by CAROL SIDDALL, MASTER GARDENER
One of my favorite plants for the shade garden is Coleus. I sometimes feel it is a little forgotten. I haven't been able to find many varieties at all in the nurseries I have been to, and that is a shame as there are lots more varieties to choose from now, some even like the sun!
Coleus is native to Southeast Asia. They are tender tropicals that are generally grown as annuals. They like warm soils with decent drainage. They are not real happy with overly dry conditions. There are tall varieties, low-growing good for borders, midsize which are good for filling gaps, and trailing ones that are great for containers. Pinch their stem tips if you want to control height and increase bushiness. Pest and diseases have been rare in my garden, but that is not to say I won't experience some one year. Coleus are easy to grow from cuttings. When you trim them back take that stem and root it. After roots have developed, plant in a pot or the ground. Propagationists do this before frost to have plants ready to set out next spring.
Coleus ranges from small leaves with ruffles to large leaves with bold margins and bold colors. The Coleus is coveted for its foliage. The blooms are not the desire of this plant. In fact, they need to be cut off. You want plant growth going to the foliage, not the bloom. I have seen coleus varieties in shades of hot pink, lime, dark burgundy/black, sizzling gold, orange, and a beautiful fuchsia. To me, Coleus is one plant that you can mix colors very easily as some leaves have 2 to 3 different colors in them.
Coleus adapt easily to containers, which is a great place to showcase their beautiful colorations. Be sure they are planted in free-draining potting soil, and your pot has drain holes in the bottom. You may want to fertilize them during the growing season, but don't overdo it. The trailing coleus works well in a container. Mix and match coleus with annuals that have open flowers in contrasting or matching colors. Or, you can plant them solo to let them have all of the spotlight.
Give them a try. They are a good way to add color to your landscape.