Care and Use Colorful Coleus Plants

Coleus is ideal for anyone who wants color in a hurry – in the garden, around the patio or as an indoor plant. There’s no need to wait for flowers; the leaf color of the foliage is the coleus plant calling card.

The Coleus plant, with its bright colors, a wide variety of foliage colors, leaf shapes, and forms, is easy to grow and durable. Many grow coleus plants in garden beds as annuals or planted in pots to create dramatic, colorful borders in full sun, bright light or partial shade.

Quick Growing Guide

Botanical Name: Coleus scutellarioides

En français: Coléus

See More Plants in this Botanical Family:

Water: Water when the top inch of soil feels dry

Hardiness Zones:

Most gardeners pinch off the non-spectacular flower spikes to help keep plants bushy and vigorous. The flowering cycle takes lots of plant energy away from the plant. Coleus plants come in a wide range of cultivars, colorful foliage combinations and leaf patterns. Some are green marked with ivory, ochre, apricot, brown, pink, red, or purple. A few are of solid color; most have two-tone borders or speckles.

Coleus For Pots, Planters and Borders

Coleus adjusts beautifully to life in pots and planters, or in flower beds or borders. If you keep a plant in a small container it will stay quite small. But, transfer it to a larger pot or into the open garden and it may grow over 2 feet tall during warm weather if it is well fed.

Coleus Care – Pinch To Control Size and Fullness

If you don’t want coleus to grow tall, you can control its size by pruning. Take coleus leaf tips off the main stems and the plant will branch out. New leaves and then branches will form from the bud above almost every leaf. The more tips you pinch off, the more branches there will be, although the leaves will be smaller than on a plant with fewer branches. Remove the inner branches and the leaves will grow larger. Remove the lower branches to create a plant shaped like a tree.

How To Take Coleus Cuttings

You can multiply your plants as much as you want. Color and leaf patterns of plants started from cuttings will be the same as that of the original plant.

  • The 2 to 4-inch tips you prune off can be used to start new plants.
  • Nip off the lower leaves of these cuttings and cut the base of the stem with a clean slant.
  • Set the cutting at least an inch deep in a growing medium like soil, sand, peatmoss, vermiculite, or even water.
  • Keep the medium moist (or the water fresh) but add no fertilizer. Roots will begin to develop in a few days. In summer, these cuttings can be rooted right in a shaded garden bed.
  • After two or three weeks, take hold of a cutting and pull it upward gently. If it resists your pull, the young plant has a good root system and ready for transplanting.

Starting Coleus From Seed

Plants started from a packet of coleus seed vary greatly in color and leaf pattern. Many offerings are a rainbow mixture which yields a wide selection of plants. When growing coleus from seed, you can select your favorites to propagate from cuttings.

Some coleus strains are predominantly one color or tend to have small or large leaves. Try separating them into fringed, striped, spotted or plain-leaved strains. These strains were through hybridization and seed selection. Some of the newest and most interesting coleus hybrids come from Hort Couture and their Coleus Under the Sea® series.

Sow seed indoors at any time or outdoors when the temperature is about 60° or 70′. Coleus in seed starter kits are as easy to grow as baking a package cake mix. All you need to do is add water.

Many Uses For Coleus

Small coleus plants make good garden border edging plants if you keep them pruned low.
Small coleus plants make good garden border edging plants if you keep them pruned low.

Use coleus in direct sunlight in terrace boxes or patio planters, too. Combine them with annuals like petunias or with other foliage plants like philodendron or ferns. Coleus can even be grown and trained into a tree.

Learn How To Grow a Coleus Standard — Step-By-Step

Growing Coleus Plants – Climate Counts

Coleus reliably survive winter outdoors in plant hardiness zones 11 and warmer, where winter temperatures rarely dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This speaks to why they are often an indoor plant in the northern hemisphere.

