Easy Care-Easy Propagation
Coleus require very simple care to produce beauty but they require basic trimming. Pinch coleus for more and better plants. That’s it! Easy care, vivid reward but don’t ignore them.
Sometimes we like a challenge in the garden but all of us sometimes and some of us all the time want an easy plant! Coleus is one, Follow the instructions on the little label that comes in the pot. Keep it out of the hot sun, trim with your fingers or small cutters and you will do fine.
What Are Coleus?
Coleus provides color, and pattern in the garden. In the Western world they are a tender tropical perennial and in most temperate climate plant hardiness zones are used as an annual plant. In the garden, they will provide daily color from spring through fall. Many people enjoy them as a house plant. The fascinating array of color and pattern come from foliage (the flowers are insignificant.)
If you like the steady color you get from foliage plants, you may want to consider Caladiums, a tropical bulb that you can lift and store over the winter in a cooler climate.
Where Did We Get Coleus?
Coleus is a tropical plant, native to areas around the Equator. It is native to South East Asia, Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka, they are also found in Australia and Africa. They came to Europe and America, carried by Botanists for the sake of science and by traders who picked up something for their gardens at home. A souvenir from a long trip.
How The Plants Moved West
There is some evidence that coleus were in Europe in the 17th century. They were definitely carried home by Dutch Botanist Karl Ludwig Bloom in the 19th century. He was a German-Dutch botanist who lived in Jarva for many years and performed extensive research on local flora.
I like to learn about the early plant lovers and plant hunters. A common thread in their behaviour was the fact that they traveled to new, strange and often dangerous places. They fell in love with the flora and fauna of those places and we benefit from their interests and efforts. Nice for us!
A Little Coleus “Mania”
The color and pattern were desired by so many gardening enthusiasts that there was a little version of “Tulip Mania” among 19th-century lovers of beautiful horticulture and exotica from abroad. People fought to pay higher prices for new colors and forms of coleus.
Like all markets, the coleus market rose and fell. By the mid 20th century coleus were denigrated as boring little flats of color for people who really were not gardeners at all. (Gardeners never snobbish-don’t believe it!)
By the 1990s when plant breeders began to produce unique and unusual varieties, coleus rose again in our estimation and it’s growing strong today. Just because they are easy doesn’t mean they aren’t good.
How To Buy Coleus
Your local garden center will carry varieties that are successfully grown in your area and they are a good place to start. I have found a grower with an unusually complete selection of plants. This site will show you the truly enormous range of varieties. In addition, the website sorts the varieties in different ways making it easy to search. The site is Rosy Dawn Gardens.
Varieties And Features
- Shapes- Coleus come in an upright, mounding, and trailing varieties
- Sizes-check the size, they have a fairly large range of sizes
- Colors- there are solid color varieties and a wide range of variegated plants in patterns. Colors are many, bright to subdued
- Normally best in bright shade, but today varieties are bred for bright sun. Look for those labeled for sun, they tend to be in the orange-red range.
How Can We Use Them?
This flexible plant can enhance a lot of spaces in your garden. We have a spot where three small shrubs appear to be failing. If they do and we don’t understand the reason we may try a few annuals before replanting with shrubs. It is a low-cost way to see if we have a “ZOD” (zone of death) one of those rare places no plant seems to like.
Ideas For Coleus
- As container plants and as they come in an upright, mounding, or trailing size they can serve different purposes. (Check the label in the garden center)
- Ranging in size from about 20″ to 36″ you can use them near the front or back of the garden
- Use them in hanging baskets in areas that do not receive heavy wind
- Window boxes
- House plants
- Easy to propagate, they make great, small gifts
How To Plant Coleus
Notes On Locations
The patterns and colors of leaves are important reasons to grow coleus. For maximum color performance, today’s coleus varieties perform best in the morning sun and partial afternoon sun. Another issue is wind. The stems are semi-succulent and can break in heavy winds. Regular pruning helps solve this problem.
