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Minter: Give your garden a new 'wardrobe' with coleus

The variety 'Kong' from Japan is making quite an impression this year, writes master gardener Brian Minter.

Of all the interesting new plants showing up these days, one family of plants has really caught on. 

Coleus provides wonderful stand alone colour, as well as accents for everything else in your garden. 

The huge advantage of foliage plants, like coleus, is the instant effect they create. When you set out annuals, there’s always that downtime while the plants settle in, start to grow and then flower. With foliage plants, the impact is instant! The other nice thing about foliage plants is the new and wonderful colour combinations you can create, adding a whole new "wardrobe" to your outdoor décor.

Over the past year, we’ve tried a few varieties of sun-tolerant coleus, and I have to say, we’re thrilled with the results – probably morning sun and partial afternoon  shade are the most ideal conditions. We’ve also learned how to use coleus in hanging baskets for an instant and long-lasting effect. You’ll be amazed at just how great they look.

Dummen Orange from Holland has introduced the Main Street series and they are all bright, bold and love both moderate sun and shade. Alligator Alley, Beale Street, 5th Avenue and Riverwalk are just some of the many hot new colours. The Ball Horticultural Co. has introduced similar varieties like Electric Lime, Campfire, Hanna, and Lime Wire; all are fabulous and both heat and sun tolerant. These newer varieties are all quite spectacular and are really making a difference in our gardens.

Moving into the shade just a bit, another coleus innovation is making quite an impression this year. 

Talk about big – how about 'Kong'! This variety is absolutely huge, growing to approximately 24 inches tall and wide with enormous leaves in five beautiful colour patterns. ‘Kong’ is stunning by itself but looks fabulous in mass plantings because of its big  but compact form. It will tolerate some morning sun, but performs best in full shade and by the way, it is delightful in containers. Developed by Sakata Seeds in Japan, ‘Kong’ has taken North America by storm, and with the warm summer weather, it’s an ideal time to plant them now. They love the heat, and you’ll love the ‘wow’ new look they will provide in your garden.

Coleus blend well with so many other plants and now with the wide range of separate coloured leaves, you can go wild. The black-burgundy and chartreuse varieties are the most widely adaptable. Try black with soft pink and chartreuse with blue. The large array of new colours (over 40) will provide you with many interesting combinations to fire your imagination.

In all our combination plantings with coleus, we let the coleus foliage dominate and accent with a touch of flowers. Too much competition between the two is unattractive and busy looking. You’ll have to experiment, but I can assure you that these plants have a lot to offer.

Most varieties are basal branching, so a little pinching is needed to get a full and bushy plant. Left alone, they will reach two to three feet in height, but with some pruning you can keep them to about eighteen inches.

Coleus are not heavy feeders, but once established, some slow-release 14-14-14 fertilizer would be ideal. Water them well, but let them dry out between waterings. They are drought tolerant, however, in full sun they will need some moisture.












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