The Best Bang-for-the-Buck Annual in my Yard

Have you met the King of the Jungle…?


via Wired (and Legendary Pictures, I would hazard to guess)

No, not this one!   I mean the “backyard” jungle… (even if your “jungle” is a clay or plastic pot).

I get so excited when outdoor gardening season begins…I begin my rounds at the local nurseries and every variety and color turns my head and tempts my wallet. I have many perennials, but also love the full-season color that annuals offer.

My mom is a big fan of coleus: leafy shade-loving, sun-tolerant foliage in an array of beautiful and contrasting colors. Yet I never took the coleus plunge, I mean…where are the BLOOMS?! (Yep, if you’ve read my post on hostas, you see my trend of snobby bloom-loving, foliage ignoring, garden foolishness…. fear not, I’m learning.)

While visiting a favorite local nursery, I must have been caught counting my pennies among the petunias, because a fellow shopper asked mom and me if we liked coleus. Mom’s eyes grew wide and I—of course—sniffed. Then, she pointed us in the direction of these colorful, large leafy plants and declared they are the best bargain in the yard.

Did someone say “bargain”? You have my full attention.

“Just plant three in a large pot,” she started, “then stand back and watch them grow.”

Have you guessed, fellow “gardeneers”? She was introducing us to Kong Coleus.

God bless that stranger…because I L O V E that plant! I use it as a foundation for all my planters. I count it as both filler and thriller…beautiful on it’s own, thrives everywhere and is a spectacular contrast to mixed variety plantings.

In my shadiest of spots, it’s always happy and looks beautiful with orange or hot pink New Guinea Impatiens…especially when offset by ferns and the spiller of your choice.

Last year, I was surprised to discover that they also performed amazingly well in full sun. I tucked them in among geraniums and a random mix of sun plants on our front porch.  By the end of the season they grew to be SO large they extended well beyond the pots and topped at about two feet tall. TBT, they were grew even larger in the sun than they did in the shade…surprise, surprise.

I also tried them in my hanging planters…they were the hardiest element last year.


My nursery of choice features them in a burgundy red variety….

and a bright green with the center filled in shades of burgundy and pink.


I have seen a couple other varieties on line, like the Mosaic or a Lime Kong Jr.  But these are the only ones at our local nursery.

My supplier offers each “Jack-sized” plant priced at $2….an excellent value for a “thriller” or a “filler”.pomeranian coleus kong plant bargain value

This year I have them in my porch pots, which I pulled out to the sun last year, but I’ll keep in the shade this year.  (They grew so large they overtook the steps.) I’ve mixed them with other value plants: a pink and purple mix of shade impatiens, wave petunias (purchased on sale), early season clearance bocapa, a huge vinca vine and a couple of ferns for the back.


Surprisingly, as the season progresses, coleus DO even have a spiky bloom.

I’m still collecting plants and will continue my nursery rounds all through the summer. So I’m not sure yet where I’ll use all of them. (I’ll post on instagram and Facebook for anyone who follows there.) But, truthfully, they mix beautifully with everything and are the best value in my yard.

Actually, while writing this, I decided it would be pretty to mix a few of the burgundy Kongs with all white flowers, like white geraniums or the bacopas shown here:

SO much fun to play with contrast.

I’ll update the pictures as the season progresses to give you an honest view of how they perform.
What are your garden go to’s? Have you ever worked with Kongs?  If so, maybe you’d like to share how YOU use them below.


  • I love the look of coleus foliage! I’ve never purchased any, but I think I need to add some to my garden!

    • EmDirr

      They come in so many colors, they really won me over. My mom mixes the burgundies and golds with lantana in her container gardens and pots…they look so pretty

  • At the end of the season before frost kills off your Coleus, take some cuttings from your plant, plunk them in water and they will grow roots. You can treat them as houseplants over the winter and then you’ll have some free plants to get started with next season.

    • EmDirr

      That’s a great tip, Kathy! I’d enjoy that color indoors all dreary winter. Exceptional idea 🙂

      Have you ever bagged geraniums for the winter? I may give that a go as well.

  • robjodiefilogomo

    Your enthusiasm almost makes me want to run to my nursery and get some plants! But you’d totally laugh at both my husband’s and my lack of gardening skills! Can you believe that we killed the mint last year? The mint!! Everyone says you can’t kill mint! Hah—well we proved them wrong!
    But thanks to you, I’ll enjoy your lovely greenery and colorful plants if you keep showing us the photos, Em!!!