How Vaccinations Can Make You Think About Tomato Disease Resistance


… or better titled as “odd things that run through a horticulturist’s mind while on Facebook”.

This morning I had some down time while I was waiting for a few of my Saturday morning tasks to ‘do their thing’.  Sitting there in the kitchen, I got on my phone and looked through my Facebook feed to see what was new and interesting with people.   One of my Facebook friends had a post about how she did not understand why unvaccinated kids made vaccinated kids sick.

Of course, the scientist-that-used-to-teach-college-classes-and-believes-knowledge-is-power that is in me responded about infectivity, virulence, gene mutations, and the like.

Vaccinations do not make one 100% immune to a disease. Giving a vaccine to an individual stimulates their immune system to recognize the pathogen and develop adaptive (acquired) immunity. The adaptive immunity allows the person to have more resistance to the particular disease and reduce the risk of death should they contract it.

The reason why those without the vaccine can infect those with the vaccine comes down to the basics of resistance, pathogenicity, and genetic mutation. An unvaccinated child can increase the risk of disease for everyone that is exposed to him or her because exposure is not a “yes or no” kind of thing that is determined by if you did or didn’t get vaccinated. For the vaccinated individual, the concentration of viroid particles they are exposed to (i.e. did they walk past the infected person in a store? or did they sit next to them for hours?), the virulence of the virus strain, and their overall health (i.e. existing conditions, diet, etc.) determines if they will be able to fight off the disease with antibodies or if they will get sick.

Unlike an organism like you or I that are multicellular and complex, a virion (a single virus particle) is nucleic acid (DNA and RNA) enclosed in a capsid (a protective protein shell). They are not even as complex as a single cell and therefore not living because they require a host cell to fulfill their life cycle. Once a virion enters your body, it attaches to a particular cell that has specific components that will be needed for its replication process (usually white blood cells). Once attached, the virion penetrates the cell wall through endocytosis (energy-requiring cell absorption) and injects the nucleic acid into the host cell. The host cell replicates the nucleic acid and creates many new virus particles. The host cell bursts open and the released newly made virus partcles go attack more host cells. When an individual has had a vaccination, their body develops antibodies. Once an antibody recognizes a virion (the antigen), it attaches to the surface and destroys the virion by opsonization and the formation of a membrane attack complex.

Viruses are quite perceptive to their environment and can adapt and mutate easily. While the antibodies in a vaccinated individual can have a field day of attacking fun, the virus’s virulence and vaccinated person’s health can play major factors in the quality of the job the antibodies do. If a particular virus strain is virulent, it has mechanisms that help it to avoid the antibodies. A pyrogen fever is one of these, as the virus induces the fever to shift the body’s temperature outside of the ‘ideal’ range to reduce the ability of the antibody to function. If a virion attaches to a cell that it not the healthiest and replicates, it is possible for antigenic shift or genetic recombination to occur. Antigenic shift is where the DNA or RNA sequence is recombinated or reasserted. Genetic recombination is the process in which the DNA is broken and rejoins at the opposite ends. It occurs rampantly. By either process occurring, all new virus particles created in the host cell and in the successive host cell attacked will not be recognized by the antibodies developed through vaccination. You have now created a pandemic by a virus that is not resistant to the antibodies in everyone that has been vaccinated with that particular disease.

It’s not hype or somebody just saying it – it is true because it is well documented and can even be demonstrated by a student in any lab. I used to work with Tobacco Mosaic Virus in disease resistant and non-resistant tomatoes and Potato Virus Y and Potato Spindle Tuber Viroid on Andean potatoes that my professor brought back from her germplasm expansion trips. I easily manipulated these same principals to test resistance and give my professor parameters to use for her future breeding projects. While I’m sure people would argue that plants are a lot simpler than people, the same principles still apply because viruses, not complexity of the host organism, is the common factor.

You are not alone in thinking that vaccinated or resistant means 100% coverage – probably 75% of the tomato calls I received when I worked in the seed industry were from people calling in to grump that my company had sold them bad seed because their precious resistant tomato still caught blight. It doesn’t mean it’s perfect, just means that it can tolerate it a little bit better. Flora or fauna, disregard of science will not lead to perfection.

