As foliage plants go, nothing beats easy growing Coleus for its exotic and brilliantly coloured leaves.
Just like people, plants can re-invent themselves, and none more dramatically than coleus. Once regarded as purely a shade plant, the new generation of coleus thrive in sun or semi shade, with leaves that are bolder, bigger and just as vivid.
The turnaround came with the introduction of Coleus ‘Kong’ with its huge, multicoloured leaves twice the size of normal coleus. Next in line was the Sun coleus range for growing in full sun or shade, making coleus a wonderfully versatile plant for gardens with neither full sun or shade but somewhere in between.
The latest iteration is a range of low growing trailing coleus that acts as an exotically coloured groundcover for lush, tropical plantings.
Of course, there is still the well-loved and traditional dwarf bedding coleus with smaller leaves that reach a garden height of 30 to 35cm.
Using Coleus in the garden
With varieties ranging in height from 30cm up to 90cm, coleus can be used as border, bedding or background plants as well as feature plants in containers or as focal points in a mixed garden bed.
Shade tolerant varieties like the spreading ‘Trailblazer’ series, as well as the ‘Wizard’ bedding coleus and Coleus ‘Kong’ for shade are good companions for other shade lovers like impatiens ‘Beacon’, begonias and ferns. To lighten up shady areas use coleus with ivory, lime green or golden coloured leaves.
For Sun coleus varieties, full morning sun is ideal, and plants can take some afternoon sun if watered more often. Use the vivid leaf colours and patterns to add colour to a predominantly foliage garden. Taller varieties work well as a backdrop for Sunpatiens.
Good to know: Drought and heat stressed plants bounce back remarkably well when watered well.
- Plant in fertile, well mulched soil that retains moisture but doesn’t get soggy.
- Water well while establishing and then reduce. Plants in containers should be watered daily or every second day in summer.
- Feed monthly with a liquid fertiliser, such as Margaret Roberts Organic Supercharger, or a granular fertiliser like Vigorosa, that is watered in well. Regular feeding for container grown coleus is particularly important as the nutrients leech out with the daily watering.
- Pinch off any flowers and spindly stems to keep the plant bushy.Coleus is a durable plant which can be cut back severely if needed.
- Strictly speaking, coleus is a perennial and can be treated as one in sub-tropical areas. However, it is frost tender and is an annual in cold gardens.
Take your pick
Coleus Kong is an impressive performer in full shade. The leaves are twice the size of normal coleus yet the bush is compact and well branched. It is ideal for breaking the monotony of green in a landscape or acting as a focal point in a container. Leaf colours range from lime green and mosaic to red, rose and scarlet. Kong performs best and shows more intense colour outdoors in full shade and can also be used as an indoor lifestyle plant in bright light conditions.
The Captivate range of sun coleus include ‘Redhead’, ‘Campfire (vibrant orange) ‘Henna (Lime green with scarlet reverse), ‘Wasabi (Chartreuse) and ‘Coleosaurus’ (dark red and lime green edged leaves). While full sun is best to bring out the vivid colour of their leaves they can also be grown in semi-shade, especially in hot gardens with low humidity. Plants range in height from 40cm to 70 cm. Because they flower late, it at all, they put all their energy into producing healthy leaves.
Also in the sun coleus range is Coleus Volcanica ‘Solar Flare’ and Premium Sun ‘Ruby Heart’.
‘Solar Flare’ is a tall coleus (90cm high and 70cm wide) and has very unusually shaped red and burgundy leaves edged with golden scalloping that’s also something new for coleus. It is a dramatic feature plant for containers or the garden..
‘Ruby Heart’ has heart-shaped, ruby-coloured leaves with a thin, chartreuse border on serrated leaves. The tops of the leaves are red while the underside is yellow green. Plants grow 56 cm high and wide.
Coleus TrailBlazer is a first of its kind trailing coleus for cascading out of containers and hanging baskets or as a spreading filler for landscapes and garden beds in semi-shade. ‘
‘Glory Road’ has vivid red and burgundy leaves in the shape of a maple leaf with a bright green edge. ‘Road Trip’ has rounded velvety leaves in deep burgundy with a glowing pink centre and scalloped green edging.
It produces masses of colourful leaves and plants can spread up to 60 cm. These easy to grow, low maintenance plants adapt to different light levels from full sun to semi-shade and need only regular watering. Plants in containers or baskets do best with morning sun and afternoon shade.
Coleus ‘Wizard’ is a dwarf coleus that grows up to 25cm and is an ideal bedding plant. When planted en mass Coleus ‘Wizard’ provides an iridescent mix of lime green, gold, jade, scarlet, burgundy, and pink.
For more information, visit Ball Straathof.