13 March 2009

Rethink Coleus - It Could Become This Summer's New Garden Favorite

At one time Coleus was a protected houseplant that was shared with friends by cuttings. We fed them a monthly dose of diluted fish emulsion and pinched off the blue flower heads to preserve their beauty.

The plant was found in Java and named by Karl Blume (1796-1862). Similar to the tulip mania, Coleus was the plant to have in the 1800s. Their Latin genus name was changed in 1990 from Coleus Blumei to Solenostemon scutellarioides.

Today's gardeners can have Coleus for the sun as well as shade and choose a color range from white and lime green to almost black purple. In our area they are usually treated as annuals.

Ray Rogers, author of Coleus: Rainbow Foliage for Containers and Gardens said in a phone interview, that you should not jump into Coleus to try to get fabulous beds the first year.

Grow a bunch of them in containers, Rogers said. Group them in several combinations. Then next year you can wow your neighbors with beds of the ones you like.

He also said that the Proven Winners selections are some of the best you can find. Today's Coleus is tough and lasts until frost with a modicum of care.

Rogers said, Seed mixes such as Rainbow, Wizard and Kong are all bred to go to seed. They flower quickly unless they are pinched regularly. The best ones are grown from cuttings.

One of my missions in life is to convince people to grow Coleus selections that are grown from cuttings, not from seed, said Rogers.

Buy colorful Coleus this spring. Make a note in your September calendar to take 2-inch cuttings and root them indoors over the winter out of direct sun. Coleus cuttings root well in water but rooting them in small vermiculite makes stronger plants. In February, take cuttings from those plants and root them to plant them outside after April 15 next year.

Rogers’ well-illustrated tips for propagation from seed and cuttings are covered in 15 pages of his book. In our conversation he said be sure to provide warmth, sun and careful watering to prevent rot.

I asked Rogers for recommendations for gardeners who want to plant their beds and go do something else. He said to look for these

Alabama Sunset, Bellingrath Pink and Texas Parking Lot – rarely flowers, sun, grows anywhere, combinations of yellow and chartreuse to red

Inky Fingers – semi trailing, duck foot leaf, dark purple with lime green edging, part shade

Sedona – Proven Winners, heat tolerant, sun, orange-brown, sometimes dark purple flecking

Freckles – cream, yellow, bronze and orange flecked with chartreuse, yellow and orange

Lancelot Velvet Mocha – A new Proven Winner – narrow, chocolate leaves, easy to topiary

The book is Coleus: Rainbow Foliage for Containers and Gardens by Ray Rogers with photographs by Richard Hartlage. 288 pages, 385 color photos, 8-by 9-inches, Timber Press. $29.95 at timberpress.com and $20 at online booksellers.

Rogers is a life long gardener who has edited and written over 40-books including Pots In the Garden. His writing style is delightful and informative, making this one a good read.

The photos by Richard Hartlage fill the the book with eye-candy so it is also a worthy coffee table book.

Since Rogers frequently shows plants, his topiary and container chapters have lots of creative and fresh ideas. The Encyclopedia of Cultivars includes popular, heirloom and new selections in separate sections for Trailing, Distinctive Leaf Shapes and Sizes, Twisted and Cultivars by Color or Pattern.

Websites: Rogers’ website is www.showplants.net.

Coleus info and photos: whiteflowerfarm.com, www.provenwinners.com, www.colorfarm.com, roseydawngardens.com and http://coleussociety.blogspot.com/.

2 comments:

Sally said...

After growing coleus on and off in containers for many years, it's nice to finally read a clear summary of which varieties are best for particular purposes. Also intrigued by the idea of taking a cutting in September and propagating it indoors. Would like to try that; it always seems like such a waste when we just let them die off.

Molly Day said...

It is quite a good book, Sally and the author was a knowledgeable and friendly interview.

I'm going to try more coleus this year because of his enthusiasm.