Thursday, 26 of March of 2015

Coleus Provide Bold Garden Color Without Relying on Flowers

The vast array of color combinations and leaf variety in Coleus today is amazing. Many unusual types have been identified and propagated by cutting to maintain their unique look, but more and more are breeding true from seed. We grow hundreds from seed and buy several varieties that can’t be grown from seed from the nursery. This provides a profusion of color in the garden all season long. Although the seed are tiny, they are surprisingly easy to start indoors, and grow quickly to hardy, sturdy plants that aren’t bothered by much more than slugs. They are not water hogs like impatiens, but I wouldn’t call them drought tolerant. Deer has never bothered ours, but we don’t have much of a deer problem. 

Many try to solve the problem of color in the garden by using flowers, but I find a much more seasonally permanent and effective way of solving the problem is using plants with strong leaf color variation and heavy and multiple variegation patterns found in plants such as Coleus. Coleus also tolerate a broad range or sun exposure. Although they don’t do well in deep shade, they prefer a semi-shade situation, but will still do well in full sun. The same varieties may look different in different sun exposure situations. Boost growth with nitrogen fertilizers, and pinch back the insignificant flower stalks. This will encourage branch and discourage the plant from going to seed, and put all the plants energy into leaf growth. I have noticed, if allowed to seed, coleus will self sow, but our season does not allow self sown plants to get big enough to be noticed in the garden. They also lend themselves to being grown in containers, so they can be moved around the garden wherever color is needed. The following pictures are only some of the many types we have grown.


This variety was found at a local nursery. The deep burgundy leaf centers are edged in a soft green.


Although this is a cutting and vegetable garden, it dominates the back yard and without the addition of ornamentals like coleus, it would look pretty ratty as the season progresses. The bold colors of the coleus that were used literally jump out of the garden providing lots of color long after the flowers have faded. The coleus in the foreground was grown from seed and is called “Versa Crimson Gold.”


Coleus seedlings are easy to grow. Although it helps to have a greenhouse or cold frame  you don’t really need one. They need to be started at least 6-8 weeks before the last frost on a sunny window sill. Seeds are very small, but most companies usually coat them for easy handling.


These coleus are called “Exhibition Mix” and were grown from seed. The colors within the variety coordinate providing a very pleasing  effect. The Exhibition strain are very hardy, robust, and true to type. They can reach three feet by the end of the season.


Another nursery purchase, this popular coleus is called “Gay’s Delight.” The almost fluorescent  chartreuse is accented by purple veining.


This coleus is a blazing magenta. It was raised from seed and is called “Wizard Sunset.”


This coleus call “Tapestry” is from a nursery and shows how the leaf shape can vary as well as the color, this one showing heavy edge ruffling.


What makes this rust colored coleus unusual is it’s magenta sheen.


A small-leaved variety called “Tapestry” a common name among coleus since they often create this effect.


Another raised from seed, this one from the “Wizard Mix colection.”


 This coleus was also grown from seed and is from the “Wizard Sunset collection. “


Shaded by a porch roof, this coconut husk lined window basket is filled with coleus, Euphorbia “Diamond Frost” and Bocopa.


Another small-leaved coleus from a nursery, this variety is called “Strawberry Fields.” since the leaves are shaped like strawberries and colored like strawberries in their various stages of ripening. They are planted with another brightly colored coleus.


These three coleus, planted in an old wooden box, show various types of leaf variation and color.



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