Further comments back and forth dealt with the logistics behind the recent outbreak of measles related to Disneyland.

I’m sure that some of her FB friends and some of mine read this and thought I was pulling out my soapbox and railing against the world on the benefits of vaccination.  Not so to the soapbox, and hopefully not so to people thinking that.  It is more a “old Mert planned to put up a sentence or two, and then her talkative nature attacked her brain and made it spew out every detail it knew on the subject because there is always background details that are important and somehow pulled plants into it just because plants thoughts are always there lurking around”.

It’s true:  plants are always on my mind. Even to the point of where I sometimes have dreams of feeding homegrown vegetables to children that live on chicken nuggets and ice cream.  And of course my comment pulled in Tobacco Mosaic Virus and various potato viruses.

Diseased Tomatoes

But, I royally digress.  This all, in a very roundabout way, it made me think of a very common question I got while working in the seed industry and here on my blog:

 

“Why did my disease resistant tomato catch blight/verticillium/etc. and die?”

 

As previously stated in a more vaccination-oriented format, resistance is not a 100% shield that goes around your plant and makes it indestructible.  It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a virus, bacteria, or fungus.

For example, lets say that you planted your Resistant Lacking Tomato next to a Big Beef VFFNTASt Hybrid Tomato.  Your Resistant Lacking Tomato will get a disease — blight, verticillium, etc. — and within a week or two your Big Beef plants has it too.  Doesn’t mean that the seed from the company you bought it from is bad. Keep in mind these are “resistant” varieties, not completely disease-proof. They can maybe hold out for longer, but are not immortal.  In areas of very high concentrations of disease organisms, the resistance may not be enough to overcome these odds.

Former customers of mine at my old unnamed workplace were always quick to point out that heirloom and open pollinated varieties where not disease resistant because they “don’t have the letters”.  Don’t let that fool you too.  Hybrids ALWAYS have the letters because the breeder/vendor that is selling it to your mailorder seed company of choice has done the testing to find out what it has the edge on.  It is a marketing tool to get you to prefer their variety over another.  Of course, the question is always what their variety was compared to in the testing…

Just because an heirloom or open pollinated variety doesn’t ‘have the letters’ doesn’t mean that they are going to keel over at the first sign of disease.  The fact of the matter is that 99% of these varieties have not been tested.  Most land-grant universities have breeding programs and heirloom testing is a matter of $$$ rather than finding a truly good, resistant plant.  First of all, most open pollinated or heirloom varieties sell wholesale for a couple dollars a pound.  Hybrid varieties sell for a LOT more than that — upwards of $100s per pound depending on what supposed resistance or other desirable traits they have.  What professor is going to do research to determine the resistance of the old heirloom seed his grandma used to grow rather than developing a new variety that can sell for a ton and earn him some nice royalities?  Um, hello — from my experience I can tell you that a lot of PhD holders are willing to sell their soul to the industry rather than do the right thing for a lot less minor things that determining disease resistance.

Back in 2010 when I was growing a trial garden for the company I worked for, I had in a bunch of new hybrids that they were thinking about including in their next catalog and about 25 varieties that were already being offered by the company but had poor catalog and internet pictures.  That year we had a horrible time with late blight because we had a very humid, warm summer.  As I watched the blight spread through the tomato patch, it was interesting to see that the first to die were not the heirlooms, but many of the hybrids!  So much for that resistance!  As the varieties still standing became a handful of names, I was left with a couple Japanese numbered hybrid varieties (which had beautiful looking fruits with the texture of moist cardboard), Matt’s Wild Cherry (heirloom) , and 3 heirloom varieties that were already in the company’s catalog.  Interestingly enough, the next year the 2 Japanese hybrid varieties and a number of the other hybrids that had died were added to the catalog.  The Matt’s Wild Cherry was not added, and 2 of the heirlooms that we had already offered that survived were cut to make room for the hybrids.  Remember, it’s all about marketing.

So, the next time you have a tomato, hybrid or otherwise, that is having disease issues in your garden, don’t blame the seed company.  Look at what you are doing in your cultural practices and learn from the experience:

1.  Grow more than one variety because there is always one that won’t get as sick as the others. Not including the varieties I grow for sale, I have 4 staple varieties that are always in my garden.

