Coleus Rules


Spring to fall, this plant reigns supreme.

by Charlie Thigpen    Photography by Chuck St. John

Who is the king of color in the garden? Your holiness of coleus reins supreme and graces the landscape from spring until fall’s first frost with fancy, multi-hued foliage. Bow to the one who drapes his quilt-like robe across our garden beds and brightens the landscape. When the heat is on, many leaders wither, but this one is strong and performs well when temperatures soar. His royal family is large, varied and comes in all shapes and sizes.  So if you don’t know this king, it’s time to become acquainted, because it looks like he will govern the garden for many years to come.

Where to Plant Coleus

These days you’ll find this popular foliage plant in hanging baskets, window-box planters and flowerbeds. Some varieties thrive in the sun, and others perform best in shade. The sun-tolerant coleus will grow fine in the shade, but they will lose their intense coloration.

They can be the feature plant in a garden or may be used as a filler or backdrop plant. Coleus is very versatile, but it does need to be watered frequently. It lets you know when it’s thirsty, because it tends to wilt like impatiens, but will quickly perk up once hydrated. When it’s dry, make sure to have a water source close by to give the coleus a refreshing shower.

Size and Shape

The “Kong” series of coleus is large and robust, growing around two-feet tall and sporting leaves as big as your hand. Then there are lower growing selections such as “Trailing Burgundy” that grow around 12 to 14 inches tall and will spill over the edge of planters and walls. All coleus should be pinched back occasionally to keep them full and compact. Always cut them right above a growth node where leaves or stems are branching out. Save the pieces you cut off and use them in flower arrangements. The cut pieces will root quickly in water and can later be planted outside.

Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a novice, you should make a place for coleus in your garden. Their fanciful foliage holds up while many summer flowers melt. This king of color really peaks in the fall when red and orange foliaged selections can blend right into and enhance your fall landscape

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