How To Grow Coleus As A Tree: Step By Step

I always like to see plants commonly grown in one form, growing in a different way or style. Colorful, butterfly attracting Lantana plants and growing hibiscus trees into standards instead of a bush.

coleus grown as a tree

I plan to grow the common colorful plant coleus (plectranthus scutellarioides) as a standard coleus tree this season. Have you ever seen coleus growing like a tree?

Picking The Perfect Coleus

Most varieties of coleus plants will produce a suitable topiary. Coleus scutellarioides excels in giving you a wide range of choices when it comes to patterns and colors. Some coleus varieties will never break the three-foot mark, while larger ones will reach four or five feet in height.

In addition to the color palette, coleus leaves come in an array of shapes and sizes to add a unique look to this standard tree form. You can either make use of coleus seeds or cuttings from a mature coleus plant. Take some time to check out some different varieties and start growing a tree!

#1 – Potting Your Coleus

You can begin growing coleus with any size plant a small 4-inch pot will work fine. However, the plant needs straight central leader or stem.

Once the plant begins growing, move the plant to a roomier larger container. By giving the plant roots, plenty of space, plants will grow taller faster.

In general, coleus height reaches 3 feet and will need a large heavy pot as the plant can become top heavy.

Personally, I like to grow the plant in a large plastic pot placed inside a larger terra-cotta pot to help stabilize the tree.

When planting the coleus use a general purpose potting mix. Fertilize the plants monthly with a 15-30-15 liquid formula and water regularly.

#2 – Staking Your Coleus Tree

A coleus plant will require some support as it grows. When plant’s reach 10-12 inches tall place a bamboo stake taller than the plant next to the coleus center stem and tie the plant (loosely) to the bamboo stake with a twist tie.

The process of staking is best done when repotting; this way you stand a much lower chance of accidentally injuring the plant’s roots.

Use stretch tie or twine in a figure eight pattern to tie the stem of your coleus to the stake.

To get the pattern right, pass the twine all the way around the stake and create a crossing “X” shape in between the stake and the plant. Tie the stem of the coleus loosely. You can introduce a heavier, taller stake each time you repot your coleus.

#3 – Pinching And Topping Coleus

When your coleus first starts out, put all your focus on the central leader. As long as it’s growing straight, all is well. The bamboo stake should help accomplish this. Make sure to give your coleus plants plenty of even light shade so it doesn’t start leaning towards the sun.

Don’t worry about any individual leaves that appear on the main stem. They fuel the plant’s growth; you can remove them later if they don’t drop off on their own.

Side branches, however, are different. Branches form at the junction between leaves and the main stem. You want to catch branches as early as possible; when they’re new, you can pinch them off easily.

Topping: When your coleus reaches the desired height, snip the central leader or tip growth. This will force branches to begin developing.

Keep in mind the final height of the head will be several inches above where the central leader is first pruned.

#4 – Pruning Your Coleus Standard

In order to create a standard with beautiful proportions, prune off the side branches to keep the stem bare for most of its length. An ideal ratio to aim for is two-thirds bare stem and one-third full head.

Thus, if you have a 36-inch tall coleus, you’d want to have 24 inches of stem and a head of roughly 12 inches.

As branches appear, prune them back so that only two or three nodes are left between the stem and the end of the branch.

Nodes are the bulges where leaves or side shoots appear. Be diligent, and you’ll encourage plenty of smaller side branches and create a lush, full head on your plant.

Keep in mind coleus stems are brittle. Without proper pruning, they may end up snapping under their own weight.

Whenever you pinch off a branch, two more will grow in its place. These new branches growing out of pinched nodes are termed “secondary growth.”

Keep each branch trimmed so that it’s no more than three nodes long at most. Remove any flowers formed on your coleus while growing. Blooms are a drain on the plant’s resources. Put the energy into the foliage.

In the early stages, a young coleus standard may appear – ugly. It may take some time for a plant to looking presentable.

Keep the top of the plant pruned correctly, and you’ll be pleased with the final results.

So, how to trim coleus?

Tips For Maintaining Coelus Standards

  • Continue pinching tips to maintain the “tree” shape.
  • Use a 10-10-10 water-soluble fertilizer formula at 1/4 strength every week.
  • Keep outdoor standards sheltered from high winds so that the stems don’t get snapped.
  • Repot your plants on a yearly basis. Root pruning when you do so. This is a lot easier than it sounds. Start by brushing off as much potting soil as you can after removing the plant from its pot. Trim back the thickest, densest roots you can find, then repot the standard in fres, well-drained soil.
  • Wintering: If you want your coleus to thrive from year to year, bring it indoors to winter it in a south or east-facing window. Protect the plants from drafts to prevent leave dropping. Stop fertilizing, but keep watering your coleus. Don’t panic if your “grown as a tree” coleus loses a little in the winter; it should come back to vibrant life in the spring.

h/t Garden Gate

Image: source

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