"Coleus have been all the rage for the past 10 years or so," says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Allen Owings. Most of the new varieties have been sun loving, but a new shade-loving coleus being studied at the AgCenter looks promising, according to the horticulturist.
The Kong group of coleus was new in 2004. The variety is a shade coleus propagated by seed, but it looks like a sun coleus. Most shade-loving coleus are smaller and less vigorous than the sun type. The Kongs are exceptions to this rule – big leaves on vibrantly colored big plants.
The Kong series will not thrive in sun – fading and sunburn on the foliage will occur. Plant them in a location where morning sun may occasionally appear. Midday, afternoon and late summer evenings, the plants should be located in a partially shaded to fully shaded area. The Kong coleus are available in red, rose, mosaic and scarlet.
"For those of you who have not tried coleus, you can plant them in the spring after danger of frost has passed," Owings says, adding, "Attempt to complete planting by May, but you can still plant coleus all the way through the summer and early fall and expect good results."
Plant about 18 inches apart and add an application of a slow-release fertilizer at planting. Coleus are grown for foliage, not flowers. Prune the terminal growing tips of the plants’ shoots about every four to six weeks to encourage lateral branching and more compact growth. This pinching also slows flower spike development. Kong coleus will start flowering in mid to late summer. Frost will kill coleus in the late fall.
"Overall, Kong coleus will be easy to grow and a great addition to a low or medium maintenance landscape," Owings says, noting that they will work well in containers also.
"We are all continually amazed with all the great coleus now available. Although interest has been mostly in sun-loving coleus, the Kong series has us returning coleus to the shade where they were originally popular," Owings says.
If you still want some sun coleus for your landscape, consider Razzle Dazzle (aka Mississippi Summer Sun), New Orleans Red, the Solar series, the Aurora series, Plum Parfait and Burgundy Sun. The popular Alabama coleus does well in the sun also but tends to bleach out a little more than the darker foliage, sun-loving varieties.
For related topics, look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Feature section of the LSU AgCenter Web site: www.lsuagcenter.com. Additional yard and garden topics are available from an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.