One of my favorite summer plants for adding color to the landscape is the old-fashioned coleus. A long-time staple for shady locations, the colorfully leafed coleus can’t be beaten in warm-season landscapes. Use coleus for lively color in the sun and shade.
A member of the mint family, coleus is in good company with salvia, bee balm, rosemary, and lavender. Mint family plants are easily recognized; they have square stems, with leaves held opposite each other and alternating pairs on the stem. The flowers are attractive but insignificant, lavender-blue on 6 to 10-inch spike-like structures.
It’s the leaves of coleus that intrigue; they are from 3 to 8 inches long, often serrated, scalloped, or deeply cut and wildly hued. Hundreds of coleus varieties are generally divided into four groups. 1. Low and creeping varieties, suitable for groundcovers & hanging baskets, grow 12 – 14 inches tall and 18- 24 inches wide. 2. Small varieties less than 24 inches tall are great for borders and containers. 3. Medium varieties, generally those growing 25 – 36 inches tall, fill large spaces well, and 4.Tall varieties, those growing 36 or more in height, fit the backs of beds.
Traditionally, coleus is grown as an annual throughout the country. However, it is a perennial, and with proper placement and care, it will grow through several seasons in frost and freeze-free climates. Well-drained soil is a must for this herbaceous plant; however, the application of regular irrigation if no rain has fallen will produce superior plants. Coleuses have little to no salt tolerance and are not a good choice for seaside gardens.
Coleus is usually planted in partial shade to full shade; however, recent introductions by plant breeders and hobbyists have brought coleus into the light. The Alabama series has long been known for its tolerance to the sun and heat. Other sun-loving selections include Redhead, Red Ruffles, Rustic Orange, Gay’s Delight, Wasabi, Splish Splash, Electric Lime, the Ducksfoot, Solar, SuperSun, and Sunlover series.
Coleus is dependable and used in beds, foundations, borders, planters, hanging baskets, or containers. Their colorful leaves add a bold texture to the landscape. Plant in groups of at least 3 on 18 – 24 inch centers depending on the various size. Fertilize as needed, slow-release products are a good choice, pinch the tops of the plants occasionally for fuller growth, and remove flowers when they appear. Use coleus for lively color in the sun and shade.
This article first appeared in the Treasure Coast Newspapers.