‘Sun’ coleus shine in the landscape

John Young, Gill, Daniel J., Owings, Allen D.  |  6/5/2009 6:08:15 PM

Coleus are low-maintenance annuals, which makes them a good choice for sustainable summer landscapes. (Click to download. Photo by Mark Claesgens.)

Sustainable Landscape News From LaHouse

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Allen Owings and John Young

Coleus have long been a summer favorite for Louisiana landscapes. Many old varieties are still with us, but many new ones have sparked renewed interest in this old southern favorite.

Coleus can be planted anytime from mid-spring through late summer. They will last until killing frost in the fall. These are great low-maintenance plants for a sustainable landscape in Louisiana.

Most of us equate coleus with shade, which was required by older varieties such as the Rainbow and Wizard series. The new Kong series also does best in shade to partial shade, but it has large leaves like sun-loving varieties.

About 20 years ago, “sun” coleus started becoming popular. It’s the kind most garden centers now carry. These varieties usually are propagated asexually (by stem cuttings) instead of by seed. Original varieties include Alabama (also known as Alabama Sunset) and Red Ruffles (also known as New Orleans Red).

Newer varieties, like Burgundy Sun and Plum Parfait, were promoted by Texas A&M University in their Texas Superstar program about 10 years ago. The Solar series from Florida also was popular for a time about 10 years ago but has been replaced by the state’s Sun series.

We thought new coleus debuts would slow down, and they did about five years ago. But the last two years have seen many new, exciting varieties. With names like Henna, Indian Summer, Big Red Judy, Red Hot Rio, Pineapple Splash and more, there is a coleus for everyone. These are all propagated from stem cuttings by the greenhouse growers.

For the last couple of years, the LSU AgCenter has been evaluating coleus from the company Proven Winners. The best landscape performers include Life Lime, Big Red Judy, Coco Loco, Dappled Apple, Fishnet Stockings, Glennis, Pistachio Nightmare, Merlot and Twist and Twirl.

Coleus hybridized with perilla plants also are popular and include Royal Glissade, Zen Moment and Quarterback. Perilla varieties themselves (which most folks cannot tell from a coleus) include Magilla Perilla, Magilla Vanilla and Cage’s Shadow.

Coleus are grown in the landscape for their brightly colored foliage. Flowers are not the desired feature. Do not allow coleus to flower; pinch those flowers off and a more bushy plant develops. Even if a particular variety you have is slow to flower, which is true for some of the new varieties, keep the terminal growth pinched back across the top of the plant. These terminal cuttings can be easily propagated.

Coleus do not tolerate wet feet, so make sure the soil has good drainage and that watering is strictly monitored. Too much water will reduce vigor and make the plants more susceptible to diseases and root rot.

Fertilize established plants once or twice during the growing season. Use a slow-release fertilizer at the rate of 1-2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of bed area.

Try coleus in containers and patio plantings. It is best to plant coleus in the landscape by the flat in mass plantings – not one here and one there.

Come to LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see our bedding plant beds and other sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is located near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (La. Highway 30) in Baton Rouge across the street from the new LSU baseball stadium. Go online to Louisiana Yards and Neighborhoods for additional information.

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Editor: Mark Claesgens

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