Coleus: A colourful addition to the shade garden

Three Coleus you need to consider for your containers

If you are looking for more colour in your shade-based containers or landscapes, it might be time to focus on Coleus with its variety of colours, shapes and sizes.

Coleus has got to be one of the most underrated and underused annual plants of its time.

A sampling of Proven Winners Coleus in containers

A combination of Proven Winners Coleus in containers.


If you have hesitated to embrace these incredibly colourful and easy-to-grow annuals in your garden, it’s time to give them some love.

Anywhere you have planted ferns and hostas is a good place to plant Coleus for a little or a lot of colour.

Coleus, by the way, is not only for shade gardens. New varieties of Coleus are available that can take both sun and shade.

These plants have come a long way in the past couple of years thanks to the work of the people at Proven Winners and other plant propagators who have created new hybrids that can take both sun and shade, and look extremely good doing it.

Proven Winners alone lists 17 different Coleus in its arsenal. Everything from plants with colourful foliage patterns to those with solid colours such as the deep reds in Rediculous, the burnt orange colours and ruffled edge of Wicked Hot, or the incredible lime greens of Lime Time.


Golden Dreams Coleus by Proven Winnder combines nicely with grasses in this container planting.


If you want to see Coleus in action both as singular plants in a container, or in combinations with a host of other plants, check out Proven Winners top ten Coleus suggestions.

I have used Coleus in our front containers to add colour in areas that usually get deep shade and was thought to be good for only ferns, hostas and the like.

This year, after so much success in the past few years, a variety of Coleus will take prominent spots in both our front and back containers and maybe find a spot or two in our landscape.

The results have been impressive.


Proven Winners Golden Dreams Coleus creates a soft, restful background that does not fight for dominance in the landscape.


In fact, last year I planted a Proven Winners Colorblaze Golden Dreams Coleus in a large container to hide some utilities, and not only did it grow so large that it hid the utilities, it turned out to be the star of the Japanese-inspired garden.

This Golden Showers Coleus was used in the Japanese-inspired garden to hide utilities and blend in the natural colours of the garden with its soft, golden tones.

One of the reasons it worked so well in the Japanese garden is that Golden Dreams Coleus, though colourful with its chartreuse leaves and red veining, tends to be a calm, restful background plant that brought together the greens of the surrounding foliage, and reds of the Bloodgood Japanese Maple that provided the plant with afternoon shade.

This is the beauty of Coleus plants that come in such a range of colour combinations that they can work as both a bold statement in the garden or a calming, quiet addition depending on how you choose to use them.

The chartreuse and red of this Coleus is an outstanding addition to any garden.

A Golden performance in the garden

The award-winning Golden Dreams Coleus, like many Coleus plants, performs well in both sun and shade. All it asks for is a reasonable amount of humidity which it certainly got in our humid climate where moss grows naturally between the flagstones.

In very low humidity environments, you would be best to grow it in an area where it gets plenty of afternoon shade.

It's not hard to see how the Coleus brings in the colours of the garden.

This Golden Showers Coleus brings in the colours of the garden and helps to create a cohesive feel and look to the Japanese-inspired garden.

Deadheading not needed

There is no deadheading necessary for these plants. In fact all I ever did was plant it, water it regularly and watch it grow. You can pinch it back to thicken up the plant, but it’s not really necessary.

Deer resistant foliage plant

Even the deer wanted nothing to do with this foliage plant, which makes Coleus ideal for woodland gardeners that share their space with a hungry herd of deer.

Coleus is seen here in a small container adding colour to a primary green fern garden but also picking up the yellow of the adirondack chairs.

How to grow Coleus in containers and in the landscape

These plants can grow quite tall. In fact mine was so happy it probably reached three-feet tall and close to that same distance in width by the end of the summer.

If you are planting several specimens out in the garden, plant them about 18-24 inches apart to form an impressive clump of foliage.

In a container, one is probably all you need. They certainly grow large enough to use as a thriller in the container pulling together colours from your other plants.

Of course, the wide variety of Coleus demands that the gardener do a little research on the habits of each plant to get the most out of them.

Chocolate Drop combines nicely in this container

The smaller Chocolate Drop Coleus combines nicely in this container as a filler.


Many varieties of Coleus to meet all your needs

There are too many varieties to describe each of them, but here are a few you might be interested in planting.

In the Proven Winners Color Blaze family, consider Chocolate Drop (Coleus scutellarioides) for a sun or shade location.

This is a smaller Coleus that grows between 18 inches to about 2 feet with smaller rounded green leaves boasting a deep crimson centre that spreads out toward the edges of the plants.

Proven Winners describes the colors as black and green but the overall effect is not quite that extreme.

Like Golden Dreams, there is no need for deadheading and the plants are pretty much maintenance free.

Where I live, they are treated as annuals, but if you are in a very warm climate, they are considered hardy in zones 10-11.

Their trailing habit makes them great for flower beds and containers, but they do better as a spiller rather than a thriller.

Mini Me Watermelon is new this year

If you are looking for an even more compact coleus to add to your container, or one with some serious colour punch, the Proven Winners Mini Me Watermelon is the one.

It might be tricky to find because it’s new this year, but this little red and chartreuse coleus growth ranges from 12 inches to 20 inches with a spread restricted to between 10 and 18 inches.

It’s a new type of ColorBlaze that is substantially smaller than the rest of the ColorBlaze coleus. Proven Winners says the plant is still being developed and may have variable leaves or branches that can be easily taken out if necessary.

Again, this Coleus, with its watermelon-coloured foliage rimmed with golden chartreuse accents can take both sun and shade.

Like most coleus, this one is designed to bloom well into fall until it is hit with the first heavy frost of the year. It’s deer resistant and can be used as a thriller with its upright growth.

Proven Winners says the plant can be used in borders, containers as well as mass planting in the landscaping.

Vic MacBournie

Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and shares his photography with readers.

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