When a gardening buddy told me last week that he had a surprise for me, my mind started racing, trying to figure out what it could be. Don Hanson, my friend, is known for propagating roses from cuttings, so maybe it would be an antique rose he had rooted. I know, too, that he likes bromeliads, so maybe that was what he had in store?
I was wrong on both counts. Instead, Don presented me with two flats of coleus plants in a wild assortment of colors and patterns.
“Coleus are easy to root from cuttings,” he tells me. And although gardening techniques are rarely as simple as Don says they are, for once I know he is right. Even I — who rarely have luck getting cuttings to root — have succeeded in the past when I pinched new growth from a coleus, deposited it in a jar of water, and watched as it sprouted roots over the next couple of weeks.
Coleus is a tender plant, prized for its foliage rather than for the unassuming blooms it bears. It thrives in our summers and makes a striking addition to a shade garden.
Some new introductions to the market handle full sun without fading or discoloring. And because coleus come in such a wide variety of growth habits, colors and leaf shapes, they can serve a number of garden design needs.
The National Garden Bureau selected coleus as the “annual of the year” in 2015, saying, “The relative ease of establishment after planting, combined with a wide range of selections, has made coleus indispensable in the garden and popular in the container as well.”
The group reported that the plant is believed to be native to Southeast Asia and that it was introduced in Europe in the mid-19th century by Dutch botanist Karl Ludwig Blume. It was fashionable during that era to plant gardens in intricate and colorful patterns, meant to be viewed from above. Coleus — because of their vivid hues — lent themselves to this practice, and soon, “coleus fever” infected Europe.
The LSU AgCenter named “Henna coleus” to its list of Louisiana Super Plants in the spring of 2015. The plant is one of the sun-tolerant varieties and can be planted in full sun.
Its fringed leaves tend to be maroon around the edges and chartreuse in the middle.
Coleus “Mocha Mint” and Coleus “Indian Summer” are two additional hybrids that performed well in AgCenter trials. The former is distinguished by deeply notched leaves (a “ducks-foot pattern” per the hybridizer) that are pale green with maroon and yellow flecks. The scalloped leaves of Indian Summer are a mottled combination of burgundy, red and green shades that deepen (rather than wash out) in full sun.
Not all coleus are multicolored: “Keystone Kopper” is a solid shade of coppery-red and “Wasabi” is chartreuse.
Thanks to the rain this week, Don’s gifts are thriving in a part-shade, part-sun area of my garden as they await transplanting. After I plant them and they grow large enough, I plan to “pass along” rooted cuttings to more garden chums.
That way, I can keep Don’s tradition of generosity going well into the future.
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about homes and gardens. She can be reached at email@example.com.