Did you know that Coleus, Plectranthus scutellariodes is a member of the mint family? I didn't, but when I thought about it, the foliage is somewhat similar in shape and texture, so it makes sense that they are relatives.
Did you also know that 2015 was declared as "The Year of the Coleus" by the National Garden Bureau (USA)?
When most people think of coleus, they generally picture wacky colors combined together in a single leaf.
Viewpoints that fall in the middle seem to be the exception; generally you either think those crazy colors are terrific or completely hideous.
What makes me think that?
Well, of all the posts I have ever done, this one that featured a Toronto garden, where Coleus was used instead of traditional annuals, is among my most popular. An image of Coleus bunched at the base of a tree (seen above) from the same post is also a popular pin on Pinterest.
I am just guessing, but I think readers like the novelty of using Coleus instead of more traditional part-shade plants like impatiens (which have been having issues with downy mildew).
The Coleus I have come to love are the deep maroon varieties. I think they add a dash of drama to any container planting.
This is not a posed picture, Buddy just plunked himself into my shot.
This is Coleus 'Vino'.
Its dark maroon foliage not only looks great in a container, it also looks wonderful in combination with other perennials like phlox or dwarf varieties of hydrangeas like 'Little Lime'.
In this urn, I mixed Coleus 'Vino' with a trailing pale blue Lobelia, Coleus 'Stained Glassworks' and a few purple petunias.
I also did a few container plantings using Coleus for the back part of the garden.
Here are a few other varieties that might spark your interest in Coleus:
Coleus 'Kiwi Fern' and Coleus 'Tri-color'
Coleus 'Hurricane Jenni'
Coleus 'Wild Lime'
Coleus 'Aurora Black Cherry'
One of my favourites, Coleus 'Black dragon' with Calibrachoa 'Hula Godiva'
A Primer on Growing and Caring for Coleus:
Growing Coleus from Seed:
You can grow Coleus from seed, I've done it, but even if you start them indoors 12 weeks before the last frost, you'll still have a relatively small plant come spring planting time.
If you want to give growing them from seed a try, sow the fine seeds directly on the surface of the soil.
I find Coleus grow fairly slowly, so even small seedlings planted out after the last frost may take a while to reach to a decent size. Instead I prefer to buy fewer, larger plants that will have an impact right away.
So my purchases don't blow all of my gardening budget, I often wait and look for larger plants at end of June clearance sales.
Best Light and Growing Conditions:
Coleus are annuals in my zone 6 garden (they are hardy to zone 11), although you can take cuttings that will overwinter in a bright window.
Coleus grow well in average, well-drained garden soil. They are sometimes billed as a shade plant, but too little sunlight can lead to slow growth, weak stems and less intense colors. Morning sun and some dappled shade in the afternoon are ideal. Darker cultivars will tolerate a bit more sun if need be, but lighter cultivars may suffer leaf scorch.
Young Coleus seedlings can get spindly and benefit from being pinched back. Pinching the plant tips encourages branching and a fuller plant. A regular application of a water soluble fertilizer will also encourage a larger, more healthy plant.
Coleus need regular watering especially in containers. Keep the soil moist, but not saturated.
Coleus flowers, to my mind anyway, aren't particularly attractive.
And at any rate it is recommended that you pinch Coleus flowers back so the plant's energy doesn't get side tracked into seed production.
Pests and Problems:
Coleus may become stressed by heat and lack of moisture. Snails, slugs, spider mites, mealy bugs and white flies can be an issue for a less-than-healthy Coleus plant. Stem rot, root rot and downy mildew can also plague a plant with too much moisture or other poor growing conditions.
Relocate a plant with problems to see if a change in light conditions will help. You can also take healthy cuttings and start over.
Coleus from Cuttings:
Coleus take very well from cuttings. A cutting will sprout roots in water or can be planted in pots.
It's best to take cuttings in the morning when the mother plant is likely to have the most moisture. Pinch off a plant tip with 2 or 3 leaves and placed it in a glass of water or in a plastic bag while you prepare the plant pot. I use general purpose potting soil.
You can dip the end of each cutting in rooting hormone to help the cutting to root faster, but I find it works just as well to insert my cuttings directly into moist potting soil. Then I put my potted cuttings in a bright window (avoid direct sun) and keep an eye on them to insure the soil does not dry out.
If you are likely to be too busy to keep a keen eye on your young plants, place a plastic bag over your pot to insure the cuttings stay moist.
Coleus 'Black Dragon'
So what do you think? Are you a fan of Coleus?