Expecting the unexpected with Coleus

After my post on the color shifting in ‘Trusty Rusty’ coleus, Laurrie over at My Weeds Are Very Sorry commented that the color of coleus (Solenostemon sp.) is very dependent not only on light, but also on moisture levels. So I started looking at other varieties of coleus that I have in different places in the garden.

Last year, I purchased a coleus called ‘Religious Radish’ with dark burgundy centers and nearly magenta edging on the foliage. I grew it in a container in the western border, a location that gets plenty of afternoon sun. It maintained its magenta highlights throughout the summer, even if it got a bit leggy.

It’s one of the three coleus that I overwintered and put out in the garden again this year. It’s primarily in three locations: 1) containers with other coleus under a birch and red bud in the western border; 2) the patio garden, combined with tropicals and annuals; 3) the deck containers, combined with other coleus, Colocasia and Caladium.

In retrospect, I wish I had done more controlled experimentation with each of these micro-climates to see the ways in which light and moisture affected the color in ‘Religious Radish’, because this cultivar has been all over the board in regard to color hue and variegation, even in very similar locations.

In the patio garden, a location with pure compost for soil, dappled shade most of the day with intense light in the late afternoon, and adequate moisture, one plant exhibits smooth, almost chocolate brown color.

Just a few feet away in the same raised planter, the variegation is pronounced, but the color still darker and duller than last year’s example.

In the deck containers, the edging is slightly more rosy and the centers exhibit a greenish tinge in the brown.

Under the birch and red bud (in the heaviest shade and likely driest conditions), ‘Religious Radish’ exhibits pinkish, sometimes almost yellow edging along less pronounced brown centers.

My experiments are far from controlled and barely anecdotal, but I find it fascinating that the same plant, born of vegetative propagation shows such variety. All of the plants pictured here are located within 30 feet of each other, yet without knowing, one might think they were completely different varieties of coleus.

I suppose all of this goes to prove that with coleus, it’s best to expect the unexpected and make sure you’re not counting on that perfect fuchsia to complement your garden design.

Published by Christopher Tidrick

Be real. Love always. Share beauty. Lead well. Learn more.


  1. Coleus is on my plant list for next spring. With all the plants I have, it is amazing I don't have any. Love their colors!



  2. Just found you through Best Garden Blogs and I'll be sure to keep coming back. I have the Religious Radish too, and had the same experience with its variety of presentation. Some stems were maroon, some had that great pop of fushia, but I LoVe them all! It's one in my basement, overwintering. Thanks for blogging:)



  3. Welcome, Kynda. Thanks for visiting. Good to see another IL “local” stopping by. Just checked out your blog and love the holiday designs you posted!



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