How To Grow The Colorful Coleus Plant Indoors and Out

Coleus plants with their bright colors, a wide variety of foliage colors, leaf shapes and forms are easy to grow and durable.

Many grow coleus as an annual bedding plant, planted in pots or garden beds for creating dramatic, colorful borders in full sun, bright light and some in partial shade.

coleus plant with colorful foliage

Previously, Coleus belonged to the mint family Lamiaceae. It’s been reclassified in the genera Plectranthus and Solenostemon. source

Coleus is ideal for anyone who wants color in a hurry – in the garden 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.

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 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 adjust beautifully to life in pots or 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.

Full Sun Coleus For A Blast Of Color

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

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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.

This video gives very complete and simple to follow instructions on taking cuttings from your Coleus plant so that you can overwinter your coleus indoors until the next season.

mrBrownThumb explains the procedure in a very easy to understand way, while demonstrating the technique to show that anyone would be able to do it. Watch the video below.

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.

Video: University Of Florida’s Coleus Breeding Program

Many Uses For Coleus

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

Larger plants look attractive when used in geometric designs or when scattered informally in groups in tender perennial borders.

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

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Large pot of Coleus used for color – Legoland Winter Haven Florida Sept 2016

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Large potted Coleus used for color at the Legoland theme park – Winter Haven Florida Sept 2016

7 Steps To Make A Colorful Coleus Frame

Instead of growing coleus outdoors in a bed or a container with a few varieties, how about a picture frame of coleus?

The folks over at Garden Gate Magazine show you how to create a frame filled with coleus in 7 steps. Think of all the ways you could display this unique planting! Check it out via… Garden Gate Magazine

The video below shows how to make a succulent picture frame. Making a coleus picture frame is basically the same, except you are using coleus. Enjoy!

Growing Coleus Plants – Climate Counts

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.

Feed 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.

Pest and Disease On Coleus

Mealybug sometimes bothers this succulent plant indoors, but a regular shower of cold water usually keeps pests away.

A bit of cotton on a matchstick dipped in alcohol will kill those 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 mites 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]

Coleus Plant Care – Questions and Answers

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Question: My coleus plants lose their bright colors 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.

#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.

More On Coleus and It’s Specialty Uses

Question: Please tell me how to control mealy-bugs on house plants, especially coleus. JO, Indiana

Answer: One way of dealing with mealybugs is to lay the plants in the tub or sink and wash them off with a forceful spray of water. The cottony masses may also be removed with a small soft brush dipped in alcohol.

This is the best method with hairy-leaved plants like African violets. Neem oil as works well as an insecticide.

Question: How should one go about keeping coleus plants from the garden indoors over the winter?

Answer: In the fall, just before frost, take slips from the coleus and place them in good soil in pots and boxes indoors. Keep the slips watered, out of drafts, in a light warm place and in about two weeks they will be rooted, growing plants.

A few coleus plants in the fall will usually give all the new plants you need. Taking cutting is easier, better and simpler than trying to take up the old plants.

Learn More in the section on Taking Coleus Cuttings

Question: Why do some coleus plants grow straight up instead of branching out? I wish mine were more bushy.

Answer: Coleus plants to be bushy need pinching. Do not hesitate to pinch the tip out of a coleus plant.

Pinch it as soon as it has three sets of leaves and keep pinching the side shoots as often as they get too long, up until the last of July.

Learn: How To Grow Coleus As A Tree: Step By Step

Question: Please tell me where and how you get seeds from coleus.

Answer: Coleus plants bloom and set seeds as any other annuals do. To keep the plants bushy and vigorous pinch flower stem off. It’s not considered attractive anyway.

A better plan than growing coleus seeds would be to purchase them, either locally or by mail. One would be likely to get more variety and more color from seed purchased than from seed saved from one or two plants.

Related Reading: Growing Coleus From Seeds

Coleus should be sown indoors early to get sizeable seedlings for spring planting outdoors. The seed comes up quickly and eight weeks of growing indoors should produce bedding size plants.

Question: My coleus have masses of white, cottony insects on them. How can I rid the plants of these?

Answer: The mealybug is one of the most common enemies of coleus. Spray repeatedly with neem oil or malathion until there are no mealy bugs.

Coleus Plant Trivia

Forskolin is an herbal extract from Coleus forskohlii, a plant belonging to the mint family. Its 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 around.

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.

images: source