Coleus Inspires New Generations

‘Wasabi’ from Ball FloraPlant

When it comes to fool-proof plants, coleus is a prime choice. Ideal for sun or shade, in the landscape or in containers, coleus, which was renamed plectranthus two years ago, is one of the most versatile plants.

“For growers, coleus grow fast and have few complexities in production,” says Jim Kennedy, sales manager for Ball FloraPlant. “For retailers, they are a great accent plant that can be sold as a stand-alone or as part of a combo. Consumers love the low-maintenance and versatile application in the garden.”

Breeding efforts have advanced coleus greatly in recent years, providing varieties that are drought and heat tolerant, mildew resistant and late-flowering and last all season long. Plus, breeders are discovering new colors and forms, as well as experimenting with new uses for coleus.

“In our program, we aim to produce a hassle-proof plant — one anyone can grow, from the grower all the way to the consumer,” says David Clark, professor in the environmental horticulture department at the University of Florida (UF). “In the end, our varieties are so tough that you essentially stick it in the ground and water it when you can, and they last all season, anywhere in the country.”

New Genetics Provide Bright Colors, Branching And More

Coleus is inspiring a fresh generation of scientists at university programs dedicated to providing new genetics for the commercial industry. At UF, Clark heads up the Coleus Breeding Program, part of the UF Plant Innovation Program, which has between 400 and 600 students enrolled. The coleus program has licensed out more than two dozen varieties since 2006, including a number of very popular coleus to Proven Winners, Ball Horticultural Co. and other companies, and the program continues to grow as a result.

“We’re not a business; we’re a university, but it’s good to be able to provide the industry with a source of genetics,” Clark says. “Over time, varieties are getting better and better. We have good students working on breeding new coleus, and the university values the program because it’s growing.”

Popular varieties from the UF program include the following from Proven Winners:

• ‘Splish Splash’
• ‘Pineapple Splash’
• ‘Big Red Judy’
• ‘Alligator Tears’
• ‘Snazzy’
• ‘ColorBlaze Keystone Kopper’
• ‘ColorBlaze Marooned’
Ball Horticultural Co. has licensed:
• ‘Electric Lime’
• ‘Redhead’
• ‘Trusty Rusty’
• ‘Sultana’
• ‘Wasabi’

“I can’t emphasize enough how good the industry has been — everyone has played really fair, and it’s truly a model for how universities and the industry can work together. Companies pay royalties for the varieties they license, and all of the money goes back to the lab to pay for the next generation of breeders. It’s good to keep the science going.”

With Florida’s long growing season not seeing frost sometimes until December, the program has been successful in selecting tough varieties that can withstand the area’s intense heat and humidity and thrive in full sun or shade, Clark says. All coleus varieties are trialed in both 50 percent shade and intense sun and heat, and the program selects for bright color, compact branching and late flowering in both locations.

“One set of plants we put in a pickup truck, went 70 mph down the highway to the location and put them in the field under aluminum foil. Either they die, struggle or grow, and if they grow, they’re really tough,” Clark laughs. “This year we started with 50,000 seedlings, and we’ll get down to 600 to 800 varieties that companies can select from, trial and license. Everyone knows who is working with us, and if there is overlap, we’ll let them know.”

Canadian Coleus Funds Student Scholarship

Hort Couture exclusively licenses its Under The Sea coleus varieties from the breeding program at the University of Saskatchewan and is seeking plant patents for the series.

“Our Under The Sea series has been one of the best advancements in coleus in the last few years,” says Jennifer Hatalski, social media specialist with Hort Couture. “We keep pumping up the spirits of these students in Saskatchewan, and they are just so excited. All of the royalties from the patent goes back to the university for its horticulture student scholarship fund. There is never a time when we aren’t looking at new coleus from them. We feel that we have formed this great partnership — their amazing breeding efforts and our creative marketing is the perfect match — and the varieties are only available at independent garden centers. Who knows what the next series will be after Under The Sea.”

Coleus Possibilities Include New Shapes, Colors And Combinations

Coleus seems to be a genus that is full of possibilities, with many new varieties on the horizon. Hatalski says in addition to its Under The Sea and Signature series, Hort Couture is continuously looking at new coleus varieties with different leaflets, as well as more varieties that look like coral, have unique colors and grow different sizes.

“When we narrow down the funnel of all of our coleus selections, we ask these four questions: is it unique, sophisticated, fashionable and easy to grow? If it passes our genetic evaluation and trialing requirements, and we answer yes to those questions, it is a must-have for the Hort Couture program and the independent garden center market,” Hatalski says.

