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Coleus Add Color To Summer Shade
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Gardeners are always asking me what they can plant for color in the shade. Many people overlook foliage plants like coleus, and the new varieties of coleus will amaze you.
With the advent of the SuperSun coleus, we have varieties that will work right out in the middle of a pasture. Texas A & M has been evaluating coleus for full sun conditions in scorching hot cities like El Paso, Houston, Amarillo and Dallas/Fort Worth.
Burgundy Sun and Plum Parfait -- both burgundy -- scored highest in that Texas competition. In addition to excellent sun tolerance, they both have outstanding growth characteristics.
Plum Parfait has beautifully ruffled, lance-shaped leaves which are a purplish-plum color early in the growing season. The dark color is a survival advantage enabling the young plants to tolerate hot, full-sun conditions.
As summer's heat hammers away at other bedding plants, Plum Parfait becomes even more attractive, developing bold pink margins along its leaves. Choose prominent places in the landscape for this cultivar where it can be enjoyed close-up and appreciated for its beautiful pink highlights.
Plum Parfait actually grows prettier in Mississippi than in Texas. For two years at the Truck Crops Experiment Station in Crystal Springs, it grew beautifully in combination with Salsa Salmon-BiColor salvia.
Burgundy Sun is characterized by the deep, rich burgundy color of its large, oval- to heart-shaped leaves. This cultivar takes center stage when you want a strong visual impact, especially at a distance. It reaches a mature height of about three feet and is great planted behind a petunia like Pink Wave.
Solar Sunrise and Solar Shadow are other new coleus for those sunny or part-sunny areas that are so beautiful they are almost indescribable. Although they comprise the same colors, each leaf is different which also makes it difficult to describe.
Both plants have maroon, yellow, green and almost a plum or purple-colored leaves. Some have speckled bands of these colors and others look patchworked. The thing that sets Solar Sunrise apart from other coleus is its absolutely gigantic leaves.
Lemon Twist is another great coleus for the partially shady areas. It is a lemon-lime color and is gorgeous when planted with brightly colored impatiens in the lavender to purple range.
While all of these coleus are great for containers, our landscapes seem to come alive with a tropic carnival atmosphere once we put them in a well-prepared bed.
Coleus are low maintenance plants and easy to grow. They are almost foolproof when planted in well-drained soil and not overwatered. Keep flower buds pinched to encourage leaf production. Cutting grown coleus purchased from your nurseryman is the way to go for high quality. Seed-grown coleus are less satisfactory and are selected to produce flowers and seed.
Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers that can cause excessive greening. I like to lightly feed with a 10-10-10 fertilizer monthly.
Mulch your entire bed after planting to conserve moisture and to help your plants get established in their new home. Water your plants thoroughly at planting. Keep the root balls moist during the first 10 days after planting, then water as needed.
Just prior to a killing frost, it is easy to take cuttings of your coleus for enjoyment indoors. Coleus root quickly and are excellent choices for sunrooms and atriums.