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Gardening From Southern California

...Coleus
by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke

email: geraldb571@aol.com

Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association


June 10, 2007

Shade beds of flowers always need some thought—what to grow in dense shade?

Impatiens is a ready answer, but there are several other classes of flowers, some blooming and some grown for the artistic and attractive look of their leaves. Coleus is one such group, and the beautiful and varied colors of coleus leaves can make a shady bed outstanding. Coleus does bloom, but it’s the leaves that present us with startling colors from fiery red through purple, gold, red, jade, pink shades, green and apricot.

Most coleus varieties are dwarf, but some are tall varieties. Wizard Mix seldom gets over 10 inches tall, and the plants spread nicely to about 12 inches. Black Dragon is an unusual variety, with serrated leaves that gives them body, in striking red and purple, almost black, centers.

Burpee lists three very tall varieties in their catalog, Picture Perfect Rose, 36 inches tall with light green and rosy center; Picture Perfect Red, about the same but with darker red centers in the leaves and a couple they have only from started plants, Fantasy and several colors of Picture Perfect, all very tall plants.

Palisandra, listed by Park Seed Co., is an unusual variety, fairly tall at 18 inches, but with deep, dark red leaves making them look almost black. Volcano Mix is scarlet and pink with deeply serrated leaves and is quite dwarf at around ten inches. Kong Mix has about the biggest leaves, some as much as 10 to 12 inches long, with variations in colors of pink, red, green and ivory. Kong Mix makes an excellent container plant.

Seed of coleus is easy to start and the germination is usually good. The seed is small so care should be taken in sowing, and seed should be started when the soil is warm enough, and a good seed starting medium should be used. Started plants from the nursery are the quick way to go, but the selection is usually limited. Coleus will take some sun, but the colors will be best in light to dark shade, and regular feedings help the plants to produce plenty of colorful leaves.

The blooms of coleus should be snipped off as they begin to show and this will help keep the plant producing leaves. Coleus can be added to flower bouquets or can be used by itself and in a bouquet with good results. The leaves will hold well in water for several days. Coleus is one of the few plants that does well as an indoor plant, if kept away from drafts of cold air and out of too much direct light.

Outdoors coleus can be cut back in late summer if the plants have become untidy and falling over, and the plants will usually continue to grow and produce new leaves. Coleus won’t tolerate any frost.

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