The University of Florida program has brought no-pinch, compact varieties to the industry, and continues to screen for new characteristics such as new colors, patterns and growth habits such as mounding or groundcover, Clark says.
“We’re very close to releasing a series that looks good in a 4- to 6-inch pot, but when it goes to the consumer it reaches 18 inches tall and 5 to 6 feet wide in the shade,” Clark says. “In places like the South, it’s going to be important because it’s tough to get good color in the shade that’s also drought and heat tolerant.”

Ball Horticultural Co. continues to select new seed and vegetative coleus varieties. In the vegetative category, Ball FloraPlant is looking for excellent landscape performance and non-flowering varieties like ‘Wasabi’ and ‘Henna.’ Two new premium varieties for 2013 are ‘Honey Crisp’ and ‘Vino.’

PanAmerican Seed is working on multi-pellet mixes, like Fuseables, featuring coleus combinations. New for 2013 is Fuseables Chocolate Symphony, a blend of ‘Chocolate Mint’ and ‘Versa Lime.’

“In vegetative varieties, Ball FloraPlant selects for exceptional tolerance to a wide range of environmental conditions and disease pressure, especially looking for tolerance of downy mildew,” Kennedy says. “Fuseables is a great opportunity for the coleus class, because the combos are interesting, compatible in vigor and appealing with complementary colors.”

Mix Poinsettias And Coleus To Pique Consumer Interest

For growers in search of unique ideas to present coleus varieties, Hatalski says that while coleus has so many possibilities because it can be pinched and shaped in so many different ways, the Hort Couture clamshell container has been “all the reage” since it was unveiled at Spring Trials last year.

“Our Under The Sea coleus sells itself as soon as people see a leaf and how it
resembles a fish or coral, but once it’s put in our Hort Couture clamshell, that really seals the deal for the consumer,” she says.

Kennedy says coleus is a clear winner for season-extending combinations.
“Try coleus for fall combos and decorating,” he says. “Ball FloraPlant offers a
variety called ‘Indian Summer.’ It has perfect fall hues and will grow well in the heat of late summer.”

Athena Brazil’s Paul Gaydos says growers should take advantage of the unique trailing coleus varieties for hanging baskets and combination pots.

“Save money and stick with one of the 85-plus generic or low-royalty varieties
offered by Athena Brazil,” Gaydos suggests. “We are making crosses for basal branching, no flowering and mildew resistance, and our varieties are strong performers.”

Poinsettias can be jazzed up with coleus for premium pot plant sales this winter, suggests Clark. As a site for the national poinsettia trials, UF had more than 700 people come through and rate the poinsettia and coleus combinations, which generated a huge buzz.

Clark and his students are also looking into how coleus can be used as interiorscape plants for shopping malls and office buildings.

“There are some colors and shapes of coleus that are really easy to mix with poinsettias, especially pink and white poinsettia varieties,” Clark says. “Coleus are so versatile that it doesn’t matter what kind of light regime you grow them under, and they don’t require pinching or growth regulators. Instead of potting them up in August, you can assemble coleus and poinsettia combinations later, and the coleus will grow up and around the poinsettia, hiding any production mistakes.”

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Coleus Inspires New Generations

  1. Coleus really have come a long way since I started in Horticulture. I first noticed Coleus in Jr. or Sr. High school. The different varieties are so diverse now!

More From Annuals...

April 1, 2015

Philadelphia Flower Show Draws More Than 250,000 Attendees With Disney Pixar Movie Theme

With more than 250,000 consumers attending the prestigious Philadelphia Flower Show in March each year, it's a great opportunity to get flowers and gardening products into the public eye. This year's show displays took on family favorites at the movies, with a focus on Disney and Pixar films. Check out some of the highlights in our slideshow.

Read More

April 1, 2015

Peace Tree Farms Grows Its Customer Base

Over the past five years, Peace Tree Farms in Kintnersville, Pa., has concentrated on growing its business by providing plant material for the displays at the illustrious Philadelphia Flower Show. We caught up with Peace Tree Farms’ Lloyd Traven to ask about how the Flower Show figures into his business plan.

Read More
protecting bees and pollinators video

March 31, 2015

New Video On Protecting Bees And Pollinators Educates Horticulture Industry Professionals

A new educational video that provides information on the horticultural industry’s essential role in bee and pollinator stewardship is one result of industry collaboration by the Horticultural Research Institute, AmericanHort, Society of American Florists and the American Floral Endowment. “Protecting Bees & Pollinators: What Horticulture Needs to Know,” narrates the current state of bee and pollinator health, provides information on factors that impact pollinators and the environment and underscores the beneficial role horticulture plays in providing healthy pollinator ecosystems.

