8 reasons why the Botanical Gardens uses coleus– & why you should, too

coleus Kingswood Torch at Buffalo Botanical Gardens
Coleus ‘Kingswood Torch’. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Coleus doesn’t get showy flowers, yet it’s the featured plant in the Celebration of Coleus and Color show that starts Saturday, June 13 at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo.

Even without an emphasis on flowers, this exhibit is a favorite among some visitors to the Botanical Gardens, said Jeff Thompson, director of horticulture.

What’s the attraction of coleus?

Today we’ll give you eight reasons why the Botanical Gardens showcases coleus in its summer exhibit, and why you might find it useful in your garden, too.

Hours for the show are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Aug. 2. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors (ages 55 and older) and students (ages 13 and older with ID), $5 for children ages 3-12 and free for Botanical Gardens members and children 2 and under.

Celebration of Coleus and Color is sponsored by Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com.

You don’t have to worry about fading flowers

When the Botanical Gardens wants to showcase a blooming plant, the flower has to be at its prime during the entire exhibit, Thompson said. The staff has to watch for flowers that fade and remove those wilted blossoms or take the plant off exhibit.

oleus Flamethrower Chili Pepper
Coleus ‘Flamethrower’ Chili Pepper. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

That’s not a problem with coleus. While coleus plants do get flowers, the flowers aren’t what gardeners love about coleus. The appeal of coleus is its colorful leaves, which will stay vibrant throughout the entire growing season. That’s important for a plant that will be on exhibit for about two months.

“Coleus takes us through to the mum show in the fall,” Thompson said.

If you want a plant that will look great all summer, you can’t go wrong with coleus.

Coleus is colorful

“Coleus provides the backbone of color for the exhibit,” Thompson said.

There are many colors to choose from, which you can see from the sampling of photos in this article. Colors include orange, red, green, pink, white, purple and yellow.

Kristin Lotz, horticulturist, is using a lot of chartreuse, a vibrant yellow-green, in the exhibit.

coleus Wasabi at Buffalo Botanical Gardens
Coleus ‘Wasabi’. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

“It can be dark in parts of the dome,” Lotz said, and the chartreuse really stands out in the shade.

Because coleus is so colorful, it’s a great plant to coordinate with the very colorful Shayne Dark contemporary art exhibit now on display at the Botanical Gardens, Thompson added.

Great for shade

While some coleus varieties can take sun, coleus is highly valued for shade because the choice of plants for shade is so limited.

In years past, gardeners in Western New York depended on impatiens to provide color in shade, but since impatiens is being affected by downy mildew, shade gardeners are scrambling to find replacements.

Gardeners are finding that coleus is an excellent alternative and is a great way to get color into your shady areas.

Varied shapes and sizes

Many varieties of coleus are short, but some varieties of coleus, such as ‘Kong’, can grow as large as four feet tall and can get bushy. The leaves can be pointed, heart-shaped, curled, ruffled, smooth, lacy or notched. The leaves can stand stiffly out from the stem or droop down. The textures vary, too.

Mix a few coleus plants together and you’ve created an attractive element for your yard.

coleus Campfire
Coleus ‘Campfire’. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Great for containers

You can plant coleus directly into the bed of a shady garden. They also work well in containers on a covered porch, under a tree or in another shady area where you want color. You can mix coleus with flowering annuals and cascading plants– Remember to choose plants for the sun conditions of the location.

Fun themes

It was during the winter that Lotz was planning the exhibit, and the frigid weather inspired her to go in the opposite direction. She decided on a “hot” theme and chose varieties with names that carry out the theme.

There’s ‘Wasabi’, ‘Sizzler’, ‘Hot Sauce’, ‘Florida Inferno’, ‘Kingswood Torch’, ‘Fire Dragon’, ‘Bonfire’, ‘Campfire’, ‘Molten Coral’ and a ‘Flamethrower’ series that includes Chili Pepper, Spice Curry and Chipotle.

There will be signs with the names of the plants, she noted, so that if you fall in love with one, you know what to ask for at a garden center.

There are so many different varieties of coleus, you could choose a different theme and be able to find suitable varieties. You can extend your theme to all the plants in your entire garden, as a Niagara Falls gardener did with a biblical theme for her garden.

coleus Bonfire
Coleus ‘Bonfire’. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

There’s always something new

The Botanical Gardens is also trying out some new varieties they got from Stan Swisher, the horticulturist at the test gardens called the Joan and Victor Fuzak Memorial Gardens at the Erie Basin Marina in Buffalo. The new plants are named after streets (another theme!) and include ‘Abbey Road’, ‘Rodeo Drive’, ‘Broad Street’ and ‘Fifth Avenue’. See these test plants now and look for new varieties in garden centers next year.

Easy to propagate

Coleus is easy to propagate from cuttings. If you have a plant you like, you can easily get more plants.

I have rooted coleus by simply placing the cutting in water. You can also stick the cuttings in sponge oasis. See more tips on propagating plants here.

Coleus is an annual and the first hard frost will kill it, but if you find a coleus you absolutely love, you may be able to have it in your garden again next year by overwintering the coleus inside.

coleus Molten Coral
Coleus ‘Molten Coral’. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
coleus Hottie
Coleus ‘Hottie’. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
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6 Comments on “8 reasons why the Botanical Gardens uses coleus– & why you should, too

  1. I too love coleus and have tried overwintering with inconsistent results. I seem to get through the worst part of the Winter then loose them as Spring begins.

  2. Thank you for the coleus article. Sound perfect for someone who is physically not able to do a lot of work maintaining garden this year. I saw a nice selection of coleus at Lavocats.

  3. I love coleus! I just finished my theme garden – Sci-Fi/Fantasy books and films – and used a lot of coleus in it – they were my inspiration for creating the garden!

  4. Hey Paula – thanks for such a great article! We bred the plants ‘Chili Pepper’, ‘Chipotle’, ‘Spiced Curry’ ‘Wasabi’ and ‘Campfire’ down here at the University of Florida and we are thrilled you like them!

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