Coleus: A Kaleidoscope of Color

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Dive into the psychedelic frenzy of color this spring by planting sun coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides), and you will no doubt get swept away by its tumultuous waves of grandeur. For if the old adage stands true that a picture paints a thousand words, then the illustrious leaves of coleus certainly hold a lifetime of evocative lyrics. These hardy warm-season annuals are animated with life from spring until winter’s first frost, during which swirls of unimaginable colors brilliantly glow together in a sort of mismatched harmony. Coleus is one of the easiest annuals to grow in Louisiana summers, due to its extreme resilience to heat. Now offered in an endless assortment of hues, you can find almost any color combination you desire. Plant them in mixed containers to create bold appeal, or group them in flowerbeds for added effect—no matter the spot, you won’t be let down.

Although sun coleus prefers full sunlight to partial shade, some cultivars, like the ‘Kong’ series, require shadier conditions; so make sure to check plant labels before purchasing. Grown mostly for its dynamic display of foliage, coleus, when planted in masses, can instantly set your garden ablaze, creating a mirror ball of fiery oranges, yellows, and cherry reds. Proven to stand tall even through the toughest of our heat spells, these robust battalions never lose their color. Depending on the variety, coleus averages one to three feet in height and if not maintained, can command almost the same space across. Keep your coleuses looking their best all season by pruning them two to three times between spring and frost. The best method is to prune once the plants have begun to flower; by removing the flowers, you redirect more energy to the leaves.

Coleuses are for the most part informal garden plants, so anything goes. You can plant a mass of one variety or you can create a kaleidoscope of different hues. Utilize them for their height by planting them behind shorter annuals like periwinkle, dianthus, and petunias, or take advantage of their broad thick texture by interspersing them with the finely slit Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’, Calibrachoa, and Shasta daisies. Although the possibilities and combinations are infinite, consider cultivars like ‘Alabama’, ‘Dipt in Wine’, ‘Ducksfoot Yellow’, ‘Fishnet Stockings’, and ‘Mt. Washington’.

‘Alabama’ coleus, a true southern favorite, sports lime green leaves that turn russet burgundy as they mature. The rich auburn hues look sensational when incorporated in perennial borders of ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia, purple coneflowers, and stokesia. For an interesting mixed container, combine ‘Alabama’ coleus with purple fountain grass and ‘Marguerite’ sweet potato vine. The grass offers not only extra height to the planter, but subtle texture as well, both from its feathery plumes and its foliage. The chartreuse glowing from the sweet potato vine sharply contrasts with the coleus’s burgundy, while also bringing out the more tender splashes of lime.

Another variety of coleus that offers a striking contrast of exotic hues is ‘Dipt in Wine’. Just as the name suggests, its foliage seems to have been doused in a glass of merlot. Iridescent golden centers help to highlight the blood red leaves as they cast their glow about the entire plant. To accentuate the yellow gold, plant ‘Dipt in Wine’ with ‘Irish Eyes’ rudbeckia, yellow marigolds, or ‘New Gold’ lantana. Cool off your display by interspersing ‘Serena Blue’ angelonia or ‘Soprano Purple’ osteospermum.

Try ‘Ducksfoot Yellow’ coleus if you are in search of a shorter cultivar. Averaging only one foot tall, ‘Ducksfoot Yellow’ shows off smaller, more compact leaves than other varieties. Its miniature, webbed foliage is tinged with lemon yellow, while the core of the leaves is rosy pink. Include this variety with other coleus combinations like ‘Alabama’, ‘Life Lime’, or ‘Red Ruffles’, and watch as vivid bursts of cherry, lime, auburn, and gold dance wildly across your flowerbed.

Gardeners who wish to grow on the edge might consider planting ‘Fishnet Stockings’. This sultry variety displays broad thick leaves and holds the color of the richest green apple. Deep burgundy veins spread themselves like spider webs across the expanse of ‘Granny Smith’ green. Plant ‘Fishnet Stockings’ alongside ‘Black Prince’ coleus, ‘Dreamland Yellow’ zinnias, and trailing white lantana.

Your coleus planting is not complete though, without ‘Mt. Washington’. This giant spectacle of colors averages three feet in height, all of which is generously painted with chartreuse, merlot, and slight touches of magenta. A color wheel all its own, ‘Mt. Washington’ does not call for an array of mixed flowers to help it shine. Plant near ‘Kingswood Torch’ coleus or ‘Jaio Red’ vinca to further elicit magenta undertones.

Coleuses have become the annual soldiers of southern summers. This spring, open your garden to a whole new world of breathtaking hues by planting the varieties of your choice. Whether you introduce only one cultivar to your flowerbed, or you blend a mass of mixed hues, you can create your own spectacular palette of colors in no time.

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