Read More
Latest Stories
Salvia 'Ember's Wish'

March 11, 2015

Annual Salvias – Not Just Red Bedding Plants Anym…

Salvias are popular — and they need not all be the same. Here are a few you know well, and perhaps a few you do not. All are easy to grow and may be found through a broker or grower.

Read More

February 18, 2015

California Spring Trials Sneak Peek: New Annuals For 20…

If you're like us and you can't wait until the 2015 California Spring Trials to see some of the new genetics that will be hitting the market in 2016, never fear. We contacted the breeders who will be displaying their new varieties in California in April, and they gave us a sneak peek. Check out our slideshow to see some of the new annuals making their debut to the trade this spring.

Read More

November 14, 2014

First Vegetatively Propagated All-America Selections (A…

All-America Selections (AAS) honors two vegetatively propagated impatiens with AAS winner status.

Read More

October 13, 2014

Growing Tips For Verbena

Rich Schoellhorn, product manager at Proven Winners, shares some tips for growing verbenas successfully.

Read More

October 13, 2014

Greenhouse Grower 2014 New Varieties Guide: Petunias [S…

Greenhouse Grower asked more than 40 breeders to send photos of new introductions they think are worth your attention. The result is the 2014 New Varieties Guide. See what petunias made the cut.

Read More

June 12, 2014

New Begonia Variety And Coleus Series, Plus Two Lobelia…

Terra Nova Nurseries introduces seven new varieties and one new series.

Read More

May 27, 2014

Two New Salvias Added To Southern Living Plant Collecti…

Two new salvia varieties are now available exclusively to growers from the Southern Living Plant Collection and Sunset Western Garden Collection.

Read More

May 9, 2014

New Petunias Making Their Debut In 2015

Take a look at the new petunia varieties that will be making their appearance in 2015.

Read More

April 23, 2014

Foliage Begonias May Be A Big 2015 Trend [Spring Trials…

A number of breeders debuted their rex begonia and begonia hybrid lines at 2014 Spring Trials.

Read More
Petunia 'Success Violet' from Benary

April 11, 2014

What’s New With Petunias For 2014? [Slideshow]

Breeders are rolling out great new petunia introductions for 2014. Take a look at the variety of petunias they have to offer.

Read More
Verbena 'Superbena Royale Whitecap' from Proven Winners

November 11, 2013

Three New Verbena Superbena Introductions From Proven W…

Three new varieties have joined the verbena Superbena line-up this year: 'Superbena Royale Plum Wine,' 'Superbena Royale Whitecap' and 'Superbena Violet Ice.'

Read More
Calibrachoa 'Mini Famous Double Blue' from Selecta

October 17, 2013

6 New Calibrachoa For 2013

Check out these lovely new introductions in calibrachoa.

Read More

October 10, 2013

Begonia ‘Silhouette Lemon Rose’ Doubles The Bloo…

Begonia ‘Silhouette Lemon Rose’ is a striking begonia hybrid with phenomenal basal and lateral branching. Plant sterility gives maximum continual flowering throughout the season with double the bloom number of a traditional non-stop begonia. Dark mahogany foliage with contrasting emerald green veining provides a dramatic contrast to the soft lemon yellow 1.5- to 2-inch diameter blooms that blush apple blossom pink in high light. This easy-care beauty is ideal for mixed pots and containers, hanging baskets or the summer border. For more information, visit

Read More
Petunia 'Flash Mob Bluerific' Burpee Home Gardens

October 7, 2013

18 New Petunias To Add For 2014

Tried and true, petunias are a garden staple. Here are some new introductions breeders are rolling out for your consideration in 2014.  

Read More
Verbena 'Hurricane Hot Pink' from Westflowers

October 7, 2013

New Verbena For 2014

Check out these eight new verbena varieties and consider them for your 2014 greenhouse production.  

Read More
Dahlia Dalaya Shari from Selecta

September 25, 2013

4 New Dahlias For Your 2014 Season

Looking for new dahlia varieties to incorporate in your crop mix? Here are 4 beauties your customers will love.  

Read More
'Wall Street' Coleus from Dummen/Red Fox

September 25, 2013

4 Colorful New Coleus For 2014

Gorgeous foliage makes these new introductions must-haves for next year.  

Read More

September 16, 2013

9 Geraniums For Your 2014 Spring Season

Check out these 9 new introductions featured in Greenhouse Grower's 2013 New Varieties Guide to consider for your spring production.

Read More