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Coleus' Solar Series Responds To Heat
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
With the return of oppressive heat, gardeners may be wishing for an extended solar eclipse. That just happens to be one of the names of the hottest new groups of coleus to come out in years.
The Solar Series boasts eight cultivars of bold striking foliage for our landscape. Coleus plants are gaining widespread popularity not only for shaded areas, but also for full sun, and the Solar Series gives us a lot more choices.
The eight cultivars all have rich blends of green, maroon, plum, yellow and cream. They are Solar Sunrise, Solar Spectrum, Solar, Storm, Solar Set, Solar Furnace, Solar Shadow and Solar Eclipse. One thing that sets Solar Sunrise apart from the others are the enormous leaves that may reach six inches in width.
On a trip to Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile late last summer, I saw long, unbelievable beds of coleus that should have made every visitor want to go home and plant some. For too many years now, we have just dabbled with coleus, spot planting here and there.
Coleus are low-maintenance plants that are easy to grow. They are almost foolproof when grown in well-drained soil and watered through droughty periods. They are also excellent for baskets, especially when grown in combination with a vining or cascading plant.
Since we are growing coleus for the boldly colored foliage, there is no use in letting them use energy developing flowers. Pinch these off, and you will help develop a bushy plant. Coleus could be planted now for months of enjoyment before frost. Organic matter always can improve bedding soil. This is one of the keys to success with coleus. If you have heavy clay soil, organic matter will improve drainage and aeration and also allows better root development. Liberal amounts of organic matter help sandy soil hold water and nutrients.
Organic matter, which improves soil and serves as a food source for soil fungi and bacteria, comes in the form of peat moss, compost, hay, grass clippings, barnyard fertilizer, shredded bark, leaves or even shredded newspapers.
Add enough organic matter to physically change the soil structure. Ideally, at least one-third of the final soil mix should be some type of organic material.
To accomplish this, spread 2 to 4 inches of organic matter over the garden surface and till it to a depth of 6 to 10 inches. Apply the recommended rate of fertilizer over the garden surface at the same time. My favorite fertilizer for coleus is a 12-6-6, although I have used a 10-10-10, too. A preplant followed by light monthly applications will keep your plants growing well.
Coleus are easy to propagate by cutting for plants outside or for indoors in a brightly lighted area during the winter. Look for the Solar Series of coleus as well as other outstanding sun coleus like Plum Parfait and Burgundy Sun. They are wonderful season-long performers.