I have posted a profile of copper leaf plants previously, but I think they're worth revisiting for 2021 because of a debate I had with a GardenLine caller last weekend.
When I mentioned on air that there are more than just vinca and marigolds available for landscape color during this hot time of year, I noted that I’ve been a huge fan of sun-loving coleus, sun-loving caladiums, and especially copper plants - three specimens that can work well in our summer heat and provide amazing color without flowers.
The caller challenged me, demanding that coleus and caladiums were just for shade. I suggested she Google “sun-loving” coleus and caladiums. But even if I didn’t convince her, at least she would agree that copper plants have long provided summer color in full sun, without the benefit of flowers.
There are many ways to describe copper plants - from dark, copper-red foliage to a variegation of coppers, reds, maroons, golds, pastel-pink, greens and cream-colored combinations. The copper plant’s beautifully foliage certainly lends itself to tropical landscapes, but its heat and sun tolerance make it suitable for even some of the most difficult areas - as long as some basic requirements are met. Foliage color is usually the best 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, as a container plant, or for small color pockets. They are incredibly low-maintenance and will provide their color all the way until our first freeze. In fact, in some southern regions that experience no freezes, they can be considered a year-round plant.
These plants are tropical by nature, so they’re not strong, robust shrubs - they do tend to get beat up by a lot of wind. That’s why mine are always planted in somewhat sheltered areas. They are fast growers, and since mine are in containers, I trim them back every month, so they don’t get leggy. They’ll do well on just about any food, but I’m a proponent of slow-release blooming plant foods like Nelson’s ColorStar or Nitro-Phos Color X-Press. I feed them maybe two times over 5-6 months.
If you are fortunate enough to have yours carry over through a winter, please give them a hard pruning in spring (late March or early April). That will produce bushier growth and help keep them at the size you want. Also, keep a regular watering schedule for these shrubs. If they stay too dry for too long, they won't look their best, and the resulting stress can invite pests.