THE NEW COLEUS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
Many gardeners know coleus--that tender annual grown in gardens for its richly patterned and colored foliage. Yet many may not realize that in recent years hundreds of cultivars (cultivated variety) have been introduced, most growing well in the sun of northern climates.
In fact, for many of these newer selections the colors get better colors in the sun. Just keep them well watered when young. If in a good heavy loam, plants even may survive drought quite well.
When I was growing up and first starting to garden, I knew coleus as just a few cultivars, grown from seeds, and planted in the shade. Many cultivars that you buy at general garden or mass market stores are still grown from seeds and are among the several traditional mixes of color.
Specialty and complete garden stores, and some mail order sources, now sell cultivars grown solely from cuttings. Since coleus plants have so many color variations in their foliage, from solids to patterns, spots, and flecks (very tiny spots), and since they tend to make mutations or sports on their own, these sports can then propagated vegetatively by cuttings for a new cultivar.
You can even do this at home if you find such a variation, as I did this year with a solid dusky red branch on Downer's Ribbons--a purple cultivar with pink centers and green edges. You also can take cuttings in late summer to overwinter your favorite cultivars indoors.
Simply cut a branch about four to six inches long, removing the lower two-thirds of the leaves. Although many people root them just in a glass of water, I prefer a mix of equal parts vermiculite and perlite. Keep cuttings moist with a plastic bag covering the pot until they begin to root in a couple weeks.
Most mixes and those grown from seed have variously patterned foliage, often with purple, green, and red as in Violet Tricolor. A few of these newer cultivars may have solid colors such as the raspberry red of Concord, the copper orange of Copper Glow (one of my favorites), or the dark rose of Kathryn Rose. Another of my favorites is an orange red that may be found as Shocking Pink, Alabama Sunset, or Texas Parking Lot.
The names alone of some of these new cultivars are fun and often quite descriptive, either of the leaves or their origins. Some are quite exotic, such as Pretzel Logic, Religious Rutabaga, Radical Butter Bean, and Schizophrenia!
One of the popular solid colors is the dark purple, almost black leaves of cultivars such as Othello with its ruffled edges and Black Lace. Dark Star and Apocalypse are others. Some have a solid color with different colored edge or margin. Molton Orange is, of course, orange but has a green edge. Solar Flair is purple with a green margin. Aurora is light pink with green margins. Skyrocket and Big Red are red with different yellow edges on the leaves.
Then there are those solid colors with different vein colors. Blusher is rose with lighter veins. Bloodshot is green and pink with darker veins. Or the centers may be a different, often lighter, color. Stained Glass is dark red with a lighter center. Plum Frost is purple with a green center.
Some of my favorites have spots or flecks. Ella Cinders is purple with olive spots, Coal Mine is green with purple flecks, and Freckles is green with red spots, as is Live Wire. Peachy Keen is light orange with yellow flecks. Florida Sunshine is yellow with red flecks.
There are cultivars with edges of leaves that appear cut by scissors in various patterns. Penney (coppery) has ruffled edges, as does Black Night (purple) and Etna (dark red). Flirtin Skirts has scalloped edges. Tilt a Whirl and Killer Klown have quite unusual rounded and furled leaves. A popular one with narrow purple and green leaves, deeply cut, is Kiwi Fern.
Some coleuses have very small leaves, often low or even trailing, as in Thumbelina, Oompha, and Inky Fingers (Did you guess green with dark markings?). Then there are the large leafed cultivars, such as Atlas. Trailing Queen is a trailing, Victorian cultivar. Other heirloom cultivars include Camillia and Red Ruffles (solid red with ruffled edges).
These are only a few examples to give you an idea of the many variations available. Just keep in mind that colors may vary, even change in your garden, depending on the light intensity, fertility, and age of the plant.