Coleus hybrids were all the rage when they were first introduced into Europe from Java in the 1700sand their popularity has remained high. The dizzying array of electrifying colors and foliage shapes enthralled the Victorians, and more than 100 years later, these seed-grown, shade-loving plants are still the most widely sold types. Useful for adding color to beds, in window boxes, and in pots used indoors or out. They need constantly moist, fertile, well-drained soil and should be fed every other week from spring to fall with a general-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer. Pinch out flower spikes as soon as they appear (they are not attractive, and, if allowed to develop, they'll cause plants to look leggy and untidy).
Don't plant too early in springall coleus hate the cold. They're winter-hardy only in south Florida and south Texas. (Cuttings root quickly in water, though, so gardeners in cold-winter areas can save prized selections from year to year.) Large-leafed strains such as Giant Exhibition (1215 in. tall and wide) and Kong (1822 in. tall and wide) have leaves 38 in. long. Dwarf strains, such as Fairway, Carefree, and Wizard, grow 812 in. tall and wide, with 1- to 112-in. leaves.
Types that tolerate more sun, collectively referred to as sun coleus, are popular and versatile. As their name implies, these plants (which are propagated by cuttings rather than from seed) thrive in sun or light shade. They're tougher, larger, more vigorous, and tidier than seed-grown types, and they offer an incredible array of growth habits, colors, and leaf shapes. They range from tiny-leafed ground-cover types to large-foliaged sorts with the size and form of small shrubs. They also bloom sparsely, which is good since the flowers aren't pretty. The following listing describes just a few of the hundreds of selections; you will find them in mail-order nursery catalogs and, increasingly, in garden and home centers. With the exception of their light requirements, care for them as you would for seed-grown coleus. They grow about as wide as tall, except as noted.
'Alabama Sunset'. Large cranberry-pink leaves with gold centers. Grows to 34 ft., with shrublike form.
'Alligator Tears'. Green, spear-shaped leaves with light yellow centers. Grows 2 ft. tall. Part of the ColorBlaze series.
'Aurora'. Broad, luminescent leaves of cream, pink, and green with soft pink undersides. To 2 ft.
'Big Red Judy'. Large, brick-red leaves with serrated edges. Upright growth to 4 ft. tall.
'Buttercream'. Strongly ruffled leaves of soft cream edged in medium green. A little over 2 ft. tall.
'Dipt in Wine'. Crimson leaves edged with lime-green. Grows 2 ft. tall. Part of the ColorBlaze series.
'Ducksfoot Red'. Trailing type with small maroon leaves that resemble a duck's foot. To 2 ft. tall and a little wider. 'Ducksfoot Yellow' is similar in size and form.
'Electric Lime'. Bright lime-green leaves prominently veined with chartreuse. To 20 in. tall, spreading a bit wider.
'Gay's Delight'. Chartreuse to yellow, slightly cupped leaves sport dramatic dark purple veins. Upright grower to 2 ft.
'Henna'. Foliage is splashed with chartreuse and coppery red. Each deeply toothed leaf curls to show its burgundy underside. Bushy growth to 20 in. high.
'India Frills'. Tough, sprawling ground cover type to 1 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide. Small, deeply cut leaves in soft red with sharply constrasting yellow and green edges.
'Inky Fingers'. Rounded, deeply lobed, bright green leaves with dark purple centers. To 2 ft. tall, 112 ft. wide.
'Keystone Kopper'. Coppery-orange leaves. Grows 2 ft. tall. Part of the ColorBlaze series.
'Kiwi Fern'. Low-growing form with deeply cut burgundy leaves edged in gold and green. May reach 112 ft.
'Lime Time'. Bright chartreuse foliage resembles that of 'Wasabi'. Grows 2 ft. tall. Part of the ColorBlaze series.
'Mardi Gras'. Bushy plant with foliage splashed in red, green, and yellow. To 112 ft.
'Orange King'. Exquisite selection features broad, orange-tinged golden leaves with reddish purple undersides and purple stems. To 2 ft. tall and 112 ft. wide.
'Plum Parfait'. Pointed, serrated leaves in rich purple with wide pink margin and a thin, chartreuse edge. To 3 ft. tall. Part of SuperSun series.
'Redhead'. Large, uniform, serrated leaves are bright true red. Upright grower to 2 ft. tall and wide.
'Royal Glissade'. Raspberry-purple leaves dusted with yellow-green. Grows 2 ft. tall. Part of the ColorBlaze series.
'Saturn'. Maroon leaves with contrasting edges and centers of guacamole green. To 112 ft. tall.
'Sedona'. Rusty-orange leaves with hints of burgundy. To 2 ft. tall. Part of the ColorBlaze series.
'The Line'. Narrow, pointed leaves in soft yellow with a prominent purple midvein. To 112 ft. tall.
'Trusty Rusty'. Deeply scalloped leaves are coppery red with a golden yellow edge with a beaded look. To 2 ft. tall.
'Vino'. Large, velvety, burgundy leaves with serrated margins of bright lime-green; with more sun, the foliage darkens to nearly black. Upright grower to 30 in. tall.
'Wasabi'. Bright chartreuse leaves with lobed edges hold their color beautifully even in full sun. Vigorous, upright grower to about 2 ft. tall.