If you want to add vibrant color to your patio or landscape, give coleus a try. An eye-catching colorful plant, coleus can add stunning appeal to any patio with its variegated foliage and beautifully colored bracts. Coleus is typically used in mass plantings but will be quite comfortable on a shady patio in a pot. Native to Malaysia and parts of Asia, it adapts well to our Florida climate. These plants are heat tolerant and hard to kill, which makes them a perfect gift or plant for beginning gardeners.
In our zone, you can plant coleus from March to October. You might not find plants in stores now. They are typically sold in the fall, but you can find seeds, which are easy to germinate. I have grown rainbow coleus and pinto coleus. Both germinated well and provided a variety of colorfully, patterned plants. If you know someone who has coleus, ask for cuttings if you don’t want to start plants from seeds.
Coleus tolerates most soils but prefers moist, well-draining soil enriched with organic matter. These plants will thrive in partial shade, but if you want to add color to a sunny landscape bed, look for sun-tolerant cultivars. Big Red Judy™ and Electric Lime™, developed by the University of Florida, will tolerate sun and shade. If your plants wilt from drought stress, do not worry. Water them, and they will spring back. Pruning will encourage bushy growth, and with proper care, coleus will last a while in our zone as they are considered tropical perennials.
I enjoy starting coleus blends from seed because I am not quite sure what will grow, and I am always stunned by the beauty that sprouts. From yellow-green foliage, splotched with burgundy paint-like splatters, to maroon, ruby and lime green variegated leaves, the patterns are mesmerizing and meditative. Give coleus a try – you will not be disappointed. If you need horticultural assistance, contact UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County, 813-744-5519. To learn more about gardening, check our calendar of events at sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/hillsborough/upcoming-events.