Past Articles Library | How to Grow and Care for Coleus
Coleus is a wonderful plant that comes in many colors and styles. The vibrancy of the colors comes from the amount of sunlight the leaves receive. The more light the brighter the colors, which equates out to be full sunlight. Shade will still allow the colors to come through but they will be subdued.
While you should never plant your coleus until your local frost free date has passed, cooler temperatures will stunt the growth of this colorful annual.
Coleus can be grown from seed and/or cuttings. If you want to grow your coleus from seed, the first thing you need to do is prepare your supplies. Seeds are easily found in any local garden nursery or even discount stores. The key to picking the seeds is to look at the packet. The color combination on the packet will be what you are going to get. The only exception is if the seed packet indicates there is an assortment of varieties in the packet. If this is the case, you will be surprised what you grow.
Once you have your seed, the next item you will need to get is the soil. Coleus seeds are not particular about the soil but it does need to be well draining.
The last thing you need to get is your container. A shallow container or pot is all you need but make sure that you clean and sterilize the container before planting. While this may sound complicated, it really is not. The only thing you need to do is to place the shallow container in a basin of water with a capful of bleach. Once the container has set for a few minutes, scrub the container and rinse in clear water. Sit the container out to dry.
While your container is drying, take this time to prepare your soil. Yes, I did say that any soil would work but to keep your seeds on the soil’s surface, make sure to moisten the soil before you add it to the container. After it is completely saturated but not dripping, fill your shallow container with soil.
Now it is time to begin the planting process. Since these seedlings will be transplanted into individual pots before planting outside, there really is no need to worry about proper spacing. In doing so, simply broadcast the seed over the soil surface is all that needs to be done. Top the seed with 1/8 inch of soil and mist with water. Once that is done, place the container on a sunny windowsill.
Keep the soil moist and in 7 to 14 days, you will begin to see evidence that the seeds have germinated. Continue to monitor the soil moisture until the seedlings have two sets of leaves. After that has happened, you are ready to upsize the individual plants into their own pots. These plants will remain in these containers until your local frost free date has arrived. Once the date has arrived, they can then be planted outside. To keep from shocking your seedlings, make sure to gradually expose them to their new outdoor environment before planting them outside. This process is called hardening off.
While planting coleus seeds is one approach to growing your own coleus, another way to get this plant is through cuttings. Taking a “cutting” can be a way of getting new plant material but it is also a garden chore that needs to be done to keep the coleus looking its best. In doing so, you can accomplish two tasks in one by pruning back your coleus, which will make it bushier while acquiring cuttings.
To begin this process, one needs to prepare the container and soil as described above but there is a slight difference. You will need a pot that is at least three inches deep. Once you have your container cleaned, sterilized, and filled take a pencil and begin to make 2 inch deep holes in the soil. Doing this will prevent you from breaking the stem of the coleus as you try to get the cutting into the hole.
As far as the cuttings go, you will need to have a stem that has at least 4 sets of leaves. Once you find that, just take an angle cut below the last set of leaves. Next, remove any flower stalk that may be on the cutting along with the lower leaves. Dip the cutting into a rooting hormone and place into one of the 2 inch deep holes that you created in the container. Move the soil around the cutting and continue with this process until you have taken all the cuttings you would like.
Once all the cuttings have been taken, place the container on a saucer and fill the saucer with water. Watering from the bottom in the beginning will keep you from washing away the rooting hormone.
Place the planted container in a shady location. While coleus likes sun, placing new cuttings in direct sunlight can be too much. Placing the cuttings in the shade give the cuttings a better chance to root.
After a couple of weeks, you should begin to see roots coming out of the bottom of the container. Once this has happened, you are ready to plant the cuttings in their new location.
To keep your coleus looking its best, you will need to do three things. First, you will need to feed the plant once a week during the growing season. A balanced fertilizer, such as a 20-20-20, is ideal. The second thing you need to do is to prune it back. While you may be a little leery to do this, it is very important. Pruning the plant helps keep health while improving the growing habit, which means the plant will be bushier. The third thing you need to do is to always remove the flower stalks when they appear. This will allow the plant to put more energy into the leaf production verses the flowers, which are so small that they do not improve the appearance of the plant.
The coleus plant does have two pest problems. This includes the spider mite and whiteflies. While you may be tempted to pull out the chemicals, do not. These two pests are easily controlled by wiping down the leaves and stems with rubbing alcohol. When doing this though, make sure that you do this in the morning. The reason for this is that the alcohol combined with bright sunlight can burn the plant.
If the pests persist, make sure to invite beneficial insects into your garden space. One of the best beneficial insects to use for both spider mites and whiteflies is the lady beetle.
The coleus plant itself is a wonderful plant that can add a splash of color to your landscaping and container gardens without breaking the bank. The ease of planting and the availability of seed and plants make it a winner for any gardener.