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Crotons make excellent landscape specimens for the southern Florida Garden. They have been a popular choice for gardens since southern Florida became settled in the late 19th century. They are hardy mostly to zones 9b-11 depending on variety and location, or roughly from Orlando to the Florida Keys.
Part of the appeal of Crotons is the temptation to overuse them! They are extremely colorful and showy all year, and as such, need to be used carefully. Too many plants and they overwhelm the visual senses. Too few and they get lost amongst other foliage. They are best used as accent specimens either singly or in small groups of 3 or 5 plants of the same cultivar. It is important not to use other colorful foliage in close proximity, and to frame the Crotons with either green or other distinctive darker foliage plants of all one color.
Some varieties need different light conditions and it is critical to know how much sun your choice will tolerate before choosing the plant and its location. Mammie and Petra have become so popular because of their tolerance of full sun and adverse conditions. Planting them under Oak Trees is a smart way to give them the acid soil and partial shade that they thrive in.
Mature height of the plants is also an important consideration. Make sure that you know if you have a vertically tall grower such as Mrs. Iceton or a shorter compact variety like Batik before placing at the front or the rear of a landscape bed.
We like to design Croton beds with an under planting of a short (less than 2-inch) groundcover that fills the understorey, and bare ground around the plants but gives it that nice green background and base with which the plants look best. They work well with many of the popular tropical shrubs and ornamental grasses that are found in Florida.
When laying out and designing these gardens, create curved beds and not straight lines. Give the plants space so as to have ample room to grow. Most plants will grow into a 6’ tall x 4’ wide specimen, which means that you could plant them 3-5 feet apart.
Use the plants subtly and in balance and proportion throughout the landscape but in bold patches. Just as an artist does not overwhelm his canvas with a riot of colors, think of the crotons as colors, textures and shapes on your palette and use them as focal points and colorful accents on the canvas of your garden.
Having said that, many croton enthusiasts and collectors actually create entire Croton Gardens.