Grow coleus in the sun or shade, depending on your climate. If you live in a cool, humid area, full sun will bring out the best foliage color and the sturdiest plants. If you are in a hot, dry region, partial shade is preferable. Coleus grows best at temperatures above 70 degrees. Plants should have lots of water, so they need well-drained soil, not one where their roots stand in soggy soil.

Even though plants will grow well in water alone, soil that is always wet is quite another thing, and in this case, the roots will rot.
In pots or other containers, provide a well-drained soil and give enough water to keep the soil a bit damp. In containers without drainage holes, let the surface soil dry out a little just before watering. Outdoors, water coleus about as often as you water garden annuals. The condition of the coleus leaves is a good soil-moisture indicator. Leaves of dry plants droop. Leaves of plants that are too wet turn yellow.

Good Coleus Care Means Feeding Coleus Well

Fertilizer is necessary for vigorous growth. Either cow manure, a chemical fertilizer high in nitrogen or liquid water-soluble fertilizer (which they love) is satisfactory. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for feeding annuals or houseplants. If you want to keep the plants small, pinch the tips and give them a little fertilizer.

Coleus Care Pest and Disease

Mealybug sometimes makes its home on this succulent plant indoors. but a regular shower of cold water usually keeps mealybug insects away. A bit of cotton on a matchstick dipped in alcohol will kill those pests who do appear. Take it easy when applying sprays during the heat of the day. Always follow the label of the applied product. During hot, dry months, spider mite colonies can become a problem. Because coleus grows so well, sometimes the easiest control is to cut the plants down, throw away all debris and apply an insecticidal soap.

Downy Mildew

Downy mildew is a relatively “new” disease on coleus. “It was first observed in New York and Louisiana in 2005. By 2006, it was found throughout most of the United States. Symptoms include leaves dropping off of plants, brown blotches on leaves, and stunted seedlings. Both seed and vegetatively propagated types are susceptible.” [source]

A Michigan State University study found sprays with the active ingredient called mandipropamid helped control the downy Mildew. Another trial found success with “Stature DM 50WP, Pentathlon LF (mancozeb), Subdue MAXX EC, Insignia (pyraclostrobin).” Treatment with Terrazole 35WP (etridiazole) did not fair as well. [source]

Coleus Plant Care – Questions and Answers

Question: Why are my coleus losing color after I have them a while.
I’ve tried them in east and south windows, and also out of the direct sun, but they still fade. Is there a plant food that would correct this loss of color?
Answer: Coleus to retain its bright color must have three things.
#1 – It should have some direct sunlight for at least part of the day and as much indirect light as possible all of the time. These flowers grow in the sun very well!
#2 – It should have heat, 60 degrees or more, at all times and planted in rich, well-drained soil that promotes rapid growth.
#3 – Soil containing good rich loam, sand, and some manure should maintain the brilliant colors.
If the coleus plant has been potted for some time, a regular feeding of high nitrogen fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro will help to keep the leaves bright.

Coleus Plant Facts

Forskolin is an herbal extract from Coleus forskohlii, a plant belonging to the mint family. It’s mechanism of action? It increases the production of cyclic AMP, which increases the contractility of heart muscle.
Evidence for other actions is preliminary and inconclusive: there is speculation that it may have effects in other cells of the body such as platelet and thyroid cells, it may prevent platelet aggregation and adhesions, and it might even prevent tumor cell growth and cancer metastasis. So far, there is no evidence that it is clinically useful or safe for those purposes. [source]

Closing Thoughts on Coleus

Coleus is a versatile plant and can be enjoyed year round. Use coleus inside in foliage arrangements or planted in soil living in the same jardiniere in the house for winter and as it did on the terrace in summer.

In either location, it will provide branches of multicolored foliage for bouquets and more plants. The big requirement is sunshine to keep the leaves bright in color. Select your first plants carefully, choosing those that are quite different in form and color. Don’t overlook the smallest seedlings… they are often the prettiest.

For more houseplant ideas, here are the top houseplants for indoor light conditions.

Introductory Video – Coleus Plant Indoor



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