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This time of the year it seems coleus is worth its weight in gold in the landscape offering a persevering performance and flaming color all summer, making it among the best buys for your gardening dollar.
The past few years, I touted the big-leafed selections like Inferno, Campfire or Mariposa but to be honest, the narrow-leafed varieties can offer a dazzling performance that you just might have overlooked. One that recently caught my eye was Luminesce from the Stained Glassworks Series.
I have loved several in this series, but Luminesce is something special with an almost psychedelic iridescence of hot pink. It will reach 20 inches tall and nearly as wide. Partner it with lime green or chartreuse from plants like Wasabi coleus or Goldilocks Lysimachia, and you'll have a combo you can count on for the long summer ahead. Keep your eyes open for Pink Chaos that has a similar look.
Salsa Verde would also make an incredible partner. This variety made its debut in 2015; the narrow-leafed selection gives you a similar usage in the landscape as perhaps a Gold Mound duranta or a Joseph's coat.
The Salsa Verde is part of the Flame Thrower series of coleus coming from Ball FloraPlant which also feature other selections like Spiced Curry, Chili Pepper, and Chipolte. All of these are doing well in trials. In one of the Southeastern trials, Salsa Verde was partnered with Ping Pong Purple gomphrena for a picture perfect display.
The plants are from Tropical Africa and Asia and, they were known botanically as Coleus blumei; then a decade or so ago they were switched to the tongue twister Solenostemon scutellarioides. Obviously, that was also a challenge to spell. Now, the new name is Plectranthrus scutellarioides.
As tough and great the coleus is, planting in tight, compacted clay will yield less than a satisfactory result. Both the trial beds and the commercial plantings where these-narrow-leafed coleus have been so stunning made great use of prepared landscape mixes that allowed the coleus to reach its true beauty and potential.
At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, we continually work on soil improvement with the addition of compost in any form we can get. If you have tight, heavy clay, or what we call muck, then you will want to work on improving your soil condition, too. Your coleus will thrive, and your thumb will turn an even brighter shade green if you prepare the soil.
What I mean by soil preparation is to loosen it up with organic matter like compost, humus or peat. Work the soil to a depth of 6- to- 8 inches. After planting, be sure to apply a good layer of mulch to conserve moisture.
About a month after transplanting, feed with a light application of a slow released fertilizer and again in mid-summer. We are growing coleus for the fabulous foliage so once flower buds start to form, pinch them off. Just remember that the coleus represents some of the best choices in annual landscape color. The summer is just getting started, and you have a lot of opportunities to use coleus in mixed containers and the landscape as well. Plant coleus with coleus and coleus with flowers and you'll have an award-winning design.
(Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him at: @CGBGgardenguru