Most of my blog posts this year have been dedicated to the topics of heat and drought. I spoke of helping our feathered friends during the summer, of bringing prized plants indoors during 100+ degree days and about the amazing plants that were indeed hanging in there against all odds. Today, I’d like to add Coleus to the “amazing” category. Not because it has done extremely well during the heat, but because after being munched to the ground by what I think was a pack of thirsty rabbits, it is now re-sprouting from its original roots in my flower bed!
Coleus is a “fleshy” plant of the Lamiaceae family, or mint family. (I think its moist, fleshiness is what attracted the thirsty bunnies to eat mine.) The mint family is typically characterized by having square stems and aromatic leaves. Speaking of leaves, Coleus is grown as an ornamental because of its vividly hued variegated foliage.
Coleus derives from the tropical areas of Asia and will not tolerate temperatures consistently below 50 degrees – thus it is grown as an annual in the United States. While it is a shade-loving plant, Coleus does require some sunlight to perform at its best. My flower bed in the pic at the top of this page is under a tall live oak and receives dappled sunshine. You may indeed find relatively new varieties of more sun-tolerant Coleus in the nurseries these days. These new varieties will enjoy a shady environment just as well, but can tolerate quite a bit more sun than earlier Coleus varieties. All prefer fertile soil on the moist side, but not soggy. Coleus can be overwintered as a houseplant, however it will need to be near a sunny window and you should take caution not to over water. While relatively pest and disease free, Coleus can be prone to mealy bugs, white flies and fungal conditions if allowed to get too wet.
Back to my recent Coleus experience: With regard to the heat spell we had this past summer, even in a dappled sun/shade environment, my Coleus was wilting very badly on a daily basis. It was hanging in there, but was unattractive and obviously struggling. And, after the critters munched it to the ground, I just didn’t get out in my flower bed to tidy up. Thus, multiple chewed-up Coleus stalks remained imbedded there for quite a while. However, I feel very fortunate that I left the stalks in the ground even as bare and unattractive as they were. I expect as a result of my avoidance, I may surprisingly reap a full bed of beautifully colored foliage by the end of the fall season!
Perhaps there are a few positive horticultural tips we can glean from extreme weather. Witnessing the re-birth of my Coleus plants reminded me just how very easy they are to grow, especially from rooted cuttings. It also reminded me to mention to you – before it is too late – that if you have summertime Coleus in your landscape now and it has become lanky or unattractive, instead of getting discouraged and pulling it completely up this fall, just consider giving it a “haircut”. It may not look great immediately after, but it will soon reward you with much thicker growth and more vibrant color than ever before.
By the way, some folks enjoy the dainty look of the spires of tiny purplish flowers that Coleus sends out at maturity. En masse, flowering Coleus looks pretty good in my opinion, although the plants certainly become lanky when left to flower. If you want your Coleus to remain colorful, strong and stout, you really should pinch out their centers from time to time so that leafy off shoots are promoted. In other words, Coleus benefits from a haircut now and then no matter the circumstance!
And, if you did not have Coleus in your landscape this summer, you may wish to visit your nearby nursery in time to gather some up and create a striking fall foliage display. The vibrant burgundy, magenta, rust, cream and chartreuse colors look especially attractive in pots next to haystacks, scarecrows, gourds and pumpkins!
For a few tips and beautiful pics regarding arrangements of Coleus in pots, see http://www.startribune.com/this-year-s-pot-plant-hits-and-misses/127231693/.
Until next time –