How to Grow and Care for Coleus Plant

Coleus Varieties
Grigoreva Arina /

Coleus is a very special plant. Most decorative plants make you wait until they’re in bloom to show off. But not coleus. Its leaves come in a variety of different interesting patterns and colours. They are perfect for those shady parts of your garden that you think could use a splash of colour. Find all the details on how to correctly grow and care for a coleus plant in this guide!

Coleus plant facts

Coleus is in the same family as mint and deadnettle, some species very closely resembling the latter. Coleus is usually annual when grown in areas where temperatures tend to drop low. In the Australian climate, however, the plant can be a perennial, lending its colourful display throughout the year. It can potentially grow to 1-meter height, depending on the species. Coleus plants are known to develop woody stems as they get older.

It’s a very adaptable plant that can potentially live in a wide range of conditions, although it’s not particularly fond of direct sun. Coleus thrives in shade and semi-shade and it’s there that its colours get most vibrant. It’s also very suitable to be grown and cared for indoors in containers. There are many varieties and colours to choose from, some of which you can explore below.

Growing coleus the right way

This is most likely one of the easiest plants to grow. You can find the answers to the main questions regarding proper coleus planting and growing below.

  • Coleus planting options – This plant is well-suited to be grown in containers indoors. Coleus roots easily enough for it to be started in a glass of water and then transferred into a pot. It can also make a great addition outdoors, specifically to beds and borders around the garden.
  • What soil to use? – Coleus likes fertile and well-draining soil, so look for one with high percentage of sand in it. Stay clear of clay soil, though, as it is known to have waterlogging problems.
  • When to plant coleus? – Starting coleus from seeds indoors is best done two or three weeks before the spring temperatures start climbing.
  • Where to plant your coleus? – These plants, as mentioned before, thrive in partial to full shade. So, whether you plan on looking after a coleus indoors or outdoors, make sure there is no direct sunlight on it. There are some exceptions like the red-leafed species, which tend to manage in sunlight quite well. Still, they will also need some protection from the scorching noon sun.

Coleus plants can grow extremely fast. That’s something to consider when planting. It’s always a good idea to bunch them together as bedding plants. In fact, that’s how most often you’ll find coleus varieties planted. In a dazzling display of multicoloured vibrant foliage. They also make for a good fill-in because of their fast growth rate. Even better yet -fill several containers with them and settle them in places around your yard you wish were less dreary. The options are numerous!

How to propagate coleus plants

There is no need to be an expert gardener to successfully achieve coleus plant propagation. You just need to know the specifics of the process and follow them as described below.

From seeds

The best way to go about this is to start the seeds in a flat shallow container with damp potting soil. Then proceed to:

  • Lightly sprinkle the seeds over while making sure there is enough space between each of them. Bunched up seeds will compete with each other and stifle development for some.
  • Cover the seeds with a very thin layer of potting soil. They shouldn’t go deeper than 3mm under the soil.
  • Then cover the container with clear plastic and put it somewhere warm with plenty of indirect sunlight.
  • In about two weeks, you should see the seedlings shooting up.
  • Once you see the tiny green leaves remove the plastic.
  • Keep the soil moist as the seedlings grow. Watering from below is the best way to do it as this promotes healthy root growth.
  • Once the seedlings look strong enough, move them into individual containers or straight to your garden. If not – just grow them a bit more in separate pots and then plant them into the ground.

From cuttings

Growing coleus from cuttings can be even easier than from seeds since it takes much less time for them to get ready from planting and little can go wrong.

  • Get a sharp cutting tool.
  • To get a cutting, choose a healthy adult plant.
  • Cut just below leaf nodes and be careful not to damage it. The perfect size for cuttings is around 10-15cm.
  • Remove all the leaves from the lower half of the cutting and leave only the top ones.
  • Now simply find a suitable glass so only the bottom half will be submerged in water and dip the cutting in it.
  • Leave it in a warm and sunny place just like you would with the seed method.
  • Change the water every second day.
  • In about two or three weeks you’ll see that the roots have grown enough for the cutting to be transplanted into soil.

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How to care for your coleus plant

Caring for the plants is pretty easy once you set them up in a good spot. There are a few important rules to follow, which are easy to remember.

Coleus loves moisture, so it’s good to give your plants plenty of water. Mind that container coleus plants will need more frequent watering, but that “moist” doesn’t mean “soggy”.

Liquid slow-releasing fertiliser at half the dosage will do wonders for your plants when applied in spring and summer.

If you want your coleus to be bushy, we suggest cutting off the offshoots when the plant is still young. This will promote denser and more compact growth.

In summer the plants will send spikes adorned with beautiful flowers. This typically means the plant is trying to propagate before it dies and steps away to make place for its next generation. You can either leave them for effect or prune the plant.

When it comes to pests and diseases, the coleus plant is pretty resistant. Still, while an internally grown coleus is more protected, keep a watchful eye on the plant if it’s in the garden. Grasshoppers are fond of it and could inflict some serious damage over time.

Important: Mind that if you leave the flowers, insects will pollinate the plants and this may lead to new cultivars with undesired colour. It may even entirely unify the different species in a few generations, leading to garden beds with one new strain of the plant instead of the variety you planted in the first place. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because with some clever foresight you can create your own coleus varieties through experimentation!

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