Codiaeum variegatum or croton mammy is a plant species from the Codiaeum genus and belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family. It was first described in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus. It is indigenous to Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, and the Oceania islands growing in forests and scrub.
This plant is an evergreen with beautifully colored leaves that are dark green and variegated in pink, red, yellow, and orange colors. The leaves twist and turn, growing straight from the stems, making the plant appear plush and dense.
It grows into a small bush, attaining heights of 42 inches with a spread of around 24 inches. Plants grown indoors are generally pruned to keep the plant compact. The plant is a fairly slow grower and will not grow more than 12 inches a year. It produces insignificant white (male) and yellow (female) flowers in autumn, with a small fruit capsule containing three seeds.
Crotons are pruned into attractive hedges in tropical climates and can only survive outdoors in places where temperatures do not normally drop below 50°F in winter as cold temperatures will cause leaf drop. In temperate climates, the plants are usually grown indoors.
Croton mammy prefers plenty of indirect bright light to properly display the colors of its leaves. Avoid exposing the plant to excessive direct sunlight, many novice gardeners often confuse bright light with direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will burn the leaves and isn’t good for the plant.
The colors of the foliage become more intense with the more bright light the plant gets. Insufficient light will make the leaves turn green or dull white.
This plant grows naturally in moist environments so it shouldn’t be allowed to dry completely as it will start dropping its leaves, water must drain out from the pot and not be retained in the pot as water-logging will damage its roots. Water the plant once a week in summer or when the topsoil feels dry. It should be water less often in winter. Too much watering will make the edges of leaves become brown and cause root rot and eventually kill the plant.
This plant naturally grows in climates that are a bit higher in humidity. The average humidity indoors of 40-50% will be fine. Humidity levels can be raised if necessary by misting the plant or using humidity trays or using a humidifier to control humidity levels. If conditions are too arid, watering can also be increased.
This plant likes warmer temperatures between 60-70°F. It doesn’t tolerate frost or temperatures below 50°F and is also not tolerant of high temperatures, sudden temperature fluctuations can cause major leaf drops and even death and prevent exposure to hot or cold drafts.
Croton Mammy grows better in rich organic well-draining potting soil, water must not be allowed to collect at the roots as this causes root rot. It can handle most soil types but does better in slightly acidic soil. Heavy clay-based soils will need to be amended by adding peat or perlite for better drainage.
One important aspect is to monitor the drainage holes of the pot to see if they are not blocked. Blockages can be prevented by placing small pebbles or stones in the pot before filling it with soil.
When repotting your Croton mammy, don’t choose a large pot as this will encourage root growth instead of foliage growth. First, add an inch of stones or pebbles to the pot to prevent drainage holes from getting blocked. Fill it with well-draining soil, amended with peat or perlite if necessary. Check for dead or damaged roots and cut them off, place the Croton mammy into the pot and level the soil. Water it well and move it to an area that gets bright light.
This plant is propagated by cuttings taken in spring. First, prepare a pot of damp soil then cut off a stem just below a leaf node about 5-6 long remove lower leaves and push the stem deep enough into the soil so that it is firmly supported. Water the cutting every 5 days until the roots appear, within 4 weeks. It can now be transplanted to a new container in a semi-shaded spot for around 8-10 weeks and move afterward to its permanent spot.
You should fertilize the plant thrice a year, first in spring, then summer, and lastly in fall. Do not feed it in winter. Use a fertilizer with a higher ratio of Nitrogen and Potassium, either 17-5-17 or 20-3-19. The lower middle number refers to phosphorus. Don’t over-fertilize the plant as the roots will suffer damage.
This plant is a fairly slow grower and does not require intensive pruning. Prune away any damaged or dead leaves or stems. Don’t cut more than 1/3 of the plant as this might result in shock and kill the plant.
This plant is vulnerable to crown gall, a disease caused by bacteria in the soil. As a result, abnormal growth or galls will appear on roots and leaves sadly, there is no remedy for this. Infected parts have to be cut away and destroyed. This disease spreads rapidly, so you must act fast to save the plant.
Leaves losing color or variegation and becoming plain green is often a sign of insufficient bright light. Move your plant into a place with a bright light not in direct sunlight as this will burn the leaves.
Water-logging can make the leaf edges become brown and can potentially also cause root rot. The soil must be reasonably moist but not sodden. Reduce watering the plant and check if water drains from the pot when you water it.
Leaf drop is usually caused by totally dry soil. Water the plant at least once a week to ensure that the soil never gets dry.
A healthy plant has thick glossy and colorful leaves. If the leaves are looking dull, mist the plant frequently to raise humidity levels.