Gardening from Southern California

by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke


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

August 1, 2004

We grow a large number of ornamentals in the garden for their foliage. One of these, a summer plant for the garden that can also be used indoors in the winter, is coleus. It’s one of the most colorful of the foliage plants, is easy to grow and will reward you with glowing colors for many months. August is a little late to start from seed, but good nurseries and garden centers should have many started plants on hand, in six packs and in four inch pots.

Coleus likes hot weather, needs to be in shade or semi shade, grows quickly on the long days of summer and will show lots of color immediately after plants are set in. And the colors, wild and imaginative, include gold, jade, red, yellow, ivory, scarlet, copper, lime, green, orange, rose, salmon and burgundy. There are separate colors in some varieties, but mixtures usually end up being the most popular in the garden. Most have serrated to oval leaves, some have longer, lance-like leaves, plants usually get about eight to 10 inches tall, although there are some bigger varieties that can get up to 18 inches tall.

Coleus will continue to grow well into late fall where the weather is mild, and for plants you really admire you can pot them up and bring them into the house to continue to show color all winter. Indoors they need good light, but not strong sunlight, and misting the foliage once in awhile helps. Outdoors they’ll grow in almost full shade to partial shade, and need adequate water while growing.

One of the best varieties is Rainbow Mixture, and the Wizard series is also good with a mixture of colors, many of them with a fluorescent quality to the tints and shades. Some others to look for are Volcano Mixture and Dragon Sunset. There is also one that’s almost black in color called Palisandra, and it’s a tall one at about 15 to 18 inches. Limelight is a pale green color, not too spectacular by itself but definitely stunning in a mixture.

You need to get plants into the soil while the weather is still warm to get best results. Feed coleus once or twice during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer and keep well watered. Plants that you bring indoors can utilize liquid fertilizer well. In addition to bringing the whole plant indoors, you can start especially attractive plants from cuttings. They root readily in water.

Keep the bloom spikes cut off as the plants grow so that all the energy goes into producing leaves.



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