Vaughn’s View: Leaf Colors and Textures in Coleus
The breeding, trialing and introduction of new seed and vegetative coleus in the past 20 years has been nothing short of remarkable. We now have a multitude of cultivars and series available from a wide range of flower breeders. These new seed and vegetative introductions offer features and benefits not even thought of 20 years ago.
The characteristics or attributes inherent in seed and vegetative coleus include: late flowering, sun tolerance, improved vigor and branching, distinctive leaf patterns, assorted textures, vibrant and non-fading foliage colors, unique leaf shapes, assorted habits, and improved garden performance. The versatility and benefits of these sun coleus include low maintenance and outstanding landscape performance in large containers or large swaths. The consumer has many residential applications, including hanging baskets with many of the new trailing varieties, designer recipes, and mono- or mixed-species containers and beds.
The seed and vegetative coleus varieties I have highlighted in this article are new for 2023 and will demonstrate production versatility and successful sell-through in the retail environment. Many of these selected varieties were in summer trials in multiple locations that I visited this year. The trial sites were Costa Farms, the Dallas Arboretum, Colorado State University, Mast Young Plants, Raker-Roberta’s, Ball Seed Co., Metrolina, Young’s Plant Farm, Lucas Greenhouses and Penn State University.
1. COLEUS ‘COLEOSAURUS IMPROVED’
(Photo above) Coleus ‘Coleosaurus’ is new and improved for 2023. Improvements include superior branching, a more defined leaf pattern and greater color saturation. The well-defined, maroon-colored venation expanding to the margin is eye-catching. This variety has a medium growth habit with spring application in quarts and mixed containers. The Ball FloraPlant coleus collection is an expansive portfolio, which includes the MicroBlaze, Compact, Medium, Vigorous, FlameThrower and the new TrailBlazer series. The accompanying photograph was from the Young’s Plant trial in early June.
2. COLEUS ‘MAIN STREET ASHBURY’
Main Street is one the most popular coleus series in the industry, with 23 cultivars, including Ashbury and Portage Avenue for 2023. The diversity of foliage colors, leaf patterns and leaf shapes is exceptional. The series is adaptable in sun or shade, flowers late, and provides production versatility in quarts, gallons, mixed containers, and landscape beds. Coleus ‘Main Street Ashbury’ has distinctive deeply lobed leaves with a mix of rose/pink/burgundy flecks and a pronounced green margin. The accompanying photograph is from the Raker-Roberta’s trial in mid- August.
3. COLEUS ‘COLORBLAZE MINI ME WATERMELON’
The ColorBlaze series is comprised of 10 colorful and diverse cultivars, which now includes the new ‘ColorBlaze Mini Me Watermelon’ for 2023. This new selection was trialed throughout the country this year, and I received samples for my container trial. This new introduction manifested attributes of the series, which are non-fading, vibrant leaf patterns, distinctive colors, adaptability in sun or shade and late flowering. Mini Me Watermelon is a dramatic new introduction with a tight, upright habit and multicolored, bright, deeply lobed lanceolate leaves. It will accentuate whatever plant components in a combination. The accompanying photograph is from the Penn State trial the last week of August.
4.COLEUS ‘STAINED GLASSWORKS PINEAPPLE EXPRESS’
Pineapple Express and Flashbulb are the new additions to the Stained Glassworks Collection for 2023. There are now 18 eye-catching and unique varieties that can be used in sun or shade. The many features of the collection include multicolored leaf patterns, diverse textures, heat and drought tolerance, and adaptability in sun or shade. The colors provide consumer versatility in landscape beds and borders, and wonderful accents in patio containers. Spring production application includes quarts, gallons and designer mixes. The collection was introduced years ago, and Dümmen Orange continues to add unique and novel varieties on a consistent basis. Pineapple Express may be my favorite coleus introduction for 2023. It was ubiquitous in trials this summer, and it put on a dazzling show. In southern and northern trials, it manifested bright and striking non-fading gold foliage with a splash of burgundy in the throat area. It has a medium habit with tight layered branching, which makes it ideal in mixed or mono containers. I used it as a component in my container trial, and it maintained its habit and bold colors until early fall. The accompanying photograph was taken at the Metrolina trial in late August.
5. COLEUS GREAT FALLS SERIES
This multicolored trailing series expanded the production and consumer application of coleus when it was introduced. There are four varieties in the series: Angel, Niagara, Yosemite and the new Splish Splash Rose Gold. This series is used in many spring programs, specifically in mixed containers and hanging baskets. The varieties are adaptable in sun or shade and demonstrate uniformity, nonfading foliage, tight internodes, small leaves, and a vigorous trailing habit. The series was entered in many trial locations this summer; the photograph I chose to include is a deco container from the Mast Young Plants trial in late August. This container, comprised of three Great Falls varieties — Angel, Niagara and Yosemite — manifested the heat tolerance, vibrant foliage, diverse colors and uniformity that are inherent in the entire series.
