The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 7, 2003
Garden Life

Cultivate crotons for colour
Satish Narula

Crotons retain their colourful foliage best in semi-shade conditions
Crotons retain their colourful foliage best in semi-shade conditions

ANY mention of indoor plants usually brings before the eyes images of philodendrons, monsteras, a few Ficus species and so on. But to add a dash of colour to the indoors, apart from these lush plants, there are those that have colourful foliage. One of the best in this category is the croton.

Crotons provide a wide range of colours. These are available in red, brown, yellow, white, pink and a combination of all. When placed in a group they present a riot of colors. The other way to place them is in combination with green foliage plants wherein the crotons can be placed at the back.

The genus croton has a wide range of foliage types too. Some have long foliage with heavy and big leaves whereas others have thin foliage. In some cases the foliage is unusual in shape.

There are folded-cupped leaves that look like an apple, giving it the name ‘apple croton’. There is one species that has a thread-like structure at the terminal of the leaf blade supporting a ‘spoon’. The spiral croton, the one with spiral leaves is a curious member of this genus.

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Crotons like neither harsh sunlight nor complete shade. They grow best in a semi-shade condition. Strong sunlight robs the foliage of its shine and variegation. The leaves also begin to show baking symptoms. In the shade too, the colours lose their sheen. It also has to be
protected from extreme summer and winter conditions. Under any extreme condition, premature leaf fall is the first casuality. This is most damaging as in the case of indoor plants, the loss of even one leaf affects the get-up of a plant.

In winter, the plants must be placed at a place where these are protected from the chilly winds. In case of potted crotons, there may be leaf fall in winter but if they’re planted in the ground this may or may not happen.

I have seen gardeners even putting the plant in the flower beds along with the pot in winter where with the hope of preventing leaf fall. Sometimes it works too! Crotons are best planted under trees with a high crown. There they get sufficient light and are protected by the tree too. The space under a tree, which does not allow for the growth of any other vegetation, is also utilised.

Crotons like a moist soil But at the same time make sure there is no water-logging. It may kill the plant. The soil mixture has to be the usual: soil-manure-sand, one part each.

These plants are free from most of the diseases and insects. But the most frequent attacker is the scale insect. You will find a white cottony growth near the terminals. These are scales that suck sap and make the plant weak. Spray rogor, dissolved at one milliliter to a litre of water. You may also control these by wiping them with a swab of cotton soaked in methylated spirit. They will perish at once.

Most of the time I get queries from gardeners who want to know why the crotons, which had vivid colours when they were bought from a nursery, lose their brightness after a few days of being kept at home.

The fact is, most of the crotons come from Bangalore and Calcutta, where they are at their best due to the favourable weather conditions. But after few days, they lose their shine once. Do not worry and let them acclimatise here and they will regain their colour. The colour development in the foliage is with exposure to sufficient light. But make sure the light is indirect. The shine in the foliage may be maintained by syringing (spraying the foliage) with water at least once a week. So, place a few crotons indoors and make your life colourful.