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Flawless color

Brighten your garden palette with coleus—no flowers required

When people go plant shopping in the spring, I think they are really just looking for flowers. Big, beautiful and colorful flowers. Any plant currently in flower will always outsell plants that either don’t have showy flowers or are just not currently flowering. This is always difficult for me since when I look at plants, I always see so much more than just a pretty flower.

Summer annual coleus, Plectranthus scutellarioides, is a great example of a plant that should be popular, yet it is not. It does actually flower, but the flowers are not necessarily considered to be pretty and are often removed as soon as they appear. What coleus is known and grown for is its foliage—bright, beautiful and colorful foliage. Many varieties have oval or heart-shaped leaves.

Coleus is easy to grow and quite versatile, often growing well in either sun or shade. It can also be grown in containers or in the ground. It comes in a wide range of sizes from trailing (which is still 12 inches tall) to 3 feet tall depending on the variety. The colors and color patterns that are available can be mind-boggling.

Coleus often gets labeled as a shade lover because there are fewer flowering options for shady locations. It is often found in the shade annual section at your local garden center. Realistically, many varieties will actually do better—and their colors will be more vibrant—when grown in the sun. If you have more sun than shade in your garden, this year it may be time to give coleus a try. Wherever you plant them, they will be beautiful and reward you all summer long with flawless color. Isn’t it time we give foliage a chance to win our hearts?

SHELLY NOLD is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom. Send stories and ideas to her at The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207.

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