6. COLEUS ‘TRAILBLAZER ROAD TRIP’ AND ‘TRAILBLAZER GLORY ROAD’
This new trailing series for 2023 includes Road Trip (6a) and Glory Road (6b). The consumer demand for trailing coleus is strong, and we are seeing the introduction of new trailing series from multiple sources. The TrailBlazer series is vigorous and cascading, has polychromatic foliage and can be used in sun or shade. Road Trip has burgundy and red leaves with a pink center and green edging. Glory Road has a distinctive green margin and a reddish burgundy center. The accompanying photograph of Road Trip is from the Young’s Plant Farm trial in early June; the Glory Road photograph is from the Metrolina trial in late August. Both varieties demonstrated vigor, color stability and full sun adaptability. The consumer application of the TrailBlazer collection is window boxes, large baskets or patio containers.
7. COLEUS ‘PREMIUM SUN RUBY HEART’
There are numerous seed coleus adaptable for shade, including the Fairway, Rainbow, Kong, Kong Jr. and the Wizard series. The Premium Sun collection is a genetic breakthrough in seed coleus. This tough, durable, low-maintenance, colorful coleus is adaptable in full sun or partial shade. There are 10 varieties in the collection, including the new Ruby Heart for 2023. I rarely highlight a new introduction twice in the same year, but this coleus was a superior performer in the Costa trial this spring and was included in my May article. In later trials, it was consistent in summer performance, demonstrating foliage color stability, vigor, and extreme heat and humidity tolerance in full sun exposures. It received a 5.0 rating in the University of Georgia trial, and in the Texas A&M field trial it manifested adaptability in the extreme heat and dry conditions of east Texas. As I mentioned in my May article, this seed-produced, low-cost-input collection of coleus deserves consideration in spring programs. The accompanying photograph is from the Young’s Plant trial in early June.
BREEDER-DESIGNER COLEUS RECIPES
One of the significant developments with the new vegetative coleus is the introduction and availability of creative designer recipes that combine varieties with different leaf forms, textures and multicolored foliage — and, most importantly, manifest timing, balance and uniformity — resulting in a combination that has significant retail appeal and consumer success. Ball FloraPlant and Dümmen Orange offer a wide range of multi-species sun and shade coleus combinations. I will highlight four coleus recipes displayed and trialed at Mast Young Plants and Young’s Plant Farm. The accompanying photographs were taken in mid-August.
8. ‘FIRE AND SPICE MIXMASTERS’
This new sun and shade mono species recipe combines the FlameThrower varieties Cajun Spice, Habanero and Salsa Verde. This series is unique in the industry for its multi-colored lanceolate leaves, distinct leaf serration, and exemplary performance in landscape beds or large patio containers. As you can see from the photo from Mast Young Plants, the combination of complementary colors makes this recipe pop.
9. ‘FIRE DANCER MIXMASTERS’
The new MixMasters series combines multi- and mono-species components to create mounded, manageable and colorful recipes. This MixMasters recipe combines calibrachoa ‘Conga Cherry’, the new calibrachoa ‘Conga Yellow’, and coleus ‘MicroBlaze Spitfire’. There are five new compact MixMasters sun combos for 2023 that incorporate the Conga series, but the MicroBlaze Spitfire Coleus is used in the Fire Dancer recipe only. The Conga series is naturally compact and adaptable in pot tight production and used in quarts, mixed containers, window boxes, and color bowls. The Coleus Spitfire is a unique and dynamic variety with a distinctive weeping habit and narrow impactful multicolored leaves. The accompanying photograph was taken at the Young’s Plant Farm container trial in early June.
10. CONFETTI GARDEN MAIN STREET EXPERIMENTAL
Dümmen Orange offers two coleus recipes for 2023: Times Square and Trafalgar Square. However, the Confetti Garden recipe I chose to highlight here is experimental and was in the deco container program at Mast Young Plants. It combines three Main Street varieties: Sunset Boulevard, Alligator Alley and River Walk. This recipe demonstrates uniformity, color range, assorted textures and polychromatic foliage colors. It manifests brightness and vibrancy in the early morning sun. Coleus Alligator Alley, with its well-defined burgundy midrib and broad green margin, creates a striking contrast, while Sunset Boulevard and River Walk accent each other. These Main Street coleus recipes are adaptable in sun or shade and are definitely durable, distinctive and highly impactful.
11. ‘AMPED UP MIXMASTERS’
The second new sun and shade recipe combination for 2023 is Amped Up. This is an appropriate name for this energized and dynamic mix of three vigorous coleus varieties: Trusty Rusty has a golden yellow margin with copper centers, Vino has wine colored leaves with a narrow green rim, and Wasabi has distinct serrated chartreuse leaves. All three are in the vigorous class, accentuate each other, and exhibit balance, timing, color stability, and long-lasting weather tolerance. The accompanying photograph is from the Penn State trial the last week of August. This recipe was also awarded the best combination in the Colorado State trial. It demonstrated uniformity, vigor and did not flower throughout the growing season.
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