Coleus Makes a Comeback
Colorful new hybrids help coleus shed its shady past.
Since Victorian times, gardeners have relied on coleus to add color to their beds and borders. But this old favorite was notoriously sun-shy, the showy foliage holding its colors only under a canopy of shade. with competition from new, more versatile and infinitely interesting plants, coleus lost its popular appeal.
About 15 years ago, things started to change. Thanks to the introduction of an exciting, new category of coleus hybrids, there's been a widespread revival of interest in this garden classic. Not only do many of the new plants thrive in sunlight, as well as in partial shade, they come in eye-popping color combinations with fascinating leaf shapes. Best of all, they're easier than ever to grow.
Designing with Coleus
With so many foliage colors, plant forms and leaf shapes to choose from, there's a coleus that's right for just about every garden and growing condition.
Mass planting: Use trailing or low-mounding coleus to fill open areas in your garden beds. You'll have a sea of color that lasts until the first frost.
Edging: You can ratchet up the impact of any garden by choosing coleus in colors and textures that highlight your existing plants. Look for smaller plants that will work at the front of your beds.
Color companions: Choose coleus to set off the colors of specific plants. Consider what's in your garden, and look for the right mix of foliage colors and textures to create beautiful pairings.
Containers: Take advantage of the range of sizes, hues and textures that coleus offers to create containers of mixed plants with dramatic color and appeal. You can also use containers to showcase a single coleus or to show off a collection of favorites.
- Coleus is usually grown as an annual, so wait until the soil is warm and overnight temperatures are well above freezing before planting it.
- Many of the new "sun coleus" hybrids can tolerate full sun, but they'll require more water to keep them from wilting.
- Too little sun can dull an otherwise bright leaf color.
- Coleus thrives in rich soil that's evenly moist and drains well. Apply a layer of mulch around the plants to help the soil retain its moisture.
- Since most gardeners grow coleus for its colorful foliage, remove the flower stalks to keep plants looking good.
- For a bushier plant, pinch back the outermost leaves. You can use these cuttings to start new plants.
- To propagate new plants from cuttings, place a 2- to 3-inch leaf cutting with a few leaf buds in vermiculite, perlite or a glass of water. Place the cutting in a warm place. Cuttings root in about 2 weeks, and several weeks later can be planted in a well-drained potting mix.
- To grow coleus from seed, start about 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost date. Sprinkle seeds onto sterile planting soil. cover with glass or plastic and keep them warm and moist. When the seedlings are sturdy, transplant them into their own pots. Plant them outside when the weather warms up.
- An excellent container plant and houseplant, potted coleus requires frequent and thorough watering to keep from wilting.
- Although coleus is resistant to most insect problem,s it can occasionally be affected by mites, mealybugs, aphids and whiteflies.