Coleus is a tender tropical perennial commonly grown as an annual throughout all of the USDA growing zones. The square stems indicate it is part of the Mint family, although its growth habit is generally more upright and well behaved than most mint plants. Coleus is quick to grow to its full size during just one growing season and can be easily overwintered by taking softwood cuttings and growing them as houseplants.
Older varieties of Coleus require part to full shade spots where their tender foliage is protected from intense summer sun. Newer cultivars have been bred to tolerate and even thrive in full sun, making this a versatile plant for both garden and container growing. Well-draining soil that remains consistently moist is the perfect home for this vigorous grower. Providing regular feeding with a balanced fertilizer will support strong stems, healthy roots, and the brilliant foliage colors that Coleus is known for.
Shrubs To Plant With Coleus
Coleus pairs well with both deciduous and evergreen shrubs in the garden border. Their compact shape and colorful foliage add texture to established informal shrub borders or hedges. Lower-growing Coleus can be planted as a temporary ground cover to help suppress weeds until less mature shrubs have reached their full size. Shrubs with dramatic foliage such as dark-leaved Elderberry, Hinoki Cypress, and Nandina pair well with a contrasting-colored Coleus. Broadleaved evergreens such as Rhododendron, Azalea, and Pieris bloom early in the season and provide a solid backdrop for the colors of Coleus to brighten up a corner of the garden until the first frost of fall.
Perennials To Plant With Coleus
With newer cultivars able to tolerate more sun exposure, Coleus can be paired with a far larger variety of perennials. Colorful Coleus can be used to contrast hot-season perennials such as coneflowers, ornamental grasses, and Dahlias, adding a tropical twist to a traditional cottage garden.
Planting Coleus in more shaded locations helps to highlight even simple plant combinations. Hostas of any leaf will be the focal point of the garden when paired with a Coleus in contrasting or complementary colors. Coleus also helps to fill in gaps in the garden when early spring bloomers like bleeding heart, lupines, or Camassia have started to go dormant for the season.
Annuals To Plant With Coleus
Shade-loving annuals are the classic plants to pair with Coleus. Impatiens, Lobelia, Begonias of all types, and brightly colored Fuchsia enjoy the same growing conditions as Coleus and will continue to bloom well into the fall with very little maintenance other than occasional deadheading. Flowering Vinca, dead nettle, Torenia, and ivy-leaved geraniums make for interesting and less common companions whose flowers can be combined to highlight specific colors of Coleus foliage. Annuals are generally considered the final element in a garden or mixed container, although they can be used yearly to fill in any open spots in a garden border.
Best Companion Plants For Coleus in Containers
Use Coleus as both thriller and filler plants when designing a planter for your deck, patio, or balcony. Sun-loving types of Coleus will need to be planted separately from the more traditional shade varieties. Combine double-flowering Impatiens and sweet potato vine with multiple colors of Coleus for a container with high visual impact the whole growing season. For a more relaxed look, try using tropical Caladium as the focal point surrounded by bright-colored Hostas as a filler, and dead nettle as a spiller.
Plants Not To Grow With Coleus
Coleus can grow in either full sun or full shade, but they cannot grow in constantly wet soils such as near streams or ponds. Soil that does not drain readily can lead to root rot diseases or susceptibility to pests such as aphids and other sap-sucking insects. Locations that remain dry for long periods are also contraindicated for planting Coleus. Cacti, succulents, and native prairie grasses thrive in xeric conditions that would shrivel and kill Coleus.
Best Plants To Grow With Coleus
When designing a planting scheme with Coleus, look for plants that prefer well-draining soil, consistent moisture, and moderate soil fertility. In these conditions, Coleus will stay healthy and provide color far into the fall. We named a few successful combinations, but feel free to get creative and focus on plants that grow well in your area.