After last week’s beautiful summer foliage post, I promised you another entry devoted entirely to coleus. I’m crazy ’bout coleus, and I think you will be too when you consider all the summer gardening possibilities. As I’ve written before, tropical plants are a summer garden’s best friend. That’s not to say I don’t like flowers. You know I love flowers, and gardens definitely need flowers in spring, summer and fall to stock your pollinator buffet.
There was a time when I didn’t think much about coleus. Sure, they were pretty, but you could only grow them in the shade, and they took tons of water. I don’t have that much shade. I never have, and I felt there were plenty of shade plants from which to choose without including a lot of coleus– my apologies to the Wizard and Kong shade coleus series. Both of these shade loving coleus series are simply grand. Even my front beds, primed to explode in spring, get plenty of afternoon sun because they face west.
My feelings for coleus deepened when nurseries began offering “sun” varieties. In my opinion, sun tolerant coleus are the best thing to ever happen to a hot summer garden. Even in years where blooms are burned by the sun, many varieties of sun tolerant coleus keep on shining.
I overwinter cuttings of my favorite older coleus varieties in the greenhouse. I do this because every plant isn’t offered each year. Hybridizers are always looking for the next new thing, and they only have so much greenhouse space to grow old favorites from year to year. Everything that goes on delivery trucks also has to be a certain height and size, and with coleus growing at varying rates, it’s a tricky business I’m sure. If you can stack one more level in your trucks, you make that much more money too.
Be assured every big company has its own line of new coleus varieties. How many of those will make it to your local or mail order nursery is all dependent upon what brokers and the big three invest in. Who are the big three? Lowe’s, Wal-Mart and Home Depot. What you see available in the marketplace is partially determined by their buyers for the big three and their ongoing relationships with brands.
Brokers often represent smaller nurseries, and to tell the truth, many smaller operations are leery of investing in newer plant varieties. At the California Spring Trials (CAST), it was interesting to watch hybridizers, seed and plant companies explaining why their newest euphorbia was better than one like Diamond Frost®. That’s only one example and not even a coleus. Many companies now put their best work under trademarked series names like: Main Street™ by Dümmen Orange, Under the Sea® by HortCouture and ColorBlaze® by Proven Winners, etc. Here are more of the coleus series distributed by various companies. Think of these as book or movie sequels like those created by Marvel Comics. Hybridizers hope you will remember the series name and keep coming back for more. Who can blame them? Gardeners clamor each year for new plants, and plant hybridizing in all of its various forms is an expensive business.
Speaking of new varieties to my garden, I ordered a few from Rosy Dawn Gardens that I can’t find anywhere else. I saw some of these last year when I was lucky enough to attend CAST in 2015 with the National Garden Bureau. If it’s new and unique, Rosy Dawn will usually have it. However, their nursery is located in southeastern Michigan so their plants are usually way behind those I grow in my greenhouse. They’re small so I put them in my greenhouse and grow them out a bit before I plant them outside. They do have very nice root balls and acclimate very quickly. Rosy Dawn has old favorites and newer cultivars. I bought three plants of Main Street Wall Street™, two of Main St Sunset Blvd™, one of Trailing Plum Brocade, two of ‘El Brighto,’ two of ‘Spicy,’ one of ‘Stella Red,’ two of ‘Campfire’ and two of ‘Doctor Wu.’
I’m also looking at coleus from Bustani Plant Farm. Incidentally, Steve and Ruth Owens also carry ‘Doctor Wu’ each year, but it’s often sold out before I get to the nursery. Three varieties new to his nursery this year are: ‘Feeding Frenzy,’ ‘Gnash Rambler’ and ‘Frizzy Yellow.’ I grow ‘Gnash Rambler’–of course I do–and it’s a great one. What I love about Bustani’s coleus is that they come in two sizes, the larger pot band (4″ across, but deeper), and the gallon size. So, if you have a spot that quickly needs filling, you can plunk one of those large babies down and fill it. Also, as Steve says, the slower growing varieties perform better in gallon pots.
Some of my favorite coleus varieties came out of the Florida Foundation Seed Producers, Inc., a non-profit corporation and direct support organization of the University of Florida. Are you confused yet? One of the hardest things for me when we attended CAST was understanding all of the various players, from the actual hybridizers to the brokers, to the wholesalers and finally the retailers. It was fascinating and overwhelming, but I’m so glad I went.
I often use coleus in my containers along with purple fountain grass because they hold up so well to the sun. Note, I water with drip irrigation each morning set to a timer that goes off at 6:00 a.m. long before the other irrigation systems start. That way, we don’t overtax our well.
When I can find it, I adore ColorBlaze® Dipt in Wine from Proven Winners. It has the most beautiful coloration and is very strong. On the other end of the spectrum are the duckfoot type coleus. They tend to be more delicate, but they also have such an interesting shape. I put these where they get some shade from larger plants, or I place them on the east side of my house beneath my statue of Mary and shaded by my ‘Graham Thomas’ rose.
Basically, if a coleus you pick looks delicate and trailing, it may be just that in a hot summer climate. Give it a little shade and start a few cuttings somewhere else. Give it a year, and you can see how it performs in various locations. Now, I’m not telling you to take cuttings of trademarked plants because that would be wrong of me, but if a piece broke off, you wouldn’t want it to die would you?
Right about the time the daylilies finish blooming, the coleus and Rudbeckia in various colors and forms take over. It’s a good time to be in the garden then too. What sun tolerant coleus make your garden grand each year?