2.  Rotate your crops so your tomatoes (and other Solanaceae family members) will not be in the same spot for four years.

3.  Don’t water your garden after 4 pm in the afternoon.  Tucking your garden in bed for the night with wet feet is a perfect way to start just about any disease.

4.  When the growing season is done, clean up your garden.  As tedious as it may be, pick up every leaf, stem, fruit, etc. out of the garden.  Heap it up in a pile, dry it down, and burn it on a good winter day  or bag it up and take it to the dump/put out for garbage collection.  DO NOT COMPOST IT!  DO NOT TILL IT IN!  While people will tell you the benefits of green manure or how much your compost pile will grow by, the small ‘reward’ is not worth the trouble you will reap.  It only take one small particle of infected material to be incorporated into your soil or compost to create problems down the road.  Don’t believe me?  Ask the 1800s Irish how their practices worked… Famine much?

5.  Keep your plants healthy by giving them the care to help them grow healthy.  Water, fertilize, cultivate, trellis, etc. as needed to make your plant grow to it’s best potential.

 

(And 6. Your horticulturist recommends vaccinating your children using the 1981 schedule.  ;-D   )

 

 

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© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Growing Jalapenos Indoors


“I’m wanting to grow my own jalapenos. I was curious about indoor growing in a large pot. Would jalapeno plants thrive as an indoor plant, assuming a good, sunny window?

Michael”

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Hi Michael,

Thank you for your email regarding growing jalapenos indoors.  To be honest, given the conditions that you are planning to grow them under (in a sunny window), I would not recommend it.

First of all, I don’t want to say that it won’t work.  It’s just that you will have some problems in terms of light and you will probably not have a great crop of peppers.  The reason why I am hesitant to recommend this method is because of the composition of window glass that is found in most homes.  Glass that is found in greenhouses is very basic and allows for all solar rays other than UV to go through.  However, windows used for homes have glass that is a little bit more high tech and blocks more than just UV rays.  Because these other types of rays are blocked, the plants in your
home sitting by the window do not get a full spectrum of light.  For some, like a pathos or a philodendron, that is fine because they are used to filtered light in their native outdoor environments.  But for peppers, that’s not good because they are accustomed to having full, direct sunshine.

Jalapeno
What you would see happen is that your stems would become elongated between the nodes where the leaves and branches come out.  Also, the color would be lighter than normal.  Not having the optimal conditions would eventually reduce the amount of buds set and/or the amount of fruits set.

I admit, I have brought bell and habanero type peppers into my home that were grown outside before frost and were brought in to finish things up. They did okay, but only because it was for a couple of weeks.

I don’t want to discourage you from growing peppers inside, but I want to make sure that you are aware of what they need so that you are not disappointed.  What I would recommend doing is growing them under a grow lamp.  Unlike the rays allowed through the window into your home, a grow lamp will provide the full spectrum of light that will be needed for the plants to have normal growth rates.  It can be the same type that you use to start seedlings in spring, but just make sure that there is enough room under it to allow the jalapeno plants to grow to their full height.  Keep
the grow lights about 1-3 inches above the tops of the plants as they grow so the light is not too diffuse.  You can leave the lights on for 18 hours a day.

I hope this information helps you out.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask.

 

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© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thwarting Tomato Blossom End Rot


“For years I have bought Viva Italia seed to raise. The last two summers have been hit with blossom rot in all plants late in season.  What information do you offer that can prevent this plants or otherwise??

Thank you,

Clarus

Zone 5

In The Russet Potato Capital Of Idaho”

___________________________________________________

Hi Clarus,

Thank you for your question regarding Blossom End Rot on Tomatoes.

Blossom End Rot on Paste Tomato

Blossom End Rot is caused by a calcium deficiency in the soil in relation to uneven moisture levels or excessive fertilizing.  Calcium is required in relatively large concentrations for normal cell growth and development.  It is moved from the soil through the roots to the meristem (tips of the plant where active growth occurs) via differentiation in water potential and pressure in the xylem of the plant.  When there is not a steady flow of water to the plant, the areas of the plant that growing will have a deficiency.  If the active growth point is a fruit, it will show up at the tip (end) of it.  What is actually happening to the tomato is that the cell walls are weakened by not having enough calcium.  The cell ruptures and discolors as it dries out.

