Coleus – old favorite, new interest

By Ralph E. Mitchell

Almost everyone is familiar with the  plant known as coleus.  Generally, the coleus has colorful foliage in shades of green, red, pink, yellow, red and maroon.  The leaf shape is also very variable as is the ultimate height of individual plants.  A seasonal annual that can be easily propagated and provides a rainbow of new color combinations and leaf types for every taste.

Coleus are very adaptable to either full sun or part shade locations.  Too much shade will cause the plants to begin to stretch out.   They need well-drained soil amended with organic matter for best results, but are also very well adapted to containers and hanging baskets.  Because they can grow tall and leggy and can even produce a spike of bluish flowers, pinching is generally recommended to encourage a bushier, fuller plant.  Installed as a mass planting, coleus can be planted on twelve to eighteen inch centers for maximum effect.  Coleus are ideal when planted among shrubs to give a splash of color in the landscape.

Although listed as an annual, you can easily take cuttings which root incredibly easily.  Take four to six inch tip cuttings and remove the bottom-most leaves.  Plant these cuttings in sterile potting medium.  These new plants will help replace the older, worn out ones.    You can also purchase and grow coleus from seed in mixed colors.  You will also find that if coleus go to flower, the resulting seed will produce many volunteer plants for the next season.

The University of Florida has done a great deal of work to develop new coleus cultivars.  Via breeding efforts, tens of thousands of seedlings are grown and analyzed for good characteristics such as new colors, vigorous growth, drought tolerance, etc.  A few plants make the cut and become named varieties for commercial production.  A few of the UF cultivars have included ‘Big Red Judy’ which is a large plant with red leaves and adaptation to sun or shade; ‘Frilly Milly’ with frilly edges and dark red leaves , and ‘Lemon Sunsation’ with red and chartreuse, lace-like  leaves which takes all light conditions.

The world of coleus is yours to explore, discover and collect.  I have rediscovered coleus, a recommended Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ plant by the way, and plan to use more in my landscape in years to come!  For more information on all types of bedding plants suitable for area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times –

Gilman, E. F. & Howe, T. (2014) Coleus x hybrid Coleus.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Gardening Solutions (2017) Coleus.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Gardening Solutions (2017) Coleus Cultivars Developed at the University of Florida.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Gardening Solutions (2017) UF Graduate Student Develops Thirteen Coleus Varieties.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.

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