Top 10 Colorful Coleus Favorites
Make room in your garden for fast-growing, trouble-free coleus.
Today’s selection of coleus, with countless leaf shapes and colors, no longer needs to hide in the shadows. Many varieties take front and center in sunny gardens, too. Coleus vary almost as much in size and growth habit as in color, and you can’t tell just by looking at a starter plant in your hands. Check the label to see whether it will grow into tidy mounds for edging beds, trailing types to spill over containers, or statuesque giants for a powerful punch. This collection of 10 favorites is just the start of a new addiction to these easy, reliable plants.
Coleus leaves are a complicated mix of colors up close that meld into a single overall hue from farther away. That’s the case with Kiwi Fern. The yellow edging of its burgundy leaves smudges into moody purple to warm brown to dull orange. Show off this upright, 12-to 24-inch-tall plant in sun to shade, with mounding plants at its feet.
Why we love it: Kiwi Fern blooms unusually heavily and unusually early. From July through September, its spikes of baby blue flowers attract hummingbirds, but you can also remove the blooms for a denser plant.
Big and bold, this coleus can reach 3 feet tall, with an upright growth habit that’s taller than wide. Play off its unusual markings with companions of simple, solid colors. Lime and maroon ornamental sweet potato vines will make for a gratifying trio. Plant in shade to partial shade; although this one laughs at heat and humidity, it often sulks in full sun.
Why we love it: When grown in an old-fashioned black urn, the wide, veined leaves evoke the antique appeal of Victorian days, when coleus was the one of the new fads in gardening.
An oldie but a goodie, this exuberant mix will yield all sorts of surprises. Just like a litter of kittens, you never know what colors you’ll get. At about $5 for 100 seeds, one packet can fill an entire garden with mounded plants about 10 inches tall. Start seeds indoors, very early. A January sowing will yield dozens of good plants by May.
Why we love it: The first pair of “seed leaves” that sprout will be green, but then the fun begins! Colors and markings become evident, starting with the second pair of leaves, and get bolder and brighter as the plants grow.
The sharply serrated leaves of this 2-foot-tall by 2-foot-wide coleus look as if someone took scissors to the edges. Up close, they’re golden chartreuse above and burgundy below. From a distance, the overall effect is warm copper.
Why we love it: The perfect contrast with blues and deep purples all summer, Henna is ideal for autumnal combinations, too. Try it with fountain grass and fall mums ranging from soft apricot to rich rusty tones.
The absolute best cascading coleus, this low-growing, sun-loving variety is vigorous, graceful and gorgeous in containers. Avoid planting it in a terra-cotta pot, because the vivid purple will clash with the pot when the stems spill over the edge.
Why we love it: Trailing varieties of coleus are catching on fast; look for the word “trailing” in their names. Trailing Queen has classic neon pink-splashed leaves but in a whole new form.
Pink, green, and white is a little old-school when it comes to coleus. Go for molten fire instead! At only about 12 inches tall and wide, Black Dragon is on the smaller side for coleus, but its look of bubbling, volcanic lava definitely stands out in the garden or a container.
Why we love it: Dramatic Black Dragon can be started from seeds, which can be ordered online, or from cuttings. Sow seeds indoors 10 to 12 weeks before the last spring frost.
One of the Giant Exhibition coleus series, Limelight belies the name of its group: Its tidy mound is only 12 to 16 inches tall and wide. But, boy, is that color big! The near-neon leaves glow like a spotlight in shady spots and containers.
Why we love it: When it comes to combinations of colors, lime is nearly as versatile as a neutral. It goes with just about everything, including blues, purples, pinks, bright red or burgundy.
Picture Perfect Salmon Pink
Keep this coleus in shade to part sun (say, in a large container on your porch), but echo its painterly colors in sunnier spots with soft apricot Dolce Flambe petunias, unusual brown weeping sedge (Carex flagellifera) or vivid Sunrise coneflower.
Why we love it: At 30 inches tall and wide, with extra-large leaves, this coleus is powerful enough to fill a container with a single plant. Seeds are available.
Big Red Judy
Does your flowerbed need something, but you’re not sure what? Often it’s calling for a dash of bold contrast, and Big Red Judy is your gal. It’s a giant, reaching 30 to 48 inches tall. Partner it with ornamental grasses, or let it glow among asters, black-eyed Susans, warm-colored coneflowers or any annuals.
Why we love it: Big Red Judy is Miss Congeniality: The soft, warm red goes with almost anything, and the simple leaves let fancier partners stand out.
Orange is the latest trend in gardening, and this gracefully branched, 18- to 24-inch-tall and -wide coleus is right on the mark. Use its unusual color to liven up dark neighbors, coleus or otherwise, in sun to shade. Or plant it next to pale apricot flowers to heighten their trendy effect.
Why we love it: The plain leaves create a dash of color that’s irresistible to play with. Contrast that warm rusty orange with intensely blue annual lobelia for a simple classic. Or surprise the eye by partnering this versatile coleus with dark-throated magenta Shock Wave petunias.