Coleus (Plectranthus) is one of those annual bedding plants that every year I am truly amazed by the new introductions of foliage color. There are not many annual plants that can hold its array of colors in both shade and sun, now the Coleus has come around. For the longest time, Coleus in the sun was unheard of. Currently, there are many new sun-tolerant varieties available on the market. Some of the bright red and bold purples varieties handle the sun plus those with Sun or Solar in the variety name are a good indicator.

coleus photo by Costa Farms
Photo: Costa Farms

A Plant Worthy of a Broadway Musical?

                                Joseph and the Amazing Techni-Coleus Dream Coat

Some varieties have so many colors per leaf, that I am lost when trying to work them into floral beds and find colors and textures compatible with adjacent flowers. Also, perhaps another indication of my color design ability limits, I shy away from using variegated foliage in a mix with other variegated plants. It can give a busy, uneasy appearance.  In those cases, the variegated plants, especially Coleus are effective and brilliant on their own, that is planted solo. Coleus with multiple colors are appreciated better when their leaves can be observed up-close. Recall this is an attribute of the Torenia flower we discussed in the last posting, where we discussed placing them near benches, patios, and sidewalks. Position multi-color Coleus there as well, enabling people to see the vivid colors aligned together plus the fuzzy foliage just begs to be touched. 

 Plethora of Colors for Plectranthus

There is a good range in sizes available to fit Coleus in the right placement, from Thumbelina with tiny 1” leaves at 6” height to Diablo reaching 34” or greater. Some like Mardi Gras come compact for small areas and others namely Trailing Plum cascade making them ideal for baskets and window boxes. Coleus typically prefer moist soil unless they are in full shade where soils would need to be drier.

Some of my favorite varieties:

Campfire – rising to 3’, bold red-orange foliage for sun/shade

Flamethrower Chili Pepper – lives up to its name, you’ve got to see it and feel the heat in person

MainStreet Broadway – 18” tall, sun tolerant, purple-red leaves edged in gold, and always works for me

Redhead – clean, red-purple foliage, sun/shade and having (3) red-haired children, a must at my home

A few more clever names are:

coleus sunset colors
MainStreet Sunset Boulevard
Coleus Plectranthus
coleus wasabi
Wasabi Coleus
Plectranthus ‘Wasabi’

-Rob McCartney, Horticulturist

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