I spent a lovely summer day at the UW Madison Ag Research Farm in West Madison, WI on Aug 6 where The Commercial Flower Growers (greenhouse) of Wisconsin had their summer conference and field trial tour. Speakers from UW Madison included entomologist PJ Liesch who replaced the much loved and recently retired Phil Peltieri and everyone’s favorite ‘Dr Death’, Brian Hudelson, UW Madison’s Plant Pathologist who really loves a good fungal infection like no one else. Pan America Seed’s Mark Gross discussed Coleus breeding and what we can look forward to in the future. 2015 is the year of the Coleus, as selected by National Garden Bureau, which was the focus of this year’s trials at UW Madison.
I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of Ray Rogers, author of the Timber press book Rainbow Foliage For Containers and Gardens. Ray is also a horticulture instructor at Lakeshore Technical College so it was great fun to walk the coleus gardens with him and learn his favorites. While coleus are generally valued as shade loving plants, the trial gardens in Madison had most coleus planted in full sun. Ray and I both agreed that no matter what plant marketers want us to believe, most coleus perform much better in at least some shade and many coleus look their very best in fairly deep shade. The normally vibrant colors of these coleus appeared rather washed out and pale in these sun grown plants. Most plants were stunted and exhibited a tight upward growth habit characteristic of plants enduring too much sun. So I must say it was a bit disturbing to see all these coleus suffering in the sun. Well anyway Ray and I did see a few interesting things and he pointed out some of his favorites
Coleus ‘Henna’ is not new but still lovely and one of may faves. It grew pretty well in the sun here but was much shorter than shade grown. It is a rather massive, 3′ shrub-like plant in shade, which is one of its charms, that and the dusky rose and burgundy spiky edged leaves with tints of lime. If shade grown more of the burgundy colored veination appears
Alabama Sunset was one of Ray’s all around favorites. It looks much different shade grown where individual leaves are different shades of red and yellow. Grown in sun the leaves are all the same shade of reddish orange
‘Golden Anemone’ is part of the ‘Under the Sea’ series by Hort Couture. This is a very interesting collection but I have a feeling it needs special care. Several of the series appeared to be somewhat spindly and weak. This was the best of the lot and Ray said it makes a wonderful houseplant.
Coleus ‘Stained Glass Works Defiance’ was another good sun performer and all around great coleus
‘Lime Time’ looks a lot like ‘Wasabi’ but its hard to tell as both were only about 2 feet tall. ‘Wasabi ‘in shade becomes a beautiful green monster coleus of about 3 ft.tall. Not sure how tall ‘Lime Time’ gets.
The next generation of Kong Coleus look good with reasonably large leaves on sturdy plants. The massive leaves of the ‘old’ Kong series always seemed to droop like wet kleenex which was not very attractive.
What I can’t seem to understand is why marketing people continue to market plants for the wrong environment. Whatever happened to ‘right plant, right place’? I suppose retail customers have no clue where to plant things and we don’t want to argue with them but…. Isn’t that why they visit our garden centers? to find out what to plant, where? Isn’t it our job to help make them be successful gardeners? We can tell them it’s ok to plant coleus in the sun but how will they feel when they come home after work every day and its wilting, and if they miss a day, its dead? With so many wonderful plants to grow in the sun, and so few for shade, can’t they just let coleus be the shade plant that it is? Coleus is that crazy colorful accent in the midst of the serene, green shade garden. It’s the pop of bright color in planters on a shady porch. We don’t need to plant it in sun! So come on marketers give us a break. Stop plugging coleus for sun, and while you’re at it, stop with the ‘sun impatien’, we’re just not that stupid or amused. It really doesn’t work in the sun without massive amounts of irrigation. Please spend your time addressing our real wants and needs – sustainability and reduced inputs, drought tolerance, disease and insect resistant, easy to grow, frost tolerant, long bloom cycle, blooms/colorful in shade, edibles.