Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips


GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Written – JANUARY 16, 2015 –

The National Garden Bureau has announced 2015 as the ‘Year of the Coleus.’ I was not a big fan of coleus in my early gardening days. Yesterday’s coleus had colorful leaves, but did not fare well with exposure to bright sun and high temperatures. They also had the annoying tendency to produce unattractive flowering spikes that detracted from the foliage. This required frequent ‘deadheading’ or ‘pinching’ to remove the spikes and to encourage a bushier plant.

The coleus of today is much different and I like the changes. Over the years, plant breeders been able to develop coleus cultivars with improved sun and heat tolerance, delayed flowering, more compact growth, and different foliage colors. In the last few years, sun and heat tolerant cultivars, sometimes referred to as ‘solar coleus,’ have been introduced. Many of these cultivars perform well even in our region’s summer heat and full sun.

Botanically, coleus are classified as members of the mint family because they have square stems, opposite leaves, and lipped flowers. Within the mint family, their current genus and species is Plectranthus scutellariodes. Dutch botantist, Karl Ludwig Blume, is credited with naming and introducing the coleus to Europe in the mid 19th century. Coleus grows as a perennial in its native range of Southeast Asia, but is grown as an annual by western gardeners in temperate climates.

Coleus are easy to grow, but they like warm temperatures and evenly moist soil. They are frost sensitive and grow best when the daytime temperature is above 55 degrees. They are not drought tolerant.

In my ‘old days’ of gardening I tired of the purple, pink and creamy splashed foliage of coleus, but I have become a big fan of the new exciting introductions that plant breeders have developed. Not only are there many more single color and different color combinations available, there are also interesting foliage textures.

When plant shopping I can easily find at least one coleus that will fit in perfectly with the flowers that I am planting. My problem is narrowing my choices to just a few, but not this year. After all it is the Year of the Coleus and I am going to celebrate.

When shopping for coleus cultivars I look for ones that are extraordinary with bright foliage colors or interesting textures, but I also check the tag to make sure they are heat tolerant and do not need ‘deadheading’ to remove flower stalks. If the tag does not say it is heat tolerant, I pass on it and keep looking.

Proven Winners, Ball Company, and other companies offer a number of solar coleus cultivars including the ColorBlaze, Sunlover, Solar, Florida Sun, Stained Glassworks, and Florida City series.

I gravitate towards coleus cultivars with mottled single, bright or dark colored cultivars. I find it too difficult to create a pleasing design when I try to mix flowers with multi-colored foliage. I have tried cultivars from several different series, but I liked Proven Winners’ Sedona and ColorBlaze Marooned and Ball’s Wasabi the best. I am anxious to see what I can find this year. Happy Year of the Coleus!

Published: 1/16/2015 12:49 PM

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