Episode 62: Coleus

Photograph: Jane Perrone

Photograph: Jane Perrone

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'Campfire' ... 'Spiced Curry' ... 'Alabama Sunset' ... 'Dipt in Wine' ... no, I am not reminiscing about my summer holiday, I am of course talking about varieties of the fantastic plant that is the Coleus. I was once rather dismissive of these plants, but in recent years I've come to realise how wrong I was. Dr Hessayon calls Coleus 'the poor man's Croton' and he's right - they are a lot cheaper and easier to grow! They come in a fascinating range of shapes and colours, from 'Dark Chocolate' to 'Pink Chaos'.

Many people treat them as annuals, and they are cheap and easy to grow enough that there's no shame in this approach, but it's also possible to overwinter your Coleus going over winter. I sowed a packet of 'Rainbow Mix' Coleus seed as part of this spring's On The Ledge sowalong and it's further cemented my love of this plant family.

I talked to Kelly Norris, director of horticulture and education at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, about the garden's incredible Coleus collection, find out why Coleus goes under so many different names including Solenostemon and Plectranthus, and discuss how to overwinter Coleus indoors. 

Coleus on display at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. Photograph: Kelly Norris.

Coleus on display at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. Photograph: Kelly Norris.

Here's some notes to check out while you listen to the interview:

Coleus 'Combat' in the foreground with 'Rainbow Mix' behind. Photograph: Jane Perrone

Coleus 'Combat' in the foreground with 'Rainbow Mix' behind. Photograph: Jane Perrone

Some additional notes on Coleus:

  • One of my favourite houseplant blogs, Plants Are The Strangest People, has a fantastic post on Coleus. Well worth a read.

  • In her book The Unexpected Houseplant, Tovah Martin recommends the compact Coleus varieties 'Inky Fingers' and 'Indian Frills'.

  • Coleus like bright, indirect light and are hungry plants: make sure you pot them on and feed them as they grow.

  • Don't be afraid to pinch them out regularly during the growing season so that they bush out. You can save the 'pinchouts' for cuttings if they are long enough.

Coleus 'Shiny Shoes' Photograph: Kelly Norris.

Coleus 'Shiny Shoes' Photograph: Kelly Norris.

Where to buy Coleus

Photograph: Jane Perrone

Photograph: Jane Perrone

  • In the UK, Dibleys Nurseries in North Wales sell 28 different Coleus varieties as plug plants every spring.

  • In the US, mail order nursery Rosy Dawn Gardens in Michigan are Coleus specialists; White Flower Farm sells a nice selection too.

  • ColeusFinder is a useful website for tracking down interesting cultivars.

  • Even the smallest garden centre or nursery will have a selection of Coleus for sale as plug plants in spring and early summer, and you can pick up a 'basic' Coleus mixed pack from most seed firms such as Rainbow Mix, Wizard Mix or similar.

  • That said, UK gardeners may be interested to read this post by blogger The Frustrated Gardener who notes how tricky it is to buy decent Coleus in the UK. Come on UK horticulture, get with the programme!

Question of the week

Jenn wanted to know why her Abutilon - aka flowering maple - wasn't flowering. I suggested that its west-facing location may not be providing enough light for this plant, which is traditionally grown as a conservatory plant. I also theorised that it may be that the plant isn't mature enough yet to flower. I also reminded Jenn to make sure the plant was receiving regular feeds during the growing season, and highlighted an organic feed I use and like: Maxicrop organic flower and houseplant feed, which is a seaweed-based fertiliser. 

Want to ask me a question? Tweet @janeperrone, leave a message on my Facebook page or email ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com. There's an episode about moth orchids coming soon, so I'd particularly like to hear from anyone with a Phalaenopsis problem to solve.

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This week's show featured Roll Jordan Roll by the Joy Drops, Rashem Pidity, Pokhara by Samuel Corwin, and Oh Mallory by Josh Woodward, licensed under Creative Commons.