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Garden designers know that when it comes to annuals, it's not just about the flowers — foliage matters, too. And when it comes to foliage, coleus tops the list. Though it has fallen in and out of favor over the past couple of centuries, this member of the mint family is popular again, and the selection is better than ever.

When breeders try to create new plants, the focus is often on new color combinations. In recent years, other considerations have become prominent, too:

  • sun-tolerance
  • delayed flowering
  • more prolific branching
  • special growth habits, such as compact and trailing

Planting and Care

Coleus has long been considered a shade plant but the best leaf color is achieved with morning sun and some degree of afternoon shade. Many varieties do well in both shade and part-sun. Some can take quite a bit of sun as long as they are not allowed to dry out. Avoid overly damp soils, which can cause leaf drop and encourage disease. Plant coleus after danger of frost has passed when soil temperatures have warmed sufficiently and evening temperatures are above 60 degrees F. Feed plants regularly with a water-soluble fertilizer, especially if they are growing in containers.

To maintain plant form, pinch back every few weeks to prevent flower formation. Pinch just above a set of leaves or branching junction for the best appearance; don't leave a stub. Some gardeners leave the small flowers, but it's best to pinch them off to direct more energy into stem and foliage growth. Coleus left to flower may lose vigor as the plant puts energy into seed production.

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