Coleus Care

Coleus are a standout family of shade plants that glow in myriad colors and combinations to electrify borders, beds, flower arrangements, and containers. Solenostemon scutellarioides and its hybrids are in the mint family, as you can tell by feeling the square ridged stems. Leaf size varies from 1-8 inches, and they can grow up to 36 inches tall. As a group they prefer indirect light, though there are cultivars for full shade and sun as well. They can also be grown as houseplants or overwintered indoors with the help of grow lights. Their ease of growth has made them popular plants for science experiments to test salt tolerance, water uptake, and more. Coleus roots have been used historically in India to treat heart and lung diseases. Note: Coleus are toxic to cats and dogs.


Planting Coleus

Choose a site receiving the proper light exposure that suits the variety. Most prefer light shade, but there are varieties for full sun or shade. Outside temperatures should be over 55 degrees F before planting. They like moderate moisture – neither very dry nor soggy. Soil can be neutral to acidic, and of any level of fertility, but should be well-drained. Create a hole twice as wide as your transplant and as deep. Apply slow-release fertilizer per the directions at planting time.

Watering Coleus

Coleus plants like a perfect spot of moderate moisture – about the texture of a wrung-out sponge. When they get too dry or wet, plants will wilt. Water at least once weekly during the growing season, more in hot or dry conditions. In containers, check the soil and allow it to become dry an inch down before watering. Mulching helps to retain moisture.

Fertilizing Coleus

Coleus are not heavy feeders. Apply a slow-release fertilizer at planting and possibly once more if your region has an extra-long growing season. You have the option to repeat liquid fertilizer at a dilute rate every two weeks for extra-boisterous growth. Avoid fertilizers with a high phosphorus content, since flowering will hasten the decline of the plant.

Pruning Coleus

To create a bushy plant, pinch the main stem above a growing leaf or bud when the plant is under eight inches tall. Once established, Coleus can get leggy from time to time. If this happens, pinch back the growing tips again to a growing leaf. It’s helpful to prune off flowers if you are growing primarily for the foliage, since once the plant sets seed, it begins to die. You can also create a tree shape or standard form Coleus. Pick a central stem early in the plant’s development and prune of the lowest side shoots to the height you want growth to begin. Then remove any future side shoots that develop below that spot.


Caring For Coleus in Pots

Pick your site to match your coleus variety. The majority of coleus thrive in partial shade, but there are varieties for both full shade or even full sun. The optimal time for planting out is when temperatures are over 55 degrees F. Coleus would like the soil to be barely moist – in other words, never too dry or too wet. Soil can be neutral to acidic, and of any level of fertility, but should be well-drained. Create a hole twice as wide as your transplant and as deep. Apply a slow-release fertilizer per the directions at planting time. In containers, check the soil and allow it to become dry an inch down before watering. Mulching will retain moisture if needed. In regions outside its hardiness zone, when fall arrives, consider taking cuttings or bringing the plant inside for the winter.


Winter Care for Coleus

Only hardy from USDA zones 11 and warmer, Coleus is most often grown as an annual. In regions outside its hardiness zone, in the fall you have the option to take cuttings and propagate or bring the plant indoors until spring.

For indoor container care, use grow lights, or find bright morning light, and keep slightly moist. Coleus doesn't like being overly wet. Make sure the soil is dry to at least an inch before watering again. A humidity tray or misting will raise the humidity level in the air. The biggest risk factors to your Coleus indoors would be lack of humidity and soggy soil.

Common Coleus Care Questions

Should I let Coleus Flower?

Pinching the flowers from your coleus plant will help it become a fuller, bushier plant. This encourages the plant to send its energy into producing more of those fabulously colorful leaves and stronger stems instead of on flowers and eventually seeds. This may also help to prolong the life of the plant.

Does Coleus Like Sun Or Shade?

Most coleus thrives in a preferred partial shade, but there are varieties for both full shade and full sun.

Is Coleus Indoor Or Outdoor Plant?

Coleus are both outdoor and indoor plants!

Do Coleus Plants Come Back Every Year?

Coleuses is only hardy in zone 11 and warmer zones. In other zones though, they can be brought indoor and wintered over as houseplants. 

Do Coleus Spread?

Coleus can be self-seeding if the flowers are allowed to go seed, but it is best to pinch the flower stems off so the plant can direct its energy to root and leaf development, instead. 

Why Do Coleus Leaves Turn Yellow & Brown?

Coleus leaves turning yellow are an indication that they are over-watered and the soil is too wet. Yellowed leaves with eventually brown and fall off, signs that the plant has been too wet for too long and roots are rotting. Coleus needs to be planted in well-draining soil for optimal performance. 

What Is The Coleus Size?

There are many varieties of coleus and some are rounded, some are trailing, and still, others are upright. They range in height from 6 inches to 3/5 feet tall and between 1 and 3 feet in spread. 

What To Plant With Coleus In A Container?

Coleus looks great in containers with other varieties of coleus, sweet potato vines, begonias, or petunias. But really, they look fantastic all by themselves, too!

Is Coleus Drought Tolerant?

Coleus is generally not at all drought tolerant, wilting quickly with a lack of moisture. However, there are some new hybrid varieties that have much-improved drought, sun, and heat, tolerance. 

How Long Do Coleus Plants Live?

Coleus can live for several years, provided they live in a frost-free area, including indoors. Their lives can be prolonged by pinching off flower stems when they appear, so their energy doesn't go towards seed production.

What Is The Growth Rate Of Coleus?

Coleus is a fast grower and can be convinced to grow even faster by pruning and trimming, which encourages branching and over-lapping leaves, creating a fuller plant (and these cuttings are easily propagated in the water!)

Have a question about Coleus? Fill out the form below and we will try and get back to your question as soon as possible. We may even feature your question on this article to help other gardeners!

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Author Erica Browne Grivas - Published 07-22-2021

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