Overfertilizing with nitrogen can also cause problems.  Extra nitrogen increases the speed at which the fruit grows and its size.  Calcium uptake by the plant remains steady in relationship to what would be the normal rate of growth.  Essentially, this means that the calcium uptake is almost ‘lagging’ because everything else is accelerated.  As a result, the fruit lacks calcium. Once the problem develops, quick fixes are difficult. Stabilize the moisture level as much as possible.  Remove the fruits that have been damaged. Feeding with manure or compost tea is recommended by many if this occurs in a garden plot.  You can also do foliar applications of calcium, but I’ve read that the results are not always the best because Calcium is a rather bulky element (larger than Nitrogen and others that are normally used in foliar feeding) and not easily absorbed through the leaf tissue.

In my own garden, I have found the best success with using an application of Epsom salts.  These can be found at your local pharmacy — usually in either the laxative/digestive health area or with things like bath salts/bubble bath. You want to get the plain, unscented type and make sure that it is not mixed with other additives like sea salt.  I use an old scoop from Lipton’s Ice Tea  (about a 1/4 cup measure) and give each plant a heaped scoop – sprinkling it in a circle around the base of the plant and with about an inch or two between the stem and the ring..  Repeat again in about two weeks for sandy soils, four for clay soils.

I hope this information helps you out.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask.

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© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Early Blight and Sunscald on Tomatoes


“What are the best varieties for the low country of South Carolina?  I have problem with what appears to be early blight and due to the heat, sun scalding.  I want hybrids and fungicides I can use.

thanks for your help,

ron”

_____________________________________________________

Hi Ron,

Thank you for the email regarding your tomato problems.

Sunscald on Tomato

First of all, no matter what tomato variety you select, you are going to want to make sure that it is a variety with a good range of disease resistance.  One of the easiest methods to combating Early Blight and Sunscald is making sure your plants are as healthy as possible.

Seed companies don’t sell any tomato varieties that are particularly noted for having wonderful Early Blight resistance, and there are a couple of reasons for that.  First of all, research really hasn’t been done at the level of seed development for the home gardener in that respect.  Plant breeders have been gear more towards late blight because it is a more devasting disease and there are few cultural options for controlling it.

However, don’t be discouraged.  The solution to lowering your risk of having Early Blight starts right in your garden.  Early blight tends to get off to an early start in the spring when wet weather is experienced soon after transplants are set. These type of conditions are ideal for infection of young tomato plants by the early blight fungus.

Growing a crop in the same area for several years often leads to increased disease problems.  Early Blight control is based on crop rotation, removal and destruction of crop debris from previous crops, staking, mulching, and timely application of fungicides.  What I do at the end of the gardening season is pick up every stem, leaf, and fruit (no matter how small) and burn
them or put them in a garbage bag for the dump.

Staking and mulching are important in an Early Blight control program, since staking keeps foliage and fruit from contacting the soil surface, and mulching cuts down on “soil splash” onto lower parts of the plant. Since soil particles often contain the early blight fungus, this is a good way of keeping the fungus from invading plants. Plastic, or organic mulches (pine straw or even newspapers) are equally effective.

Application of fungicides is also generally needed for Early Blight control, if you are into that kind of thing.  Field tests have shown that chlorothalonil, maneb, and mancozeb fungicides –
all available at gardening supply stores under a variety of trade names –  provide effective early blight control when used according to label directions and applications are started early in the season. As an added plus, any of these fungicides may be “tank mixed” with an insecticide such as malathion or Sevin (or newer formulation, Eight), thus allowing a single application for control of disease and insects.

Begin fungicide applications as soon as possible after transplants are set out and continue at 7 to 10-day intervals throughout the season. Also, applications should be made after a rain. Other leaf diseases such as leaf mold, gray leaf spot, and Septoria leaf spot are controlled by these fungicides.  Make sure to read and follow label directions concerning rates, application intervals, and the number of days required from the last application until fruit can be harvested.

