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


I adore flowering annual plants and have eight large pots lining my patio. They provide delightful color all summer long. However, many annual flowers are not particularly heat tolerant and stop growing and flowering during the hottest part of summer. The trick is selecting only types and cultivars that are heat tolerant.

My top five favorites annuals that do not fail even in hot summer weather are:

Wave Petunias and Others: I admit to being a big fan of Wave petunias and have previously talked about them at length. They still can not be beat for their ability to keep flowering throughout hot summer and early fall weather. I currently favor the Easy Wave petunias because they have a more mounded trailing habit and don’t become as leggy in late summer. They are available in a variety of colors, including pinks, purples, red, burgundy, yellow, coral, plum, and white.

Despite my devotion to Wave petunias, I still like to give other petunias a try. The Charm series from Proven Winners also have excellent heat tolerance and a mounded, trailing habit. I am “charmed” because even though the flowers are relatively small, the plants stay covered with colorful blooms all season long. This year I am growing Rose Blast Charm with bright raspberry and soft pink bicolor flowers. Wow!

Sweet Potatoes: These heat loving vines are prized for the colorful leaves. I tend to stick with the older cultivars, Blackie with dark purple leaves and Margarita with lime-green leaves. However, there a number of newer cultivars, including the Proven Winners Sweet Caroline and Sweet Caroline Sweetheart series. The cultivars in these series come in a variety of foliage colors, including light green, dappled green, yellow-green, bronze, dark purple, and reddish green.

Mealy Cup Sage: While they do not make the color impact of scarlet sage (Salvia splendens), I prefer the very heat tolerant mealy cup sage (Salvia farinacea). They make great upright “thrillers” in containers, are very heat tolerant, and have few pests. Plus, they are a magnet for bees and butterflies. I usually plant mealy cup sage cultivars with purple-blue flowers, but this year I came across one with white flowers called Evolution White, so I decided to give it a try.

Lantana: Not that long ago, I told you that I had discovered the beauty of the many newer cultivars of lantana. It seems like the hotter it is, the better lantana grows. In milder climates lantana is a woody perennial, but in our region they are used as annuals. When plant shopping this year I could only find a few cultivars of the Proven Winners Bandana series. They are all lovely with vibrant yellow, orange, cherry, white or pink flower clusters that open as one color and then the center flowers turn a different color. The Bandito and Lucky lantana series from other companies are also very nice.

Coleus: The fifth on my list of annuals are heat and sun tolerant coleus. Coleus of yesteryear did perform well in heat or full sun. A number of new coleus cultivars are sun tolerant, but they do not stand up well in extreme heat. Plant tags must say “heat tolerant” or I will not buy them. I am growing several of the heat tolerant Proven Winners ColorBlaze coleus series, including Lime Time, Sedona with orange-pink-bronze leaves, and Marooned with dark purple leaves.

Those are my top five. What are yours?


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


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

You may already know that I don’t like many trees or shrubs with leaves that are purple, red, brown, or any other color except green. Oddly, I feel differently about flowering annuals and perennials. Their desirable ornamental characteristics can include both the foliage texture, color, and variegation patterns in addition to the flowers… or sometimes without the flowers. Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) is one annual where the beauty of the colorful leaves far surpasses the beauty of the rather insignificant flowers. Any flowers buds are usually pinched off before they get a chance to bloom.

If you’re like me, you may have dismissed coleus many years ago. While colorful, the foliage was hard for me to mix and match with other flowers in the garden. Plus, “old school” coleus only grew well in partial shade and didn’t like summer heat. Coleus grown in full sun developed bleached and sunburned the leaves. However, within the last few years, a “new breed” of coleus has generated a renewed interest in this annual bedding plant.

Native to southeast Asia, the first time coleus gained prominence amongst plant fanciers was in Victorian England in the 1880s. It was grown as a “parlor” or houseplant, but fell out of favor by the 1900s. “Old school” coleus was popular as a bedding plant in the U.S. in the 70s and 80s, but failed to keep the interest of gardeners probably because the plants’ intolerance of heat and sun, plus plant purveyors didn’t offer any significant “new and improved” varieties until recently.

Avid gardeners like me are always looking for something new and different each spring when they go shopping for color plants for their containers. Two years ago I noticed some spectacular exotic looking coleus with brilliantly colored leaves that were much different from the ones I’d known in the past. I read the plant tags and found out that most of these new coleus were both heat and sun tolerant. I decided to give them a try. I planted several different ones in a wine barrel planter on the southwest side of my house in an area surrounded by concrete. The heat and sun was extreme and they stood up to the test fairly well. Only a few developed some sun-scorched or bleached leaves. I was impressed. Area gardeners should consider these “new” exotic tropicals for their planters too, although I’d recommend placing the containers is a more hospitable location!

A member of the mint family, coleus has always been easy to grow. However, they don’t tolerate wet feet and need a well-drained soil in the garden or a well-aerated potting mix in containers with adequate drainage. The soil should be kept moderately moist and the plants shouldn’t be allowed to wilt. Many of the new varieties will tolerate full sun, but check the label because some still need partial shade.

For a bushy, dense coleus plant, pinch back the new growth to encourage branching, especially early in the season. If your potting mix doesn’t already contain a slow-release fertilizer, add some at planting time or apply a light rate of water soluble fertilizer once a month. If flower spikes appear in late summer, pinch them out too. However, some of the new varieties don’t even need pinching to create a stocky plant or to remove developing flower spikes making it even easier to grow coleus.

There are three general types of coleus. These include the low (12 to 18 inches tall) growing trailing type with smaller leaves; the bushy mid-size (18 to 25 inches tall) type; and the tall (25 inches or taller) upright type. The trailing and bushy types work well in containers, but the tall uprights will be too big for most containers unless planted alone as a specimen plant. The Kong series prefers shade and produces stocky two-foot plants with huge 8-inch leaves.

The number of new varieties is growing overwhelmingly large. The foliage is spectacular and intriguing in contrasting patterns of green, chartreuse, creamy white, pink, fuchsia, magenta, lemon, yellow, red, maroon, deep purple, and chocolate. Many of these new varieties have capriciously descriptive names, such as Fishnet Stockings, Duckfoot, Freckles, Black Magic, Dipt in Wine, Meandering Linda, Kiwi Herman, Inky Fingers, Tilt a Whirl, and even Bipolar By Golly. There many, many varieties, including ones with more sedate, straightforward names. To see pictures of many of these go to: Give coleus a try this year. It’s fun to use these easy-to-grow annuals to create an exotic looking container garden.

Published: 3/1/2008 2:05 PM



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