Trailers soften edges
Trailing coleus tend to have leaves that are only an inch long, and the plants typically grow 12 to 18 inches tall. They are custom-made for using in containers or for softening the front edge of a border. As basic as a black dress, 15-inch-tall ‘Red Trailing Queen’ bedecks herself from head to toe—or, rather, from leaf to stem—in regal burgundy. Her simple oval leaf shape and straightforward color complement most shades, except blue and true purple. The subtle strength of the coleus’s burgundy foliage strikes a balance with soft pinks or pale yellows as well as bright fuchsias or bold oranges.
‘Meandering Linda’, a close cousin of ‘Red Trailing Queen’, grows 16 inches tall and bears crinkly, chocolate-purple leaves banded in rich raspberry-pink, with touches of cream along the edges. It makes a scrumptious duo with anything silver, especially the elegant silver-white foliage of dusty miller (Centaurea cineraria ‘Colchester White’, Zones 7–11). ‘Meandering Linda’ appears to be a sport of ‘Red Trailing Queen’, and if planted in less than half-day sun, it sometimes reverts to its plain burgundy form. The 14-inch-tall cultivar ‘Trailing Bleeding Heart’ also appears to descend from the ‘Queen’. Its hot fuchsia-pink leaves are ringed with purple and a band of lime green. It makes a good match for my favorite pink yarrow, Achillea millefolium ‘Montrose Rose’ (Zones 3–9).
‘Trailing Salamander’, which grows 14 inches tall, offers oval, near-black leaves edged in bright lime. Its neutral color scheme makes it a choice filler for containers. Like ‘Red Trailing Queen’, it looks good with almost anything. My favorite match is with black-and-green ‘Illustris’ elephant ear (Colocasia esculenta ‘Illustris’, Zones 7–11). If a red coleus suits your color scheme, you have to try ‘Ruby Ruffles’, whose frilly, fingery foliage bears ruby centers and chartreuse edges, a color scheme many daylilies echo. Planting 12-inch-tall ‘Ruby Ruffles’ with gold-variegated pigeonberry (Duranta erecta ‘Golden Edge’, Zones 9–11) and deep red Texas sage (Salvia coccinea ‘Spanish Dancer’, Zones 9–11) also makes for a winning tropical combo.
Don’t be fooled by the textural delicacy of trailing coleus. Except for the relatively compact ‘Ruby Ruffles’, these are vigorous plants that spread 2 feet or more in a growing season and like to weave through their neighbors. Keep them away from dainty, low-growing treasures such as easily smothered mats of perennial pinks (Dianthus spp. and cvs., Zones 3–10), but don’t be afraid to combine them with larger annuals, perennials, and shrubs. Any trailing coleus also makes a great warm-season ground cover. For quick coverage, plant them 12 inches apart.
‘Vulcan’, ‘Swallowtail’, and ‘Red Trailing Queen’ offer a color extravaganza.
‘Red Trailing Queen’
'Trailing Bleeding Heart'