The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

The Colorful Chaos of Coleus

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Ok, it's time I came out of the closet….. I have been a coleus fan for years. The many colors of the leaves. The instant pizzazz in the garden. What's not to love! However for many years coleus had been raising its hand but no one was calling on it. In much of the horticulture world coleus was considered mundane and best forgotten in the shade with the begonias. Despite what I was told, I always grew mine in the sun and they seemed to love it. The older seed propagated cultivars did have their drawbacks. When they flowered, they got leggy and lost some of their ornamental appeal.

Luckily there were a few closet coleus fans that were keepers of old vegetatively propagated coleus. The 1990's saw a resurgence of interest in plant leaves instead of the usual flower focus. It was time for coleus to step up to bat. It's easy to grow, has tremendous variety in leaf colors and shapes, can grow in sun or shade, makes a nice houseplant and it's easy to propagate from cuttings.

Most coleus are upright growing from 10 to 40 inches tall. There are a few trailing or mounded ground cover types.

One of the first coleus to catch my eye was the duck's foot type. The leaves are small and somewhat lobed like a duck's foot. The habit is a nice rounded mound with many branches. They seem to stay in a nice ball without a lot of pinching and seldom if ever flower. Duck's foot include 'Indian Frills,' 'Inky Fingers' and 'Purple.'

The Solar Series of landscape types came out in 1994. These include 'Solar Morning Mist,' 'Solar Eclipse,' 'Solar Flare,' and 'Solar Sunrise' that can reach a whopping 40 inches tall.

The Sunlover Series of landscape types came out in 1993 from research done at USDA facilities in the south. Some were released through trials at the University of Georgia at Athens and are promoted under the name Athens Select. 'Red Ruffles' is a popular one of the Athens Select. Others are 'Gay's Delight,''Rustic Orange' and 'Thumbellina' which is a mounding ground cover type.

Some of the novelty types include 'Tilt a Whirl,' 'Flirting Skirts' and 'Kiwi Fern' which always gets a "what's that" comment due to its deeply cut leaves and psychedelic colors.

Today seed propagated cultivars include Wizard Mix and Fairway Mix. They tend to be shorter than the vegetatively grown coleus, better in the shade and flower more heavily.

With over a hundred cultivars of "car stopping" coleus available, why not give a few a try in the landscape or in containers. Check out Fantastic Foliage at Or Alan Armitage's book Manual of Annuals, Biennials and Half-Hardy Perennials.

Tree Walk will be Saturday, June 15 at 10:00 am. Join Bill VanderWeit, City Forester for the City of Champaign and author of the new tree walk guide. Walk will start on the corner of Victor and University Avenue in Champaign.

University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners Garden Walk is Sunday June 16 from 10-5, rain or shine. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 on the day of the walk at the Idea Garden. Also in Champaign at the University of Illinois Extension office at 801 North Country Fair Drive (217) 333-7672, Abbott's Florist, Grapevine Creations, Greenview Nurseries, Rick Orr Florist and Prairie Gardens. In Urbana at Country Arbors Nursery, FS Farmtown, and English Hedgerow and each Saturday at Urbana Farmers Market. Also available at Main Street Mercantile and English Hedgerow in Mahomet, Pages for All Ages Bookstore in Savoy, Kleiss Nursery in Tolono, Steeple Gallery in Monticello and Danville Gardens in Danville.

All Garden Walk proceeds go toward Master Gardener projects in Champaign County such as our stupendous Idea Garden.

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