Plants – Coleus Week/Creating a Topiary Tree- Part II

This is my coleus topiary, in the works for two, maybe three years; I’ve lost track of time. Started from a spindly specimen, it has grown into a beauty.

Since the lush growth makes it top-heavy, I have added a whole bag of river rock to the potting soil. The extra weight keeps the plant stable in the wind that sometimes whistles through the porch screens during summer storms. In the winter I don’t have to worry so much about it toppling over, but I like the look of the stones and will leave them in place when I bring the plant indoors before cool weather begins.

The leaves of this coleus are a perfect example of how light affects the color. You can see the changes in saturation and design. There must be half a dozen variations on this one plant. I love the mosaic look of the newer leaves at the top, but also enjoy the deep pinks and maroons of the earlier leaves. It’s fun to move a coleus around from window to window, and outdoors too, to see what kind of rainbows the light will create.

Plants – Coleus Week/Creating a Topiary Tree- Part I

Creating a coleus topiary causes me to garden contrary to my usual standards. When I grow plants from seed, or from cuttings, I want them to bush out and develop branches. To grow a topiary I need them to grow tall and leggy. The best way I’ve found to accomplish this is to put the plants in a shady area where they must grow upwards to reach the brighter light.

Recently, I dug up and transplanted into potting soil several of the coleus volunteers from the front garden. Now they are growing in a shady nook of my outdoor porch, below the screened window. The coleus get enough light to live, but nothing direct, this causes them to shoot upwards toward the light. At this point their colors fade, and the growth becomes leggy, but this is exactly what I want from them.

As they grow upwards, I clip off their side shoots with small manicure scissors, leaving only a set of leaves at the top and the growing tip. The coleus will continue to grow toward the light, and I will continue to clip until each reaches a height I want. Even as small as they are I might have to begin staking to support the stem. At this point, because of their size, I would use a coffee stirrer, or another small slender support.