If you’re looking for decorative foliage to create a tropical effect in your garden, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better choice than the selection of Coleus hybrids – Plectranthus odorifera. In fact, some coleus hybrids are colorful and make a more eye-catching display than traditional flowering plants. Although propagating from cuttings is very easy, store-bought potted specimens can be very expensive. If you don’t have a stock of plants to choose from, growing coleus from seed may be your best option.
Coleus is a versatile shrub that grows well in shade. Some varieties also grow well in sunny areas. Growing coleus in your garden can provide that extra pop of color you may be missing. In this article, certified master gardener and coleus enthusiast Laura Elsner shows you how to plant, grow, and care for coleus!
The flowers in the garden bloom and fade, but the leaves remain the same. Therefore, it is important that the foliage in the garden is beautiful and interesting. So even if the flowers fade, there is still something to capture our attention. This is where coleus shines. Their leaves are so complex and colorful that they rival any flower in the garden.
But unlike plants that rely on flowers to make an impact in the garden, coleus shines all season long through its leaves alone. Depending on the variety of coleus, these colorful plants are great companions for shady gardens or sunny locations. There are many different options available, making them a gardener’s dream filler plant or decorative ground cover.
Although it is technically a tender perennial (Zone 11+), it will be an annual in most areas of the United States. Use it in containers to enliven annual and mixed perennial borders. The color of their leaves is sure to draw attention. Let’s take a look at how to plant, grow and care for coleus so that you can incorporate them into your garden or shade garden and create colorful harmony all season long.
How to Propagate
One of the best things about growing and cultivating coleus is that they are very easy to propagate. Coleus is also easy to purchase, and in my experience, Coleus is becoming more and more popular, making it easier than ever to find specific varieties. Here are some ways to attract coleus to your garden.
Coleus roots are very easy. Simply cut a new green stem and soak it in water to help it take root. It will survive indefinitely in a bottle of water.
If you want to plant the cuttings in soil, I recommend letting them grow in the soil before placing them in water to form giant roots. I find that the bigger their roots are, the harder it is for them to get into the soil. I prefer to bury them immediately in the ground.
To do this, take a freshly cut green cutting, or a cutting that has been soaked in water long enough to develop some small roots, and dip it in rooting hormone. This isn’t necessary, but I find it does help the roots grow faster. Then place the cuttings in evenly moist potting soil.
Cover the incision with a plastic cover or bag and keep it out of sunlight for about a week. After a week, remove the cover and place in the sun. The entire process keeps the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged. If rooting is successful, you will see the first two sets of leaves have grown.
How do I grow?
I know some people have had no luck with coleus and have found them rotting, cracking and falling apart. I usually don’t have any problems with my equipment because I carefully choose my locations and the conditions in which they are located. If they are allowed to grow under optimal conditions, they can grow large and lush. That’s all you need.
Coleus is traditionally considered a shade plant. It’s true, they do very well in the shade. But there are also many new arrivals who enjoy the sunshine. When choosing a coleus, know whether it is a sun variety or a sun/shade variety.
Full shade means no more than 4 hours of sunlight in the garden. Most plants, including shade plants, don’t like complete darkness in the shade. However, some Coleus varieties grow well in shady conditions. I’m using coleus in some pots that get so little sun that even the begonias won’t bloom. But somehow the coleus thrives.
Coleus is a real diva when it comes to water, and it cannot tolerate extended periods of drought. Water your coleus as soon as you see signs it needs water. Don’t wait, they pass the point of no return quickly.
The amount of water depends on the amount of sunlight the coleus is in. Coleus grown in full sun will require more water than coleus grown in complete shade. When your coleus needs water, its leaves will droop and look sad. Once fully soaked, it comes alive again. In hot weather, you can water your coleus once or multiple times a day in full sun (depending on pot size, soil, and sun intensity). Full-shade coleus may only need a weekly soak.
Climate and temperature
Coleus is a tropical plant and therefore prefers tropical temperatures. Tropics are areas where temperatures are consistently above 64°F. This is the climate in which coleus grows. When temperatures drop below 50°F, coleus will stop growing and look limp until it warms up.