Sun-Loving Coleus

coleusColeus, a mainstay of shady American borders since the 1890's, now boasts new cultivars that thrive in the sun. All the vivid colors of coleus leaves, the pinks and lime greens and yellows and reds, the frilly and neatly scalloped textures, are well-represented in more than 40 new sun-loving cultivars, grown from cuttings, with evocative names such as 'Freckles', 'Cranberry Salad', 'Olympic Torch', and 'Red Ruffles'.

In its native Indonesia, coleus has been cultivated as an ornamental for so many centuries that its origins are unknown. Dutch traders carried several coleus species to Europe in the mid-1800's, and plant breeders in various parts of Europe immediately began to hybridize, racing with each other to create new cultivars that were ever more brightly colored and often commanded astonishingly high prices. English and American gardeners of the Victorian era adopted coleus enthusiastically as both houseplants and summer bedding plants, and coleus have been around ever since, reliable plants that bring bursts of vivid color to shady nooks and borders.

Until now, there have been two big limitations to growing coleus. If traditional coleus cultivars are moved from their shady niches and grown in full sun, their colors are pale, faded shadows of what they can be in shade or partial shade.

And all the coleus cultivars available to gardeners until now have been long-day bloomers, which flower in the summer when days are much longer than nights. Unfortunately, coleus flowers are skinny stalks of small, mint-like blooms, with none of the bold texture and vivid coloration of the leaves. During the summer, traditional coleus cultivars begin to produce flower stalks, and they go on and on unflaggingly producing flower stalks for the rest of the summer, until frost or until the tired gardener gives up, whichever happens first. Seed companies have favored coleus cultivars that are long-day bloomers, because collecting seed in summer is easy. But summer bloom only makes more work for home gardeners.

When Dr. Allan Armitage of the University of Georgia introduced sun-loving coleus recently, both problems were suddenly history. These new cultivars have been selected for their ability to thrive and stay bright-colored in sun or shade. You can grow them anywhere!

And they are not long-day bloomers, like coleus propagated from seed. The new coleus are propagated vegetatively from cuttings, and their leaves stay large and vivid throughout the summer, with nary a flower stalk in sight.

The new sun-loving coleus cultivars include an amazingly broad range of leaf colors, sizes, shapes, and textures. For example, 'Freckles' has green leaves heavily spotted with red, and edged with yellow. 'Alabama Sunset' is yellow in the sun, and in shade, pink and rosy red. The leaves of 'Gay's Delight' are chartreuse with purple veins, and those of 'Red Ruffles' are brilliant red outlined in light green. Plants are sturdy and trouble-free, ranging in size from robust 4 by 4-foot bushes of 'Freckles' to small-leafed 15-inch mounds of 'Thumbellina', maroon with golden leaf margins, and to 'Red Duckfoot', a dwarf coleus with leaves that look like little burgundy-red duck's feet.

These coleus thrive in warm spots, sunny or shady, and grow best in moist, rich, well-drained soil. This summer, Log House Plants has over 40 cultivars from which you can choose, to brighten sunny or shady corners of your garden, to grace containers on leafy porches or sun-baked patios, or to create a flower bed as richly hued and ornately patterned as a carpet from the Arabian Nights.

NOTE: Look for our unusual new varieties of vegetative coleus!

Our newer varieties of vegetatively propagated coleus ‘Trailing Red’ and ‘Trailing Green’ are day length neutral so they will bloom continuously blue orchid-like flowers without elongating. ‘Trailing Red’ and ‘Trailing Green’ are also an exception because they TRAIL! Like the other vegetatively propagated coleus, they can be grown in the sun!

For a taste of truly extravagant coleus landscaping inspired by the Victorians, visit the Downer's Garden. For more info visit the Coleus Society.