As for the sunscald, this comes from not having enough leaf cover over the tomato as it is developing.  UV rays damage the pigments inside the tomato — just like it does to human skin.  In turn, the ‘pigment initials’ for lycopene and other carotenoids that are present in a ripe tomato to give it color are damaged enough that they will not have color.  Natural enzymes and plant hormones ripen the tomato so it is soft and deteriorate the chlorophyll so it is the ripe color.  However, with no lycopene or other carotenoids there, it’s just whitish and lacking pigment.  Controlling the
Early Blight so you are not losing foliage and staking your plants will aid in controlling the sunscald.

As for some varieties that are good for South Carolina, I recommend:

–Large:  Better Boy, Better Bush, Big Beef, Celebrity, Early Girl II, Park’s Whopper
–Cherry:  Juliet (these are the best I’ve had against Early Blight in my garden and they are really good with Late Blight too), Small Fry, Super Sweet 100, Sweet Million, Tomatoberry Garden
–Plum:  Viva Italia

I hope this information helps you out.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask.

Open Pollinated Disease Resistant Tomatoes


“Hello,
I am a backyard gardener in eastern nj. I am looking for the most disease
resistant tomato that is open pollinated. Any type but cherry. Thanks for
your help,

Ray Carter”

_____________________________________________________

Hi Ray,

Thank you for your email regarding open pollinated tomatoes varieties with
disease resistance.  Unfortunately, there are not a ton of varieties because
there is not the hybridization involved to introduce resistance.  What
resistance there is comes from the selections made for domestication by
those that started saving seeds many years ago.

However, there are a few that do stand out:
–Manalucie FSt:  This one is more for down south or hot summers, but I’ve
had good success with it here in Wisconsin (with the exception of 2009, when
we had a very cool summer!).  The fruits get big (about 12-16 ounces), but
are nice and smooth.  It has decent resistance to Blossom End Rot, Gray Leaf
Mold, Early Blight and Fusarium Wilt.  It is an indeterminate variety.

Manalucie
–Campbell’s 33VFA:  This is a tomato that is about half the size of the
Manalucie, but makes up for it with the amount of fruit set.  It has okay
resistance to Verticilium, Fusarium Wilt, and Alternaria.  It is a
determinate variety.

Campbell's 33
–Heinz 1370 FASt: This one makes a nice sauce or soup and is about in the
4-7 ounce range.  It has decent resistance to cracking, Fusarium Wilt,
Alternaria, and Gray Leaf Mold.  It is a determinate variety.

Heinz 1370
–Marglobe Select VFA:  This one is a popular seller for us.  It has
resistance to Verticilium and Fusarium Wit and Alternaria.  It is a
determinate variety.

Marglobe Select
–Rutgers Select VFASt and Rutgers PS VFASt:  These two varieties are very
similar but have great resistance to Verticilium and Fusarium Wilt, Grey
Leaf Mold, and ALternaria.  They have really good flavor and are meaty.
Rutgers Select is an indeterminate and Rutgers PS is determinate.

Rutgers PS Rutgers Select

There are other varieties like Marion FASt, Marmande VFA, New
Yorker VA, Sunray VFF, Hard Rock VFN, and Roma VFA that do have some
moderate disease resistance.

I hope this information helps you out.  If you have any other questions,
please feel free to ask.

Mulching Blackberries


“Do blackberry brambles need to be mulched for the winter? Mine
are varieties that are “hardy” but I wonder if mulching the the plants canes
and all would be helpful.

Steve in Jenera, OH”

____________________________________________________

 

Hi Steve,

Thank you for the email regarding your blackberries.  It is okay to mulch blackberries, but it is not necessary.  To be honest, in my garden at home, I do not mulch the canes.  If some leaves blow in and get caught in them, I usually leave them there, but I don’t add anything beyond it.  I have a good crop of berries each year.

Blackberry Canes
One thing to keep in mind if you do add mulch is that the mulch may provide a nice overwintering hideout for mice, voles, and other vermin that may see your canes as dinner.  When blackberries (or for that matter, any woody plant) is mulched, there is a higher risk that animals may chew on the canes and/or girdle the canes.

I hope this information helps you out.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask.

2015 is the Year of the Coleus


Reprinted with Permission of the National Garden Board:

Garden inspirations from the members of National Garden Bureau. View this email in your browser
Get Ready to Garden:
2015 is the Year of the Coleus!

