Coleus is a very special plant to us. Most decorative plants make you wait until they’re in bloom to show off. But not coleus. It’s leaves also come in a variety of different interesting patterns and colours. If that wasn’t enough, in aussie climate it can easily be grown as a perennial, lending it’s colourful display throughout the year. They are perfect for those shady parts of your garden that you think could use a splash of colour.
Coleus is in the same family as mint and deadnettle, some species very closely resembling the latter. It can potentially grow to 1 meter height, depending on the species, and develops a woody stem as it gets 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, however, thrives in shade and it’s there that it’s colours get most vibrant. It’s also very suitable to be grown and cared for indoors and in containers.
Some Coleus Cultivars
Growing and Caring for Coleus
This is most likely one of the easiest plants to grow. Coleus roots easily enough for it to be started in a glass of water without any problems. You can also start them from seeds indoors two or three weeks before the spring temperatures start climbing.
Coleus likes fertile and well draining soil. It’s well suited to be grown in containers and is great for adding interest to beds and borders around the garden. These plants as mentioned before thrive in partial to full shade. The red leafed species tend to manage in sunlight too, but they still need protection from the scorching noon sun.
Coleus plants 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 some containers with them and settle them in places around your yard you wish were less dreary. The options are numerous!
Caring for the plants is pretty easy once you set them up in a good spot. They just need to be kept moist, and that’s it! Mind that container plants will need more frequent watering, and that “moist” doesn’t mean “soggy”.
Coleus doesn’t need to be fertilised. You can however give it a boost during the most active growing period and it won’t hurt the plant at all. Quite the opposite. Liquid fertiliser at half the dosage will do wonders for your plants when applied in spring and summer.
If you want your coleus to be more bushy we suggest cutting off the offshoots when the plant is still young. This will promote a 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 it’s next generation. You can either leave them for effect or cut them off. Mind that if you leave them insects will polinate 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 it with.
This however means that with some clever foresight you can create your own coleus varieties by experimentation!
The best way to go about this is starting the seeds in a flat shallow container with damp potting soil. 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. After that is done, cover them in a very thin layer of potting soil. They shouldn’t be 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’ll 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 in the plant. When they seems strong enough to handle you can move them into individual containers or straight to your garden bed if you think they will be safe there. If not – just grow them a bit more in separate pots and then plant them in the ground.
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. To get a cutting choose a healthy adult plant. You’ll need a sharp cutting tool. The perfect size for cuttings is around 10-15cm. Cut just below leaf nodes and take care not to damage it.
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 the roots have grown enough for the cutting to be transplanted into soil. That’s it!