Coleus Colors From Sun to Shade

Coleus in Sun & Shade

The many variations in foliage color, pattern, and shape make coleus quite a desirable selection of plants for the garden or patio. In the wild, coleus grows at the edges of tropical forested areas, where intense light is generally not present. While some coleus varieties have been bred to tolerate greater sun and heat exposure, including 'Coleosaurus', 'Lava Rose', and 'Campfire', the colors are still most varied and distinct when they are allowed to grow in areas without intense direct sunlight.

Coleus 'Redhead' in a full sun garden location

Bright, indirect light is usually ideal if you’re aiming for a coleus color show. Either dappled shade or full morning sun with protection for the afternoon will work well. If plants do receive full sun (6+ hours per day), there will still be some variation in color, as upper leaves will partially shade lower leaves; it just might not be as intense, as the difference between colors may be less bold. Those with yellow or white coloration, such as Coleus Color Clouds™ 'Spicy’ may turn more greenish in full sun. ‘Wasabi’ will be a vibrant green in either full sun or shade, whereas ‘Inferno’ will be brightest hot-red in full sun, and a bit deeper with some shade. The defining veination of ‘Coleosaurus’ is best achieved in partial to mostly shaded areas.

Coleus 'Coleosaurus' with silver centaurea, blue ageratum, Rudbeckia 'Prairie Sun' and lime green sweet potato vine
Coleus 'Coleosaurus' planted in dappled shade, with a slightly stronger red veining effect on the leaves

Coleus from Select Seeds 

Coleus from Select Seeds has been growing in our greenhouse, where it receives a good amount of light, though not as much as it would if planted outdoors in direct sun. It is for this reason that the colors may change when planted out, depending on where they are located. If planted in a somewhat sunny location, the colorations will likely remain fairly similar, whereas if they are planted in direct sun, the color may change to a brighter color or to include more green, depending on the cultivar. If planting in full sun, make sure their root systems are well-developed (white-to-tan, thick roots, as opposed to small and/or brown roots), and be sure not to disturb the rootball when transplanting. Always keep sun-grown coleus well-watered, as this can help maintain color; protection from wind is also helpful.

The age of a coleus plant can also determine its color. Younger plants may not have fully developed enough mature leaves to appear as colorful as their older counterparts. Upon arrival, try slowly acclimating your new plants by moving them to slightly sunnier locations every few days before setting them in the ground; this will also allow for further root development of your young plants prior to transplant. It is best to set these tropical natives out a few weeks after your last springtime frost, when nighttime temperatures generally do not drop below 50°F, so as to avoid chilling injury. Additionally, keep in mind that sun intensity in your locale may be different than that of ours. For example, the intensity of the sun in Northeastern Connecticut is significantly less than that of the Deep South or the Southwest, where some afternoon shade may be crucial to successfully growing colorful coleus.

Faster flowering can also be induced by greater, more intense sun exposure, so be sure to pinch plants back to allow for continued vegetative growth; this will also produce a fuller plant. Greening of the foliage can also sometimes occur as the plant adjusts to more sunlight by producing more chlorophyll. On the flip side, if coleus is grown in very shady locations, there will be greater distance between leaves on the stems, as they will be elongating in search of a bit more light. Planting coleus in deep shade is not recommended, as this will cause colors to appear washed-out and blurry.

Another reason for faded leaf color, especially well into the growing season, is excessive application of fertilizer. Prior to planting, mix some slow-release fertilizer into the soil or growing media. Alternatively, fertilize once per month with a water-soluble fertilizer. Overfeeding will cause foliage to fade.


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