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Coleus' bright foliage performs beautifully in summer landscapes By Norman Winter 1C53

It seems the coleus is worth its weight in gold in the landscape this time of the year. They offer a persevering performance and flaming color during the hottest part of the summer, which puts it among the best buys for your gardening dollar.

For the past few years, I’ve touted big-leafed coleus selections like ‘Inferno,’ ‘Campfire’ or ‘Mariposa,’ but, to be honest, the narrow-leafed varieties like ‘The Flume’ or ‘Stained Glassworks Oompah’ offer a dazzling performance that you might have overlooked. Another variety that recently caught my eye was ‘Stained Glassworks Luminesce.’

I have loved several in the Stained Glassworks series, but ‘Stained Glassworks Luminesce’ is really something special. It has an almost psychedelic iridescence of hot pink. It will reach 20 inches tall and almost as wide. Partner it with lime green or chartreuse colors from plants like the ‘Wasabi’ coleus or ‘Goldilocks’ lysimachia and you’ll have a combination that you can count on for the long summer ahead. Keep your eyes open for ‘Pink Chaos’ coleus that provides a similar look.

The ‘FlameThrower Salsa Verde’ coleus would also make an incredible partner. This cultivar made its debut in 2015, but still wows plant trials visitors in 2017. This narrow-leafed selection could be used in the landscape like a ‘Gold Mound’ duranta or a Joseph’s coat.

The ‘FlameThrower Salsa Verde’ coleus is part of the FlameThrower series of coleuses from Ball FloraPlant that also features selections like ‘FlameThrower Spiced Curry,’ ‘FlameThrower Chili Pepper’ and ‘FlameThrower Chipotle.’ All of these received sensational scores in trials. In one of the Southeastern trials, ‘FlameThrower Salsa Verde’ was partnered with ‘Ping Pong Purple’ gomphrena for a picture-perfect display.

For those of you who have not tried using the coleus and don’t know much about the plant, it is from tropical Africa and Asia. I almost feel embarrassed to tell you that they were known botanically as “Coleus blumei” during my formal training. A decade or so ago, they were switched to the tongue twister “Solenostemon scutellarioides.” Obviously, that was also a challenge to spell. Now, in one of those taxonomists-have-to-eat-too moments, the new name is “Plectranthus scutellarioides.”

The coleus is a tough and great plant, but planting it in tight, compacted clay will yield less-than-satisfactory results. Both the trial beds and the commercial plantings where these narrow-leafed coleuses have been so stunning made great use of prepared landscape mixes that allowed the coleuses to reach their true beauty and potential.

At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georgia, we continually work on soil improvement, adding compost in any form in which we can get it. If you have tight, heavy clay or what we call “muck,” then you will want to work on improving your soil condition, too. Your coleuses will thrive and your thumb will turn an even brighter shade of green if you prepare the soil.

To prepare the soil, loosen it up with organic matter like compost, humus or peat. Work it into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Be sure to apply a good layer of mulch to conserve moisture after planting.

About a month after transplanting, feed the plants with a light application of slow-release fertilizer. Feed them again in midsummer. We are growing coleuses for their fabulous foliage, so pinch flower buds off when they start to form. The coleus represents some of best choices in annual landscape color. The summer is just getting started and you have many opportunities to use coleuses in mixed containers and in the landscape as well. Plant coleuses with other coleuses or with flowers and you’ll have an award-winning design. Follow me on Twitter – @CGBGgardenguru.

(Norman Winter is the director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georiga.)

Inferno colleus
Inferno colleus

'Inferno' coleus looks striking against the lime green of this 'Sidekick' ornamental sweet potato foliage.  

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'Inferno' coleus looks striking against the lime green of this 'Sidekick' ornamental sweet potato foliage.   Download Image
Inferno coleus 2
Inferno coleus 2

'Inferno' coleus looks stunning in the landscape or in mixed baskets and containers.

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Inferno coleus
Inferno coleus

'Inferno' coleus offers stunning orange leaves that look like an artist's masterpiece when combined with all shades of blue.

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