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Today is December 12, 2018

Southern Gardening

Coleus varieties now ready for shade and sun

Coleus varieties now ready for shade and sun

Multicolored sun coleus fills this container. Consistent moisture and good drainage allow them to thrive. Photo: MSU Extension/Gary Bachman

Since we celebrated the first day of summer June 21, I think this is the perfect time to talk about one my favorite color plants, the coleus.

Coleus used to be that colorful plant that would grow only in the shadows, never exposed to the sun. One of my favorites of this kind is the sun-bashful coleus group, Kong.

Chosen as a Mississippi Medallion award winner in 2006, the Kong coleus series lives up to its namesake as the huge leaves are large enough to cover your face. Foliage, the main focus of each plant, features bright colors in many shades of red and purple.

Coleus has a growing season lasting from planting in the spring to frost in the fall. It belongs in every garden and landscape. There is a kaleidoscope of colors and combinations.

But today, I want to tell you about a group of coleuses we can grow out in the full sun. They are appropriately called sun coleuses and have rich, diverse foliage colors with highly variegated options.

One selection that has really impressed many gardeners across the Deep South, myself included, is Henna. This variety has stunningly beautiful serrated foliage that is chartreuse and copper above and a deep burgundy underneath. Henna coleus is an excellent choice for planting in the landscape, and it also looks great in containers. This plant grows to about 24 inches tall and is very slow to flower.

Coleosaurus may be one of my summer standards for years to come. The lush, variegated, multicolored foliage is exotic with its bright-burgundy patterns. This sturdy selection reaches 24 to 36 inches tall and wide.

I’ve also enjoyed bringing the heavens down to my landscape this year. The petunia selections Night Sky and Pink Sky have been outstanding in my garden.

A coleus that joined this out-of-the-world collection is Colorblaze Dark Sky. This selection has dark-purple foliage that is almost black with small flecks of maroonish purple. This foliage has a soft, scalloped edge and a rich, velour feel.

Like many of my other annuals and perennials, I love growing these coleus selections in 15-gallon containers, making them look like colorful shrubs in my landscape.

These plants are foolproof in the landscape and provide vibrant, season-long color, but you must remember that sun coleus requires consistent moisture during the hot summer. I use drip irrigation in my landscape beds and containers to keep these plants happy during the hottest weather.

I like growing my coleus in containers with optimum drainage and aeration because that means great plant growth. But these plants also grow great in landscape beds.

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 and allows better root development. Liberal amounts of organic matter help sandy soils hold water and nutrients.

Gardeners grow coleus for its boldly colored foliage. Flower stalks are easy to spot, and if any flowers start to develop, simply pinch them off to help develop a bushy plant. The newer selections have been bred to resist flowering until late in the season, which is another great feature. My favorites are the ones that don’t bloom at all.

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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