When shopping for plants to fill containers, geraniums, marigolds, New Guinea impatiens, petunias, salvia, zinnias and other flowering annuals quickly fill our carts. These are all good choices; many offer pollen and/or nectar for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds and, of course, color for gardeners. But most flowering annuals require deadheading for best blooming and to keep containers looking their best.
Consider adding coleus as a nearly maintenance-free option for some of the color in containers. There are so many different varieties of coleus -- some for sunny spots, others for shady conditions -- with foliage so unique and colorful, gardeners are sure to find some they love.
The bright, burnt orange foliage of Campfire glows as it quickly grows more than 2 feet tall and nearly as wide. It is equally happy planted in full sun or part shade. On closer inspection, the plant reveals a subtle purple cast that can be highlighted if it is planted with purple-flowering annuals in a playful design. Or show off its smoldering side and partner it with reds and yellows.
Dark Star's nearly black leaves make almost any flowers, from soft pastels to bright shades, pop. Dark Star grows 12 to 24 inches tall and prefers full sun.
The chartreuse leaves, edged in burgundy and held on dark purple stems, of FlameThower Spiced Curry are spectacular. The plant grows up to 2 feet tall and not quite as wide. It performs in both full sun and full shade. Plant Spiced Curry with burgundy-flowered pentas or geranium and purple fountain grass (Pennisetum rubrum) in a delightful display.
The foliage of Inky Fingers boasts an intricate pattern of dark red leaf centers and chartreuse margins. The plant grows 18 inches tall. Plant Inky Fingers in part shade. Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia Aurea) is a pleasing companion.
The Kong series offers flashy leaves on monster-sized, flamboyant plants with unbelievably large leaves. They provide dramatic color in shady spots of the garden. Kong Red displays a broad, brilliant red vein down the center of each leaf. Kong Rose has a vibrant rose center surrounded by a green edge.
New in 2018, Main Street La Rambla is worth the search to find. Growing 18 to 24 inches tall and nearly as wide, its heavily textured, brilliantly colored foliage is stunning. Dark maroon netting covers deep green leaves while flames of cherry red shoot through the centers. Plant it with petunias or zinnias with flowers the same color as La Rambla's cherry red flames, purple-foliaged alternanthera and chartreuse potato vine in a color-coordinated combo.
Glassworks' Needlepoint has finely cut, scalloped green leaves with white centers and touches of rose. It grows 12 to 24 inches tall and wide. Planted with Limelight licorice plant (Helichrysum Limelight), the chartreuse foliage of the licorice plant brings out the hints of chartreuse in Needlepoint.
The Under the Sea series of coleus offers several outstanding cultivars. Many show off filigreed edges, setting them apart from other varieties. Fish Net grows up to 18 inches tall with purple-veined and edged, bright green leaves. Plant this one in part shade.
The Wizard series is a superior group of coleus for the shade. Wizard Jade has large, bold leaves with soft, creamy-white centers fringed in bright green. The foliage of Wizard Rose has a rose-colored center surrounded by cream and then edged in bright green. The large, serrated leaves of Wizard Red have purplish-black edges with deep red centers.
Just a bit of care will keep coleus looking their best all summer long. Pinch out the centers of young plants to promote lateral growth, creating a bushier plant. Water often enough to keep the soil moist, but not so often that the soil becomes soggy.
Fertilize with a slow-release, balanced fertilizer when planting, or once a month with a balanced liquid fertilizer at half-strength. Pinch off flower spikes when they begin to form in mid to late summer.
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist, garden writer and speaker. She blogs at gardenwithdiana.com.