Coleus - Color Without Flowers

I’m a huge fan of coleus in the landscape. In fact, I’m in the middle of a pretty big coleus project at my house.

Below, you’ll see the "before" stage and the “just planted” view. By the end of May, I’ll show you an “after” picture that will likely turn you into a big coleus fan, too.

I love coleus because it produces leaves with a wide variety of colors, patterns and forms that can add a sparkle to any landscape, without any investment in “seasonal color.”

Coleus plants are easy to grow and durable. So durable, in fact, that the ones I’m using my project will last until our first bona fide freeze. And even if the tops are killed off by cold, the plants always seem to come back from the roots, as long as the ground doesn’t freeze. Their growth habit is outstanding, and they are very vigorous. That’s why I’m putting in such a wide swath on my property this year.

I also love they are bothered by very few pests and diseases, so they’re great starter plants for new gardeners.

When choosing coleus plants, it’s important to know if they are shade-loving or sun-loving varieties. While sun-loving coleus can work well in shade, shade-loving varieties will not perform in full sun. My project is nothing but sun-loving coleus.

Over the past 25 years, many genetic improvements have been made to the coleus family. For example, there’s the Kong coleus, with leaves five times larger than standard coleus. They also grow much taller than the standard variety, so they can be used more as a landscape plant than just groundcover, as I’m planning in my project.

Also, coleus Is not only for outdoor beds - they can thrive exceptionally well as containerized plants. And here’s an inside secret: give coleus their best look by pinching them back to prevent flowering. This will prompt the plant to put more energy into branching and foliage, giving you a beautiful, full plant.

Finally, while I’m doing an entire bed of coleus, they are also one of the best supporting actors in landscape beds. Their myriad of colors, leaf forms and shapes make them the perfect blending or border plant.

When it comes to feeding coleus, frankly you can use just about anything. For years, I’ve succeeded with slow-release blooming plant foods such as Nelson’s Color Star or Nitro-Phos Color X-Press. But since they are not prized for flowering, I’ve also discovered that leftover organic lawn food, rose food and hibiscus food are also great alternatives

By the way, if coleus is not your cup of tea, caladiums have many of the same attributes – lots of varying colors, forms and textures.

PHOTOS: Randy Lemmon

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