With the continued emphasis on foliage in our gardens, the wide and exciting range of coleus varieties available should nicely augment one’s planting palette. Chosen as the annual for the National Garden Bureau’s 2015 program, coleus is a durable plant with very significant gardening potential for almost all gardeners and their garden situations.

History
Coleus has gone through various phases of popularity over the past couple of centuries. This member of the mint family comes in a wide range of coloration, leaf texture and plant form. Considered an herbaceous perennial in its native range, coleus are used primarily as annuals. Previously grouped into different species or classified as hybrids, coleus (formerly Coleus blumei and Coleus hybridus) are now all placed under Solenostemon scutellarioides (2006). As of 2012, taxonomic authorities consider the correct name for the coleus to be Plectranthus scutellariodes.

While modern coleus breeding focuses on new color combinations and foliage characteristics, other considerations such as sun tolerance, delayed flowering, more prolific branching and an emphasis on more compact and trailing forms have become more prominent.

Coleus Basics
The primary ornamental feature of coleus is the foliage which can be green, pink, yellow, orange, red, dark maroon (almost black), brown, cream and white. This plethora of colors and combinations lends itself to the other common names for coleus of painted nettle or flame nettle. While some gardeners will leave the small flowers, it’s recommended that you pinch these back to a leaf node to encourage more energy into stem and foliage growth and not flowering. Coleus left to flower may lose vigor as the plant puts energy into seed production.

The variability in patterns is truly amazing with solid colors, splashes, blotches, streaks, flecks, margins and veins. Color intensity may be affected by sunlight, heat sensitivity and other conditions. The term “sun coleus” refers to selections that tolerate more direct sunlight. Darker cultivars tend to tolerate more sun while lighter varieties benefit from some degree of shade to minimize leaf scorching. Morning sun and dappled afternoon shade tends to maintain consistent foliage coloration. Too little light will encourage a weak-stemmed, less vigorous plant without optimal coloration. For sunny areas consider these varieties: any of the Stained Glassworks varieties, the Wizard, Versa and Marquee series, or any variety with the word sun in its name.

Coleus leaf texture can be quite variable with large, small, twisted, elongated, scalloped, lobed, finger-like, “duck’s foot” (webbed feet), etc. Leaf texture for coleus should be a serious consideration when selecting and using coleus as the visual contribution is significant.

Coleus can be grouped into three basic plant forms including upright, rounded and prostrate/trailing. Frequent snipping, pinching and trimming can help modify form although the trailing forms have great value at the edge of a container, in a hanging basket or as a groundcover becoming a colorful, living mulch.

When selecting a variety, there are many to choose from and you can base your choices on foliage color, leaf texture and/or plant form. Please refer to this picturesque slide show to see some wonderful new varieties. While this list is not comprehensive, NGB Members are an excellent source for information regarding coleus breeding efforts and currently available varieties.

Planting & Proper Care
Coleus has long been considered a shade plant but their best leaf coloration is achieved with morning sun and some degree of afternoon shade. Many varieties do well in both shade and part sun, such as the ColorBlaze, Fairway, Superfine Rainbow, Main Street and Kong series. Some varieties can take quite a bit of sun as long as they are not allowed to dry out. Coleus are quite tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions. Coleus enjoy the heat and cold, overly damp soils can result in leaf drop and encourage disease. Plant coleus after any danger of frost has passed when soil temperatures have warmed sufficiently and evening temperatures are above 60 degrees F. Light fertilization is recommended, particularly in containers.

To maintain plant form, pinch back most varieties every few weeks to prevent flower formation. This directs the plant’s energy into additional branching and foliage creation instead of flowering, thereby creating a fuller plant. When pinching off flowers, do so throughout the entire summer to create a full, lush plant. Pinch just above a set of leaves or branching junction for the best appearance (don’t leave a stub!).

Getting Started
Raising coleus from seeds is relatively easy. Seed strains offer uniformity and may include mixes or consistent coloration with identical plants. Seed packets can be quite affordable and a wide range of coleus varieties available from seed vendors. Time seed sowing to be 8-12 weeks before the last frost date. Sow seeds in at least three inches of growing medium (maintain at 70 degrees F) and seeds should be sown on the surface as they require light to germinate. Well-timed, even watering, misting (for humidity) and frequent observation are encouraged.

