The ColorBlaze Wicked Hot coleus seems to be glowing in the distance at The Garden Guy's house in early November. (Norman Winter/TNS)

As if 2020 couldn't get more challenging, I have now run head on into a conundrum on coleus or to put it more succinctly a perplexity on pinching. First a little jaunt into my history with coleus.

I have been part of trials involving coleus for about 25 years starting back when I was in the Texas A&M system as Tarrant County extension horticulturist in Fort Worth. At the time we were evaluating coleus for their sun tolerance. In all the years, we were also keeping a close watchful eye on when they bloomed. We wanted foliage, not blooms, and I suppose that holds true today.

Our grandparents grew coleus that was seed produced and therefore by its nature, there was pretty foliage, not all that much sun tolerance and its life ended abruptly with flowers followed by seed. Once the breeders got to work and coupled with innovative vegetative propagation our coleus world exploded. We now have coleus that have become true landscape assets lasting the entire growing season. I am sitting in Columbus, Georgia, in early November and still shooting photos of ColorBlaze Wicked Hot and ColorBlaze Lime Time.

All coleuses will eventually bloom; it just doesn't mean the end of its life now. As horticulturists we teach gardeners to simply pinch the blooms off once they start to occur. This will keep those gorgeous leaves coming. This year I told my bride Jan that I was going to leave a few flowers on one clump of my ColorBlaze Wicked Hot that started sending up a few blue blooms in late September. They are pretty spikes of blooms but also what you may have never known or considered, is that they are members of the Lamiaceae or Mint family just like salvias. You can see where I am headed.

In early October my ruby-throated hummingbirds started making the ColorBlaze Wicked Hot part of the daily meal plan. These hummingbirds fattening up for the long trip to the tropics and flying 23 hours across the Gulf of Mexico needed all-of the nourishment they could get. They were also hitting on the Luscious lantanas, Rockin salvias, Vermillion cuphea, and Mexican sunflowers.

Color Blaze Wicked Hot made its debut this year and I found myself asking did we need another orange coleus? After all the ColorBlaze series by Proven Winners already had Sedona Sunset, which is so incredibly wonderful and if you have ever been to Sedona, Arizona you'll agree it is perfectly named.

ColorBlaze Wicked Hot is different with its serrated margins and it excels in sun or shade. It can reach 40 inches in height with a spread to about 36 inches. In other words, it is vigorous but don't let that scare you, it is easily pinched to maintain your desired shape. What I love about it is that it reminds me of glowing embers in a campfire.

At The Garden Guy's house, I have used it in a lot of partnerships. It is incredible with Illusion Emerald Lace ornamental sweet potatoes and with Luscious Royale Cosmo lantana where the coleus foliage creates a picturesque backdrop for beautiful feeding butterflies. But the coleus conundrum or pinching perplexity now exists. I showed my photos to some greenhouse producers asking the question, do coleus blooms have a place in the landscape. The answer from the East Coast was they do now. It was a similar response from coastal Louisiana.

There will be 15 selections to choose from in the ColorBlaze series in 2021 including the new ColorBlaze Royale Pineapple which is chartreuse with hints of burgundy and bronze. I promise there will be at least one to fit your needs. But they come with a warning, you may be tempted to leave a few blooms if, and when they show. If you do, the hummingbirds, bees and butterflies will thank you!


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