If you want a dash of care-free colour, plant coleus. The brightly variegated leaves are the real reason for growing coleus, and what a range of festive shades! Here are some smart tips to help you get started.
Types of coleus you should plant
- Coleus leaves are speckled, splashed, banded, rimmed and streaked with nearly every colour and combination of colours imaginable including copper, deep maroon, pink, white, chartreuse, yellow and orange.
- Leaf size and shape vary, too, from the tiny ruffled foliage of ‘Duckfoot’ to 20-centimetre-long (eight-inch-long) leaves for big cultivars, such as ‘Atlas’.
- Upright-growing dwarf coleus, such as ‘India Frills’, are perfect planted 30 centimetres (12 inches) apart as a colourful hedge 30 centimetres (12 inches) high.
- The taller, upright 60 to 90 centimetre (25 to 36 inch) versions, such as simmering pink-and-yellow-leaved ‘Alabama Sunset’, can fill in the middle or back of a shady border.
- Medium-sized coleus are often planted in perennial gardens to act as “accessories”, providing a touch of colour to echo the flower colours in companion perennials.
- Spreading plants such as ‘Duckfoot’ and the more common upright-growing coleus are custom-made for pots, and always make a big splash.
Some easy tips for getting started
Coleus are easy to grow from cuttings
- Simply snip a branch long enough to have three sets of leaves and place the lower, leafless five centimetres (two inches) of stem in a glass of water. Roots begin to sprout within two weeks.
- Pot the cutting as soon as roots develop, set the pot where it will be shaded, and water it generously for several weeks until new growth appears. Then you can move the young plant into a container or into the garden when the soil warms.
- Prized plants can be wintered over by rooting cuttings before the first frost in fall, potting and placing them on a sunny windowsill indoors.
It’s easy to grow coleus from seed, but the choice of varieties is limited, and plants are generally less vigorous than named varieties grown from cuttings.
- Sow seed indoors eight to ten weeks before the last frost.
- Seeds need light to sprout, or germinate, so sprinkle them on the surface of moist, well-drained soil.
- Keep the soil moist and seeds will germinate in one to two weeks.
- Thin or transplant seedlings, preferably into individual peat pots, when they have several sets of mature leaves.
Not just for shade anymore
Originally, coleus were only planted in warm shade, and the older varieties, such as ‘Pineapple Queen’, will scorch badly in full sun and show painfully slow growth.
- But many of the newer coleus varieties tolerate bright light provided they receive enough water to prevent wilting.
- Still, in strong sun it’s best to steer clear of coleus with pale yellow, white or cream in the leaves and choose more sun-tolerant red-leaved varieties.
Maintain healthy coleus
- Coleus are very tender and will be damaged by the slightest frost, so wait until the soil warms in spring to plant them outdoors.
- As summer heats up, coleus need plenty of water. Dry plants wilt readily, so you’ll know when it’s time to water.
- When growing coleus in containers, use a large pot with plenty of room for roots.
- To encourage side branching, snip off the growing tips once or twice in early summer. Although coleus produce tiny blue flowers at the stem tips, many gardeners feel the flowers detract from the leaves and clip them off.
- The only pests to bother coleus are aphids and whiteflies, which are more prevalent indoors than out and are easily treated with insecticidal soap applied according to package directions.
Taking care of coleus is an easy job, ideal for any novice gardener. Keep these smart tips in mind and add some colour to your landscape in no time.