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Crazy About Coleus

Gardeners looking for alternatives to impatiens for shade can find the answer in coleus. See how versatile this handsome plant is, then meet some new coleus varieties that are sure to please.

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bushBantam Studio/Shutterstock

Color Central

Coleus is known for its color. That may seem strange to say about a foliage plant, but one look—even from afar—will underscore the point. This bed of coleus attracts attention without any help from flowers. Meet 10 colorful coleus favorites.

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To Clip or Not to Clip Coleus

Coleus actually do have flowers. But a lot of gardeners think the spikes take away from the beauty of the foliage, so they pinch the blooms as they form. Many of today’s newest cultivars are bred to flower late in the season so snipping is not necessary. However, butterfly lovers may want to let nature take its course to help sustain our winged pollinators. Butterfly lovers may also want to build this simple, inexpensive butterfly house.

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Versatility is Its Nature

Coleus is a versatile friend to have in the garden. Depending on the cultivar, some take full sun, some take full shade, and some accept either (consult the plant tag to see what conditions yours prefer). Given a reasonably decent soil and even soil moisture, they can flourish as bedding plants, providing three-season annual beauty in most climates, four-season perennial show where there is no frost.

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Potted Panache with Coleus

Coleus also make fine potted plants. Put them in individual containers by themselves or pair them with other plants in a larger container or windowbox. Some growers are now mixing their favorite varieties in ready-made containers you can take home from the nursery. Learn more about coleus here.

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Clip ‘n’ Save

If you find a coleus plant you really like and don’t want to lose it at the end of the season, you can root new seedlings yourself. Just cut 3- to 5-inch stems and place them in a glass of water by the window. Within a few weeks, new roots will begin to form along the portion of the stem underwater. Eventually, you can pot them up in a soilless potting mix.

Keep reading to meet some of the newer coleus varieties hitting the market to great fanfare.

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CampfireCosta Farms

Campfire Coleus

The ember-like appearance of the bright coppery orange leaves was inspiration enough for the name Campfire. But this coleus earns the title for another reason: it can really take the heat, even in sun. A vigorous grower reaching 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, Campfire is perfect for garden borders or large containers. It looks particularly good massed in a bed. Thinking about buying or building a fire pit? Here’s a collection of 37 for you to consider.

Photo: Courtesy of Costa Farms

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WildfireCosta Farms

Wildflower Blaze Coleus

Red and yellow make a vibrant color scheme, especially in the garden. No need to pair with other plants, however, as Wildflower Blaze coleus puts both colors together on captivating lacy leaves. A compact grower reaching just 8 inches tall and 22 inches wide, Wildflower Blaze keeps its dense, mounding habit without pruning help from you. It does best in part to full shade. There are four other varieties in the Wildflower series: Flash, Flicker, Ignition and Smoky Rose. Meet 11 easy-to-grow plants to add color to your shade garden.

Photo: Courtesy of Costa Farms

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LuminesceCosta Farms

Stained Glassworks Luminesce Coleus

Luminesce is a go-to variety for those who like things bold. Thanks to the magenta pink coloring on the leaves, it really stands out in the garden. The neon coloring is rimmed with burgundy and green, making it all the more attractive up close. Luminesce grows about 18 inches tall and wide and takes full sun to part shade. There are a dozen other cultivars in the Stained Glassworks series, including Big Blond, Tilt A Whirl and Green Autry.

Photo: Courtesy of Costa Farms

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FlamethrowerCosta Farms

FlameThrower Coleus

This series of coleus features stunning colors and patterns for full sun and shade. Plants are compact in size—that, along with their bold foliage colors, makes FlameThrower coleus ideal for small pots and mixed container arrangements. New varieties include: Salsa Roja, with rich burgundy/red color; and Serrano, with a unique bicoloration featuring bright yellow edging. If you’re looking for something really bold and colorful in your yard, consider one of these flower walls.

Photo: Courtesy of Costa Farms

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InfernoBall Horticultural Company

Inferno Coleus

As the name suggests, Inferno coleus features fiery orange leaves combining with bold texture for maximum impact. If you like saturated color, Inferno won’t disappoint. This hot-looking coleus grows 14 to 28 inches tall, with a similar spread, so it works even in small spaces. Inferno accepts both full sun and shade. It flowers late in the season, so pinching isn’t necessary. Here are 12 inspiring flower bed designs.

Photo: Courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company

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French QuarterBall Horticultural Company

French Quarter Coleus

This coleus features a bright magenta pink variegation mixed with burgundy and lime for a real tropical pop. Better yet, it won’t fade as other pinks tend to do. French Quarter grows 18 to 36 inches in height and just over 2 feet in width, so it’s got the size to become a focal point—and with its sassy foliage, it won’t have any trouble drawing attention. If you need to improve your home’s curb appeal, check out these 12 great tips.

Photo: Courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company

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coleusTrial Gradens/Raker

Pineapple Surprise Coleus

The best coleus are all about color and patterns. Pineapple Surprise coleus follows that recipe to the letter. This patterned coleus offers a mix of chartreuse and burgundy leaves splashed with a darker green hue. Pineapple Surprise takes shade or sun as long as the latter comes with high humidity. Growing 18 to 26 inches tall and roughly the same width, Pineapple Surprise is perfect for containers. Meet some other great container garden plants.

Photo: Courtesy of Trial Gradens/Raker

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ColeusBall Horticultural Company

Kong Jr. Green Halo Coleus

With a neat and tidy habit and leaves that are 30 percent smaller than those in the Kong series, Kong Jr. is tailor-made for containers and even indoor planters. The colors and patterns differ, too, but they’re all eye-catching, as seen with the green and cream patterns of this Green Halo coleus. Plants grow 18 to 24 inches tall and 20 to 25 inches wide and take part sun or shade. Learn how to make annuals thrive.

Photo: Courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.