Coleus Collection: A Colorful Fall Fix For Our Garden

Photos by Ryan Benoit

What colors do you associate most with fall? Here in our subtropical climate, we don’t get the level of fluorescent foliage we did growing up in the Northeast and Midatlantic — like the neon New England landscapes I saw last week while visiting friends in Boston. I mean, trees emoting in ruby, amber and highlighter orange! (Jumping out from a block of cyan that just screams “early-to-mid-October.”)

So this season we’re getting our fix with coleus. A plant known for its bold, often kaleidoscopic leaves, coleus first landed in our yard last year, in our vertical shade garden. Then this summer we doubled — tripled, quadrupled — down on our interest in this ornamental for our Whole Foods/Dark Rye collaboration.

Vertical clay pot garden. DIY by The Horticult / Ryan Benoit Des

Back in early September, we picked up eight different coleus plants for our vertical clay pot DIY project. Our friend Tim King gave them their first waterings.

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After bringing the hanging clay pots home, Ryan has been watering the coleuses about once every three days, when the soil dries out. The vertical clay planters provide great drainage that coleus like. We used an organic potting soil straight out of the bag.

Coleus after 45 days of growth.

After 45 days, the coleus has filled out beautifully, and is really showing off its colors. We have the plants in part shade toward the front of our yard, below the white translucent acrylic roof of the arbor.

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The hybrid names should give you an idea of the outrageous range of colors: ‘Electric Lime,’ ‘Redhead,’ ‘Florida Sun,’ and ‘Trusty Rusty’ are a few examples from our terra cotta towers. Leaves are toothed and textured, and the patterning includes stark and tonal (‘Wasabi’), contrast-trim (‘Vino’), chaotically glitter-dipped (‘Henna’) and psychedelic pseudo-fractals (‘Stained Glassworks Copper’).

These plants are tropical, only hardy outdoors in USDA Zones 9 and 10, a perennial usually grown as an annual. An instant dose of landscape color, they thrive in bright indirect light to part shade; we grow ours under the light shade of our arbor. That said, full-sun coleuses are also easy to find.

Coleus assortment.

You may remember we spotted some impressive coleus hybrids while plant-walking in Portland, Oregon.

Coleus hybrid 'Stained Glassworks Copper'

Coleus are not known for their flowers. Bolting tends to make the plant leggy. Pinch off shoots to grow a shrubbier, more shapely plant. (Advice we clearly haven’t taken…)

Following some taxonomic housekeeping, species from what used to be the Coleus genus have been redistributed to the Solenostemon and Plectranthus genera. In fact, plectranthus is a synonym for coleus. Certain selections are reputed to have hallucinogenic effects. Others are used in Ayurvedic medicine.

The flower spikes are lovely but injurious; it’s advised that you not let your coleus go to seed, which will shorten the life of your plant and deform its leaves. So pinch out while in bud. (Advice that, you’ll see from the photos, we haven’t taken.) We also love the leaf arrangement, which apparently has inspired some pretty groovy radial blur fan art.

Bright idea. Check out some more shots of its fab foliage, below…

—TH

Top to bottom, left to right: 'Stained Copper Glassworks', 'Electric Lime', 'Henna', 'Redhead', 'Vino', 'Florida Sun', 'Wasabi' and 'Trusty Rusty'

Top to bottom, left to right: ‘Stained Glassworks Copper,’ ‘Electric Lime,’ ‘Henna,’ ‘Redhead,’ ‘Vino,’ ‘Florida Sun,’ ‘Wasabi’ and ‘Trusty Rusty.’ Keep scrolling for more glamour shots…

1. ‘Stained Glassworks Copper’

Coleus hybrid 'Stained Glassworks Copper'

Coleus hybrid 'Stained Glassworks Copper'

Tie-dyed, stonewashed hot-pink denim. You know you want some.

2. ‘Electric Lime’

Coleus hybrid 'Electric Lime'

Coleus hybrid 'Electric Lime'

This hybrid is an exciting green-on-green.

3. ‘Henna’

Coleus hybrid 'Henna'

Coleus hybrid 'Henna'

The splashy, chaotically colored leaves of ‘Henna’ look almost glitter-bombed.

Coleus hybrid 'Henna'

4. ‘Redhead’

Coleus hybrid 'Redhead'

Coleus hybrid 'Redhead'

Soulful scarlet.

Coleus hybrid 'Redhead'

5. ‘Vino’

Coleus hybrid 'Vino'

Coleus hybrid 'Vino'

We love the crisp chartreuse edging on this ‘Vino’ hybrid.

6. ‘Florida Sun’

Coleus hybrid 'Florida Sun'

Coleus hybrid 'Florida Sun'

The textured red of ‘Florida Sun’ gets playful with the offbeat leaf shape.

7. ‘Wasabi’

Coleus hybrid 'Wasabi'

Coleus hybrid 'Wasabi'

True to its name, this color goes right to our heads.

9. ‘Trusty Rusty’

Coleus hybrid 'Trusty Rusty''

Coleus hybrid 'Trusty Rusty''

Our eyes usually land first on this ‘Trusty Rusty’ and its wine-stained foliage.

Coleus hybrid 'Kong'

Meanwhile behind our house, we’ve got a couple of coleus plants tucked away in the shade garden.

Coleus hybrid 'Kong'

The shade-loving ‘Kong’ hybrid is a splotchy sidekick to our maidenhair fern.

Coleus hybrid 'Henna'

And we tucked another ‘Henna’ below our Aechmea bromeliad.

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What colors are blazing in your area right now? Let us know in the comments!