Plant of the Month – April, 2012

These 4-inch coleus plants, photographed Tuesday, will be ready for market within days. Watch for them coming soon to a nursery near you.

The grower who produced the small coleus in the other photograph offers me his huge mother stock plants when he’s through taking cuttings each April. We spent a couple of hours yesterday pinching, pruning and repotting these. They, and 10 others like them, will grace the Sperry home landscape all summer.

Jimmy Turner has asked us to fill in for him this one time around. It’s not that Jimmy has size 25 shoes, but that’s about how it feels, trying to stand in his place.

Normally at this point, Jimmy would be telling you about some flashy new superstar plant that’s setting his world ablaze. I’m going to take just the opposite approach and tell you about a steady old group of foliage plants that’s warmed my heart — and brightened my landscape — for decades. They’re cutting-grown (vegetatively propagated) coleus, and they’re finally commonplace in American nurseries. What took us so long!

Professor A.F. DeWerth at Texas A&M was growing these plants in the floriculture greenhouses all the years I was growing up in College Station. My college prof dad officed nearby, and as I walked to his office to catch a ride home, I would peek through the big greenhouse exhaust fans to see those beautiful plants. I’m sure drool was spewing back in my face as the fans exhaled the unmistakable aroma of coleus cuttings. Finally, I got up the courage to ask for a start of those cuttings. In a big puff of gray cigar smoke, Prof. DeWerth turned me down faster than my high school classmate girls could reject requests for a date. It (maybe the cigar smoke) made my head swim.

One night, I just happened to be driving by the greenhouses at 6:35. Just a chance occurrence, of course, although I had that same kind of chance occurrence every evening at that time. It was just a coincidence, of course, that the trash trucks collected the days’ outpourings like clockwork at 6:40. That night, I thought my eyes were playing games with my mind. Those trashcans were spilling over with coleus. All of the plants I’d been wanting for months — there they were for the taking.

My story jumps ahead by several years ….

I was married 45 years ago this summer, but by then, I’d transferred to The Ohio State Univeristy, and that back bench in the unused lean-to greenhouse had been filled with beautiful coleus. Why, it looked like a recreation of that fabulous collection I’d once admired back in College Station. They just seemed to have gotten there by divine intervention. Hand-planted, pinched and trained into 3-foot mounds of great color, those plants were just ripe for an August wedding reception. They graced my in-laws’ farm gardens as my new bride and I greeted our guests.

While I’ve lost track of most of the people who were in my wedding in 1967, I’ve never lost track of the coleus. Every year, they’ve found featured spaces in the Sperry home gardens, and this year will be no exception.

Area nurseries have wonderful selections of these vegetatively propagated plants ready for immediate inclusion in your landscape and garden. They’re great in large pots, or you can grow them directly in garden beds of early morning sun and afternoon shade. They’ve been bred and selected for their non-flowering habits. You see, flowers shut down leaf growth, so they’re a huge negative with coleus in general. These plants bypass that issue.

I now have all that I’ll need, so I can officially invite you to go shopping. Give cutting-grown coleus a place in your plantings this year.

Posted by Neil Sperry
Back To Top