Copper (Leaf) Plant

This article stems from an email exchange I had last weekend with a GardenLine listener.

I mentioned on the air that there are more hot-weather color options for landscapes than just vinca and marigolds and noted that I’ve been a huge fan of coleus, caladiums, and copper plants. These three can work well in our summer heat and provide an amazing pallet of color without flowers.

The emailer challenged me with her belief that coleus and caladiums were just for shade. In my reply, I offered up a couple of websites that promoted “sun-loving” coleus and caladiums. But even if I didn’t convince her about those two, at least copper plants have long been known for full-sun summer color in beds, without the benefit of flowers.

There are many ways to describe copper plants … from dark, coppery-red foliage to a variegation of coppers, reds, maroons, golds, pastel-pink, greens and cream-colored combinations. While the copper plant's beautifully colored foliage lends itself to tropical landscapes, its heat- and sun-tolerance makes it suitable for even the most difficult areas, as long as its basic requirements are met. In fact, the foliage color is often most intense when they get at least six hours of direct sun per day.

And it’s so versatile. You can use summer-lovin’ coppers as a small shrub, a container plant, or in small color pockets. They are incredibly low-maintenance plants that will provide color all the way until our first freeze. And in some southern regions that experience no freezes, they can be considered year-round plants.

Keep in mind, though, that these plants are tropical by nature and not strong, robust shrubs. So, they tend to get beat up by consistent winds. That’s why mine are planted in sheltered areas. They are also fast growers, and since I have them in containers, I find myself trimming them back every month so they don’t get leggy.

They’ll feed on just about anything, but I’m a proponent of slow-release blooming plant foods like Nelson’s Color Star or Nitro-Phos’ Color-Xpress, maybe twice over 5-6 months. If you are fortunate enough to have them carry over through a winter, give them a hard pruning in spring (late March or early April) for bushier growth and to maintain the size you want. And keep them on a regular watering schedule - if they stay too dry for too long, they won't look their best and the resulting stress can invite pests.

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