Many gardeners are looking for bold color in their landscapes or containers, and they often think flowers are the best way to get that pop of color. But plants like coleus give non-stop color with their striking leaves.
Coleus is a beautiful landscape plant prized for its colorful foliage, which comes in shades of green, yellow, pink, red, orange, and maroon. These versatile plants can be used in hanging baskets, containers on patios, or in landscape beds. Coleus is a heat-tolerant, durable annual that has very few disease or insect problems. These plants, which are native to Malaysia and parts of Asia, can really thrive in your Florida landscape during the summer while providing you with interesting foliage.
Coleus is hard to kill and easy to propagate, making it a wonderful choice for gardeners at all levels of experience. Coleus varieties come in such a wide range of colors and heights any gardener is likely to find a one that fits their aesthetic.
Planting and Care
Traditionally, most coleus plants have grown best in partial shade. However, there are now many new varieties—some developed by the University of Florida—that thrive in full, hot sun. Check the specifics for your coleus variety before planting to make sure it is in an area where it will receive the correct light levels.
Coleus plants do best in well-drained soils amended with lots of organic matter. Any balanced fertilizer for bedding plants can be used to improve your coleus' growth. Soil for these plants should be kept lightly moist at all times; mulching around your plants helps conserve soil moisture.
In the past, coleus plants benefitted from frequently pinching back the growing stems of young plants. This pinching encourages dense foliage growth—after all, foliage growth is the goal of planting coleus. It’s also best to remove flowers, as doing so appears to keep the plants from going to seed and declining. New varieties developed at UF have been selected for prolific lateral branching and late flowering, so they don't need as much maintenance.
It’s easy and affordable to turn one coleus plant into many by taking stem cuttings. Start with a healthy, disease-free plant. Use a sharp, clean knife to cut off a two- to six-inch section of stem. Trim the stem a half-inch below the bottom-most leaves and remove those leaves. Then just put the stem in moist potting soil or a sterile media like vermiculite and put it in a shady spot for a couple of weeks until the cutting forms roots.
Once your cuttings have a healthy amount of roots, transplant them to a loose, rich potting soil in a larger container or plant them in the landscape. This technique can help overwinter coleus in colder parts of the state.