A Florida Gardener
The Croton King
Rick Power is my neighbor and gardener extraordinaire. He is known as the "Croton King" because he grows more than 72 varieties of crotons.
He also has a home orchard in his yard where he is growing peaches, plums, figs, blueberries, pomegranites, pineapples, nectarines, and muscadine grapes.
Gardening in Florida is not the easiest job in the world because of heat, bugs, and sometimes excessive rain. Yet Rick makes light of these challenges.
He grows a huge number of decorative and edible plants on his lot in a mobile home park.
Rick is the ultimate urban gardener.
Here he is with one of his prize "Stoplight" crotons.
What is a croton?
A croton is a most unusual plant. It is often used as an outdoor landscape shrub in South and Central Florida, but farther north it is likely to freeze when the weather dips below freezing, so if you live above zone 9, it's best to grow crotons in pots so you can put them in a protected place in the winter.
The most amazing thing about crotons is the variety. Some can get very large, growing to as much as 10 ft. tall, others stay much smaller. Some crotons are a riot of exotic colors - reds, golds, burgundy, black, purple, greens, and yellows. Others are just yellow and green, or darker shades of red and green. They also have many different shapes of leaves, Some are big and broad while others are long and thin. There are even leaves that are twisted like a corkscrew.
Crotons are in the spurge family. They have been popular in tropical gardens for centuries and are native to India, Malaya, and some South Pacific Islands. In their native habitat, they can grow into small trees. They have also become very popular as potted plants and be used in floral arrangements.
Lovely Croton Specimen - Stoplight Variety
Look at the colors in these beautiful leaves. And they are all on the same plant!
Books about crotons
This is the only book I could find on Amazon about crotons. Perhaps Rick should write one!
My Favorite Croton
I love this croton. It's definitely my personal favorite. It's called Zanzibar. I love all the little skinny leaves that look like a wild hairdo!
This variety doesn't get very big so it makes an excellent container plant. The more sunshine it gets, the brighter the color.
Rick Power grew up in the Miami area, where he learned gardening from his father who was fascinated with crotons. Rick says he remembers growing crotons with his dad at the age of five. Thus began a life-long love of these beautiful and variable shrubs.
In high school he joined the Future Farmers of America and propagated crotons and other plants which were sold to local landcaping companies. The school rented 10'X20' plots to the students and put the money from the sale of the plants into an account for them. This made Rick more financially independent than most young men his age.
He attended college at Miami Dade Community College and later went into the restaurant business, but he hated being cooped up indoors, and since he had never forgotten his love of plants, he eventually went back to taking care of plants and became a landscaper.
He's been taking care of gardens and landscapes for over 30 years and has never looked back. He has some customers who have used his gardening skills for as long as he has been in the landscaping business.
He is currently interested in the Urban Farming movement and, as well as the fruit orchard he's been working on, he also has plans for a vegetable garden and herb garden.
He hopes to able to teach others how to grow food in their own gardens, mixing the plants in with the shrubs and flowers. One of his goals is to install plants and flowers which will attract bees to his yard, therby pollinating the fruit trees.
The Croton King's Beautiful Crotons
Rick has been working hard on propagating crotons. He really is mad for these lovely and unusual shrubs. He does speaking engagements at garden clubs now and so he has purchased some new varieties for propagation and to display at his presentations.
This specimen has large leaves of different colors: red, yellow, green and orange. The nursery where we bought it called it "Turkey Foot" because of the three lobed leaves. However Rick hs never seen a multi-color Turkey Foot, only a green/yellow variety, so perhaps this is a new variety. That's the fascinating thing about crotons. They spontaneously create new varieties on their own without any human intervention.
Crotons Love Coffee!
A Hint from Rick
Rick feeds his crotons coffee grounds. He says it "colors them up", and indeed, his crotons do have brilliant color.
Sprinkle the grounds around the plants before a good rain or before you water them. It gives them a nitrogen boost.
In fact, try adding coffee grounds to new garden beds to provide veggies with nitrogen as well. Coffee also repels garden pests. Ants hate it.
This croton just got an application of coffee. It should have a pre-winter growth spurt and get some lovely colors in the next few weeks. As we are in Florida, the colder weather hasn't reached us yet so we stll have some growing weather left this year.
Rick's Place - A Riot of Color
Rick's small home in a mobile home park in the Tampa Bay Area is surrounded by fruit trees, blueberry bushes, grape vines, and many colorful shrubs and flowering plants. He complains of being "a slave to the garden hose" at times, but his devotion to his "babies" has paid off. He has 72 varieties of croton and numerous other landscape plants and flowers.
Most of the year, the lot is a riot of color and the potted plants have taken over the carport and the covered patio area.
He plans to add a Farmers Market Day to his busy schedule and he has requests from garden clubs to speak at their meetings about growing crotons and fruit trees.
He's a busy man, but he likes it that way.
The Home Orchard
Rick began his orchard with a peach tree, a plum tree, a nectarine and a pomegranete tree. When I met him, that was the extent of the orchard - oh, and a fig tree growing in a pot.
Since then, he has been accumulating fruit trees and blueberry bushes at an alarming rate. His back yard and the strips on both sides of the house are not quite full yet, but I predict that they soon will be, and when he runs out of space, he will begin spilling over into my yard!
And indeed, I already have 6 papaya trees which Rick grew from seeds, three banana trees, and a fig cutting growing in a pot. The home orchard is taking over!
The trees are still in their second year,so we didn't have fruit this year, but Rick is expecting a crop next spring and summer.
