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Today is July 23, 2017

Southern Gardening

Sun coleus offers summer beauty without much work

Sun coleus offers summer beauty without much work

The Kong coleus has massive foliage and thrives in shady areas of the landscape. Photo: MSU Extension/Gary Bachman

With summer officially here and hot and humid weather firmly in place, many gardeners—myself included—like to look at a pretty landscape, but don’t really want to get out and do much work in that same landscape.

So selecting plants that look good without much work pique my interest. One plant that doesn’t disappoint me is Sun coleus.

This is a group of ornamental plants that have moved out of the shadows to take their rightful place in the full sun. They thrive in our Mississippi summers.

Sun coleus colors are rich and diverse, and the plants come in highly variegated variations. They offer a kaleidoscope of combinations and are foolproof landscape plants. Coleus have a growing season that lasts from planting in the spring to frost in the fall. I think they belong in every garden and landscape.

You need to take a close look at Electric Lime coleus, a Mississippi Medallion winner from 2010. At 24 inches tall, the beautiful lime-green foliage makes this an outstanding garden performer. Electric Lime coleus is a durable plant that can be paired with spring flowers, as well as mums in the fall.

One selection that has impressed many gardeners across the Deep South is Henna, a coleus that has stunningly beautiful, serrated foliage. The leaves are chartreuse and copper above with a deep burgundy underneath.

But what about that shady corner or patio you have? Coleus would also look good in these settings, and that is where the shade-loving coleus takes its rightful place.

Many of these varieties have gone by the wayside as home gardeners prefer the sun-loving varieties, but one shade-loving coleus every gardener with a shady spot should consider is the Kong coleus series.

Kong coleus was named a Mississippi Medallion award winner in 2006, and it is still a winner in the landscape today. Kong coleus have huge leaves large enough to cover a human face, living up to their namesake. Their foliage is the main focus, with bright colors featuring many shades of red and purple.

Coleus plants are easy-to-grow, low-maintenance plants. They are almost foolproof when grown in well-drained landscape beds or containers and consistently watered through dry periods. They also are excellent in baskets as filler plants, especially when grown in combination with a vining or cascading plant.

Since we grow coleus for its boldly colored foliage, there is no point in letting them use energy to develop flowers. Pinch these off to help develop a bushy plant. New varieties are bred to resist flowering until late in the season, if they bloom at all.

One key to success with coleus planted in landscape beds is to improve the soil with organic matter. In heavy clay soil, organic matter improves drainage and aeration, allowing better root development. In sandy areas, liberal amounts of organic matter help soil hold water and nutrients.

Dr. Gary Bachman is an associate Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. He is also host of “Southern Gardening” radio and TV programs.

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