Although flowers are usually the stars of our summer containers and landscape plantings, foliage is also an important element that provides contrast and accents surrounding plants. When considering foliage options, one of the best choices is Coleus!
Plant breeders have been busy over the last several years creating new introductions of Coleus that are able to be grown in full sun or shade with equal degrees of success. With large, colorful leaves in shades of pink, burgundy, red, lime, or orange, these easygoing plants are the perfect ‘filler’, but are also beautiful enough to stand out on their own as a ‘thriller’ or single specimen plant. Coleus plants will often produce a purple flower spike in mid-summer, but are more often grown for their brightly colored leaves (some people even remove the flower when it appears).
Before the newest introductions, most Coleus preferred shade or filtered light; recent varieties such as the ‘Flame Thrower’ series have the flexibility to be planted in either sun or shade, looking fabulous no matter the location! The ‘Flame Thrower’ series has fun names like ‘Habanero’, ‘Spiced Curry’, and ‘Salsa Roja’, and mix beautifully with bright colored annuals like Zinnias for sun or Begonias for shade. There are varieties that reach up to 30 inches tall and wide, and ones that are compact and lower growing; some with huge, boldly patterned leaves and others with more delicate finger-like foliage.
Coleus are fairly fast-growing and often last until late fall when they can be killed off by a hard frost. During the growing season, plants can be pinched back or lightly trimmed to promote more compact, bushy growth. Originally, Coleus was grown mostly as an indoor plant—a very popular houseplant in the 1960s. It is very easy to grow Coleus from a cutting, so you can snip off a small piece of your outside plant sometime this summer or early fall and root it indoors in water. Depending on the time of year, roots may grow as quickly as in one week or they may take a few weeks. Once the clipping has produced roots, it may be planted in soil and grown indoors for the winter or even indefinitely!
Indoors or out, in a container or in the ground, sun or shade… now that is one versatile plant!