David L. Morgan
Plant Common Name
Coleus is a popular, bushy tender perennial planted for its spectacularly colored, often variegated, foliage. Prized by garden enthusiast since the 1800’s, coleus is a favorite annual in temperate zones because its diverse, beautiful and shade-loving. The parent plants of today's popular hybrids originate from Southeast Asia.
Wildly hued and variegated leaves alternately line the square stems. They are generally oval with tapered tips and coarsely toothed or scalloped edges. The flowers are borne throughout the year on long, spike-like stalks. Each blooms is tiny, tubular and four lobed with two lips. Color may be blue, white or purple. Insects pollinate the flowers and small nutlet fruits follow.
Coleus grow best in partial sun to shade and fertile, moist, well-drained soil. Where temperatures remain cool and mild through the growing season, they will tolerate full sun, though some new selections have been bred to withstand full sun in even in the warmest climates. Some maintenance is required to keep foliage looking its best. Flower buds should be pinched back before they get a chance to bloom as they take energy reserves from the leaves making them smaller and less colorful.
There are hundreds of cultivars that come in many shades and combinations of red, pink, burgundy, scarlet, gold, orange and green. In frost-free zones, Coleus grow as bushy evergreen shrubs. Elsewhere, they are excellent foliage plants for mixed beds, borders and containers.