During May gardeners work to refine the look of their beds and add containers for accents. In recent years the easy-care coleus, coleus X hybridus, has evolved and deserves attention. There is a vast array of colors, sizes, and leaf shapes available at nurseries. Several new varieties of sun-tolerant coleus are on the market. Besides the striking foliage, many coleus are deeply lobed and have cut margins. Some of the trailing varieties are perfect “spillers” for containers. With all these improvements, coleus deserve the resurgence they are experiencing.
In Zone 7, coleus are annuals that do best with morning sun and afternoon shade. They are not picky about the soil, but good drainage is critical. They perform best if they are watered and fed regularly with a water-soluble fertilizer. Use snippers to remove flower spikes as they appear. This encourages better growth and dense branching. Removing the flowers makes the plant use its energy to produce the dramatic foliage instead of the lackluster flower/seed combination it generates.
Garden magazines feature the adaptable coleus in beds, borders, and containers. One color planted en masse makes a bold statement. Using a foliage color to echo or unify the surrounding plants is a good trick. Planting bright coleus with splashes, blotches, or streaks can really brighten a shady area. Floral designers grow coleus to add color to arrangements. Look online for images of containers and beds that feature coleus. You will be inspired.
Propagating coleus is simple. Take cuttings of your favorite plants and place them in a jar of water. Be sure to clip any submerged leaves. The plants will quickly root and thrive. Change the water if it gets cloudy. The cuttings will easily overwinter in a sunny location indoors. Next spring they will flourish when planted outdoors after April 15.
Be bold this year–add the hardy coleus to your landscape and experiment with propagation. Look for information about these versatile performers at: extension.uga.edu/publications: Landscape Basics: Color Theory Bulletin 1396; Flowering Annuals for Georgia Gardeners Bulletin 954; Gardening in Containers Circular 787.