COLEUS



It's not something I usually admit to, but I have always had a soft spot for Coleus plants. In fact, ever since I first came across them as a young and naive plant area assistant I have been fascinated by the richness of their exotic foliage. Why? Because Coleus are one of those rare plants that can genuinely compete with the vibrancy of tropical flowering plants just through the luxuriousness and colour of its leaves.

Coleus are native to native to tropical Africa, Asia and Australia and belong to the Lamiaceae family. Surprisingly, this makes it closely related to that old English favourite - the Stinging nettle! Although Coleus are often used in 'blanket bedding' schemes, they are in my option used far more effectively as specimens providing ornamental impact in tropical effect planting schemes.

Strictly speaking, within the scientific community Coleus are no longer called Coleus as are in fact correctly known as Solenostemon scutellarioides - scutellarioides means 'shield-shaped'. Be that as it may, the name 'Coleus' is still widely used by horticulturists and gardeners.

Despite their tropical looks, Coleus are relatively easy to grow and will suit a moist well-drained soil. Depending on the cultivar, they can typically grow between 18 inches and 3 ft tall. They are prefer a warm, sunny position, and in mild climates can usually be kept as perennials.

In colder, northern European climates, coleus are grown as annuals as they are not frost hardy and become leggy with age due to lower light levels compared to their native lands. Of course, you can encourage a more bushy habit in leggy plants by simply pinching back growing tips. The colours of the leaves are typically more intense in shade than in full sun, and will require less watering.

Propagation

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When growing from seed, you will need to sow Coleus in January in order to obtain large enough specimens to plant out when the weather breaks. To begin with, fill a seed tray with a good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting'.  Then simply sprinkle seeds on the surface soil and press down.

The seeds need light to germinate, so place the seed tray in a bright position. In order to keep the seeds moist, cover the with clear plastic, or mist seeds daily. The emerging seedlings can show colour in as little as two weeks.

Regarding the most popular coloured cultivars, these are best propagated by means of 3 inch long tip cuttings taken from non-flowering shoots, taken in March or August.

Root the cuttings singularly in 2 inch pots containing John Innes potting compost at a temperature of 16-18 degrees Celsius.

Once rooted, the cuttings can be potted on into successive pot sizes until they reach their final 6-7 inch pot. Once the threat of frosts are over and night temperatures reach no less that a steady 10 degrees Celsius.

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