With its seemingly endless array of colors, sizes and shapes, the Coleus Plant’s vibrant leaves add style to any garden, porch or window sill. Usually grown as an indoor plant, the coleus (also known as the Flame Nettle, Painted Nettle, or Poor Man’s Croton) thrives in a combination of bright and indirect sunlight, and doesn’t need much water to grow its soft, colorful leaves. Officially called the Solenostemon scutellarioides, (its botanical name), this plant loves the heat and does well when planted in loamy, clay or chalky soil or peat.
Displaying and Caring for the Coleus Plant
Native to Malaysia and Southeast Asia, the coleus plant grows to be about 30 inches tall and wide, with variegated leaves in an almost unlimited number of color combinations. An evergreen perennial, they are sometimes treated as a disposable plant because if the ease they can be propagated from cuttings. Their thin leaves vary in size and shape, and they produce small, unremarkable flowers that are usually snipped off to keep plants fill and bushy.
Plant the Solenostemon scutellarioides along with annual flowers to create texture or group alone in a garden bed, window box container or hanging basket. The plant’s trailing selections will spill over the edge of a hanging basket, making it an eye-catching addition to your porch or patio. The coleus thrives in pots and containers if grown in free-draining soil and positioned in indirect sun. Don’t place hanging baskets or containers in windy areas because the plant may break. Consider making or buying a self-watering hanging basket, since parched soil may kill the water-needy coleus.
Learn about different coleus varieties from P. Allen Smith in the video “Sun-Loving Coleus” from the P. Allen Smith YouTube Video Channel.
Temperature and Humidity
When the temperature’s above 64 degrees, use a misting spray or position plants on trays of wet pebbles or peat moss to maintain humidity. Temperatures under 55 degrees may cause leaves to drop and wilt. The coleus likes warm temperatures and can do well in temperatures up to 85 degrees. (source)
Soil and Fertilizer Requirements
The coleus grows well in fertile, well-drained soil with a slightly alkaline or neutral pH. Avoid damp soil mixtures. Use loam, clay or peat-based soils. The plant wilts when the soil’s too dry but recovers when watered. When waterlogged, there’s little chance of recovery.
Use a liquid fertilizer twice a month during the spring and summer.
Watering and Light
Use room-temperature water to relieve your plant’s thirst, and keep the soil thoroughly moist, but not drenched. If the soil dries out, even temporarily, the plant will crumble. Even when watered, most of the plant will recover, but the lower leaves may still fall off or wilt. Reduce watering during the winter and keep the plant slightly dry.
Water the soil and base of the plant. Avoid wetting the velvety leaves. White spots will form on the leaves from the hard water.
The coleus needs bright light all day long – mostly indirect sunlight, but a few hours of bright, direct sun as well. Keeping your plant in the shade will stunt its growth.
Planting and Propagating
Propagating coleus from seeds or cuttings is easy.
Buy Coleus seeds online or from a gardening center Sprinkle the seeds and some fine sand over the soil. The sand helps spread the seeds more evenly. Cover with a thin layer of potting soil, then cover the container with a clear plastic bag and place it in bright, indirect sunlight. Seedlings should sprout in two weeks. Water the seedling from below to prevent damage as they grow. Transfer the plants to individual pots once they grow two sets of leaves.
To propagate coleus with cuttings from a mature plant, take a sharp pair of scissors and cut four to six inches just under a leaf node. Take leaves off the lower end of the cutting, and dip the cutting in rooting hormone.
Water the soil before planting the cutting. Make an indentation in the soil with the eraser tip of a pencil, and put the cutting in that hole. Pack the soil around the cutting. Take the container with the rooting and cove it with a plastic zip lock bag or plastic wrap to keep it humid during the rooting process. Make sure plastic doesn’t touch the cutting. In two to three weeks, the cutting should root.
You may also start the rooting process in water and transfer the cutting to soil once roots grow. Just place the cutting in a glass of room-temperature water, and put it in bright but diffused light. Change water every other day until roots appear. Then remove cuttings from the glass and place in the soil.
For best results, plant 12 inches apart in moist, rich soil. Water the coleus thoroughly after planting. Applying mulch to the plant’s root area during the spring and summer keeps soil heated and contributes to better growth. Use pine, cedar bark, pine straw, or any organic mulch on the soil as necessary.
Get some more tips on planting and propagating coleus cuttings from Bodie Pyndus in the video “How to Propagate Coleus Cuttings” from the DIY Home & Garden Projects YouTube Video Channel
Potting and Repotting
Move young plants every two months into a pot that’s two sizes larger. The coleus plant needs a large pit to stretch its roots and fully mature. Avoid stifling young plants in small, tight pots.
Pests and Problems
The coleus doesn’t have many naturally-occurring problems. Improper care, like wrong soil choice or under watering, causes most issues with these plants
When left in a hot, dry room without sufficient watering, red spider mites may infest the plant. These pests cause leaves to change color and wither. Treat the leaves by washing off spider mites under the faucet. Prevent a reoccurrence by misting leaves with a spray, or placing the plant on a tray with pebbles soaked in water.
If leaves fall off the plant, it’s not getting enough light. The Coleus loves bright sunshine and withers in the dark. Put it by a window that gets a combination of direct and indirect sunlight, or place in bright sun and position in diffused sun during midday, when rays are the strongest. Poor growth or scraggly leaves may also be due to inadequate lighting.