How To Plant Coleus For More And Better Plants
Plant in well-drained fertile soil. Originally a shade plant, today you can find varieties for sun or partial shade. The morning sun suits many of the varieties. Remove the small plants carefully from the container (the stems are soft and can break). Plant in spring after the soil is above 50 degrees. The best pH is about 7. If your soil is acidic you can add lime. For the same reason avoid pine or cedar mulch directly around them. Plant in holes two times the width of the pot and as deep as the pot. Use a time-release fertilizer directly in the holes. The individual plants should be at least 12″ apart. They are spreading plants and appreciate good airflow.
Plant coleus in single varieties for a block of color or mix two or more Coleus designs together. Plant them with other plants that require the same or similar care. Combine plants that require the same light conditions, soil, and water.
How To Maintain Coleus Plants
Water, keep coleus plants constantly moist but not soaked. They require moist soil which drains regularly. Fertilize monthly, we find a liquid mix convenient to use. They will grow quite quickly. For best performance, you can cut off leaves to maintain the shape you want. Remove the flowers as they appear. The insignificant flowers compete with the foliage for energy. Newer varieties are bred to have slow-forming flowers which will save you labor, Use your trimming time to check for insects to remove.
Pinch The Coleus For Better Plants
These beautiful plants can become tall with unattractive long stems. Begin to prune when young, in spring, again in mid summer. If you would like to bring your plants indoors to use as winter house plants,pinch again before you bring them indoors.
Why “pinch”? The stem is thick with a thin stem, it is semi-succulent and will break due to wind or excess weight. We say pinch because the soft stems can be trimmed with your fingers or small scissors. Other plants that you can do this with are basil, impatiens, petunias, and Shasta daisies. Cut the stem where it grows from two branches. The result will be more full and dense foliage.
If you can cut pieces that are 4-6″ in length you will be able to reuse your plant waste to make new plants. Here is how.
How To Propagate Coleus For More Plants
You can grow Coleus from seed and they are very easy to grow from cuttings.
- Sterilize your cutting blade
- Cut an Apical stem from a mature plant (it has a prominent terminal bud (at the stem end)
- Cut the piece 2″-6″ in length, and remove the lower leaves
- Place the cuttings in water, this will take about 10-15 days in bright indirect light
- Transfer to a pot of well-drained potting soil, use rooting hormone on the root end of the cutting. Make a hole with a pencil for easy insertion.
- Keep the cuttings moist and under some shade until large enough to transfer to your planter
Coleus Pests And Diseases
Coleus is generally disease resistant, To avoid problems, use well-drained soil do not allow mulch to touch the stems. Avoid overhead irrigation if you can. If you find a damaged leaf or plant remove it and dispose of it ruthlessly.
Problems Which Are Found
- Rot-of roots or stems, usually the result of standing water\
- Downey Mildew, airborne spores spread this fungal disease. Avoid overhead spray if you can.
- Pests-mealy bugs- these look fuzzy and white, they leave holes and spots on the leaves. Clean with rubbing alcohol or spray with soap and water
Some Companion Plants
Try Coleus with plants that have the same nutrition and light requirements. Consider Lantana, impatiens, hosta, fern, begonia. Also try begonia, lobelia or million bells, and coleus is attractive with ornamental grasses. Sometimes the grass colors can be blended with the coleus colors. Dusty Miller and sweet potato vine are also compatible.
More And Better Varieties Of Coleus
Because coleus, are beautiful, adaptable and easy to grow the plant breeders will develop many new varieties. This article, written by a university research team is from the GPN, Green Products News and describes how the work is done.
As the most tropical of US Agricultuit are schools, the University of Florida is a good place to learn about summer annuals. This article is about a graduate student who developed new cultivars of coleus.
This article with photos describes 10 varieties you might consider for your garden.
This article by the New York Botanical Garden discusses Coleus, Cannas, and Caladiums, three plants with unique and valuable foliage.