Overwintering coleus plants as houseplants is an option although temperatures near 70 degrees F are required. Rotate plants and pinch back as needed to maintain form. Consider grow lights to provide adequate winter lighting conditions.

Designing With Coleus
Solid color coleus varieties such as Redhead and Lime Delight Premium Sun (both bred for the sun) can be very impactful and make a statement in the mixed border while those with variable coloration may become “color echoes” for neighboring plants with similar (or contrasting) flower and/or foliage colors. The repetition of certain coleus colors and form can lend unity and harmony in the garden. While a solitary specimen can add a “punch” of color, consider the impact of mass planting as well. Foliage with lighter coloration can provide illumination in shadier locations while dark colors (for example, any coleus with Chocolate its name) in the same setting will create depth and contrast. Consider coleus just one of many available tools in your gardening “toolbox.”

Coleus in Containers
All coleus have excellent container potential if they are given adequate well-draining soil mix, reasonable nutrients and the proper sun exposure to thrive. Avoid windy locations as coleus can be prone to breakage in extreme winds. Slow release fertilizers are recommended for your containers although half strength liquid fertilizer applied every 2 weeks over the growing season should be sufficient. Coleus do not show their best coloration if over fertilized so be conservative and consistent. You may want to consider water retention additives to help alleviate some watering needs, particularly in sunny locations. Drainage is vital so consider adding additional drainage holes as needed. The container style, color and ultimate placement should also be considered in advance. Coleus filled containers, if moveable, allow for instant color as they can be positioned as needed and used to add color, provide immediate interest and accent areas of the garden, deck or patio.

Coleus certainly has the potential to be included in hanging basket arrangements. Some of the trailing selections are ideal for the edge of an elevated container while larger varieties can be utilized for a strong foliage contribution in the center of the basket. Consider watering needs as coleus are naturally thirsty and a hanging basket can be one of the most challenging situations in terms of moisture retention and associated watering needs. Wind protection is also warranted.

Coleus Problems
Coleus may become stressed by lack of heat and moisture. Excessive or inadequate moisture may lead to challenges with insects or diseases. A healthy coleus plant is the best defense against these challenges. Slugs, snails, spider mites, mealybugs, whiteflies and occasionally aphids may be challenges under certain conditions. While there are few fungi, bacteria and viruses that affect coleus, there may be occasional issues of stem rot, root rot or downy mildew which all have a direct relationship to moisture inputs and associated growing conditions. Relocating the plant, pinching healthy cuttings for re-establishment or removing the plant might be options to consider. Healthy, young plants will frequently outgrow some of these challenges if properly “encouraged” or may never exhibit problems because of their vigor.

Summary
The consideration of easy-to-grow coleus in the landscape is prudent for all gardeners as they consider the potential merits of this plant in the mixed border and container. Low-maintenance coleus can make a huge impact in the garden and the wide range of available selections assures a promising future for this popular plant during 2015, the Year of the Coleus, and well beyond!

Founded in 1920, the National Garden Bureau is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life through increased use of seeds and plants.  

Some Awesome Coleus Varieties from our Members:
Coleus Abbey Road                                               Coleus Honey Crisp
Coleus Gran Via                                                  Coleus Wizard Mosiac
Coleus Jazz Marble                                              Coleus Marquee Box Office Bronze
Coleus Rainbow Blend                                         Coleus Everest Mix
Coleus Superfine Rainbow Red Velvet                 Coleus Color Blaze Dark Star
The National Garden Bureau recognizes and thanks Mark Dwyer of Rotary Gardens as author of this fact sheet, which is provided as an educational service of the National Garden Bureau. There are no limitations on the use. Please credit the National Garden Bureau.

Please consider our NGB member companies as authoritative sources for information. Click on direct links to their websites by selecting Member Info from the menu on the left side of our home page. Gardeners looking for seed sources, select “Shop Our Members” at the top of our home page.

Photos can be obtained from the NGB website in the area labeled “Image Downloads.” National Garden Bureau would like to thank our members for providing the photos for this feature. Please credit the National Garden Bureau anytime one of these images is used.