has developed its own root system, remove the plastic cover and place the plant in a shaded place for another 8-10 weeks. Remove it into a permanent container or plant it outside.
Although the croton is a common houseplant, you should be very careful when handling it. The plant’s sap is highly toxic. It is even suspected that the oil is co-carcinogen. All parts of the plant, leaves, stems, flowers, and roots are poisonous if ingested. But, thankfully ingesting it is usually not deadly. Some of the usual poisoning symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The contact with the plant’s sap, as with many of the euphorbia species, can cause skin irritation and allergic reaction. Handling the plant can cause skin eczema in some people. So if you have the possibility of having this issue, be sure to wear gloves while handling it. The plant is also considered dangerous for pets such as dogs or cats. If your pet has eaten the croton, call a veterinarian or a poison control center immediately.
Well, there you have it, a fall-themed plant for the outdoors and a really nice houseplant at the same time. Just don’t try to serve it at any of your holiday meals.
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