Since I like to paint and do crafts, it is my job to make colorful signs for the garden. Oh, and water the plants on my lot. I'm so grateful when it rains, so I am not always on hose duty.
Home Orchard Books
Not content with all the fruit trees and blueberries, Rick decided he needed to grow grape vines. This was the point at which I began wondering if there was a recovery group for plant addicts!
Every weekend I went with him to different garden centers to see what new varieties of grapes vines they had.
Florida's native grape variety is the Muscadine grape. Until the last few years, regular grapes wouldn't grow in this hot, humid climate. However the University of Florida has been developing varieties of grapes which thrive here and that is what Rick was looking for. He did a lot of research to determine which varieties he needed. There are male and female grape vines and, although the males will bear fruit alone, the female ones need a male nearby in order to be pollinated. I've been learning more than I ever wanted to know about grape vines!
He bought a starter vine and planted it at the base of a trellis on his patio. I've never seen anything grow so fast. We should have a ton of grapes next year!
Books on Urban Farming
Read up on the Urban Farming movement!
Rick and I visited an organic blueberry farm near Gainesville, Florida. It was a "pick your own" deal and I think we ate more than we picked. They were delicious!
Here is Rick sitting in his beloved blueberry patch with the papayas in the background. The papayas already are beginning to bear fruit, but we will have to wait until late spring for the blueberries. He has planted varieties which grow well in Florida - Southern Highbush varieties.
Again, the University of Florida Agriculture Department has worked for many years to develop these types of blueberries. We are glad they did because we can't wait to pick our own sweet, juicy fruit.
The main problem we anticipate will be keeping the birds, squirrels and rabbits from eating up our hard-earned produce. We have a lot of wildlife in our mobile home park due to the warm climate, the many large trees and large grassy lots. We really do enjoy the bird-watching, the butterflies, the silly antics of the squirrels and the adorable bunnies that hop around in our yards, and we don't mind sharing a little, but sometimes these critters get carried away and decimate a crop. We will be working on a solution to that problem!
Rick mulched his blueberries with pine straw, which we gathered from nearby pine trees. Blueberries thrive in acid soil, which the pine needles provide as they decompose.
Food for Blueberries
Feed your blueberries what they want and they will reward you with lots of delicious fruit.
Papayas Are Getting Ripe
It's been fun watching Rick's papayas grow from tiny plants to small trees bearing an amazing number of fruits. This is the biggest of three trees that Rick planted back in the early summer and look at the size of those melons! There are more blooms, so more fruits should soon be forming. If we get a freeze, that might be the end of the fruits, but I'm sure we will enjoy eating some succulent papayas before that happens. If we have a mild winter, the papaya trees might make it through and go on to bear more fruit next year. If they freeze, then we will plant more plants next spring.
The nice thing about papayas is they can be easily grown from seed.
The First Ripe Papaya
We just picked the first papaya. Rick plucked it from the tree a few days ago when it was beginning to get a little bit yellow. If he'd left it on the tree much longer, the birds or squirrels would have eaten it. However, like tomatoes, papayas will ripen on their own after picking.
As long as the fruit has some yellow color, the ripening process will continue. This papaya is now ripe and ready to eat.
Ready to Eat
Here it is! Luscious and colorful and ready to eat.
Scoop out the seeds and dry them on a paper towel to plant at a later date.
Papayas are delicious on their own but to make them even more tasty, you can squirt a little lime or lemon juice or honey on them. Tupelo honey is the best, in my opinion.
Natural Pest Controls
Give your fruits and veggies a break from pesky predators.
Snakes! - Rubber ones - whew!
This might help with the critter problem!
Butterflies Are Free!
A lot of plant lovers seem to be into butterflies these days. Here's a picture of my butterfly garden. The butterflies seem to have discovered it and Rick and I have been enjoying identifying the different species.
The plants in this garden include Pentas, Vinca, Mexican fire bush, Cuban gold, Verbena and Milkweed (for the Monarch caterpillers).
We just added a Red Hibiscus because it's beautiful and edible. You can make a delicious tea from the leaves or just nibble on them. They have a tart and fruity flavor. The butterflies like the flowers as well.
Books on Butterfly Gardens
Butterflies are beautiful and encourage pollination in your garden.
Rick's Blog - The Croton King
Rick is documenting the growth of his gardens on his Wordpress blog. Join him to see the progress of his mobile home park orchard and other gardens. It's amazing to see the potential for growing your own food on such a small piece of property.
If you like to garden and are interested in the Urban Gardening movement, come along for the ride!
- The Croton King
Rick Power's blog about the evelution of his fruit orchard and gardens.
Gift for a Gardener
How to Make a Mosaic Flower Pot
Don't tell Rick, but I'm making him a special mosaic flower pot for Christmas. I like to use cracked flower pots for these projects but you can also use an unbroken one.
It's easy. Just break some dishes into small pieces (put them inside an old pillowcase and smash away with a hammer). If you have pieces of tile, you can use them too. Just make sure the pieces are not too different in thickness, so the piece will be relatively smooth and uniform.
Glue the pieces on the pot with Elmer's, Liquid Nails, or an adhesive of your choice. Read the label to see if you can use it with ceramics or terra cotta. You can either make a random pattern or some sort of image of your choice. Flowers and butterflies look nice on a mosaic pot. Let dry for about 24 hours before grouting. Mix grout to a mashed potato consistency. I use a wooden spoon to plop the mixture on to the surface and a damp sponge to work it into the cracks. Keep a bucket of water handy and keep rinsing out your sponge and wiping off the excess grout until you have a nice clean mosaic surface.